The final comic was Tom Green, who was also the first comic when it moved to that space from the now closed Startime Entertainment.
But Andretti’s quickly found a replacement: Bonkerz, a national chain with 18 other locations in six other states.
The first comic coming to Bonkerz is Carmen Vallone March 9 and 10.
Joe Sanfelippo, president of Bonkerz Comedy Productions, sent me an email last night saying he was traveling all day Thursday and responded to me by email. He wrote that he splits his time between Las Vegas and Orlando.
He said he approached Andretti’s after the Funny Farm shut down. “I thought it would be a prime opportunity for me to approach Andretti’s to see if there was a possibility to develop a working relationship. Andretti’s is a unique and impressive facility and I thought it would serve as a great host for the next Bonkerz location.”
The Funny Farm had success at Startime from 2002 to 2009. Marshall Chiles, who ran the Funny Farm, had a dedicated room for comedy with a stage, seating and decor befitting a fun, lighthearted club. Unfortunately, when the recession hit, the rest of Startime, which included batting cages, video games and a bar, suffered and the place shut down.
Chiles, who also operates Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown, found nearby Andretti’s a willing partner. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get them to give him a dedicated room. First, he was in a space that was used as a restaurant during the daytime. Then he was moved to a room that doubled a space for parties and corporate meetings. It had no personality.
“It never had a comedy club feel,” he said. “You felt like you were watching comedy in a conference at a hotel.”
“I liked the people there,” he added. “But it felt like a square peg in a round hole.”
He said while he made a little money at the space, “it wasn’t enough to justify keeping it going.”
Sanfelippo said Andretti’s has promised him his own room: “The room is intimate, has state-of-the-art lighting, sound and a brand new stage. I have been working closely with Andretti management to brand the room and give it an ‘edgier’ feel, to make it more visually suitable for the Bonkerz brand which has been around since 1984.”
Chiles said he is willing to partner with an existing entertainment space but further north of Roswell.
And he isn’t exactly impressed with Bonkerz and the talent they attract.
“When they talk about low-end comedy clubs, that’s Bonkerz. I’m fine going on the record with that,” Chiles said. “They pay their comedians lower than anybody in the business.”
Nonetheless, he said they’ll probably do well there because he said their expenses will be low. “The people who MC for me will headline their clubs,” he said. “They will pay headliners $150 a show while I pay at least double that. You won’t recognize any of the talent they bring in.”
In his email, Bonkerz’ Sanfelippo said, “We will be bringing in a mixture of hot up and coming comedians along with some bigger name celebrities, many of whom we have a long history with us. Bonkerz has helped a lot of today’s biggest comedians by believing they had that “special something” and giving them a platform before they became famous.”
DiPetta said he introduced Sanfelippo into the comedy business in Milwaukee in the early 1980s. “His business plan is a lot different from ours,” he said. “He isn’t bringing in A-list headliners. It will be a lot of different acts I wouldn’t book at all.”
Among acts Sanfelippo said spent plenty of time on Bonkerz stages in their early days include Larry The Cable Guy, Carrot Top, Daniel Tosh, SNL star Darrell Hammond and Billy Gardell. (Small comedy world: Sanfelippo was Gardell’s first manager. DiPetta is now Gardell’s manager.)
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk