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Funny Farm comedy club shuts down

The Funny Farm Comedy Club in Roswell had its last laugh Sunday after more than eight years and an estimated 250,000 patrons.

The comedy club was part of Startime Entertainment, a complex which included a miniature golf course, go karts, a video arcade, a sports bar and batting cages. Funny Farm manager Marshall Chiles said the operation was in debt and could no longer pay its bills.

The Funny Farm itself was the most successful component of Startime, Chiles said, but it alone could not carry the load anymore.

Ron White does a special warm-up gig at the Funny Farm in April, 2008, before his Fox Theatre appearance. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Ron White does a special warm-up gig at the Funny Farm in April, 2008, before his Fox Theatre appearance. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Over the years, the club has attracted talent such as actor Bob Saget, Marietta native and “Grace Under Fire” star Brett Butler, “Partridge Family’s” Danny Bonaduce and “Saturday Night Live” alum Jon Lovitz. ”Blue Collar Comedy Tour” standup and local resident Ron White would regularly test out jokes for his theater tours at the Funny Farm.

On the final night Sunday, more than 30 comics showed up to bid the club farewell and reminisce on stage about what impact the club had on their careers. 

Kenney Johnson, who went by the name “Big Kenney” on stage and taught comedy classes at the Funny Farm, was given the honors to close out the four-hour show Sunday night. “It was frustrating to see the place shut down due to no fault of its own,” he said Monday. 

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Johnson expressed kudos to Chiles for running a top-notch operation, one that took care of its employees, its customers and the talent. “He had a can-do attitude,” he said. “He marketed the place. He’d wipe down tables, set up chairs. He’d drive the talent to radio stations. He even opened shows as a comic.” 

Chiles himself said “I’m happy to be moving on. But I’m also sad to be moving on. I really enjoyed it. I have a lot of good memories, made some great friends there. It really hit me Thursday night sitting on the side of the room watching everyone laugh.”

Johnson was also wistful: “The physical location may have shut down, but the spirit of the Funny Farm will live on with all the people who were entertained and learned to entertain. We’d like to think we left our mark.”

Jamie Bendall, who co-owns the Punchline Comedy Club, came by Sunday night as well as a sign of respect for his erstwhile rival. “The analogy is you fight hard during a sports match until the whistle blows,” Bendall said. “But when the game is over, you meet at the middle of the field and shake hands.”

The Punchline, he noted, is doing as well year to date, if not a smidge better, than a year ago. “It’s a good alternative for people wanting to get away from all the negativity going on in the world,” he said. 

For now, Chiles will be operating the Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown, a much smaller venue he opened a couple of months ago. And he is entertaining offers to place the Funny Farm in a different location, preferably nearby. 

“It’s a sign of the times,” said Gary Abdo, owner of Uptown Comedy Corner in downtown Atlanta, which caters to an African-American audience. “They didn’t have to survive on what the club did as a business. It fed off Startime and vice versa. They were able to bring in some names that the Punchline and I would not bring in.”

But overall, Abdo said, “it’s never a good moment to see another comedy club close.” He said his club has been aggressively offering specials and deals to keep the crowds coming in and has managed to survive okay in tough economic times.

13 comments Add your comment

Chaz

April 20th, 2009
5:34 pm

I was there several times, and frankly, I always felt a minigolf-videogame complex in Roswell was a weird place for a comedy club. A couple of overpriced beers, some chicken fingers and a 20 mile drive home afterwards… I don’t know. Sometimes it seemed like the burbites didn’t seem to get the jokes either. Hope the Laughing Skull is more fun.

Bob

April 20th, 2009
5:43 pm

I always enjoyed it. I went on Friday. It was a good bit of fun. I’m only 5 miles away and I’ll have to go a long way to get downton. I’m not sure I want to hang out at a joint across the street from a gay bar anyways. (if the comics wern’t kidding)

Joe Schmoe

April 20th, 2009
5:54 pm

I actually enjoyed this place, compared to the punchline which is a crap hole. Punchline is run down, and doesnt have AC in the summer, and is too clustered. I guess I will have to look to the Cobb Cynergy center, and possibly the Laughing skull lounge.

