In the wake of Nutt Street’s announcement that the doors to the Soapbox would be closed at their current location on Front Street the Wilmington community responded with the reaction that would come to be expected with such a monumental landmark closing down. The outcry of support for The Soapbox and Nutt Street was overwhelming and impressive. There are very few people in this town who haven’t experienced at least one night or one memory from either one of the rooms, which coincidentally, were almost one in the same for a few years.
As one of the “original” comedians to perform down at Nutt Street before it actually became the Nutt Street we know today, I can attest to the gradual transformation from a small local open mic, whose shows came to be canceled sometimes due to small turnouts, to a popular Thursday night staple in the lives of many. Just like with anything substantial, it was not built overnight, as Timmy Sherrill devoted a majority of his free time and even expenses to turn the unused basement of The Soapbox into one of the best comedy clubs on the East Coast and as most of the nationally touring comedians whom have visited would say, the country.
The beginning of Nutt Street was on the ground floor of The Soapbox “The Lounge”, on the main stage, in the big room. Week after week we would go down and perform and most of the time, it was for each other, the bar tender, and the few people waiting for their laundry to finish. There were nights that you would show up and find out that there wasn’t an open mic because there was a band or because there weren’t enough comedians or crowd members. As attendance numbers were poor, the comedians took to the streets, recruiting people to the shows. Many nights had been spent outside in the streets, with Marc Rice, Matt Ward and Zach Boylston, walking the streets, handing out flyers, telling people about the open mic. Brandon Ferrazzi and KC Jones, stood outside the Soapbox flagging people down as Timmy set up inside. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun begging people to come watch you, but what has happened in the years since has been unbelievable. Instead of begging people to come watch our open mics, famous, accredited, nationally touring comedians are begging to perform at Nutt Street.
After enough nights of being bumped from the main stage in the Lounge, Timmy took us to the downstairs basement. At first, it was just that, a basement. The prototypical dingy, dirty, smelly, moist, unappealing, drab room with an assortment of mismatched chairs and couches. There were hardly any lights, a faulty microphone, and no stage. The small crowds were intimate, more like an intervention of sorts than a comedy show. It didn’t take long, and some talking, Timmy was able to take over the basement and do with it what he pleased. What Timmy was able to do with Nutt Street was turn it into what we know it as today. It’s the Thursday night show to attend; it’s the place to be. Thirty minutes after show time, its standing room only, the twenty-five comedians who signed up are anxiously waiting to get on stage, there’s lines at the bathroom, the bar, and all the while, the upstairs open mic in the Lounge seems like a distant memory. No longer were shows being cancelled, instead they were being added. The hour long open mic in the Lounge a few years ago turned into a Tuesday Night Improv Harold Night and Improv Jam, Wednesday Night Improv, whose troupe The Nutt House has been named best improv troupe by Encore two years in a row, the Thursday Night Open Mic (marathon) that keeps us laughing for hours, a Friday and two Saturday night shows with national headliners who have appeared on Comedy Central, Showtime, HBO, Leno, Letterman, Saturday Night Live, they have their own comedy specials, and more. The local comedians who got their start at Nutt Street are now the opening act for their idols. There were no more nights of not performing because of a lack of crowd or comedians; there was almost a need for more nights in the week instead.
What I have been able to watch and experience over the years has been remarkable. It starts with a vision, a dream of sorts, and an undeniable appreciation and drive for what you want to accomplish that drives certain people. I saw that fire and drive in Timmy’s eyes and it hasn’t once diminished. Not even when he had been told he had to close the doors to Nutt Street.
The comedians that started out as strangers and competitors that later became friends and later brothers, put everything in their lives aside when they heard about the news. The patrons that frequented the shows were upset about hearing the news. There were people asking what can I do, how can I help?
In the coming weeks before the doors are finally closed and locked, the regularly scheduled shows will still happen, there are numerous shows being put together now by the comedians and Timmy to help raise funds for new space as Timmy looks for real estate. Ideas are bouncing around our heads like a premise missing a punch lines. The Local Comedy Scene is committed as a group to make sure that not only does Nutt Street make a permanent home here in Wilmington but also that comedy does as well for generations to come.
Nutt Street is a place to go for our weekly therapy sessions. For the comedians it’s a release of our bad lives or weeks and for the crowd, it’s a release from yours. We all need to laugh and especially in a day and age when there are so many ugly depressing things surrounding us, we need laughter, we need Nutt St, more than ever. We need that escape, we need that family, and we need each other.
I never speak for anyone but myself but I can say confidently, that when I say this I speak for every comedian to ever touch that Nutt Street stage: “We are not going away. We will be back. We will be better than ever. We will continue to put on the comedy shows and provide the laughter and escape that the crowds have come to love, respect and need. We will, survive. We will not give up. We will do everything in our power to make sure that this is not the end.”
So what can you do Wilmington and surrounding areas? The exact same thing you have done all these years, support the room and us. Spread the word, come to the shows, laugh, have fun, and understand this is far from over.
Please keep checking back to http://www.nuttstreet.com and http://portcitycomedy.com/ and stay tuned for updates on shows that we will be doing and what the next step is. You believed in us enough to stick with us over the years, keep believing in us. Keep coming down to The Soapbox and Nutt Street. There are still a few weeks to make some new friends and memories or keep adding to the many we already have.
Mike Van Vliet is a comedian in Wilmington NC. Mike got his start in an improv troupe outside of NYC decided to branch out and try a solo stand up career. Moving from NY to Chicago at age 20, he quickly became a popular name on the open mic comedy scene. Fearless with any topic and crowd he will attack any and all topics. Armed with rapid-fire witty comebacks and sarcasm, his comedy routine is unlike any other. His ability to use his improv skills to flirt with a girl in the front row and then handle a heckler in the back make his live shows some of the most exciting to watch.