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.
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.
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.