Joe Schmoe

April 20th, 2009
6:08 pm

Ok, take down my accurate comment that the punchline is run down and does not have ac, or refuses to run it in the summer. I enjoyed the funny farm, and its less crowded area. I will look to the Cobb center or Laughing Skull lounge.

Marshall

April 20th, 2009
6:14 pm

Not surprising. Funny Farm was way the hell out in the middle of nowhere in a weird mall-complex. Terrible location. They did get some good performers in there, though.

Marcella

April 20th, 2009
7:02 pm

The Funny Farm was a fabulous comedy club. I hope Marshall can resurrect it somewhere near the old venue. The final Sunday night with local comedians was a great way to say goodbye. I saw so many truly entertaining comedians there over the years – Emo Philips, Rich Hall, Christopher Titus, etc. Thanks to everyone at the Funny Farm who made it a good time every single time I went!

Shannon, M.Div.

April 20th, 2009
7:02 pm

Man, now I feel guilty for not going for a few months. I really enjoyed the place, and we were looking into the Punchline–but if they don’t have air conditioning… that’s horrifying and definitely a deal-breaker. After the initial sadness when I got the e-mail about the Farm, now I’m feeling… yep, more sadness.

I agree with the posters who suggested the location was weird, but I got used to it. I was baffled by the whole Startime thing at first–”I want to see comedy. Why is there minigolf and a movie theatre?” but we got used to it.

I hate it when a place I’m used to goes under.

Marshall

April 21st, 2009
5:28 pm

Well, thanks to all the people out there that supports live comedy… be it at the funny farm or where ever. The last show was a great night & I hold many fond and happy memories of the place.

And believe me when I tell you, the Laughing Skull Lounge is one the best places in the world to see live comedy. It is so intimate with only 74 seats, and the more intimate a space, the better the comedy.

So check out http://www.vortexcomedy.com and you will see that the same great comedians are down there that I got at the funny farm… and even better comedians coming through that normally dont do clubs bc they dont like them… but the small space is appealing to them.

OK, thanks again to everyone, and thanks for the kind words!

Keep supporting live comedy!

Marshall

April 21st, 2009
5:29 pm

btw, I am the Marshall from the Funny Farm, I dont know who the first Marshall is that posted on 4.20.09…

Holden Mcgroin

April 22nd, 2009
10:16 am

I don’t know why they even asked the guy from Uptown. That place is truly an abomination and a disgrace to the art of comedy. It’s a shame that a club like the Funny Farm got dragged under by Startime. Economy or not, if the owners/managers at Startime knew what they were doing the whole thing could have survived. Why spend money trying to compete with AMC theaters and Andretti’s? The comedy club was what Roswell didn’t have!! The Laughing Skull is a great room and The Punchline still brings great talent. So I guess there’s still hope for comedy in Atlanta. Uptown SUX!!

Burbite

April 22nd, 2009
3:08 pm

I really enjoyed the Funny Farm. My spouse and I went regularly. The location was a bit odd, but it worked. I will say the show on Saturday ended a bit weird.

Jennifer

May 10th, 2009
10:46 pm

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Jennifer

May 10th, 2009
10:56 pm

The Funny Farm was a great place! My husband and I would go quite often and we are going to miss it dearly!

We have been going there since we started dating- and over the years we’ve been married and even pregnant with our daughter! (Yes, nine months pregnant, big belly and all!)

It has been our favorite place to go for date nights! It was a great location for us because we live only a few miles away.

Getting downtown will be a pain and crime downtown has risen, so we won’t be making any trips soon to the new venue. :(

Please bring the FF back to us in Roswell!!!