Without knowing it, I’ve been calling comedian Jay Grove the wrong name for, well, about five years. That’s when I first met the brawny funny man from Rochester, when he was a semi-regular act that came on my radio show to tell jokes and promote various comedy shows he was working on throughout the state.
“Jay” was always hilarious, cutting and sarcastic with an edge to him that made you slightly nervous but always entertained. But, lo-and-behold, Jay Grove, I recently discovered, was simply a stage name.
Jay is actually 44 year old Joshua Guptel, and he’s finally got a comedy club of his own to run, one free of favoritism, he says, focused solely on the science behind presenting quality comedy to a region already soaked in laughs.
Congratulations on the opening of “Curlies Comedy Club.” How long did you have your eye on the space?
Thank you! The goal all along has been to be in Rochester. I had a set of criteria and this space fit that criteria. The current location at 12 Union Street
was actually my third choice, but they were the first people to take my money. I literally couldn’t cut a check to the first two places I looked at. They would just repeatedly not get back to me. It worked out the way that it needed to, though, and I’m happy with the space that I have.
It was a Chinese restaurant, correct?
For the last 14 years, correct. I’m working hard to change that image and perception locally, but until the doors open and people can see what I’m doing with Curlies, I think that idea will be there for folks that we may still be serving lunch specials.
What’s your favorite aspects of the club?
The chance to have control over all the aspects of the business. To take the passion for comedy and combine it with the business part is something that I’ve been really pushing toward. So to be able to take all the great things from some of the rooms around New England that I’ve seen during my time in comedy and attempt to incorporate that into one great facility, is what I’m really looking forward to with Curlies.
Is it difficult to book a weekend full of comedians?
Apparently not from what I see on Facebook! I think it’s difficult to book a “good” weekend of comedy and to take into consideration things like how the lineup flows and how to remain true to your comedic standard while still being cost-effective. Just slapping eight of your buddies up on stage and saying “FREE” is not booking to me. There’s definitely a science to providing high-quality entertainment. Comedy is a very “idol-worshippy” scene where people are very afraid to point out the Emperor has no clothes, especially if they think that the Emperor can give them a 15-minute spot. So I think that it’s incredibly important in a setting like Curlies to really book with your mind and not your heart to insure that the product is solid week in and week out.
Tell me about the comedy scene in the Rochester area.
It’s underrated. The Rochester Opera House works hard to bring very solid shows to Rochester. That, combined with the shows that I’ve been producing locally over the last four years, put us on par with any of the nearby cities. I think there’s an idea that we don’t have a community here in Rochester that can support comedy or the arts. The reality is, there’s as much going in Rochester as there is anywhere else in the seacoast. And my personal feeling is that Rochester actually has a more diverse and unique selection of downtown businesses than a lot of the surrounding communities.
Does each comedy club have it’s own “flavor” of comedy to present?
I can only really speak for what I’ve seen as a performer as far as other clubs. I think there’s definitely a “feel” to each room. It can be determined by region, by type of venue, by a lot of determining factors. As far as Curlies, I don’t purport to know what people like or don’t like. What I do know is what I find funny. Not because someone is my friend, but because I can take a long, hard look at their set and still find it humorous. So I’d look for our “feel” to be entertaining and memorable without being the same faces week after week.
Any worries about whether, as owner, you will have enough time to maintain your own comedic skills?
Honestly, I’ve known the transition was coming since last fall, and I haven’t maintained my act as well as I did early on in my career. I don’t write as much as I used to, and I’ve grown disillusioned enough with the process of getting into rooms that I’m not really worried about my act suffering. I’m a strong act who has the ability to be “off the cuff” better than anyone that I’ve seen. I’d put that open challenge out there to anyone who claimed differently. So when I’m able to sell out The Strand Ballroom one night and have people love the show, and then have to go middle the next weekend in front of an act who has nothing going for them except time served… it can definitely take some of the fight out of you, no matter how passionate you are about honing your craft. I’ll be hosting every week at Curlies, so what I consider my strength as a comic, the ability to work a room, will not really erode. So I’m not worried about losing a step on that end of things.
How do you plan to separate your comedy club from the others out there?
The business model separates it from any other “club” in New Hampshire. This is a full-time, walk-in-for-comedy club. To my knowledge we’ll be the only club in the state offering full-time comedy and also operating in our own facility. When I ran Veronica Laffs in Raymond, I was basically a hermit crab. It wasn’t my space and I wasn’t truly able to operate the way that was in line with my vision for a club. I’d move in one night a month and then move back out in time for a Jack-n-Jill party. Curlies is a comedy-specific venue, offering professional weekend shows, youth comedy classes, a full bar with our own signature drinks, and a kitchen offering our own signature dishes. I’ve kept it unique. It will be incomparable as far as what has been available in the area for a while when it comes to comedy venues.