The Vermont Cynic

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Comedy Finds a Home in Burlington

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Courtesy of Vermont Comedy Club.

Courtesy of Vermont Comedy Club.

Nathan Hartswick eagerly joined me at my table at Muddy Waters one Thursday afternoon, after weeks of trying to meet. We were finally able to sit down and discuss the opening of his new Burlington establishment, the Vermont Comedy Club. I looked forward to hearing about the new place and all the comedy shows it would bring to the area in the future, but I didn’t expect that I would walk away with a new knowledge of comedy and its role in the entertainment realm of Burlington

Hartswick’s involvement in the performing arts began with an interest in theater and musicals at a young age. Throughout his time in college, he took an interest in comedy and spent time in stand-up and improv classes, and wrote comedy when he wasn’t working. It was only when he was about thirty years old that he actually began performing for audiences outside of the classroom. Since then, Hartswick said, he and his wife, Natalie Miller, made it their mission to not only give themselves a place and chance to perform, but provide the community with the same opportunities.

For the past five years, Hartswick said, he and Miller have been producing shows through their booking agency, the Vermont Comedy Club. They’ve set up shows wherever they could find the space, including “music venues, churches, attics, basements, tents and bowling alleys,” according to the VCC’s website. Now they’re opening a new venue at the Armory on 101 Main Street.

“The people of Burlington are hungry for more variety in the local arts scene,” Hartswick said, “There’s a big pull for a home for comedy in the city.”

Courtesy of Vermont Comedy Club

Courtesy of Vermont Comedy Club

Now, after two years of drafting a business plan, shopping for investors and seeking available spaces, Hartswick said the space is finally ready for opening day. The club itself is 6,000 square feet, and includes a showroom, a separate bar room, a classroom and a small kitchen. The idea of the space, Hartswick said, is that people will have the option of being able move between the bar room and showroom depending on whether they want to visit with their friends, enjoy some comedy, or both.

As far as popular comedy goes, Hartswick immediately thought of George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld, during his stand-up days. Hartswick also enjoys the work of John Dore, who he describes as “off the wall” and distinctively “alternative.”

Courtesy of Vermont Comedy Club

Courtesy of Vermont Comedy Club

Hartswick explained that after years of being in the comedy business, he’s able to tell exactly when the punch line of a stand-up routine is coming. Now he’s looking for something different: comics that surprise him.

Hartswick said that in his classes, he teaches his students that no subject is strictly off limits. He states that it’s the way that you present the comedy to the audience, and their reaction that tells you whether you’ve crossed the line. He uses Louis C.K. as an example of a comedian who constantly crosses boundaries, but manages to “win” the audience back immediately and keep his shows positive. The bottom line, Hartswick said, is to make your audience laugh, not feel “utterly uncomfortable.”

Hartswick said that the people of Burlington could use a laugh. Most residents can name one of the many music venues, theatres, or art galleries in the city, but good comedy is harder to find. With the VCC, Hartswick hopes to fill that niche. Hartswick looks forward to collaborating with existing clubs in the city to fill out Burlington’s arts scene. He envisions a future in which people can experience both live music and live comedy in the same night.

The Vermont Comedy Club is set to open officially Nov. 18. By then, you can expect to find great classes for kids and adults, where you can explore a new interest or potential passion. You can also expect to find both local and nationally recognized improv groups as well as stand-up performers, for a chance to both learn and be entertained. Hartswick and Miller expect that the festivals and competitions they’ll hold at 101 Main will draw big crowds and get people excited about comedy in a different way. With this many events in store, Hartswick said, you’re guaranteed to find “something different the next time you come, but something equally as fun.”

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Comedy Finds a Home in Burlington