December 19th, 2013
What’s so Funny, Knoxville?


By: Anna Rogers

We are a tough crowd folks, on a good or a bad night.

There is nowhere to hide behind a microphone, especially for a comedian. If you want to see live art in action – to feel everything from joy to pain – a comedy open mic night is the place you need to be.

Knoxville has a vibrant comedy scene. There are a surprising number of comics in Knoxville and its surrounding counties. Sometimes these open mic nights attract a regional or traveling comedian just wanting to get some stage time. This is a great opportunity for budding and experienced comedians to work on sets, try out new material, or just spend time rehearsing their craft.


Some Knoxville stand-up comics.

A great local comedy resource is Matt Ward’s Knox Comedy Live website and Facebook page. Knoxville Comedy Live provides in-depth podcast interviews and performance clips, plus invaluable articles about comedy writing tips and performing advice. Its detailed calendar covers weekly open mic nights, the monthly Tennessee Riverboat Comedy Cruise, and other special comedy shows in town.

Most of the open mic nights are FREE to the public and the comedians: no cover charge and no performance fee.  Most open mic nights are attended by the comics themselves –  akin to a peer review session.

Knoxville Comedy has four open mic nights:

  • Sunday night’s Upstairs-Underground Comedy Open Mic (8 PM) at The Speakeasy (2nd floor) at Preservation Pub in Market Square, is free and open to any stand-up, improv group or sketch comedy team wanting to sign up to perform. Local comic Matt Ward emcees this event.
  • Monday night’s Comedy Con Queso Stand-Up Comedy Open-Mic (9 PM) is at The Well in Bearden. Free cheese with an order of chips? Yup. Local comic Matt Ward emcees this event.
  • Tuesday night’s Old City Comedy Open Mic at Carleo’s located on S. Central Avenue in The Old City, where there is no cover charge to see live comedy with a more no-holds barred flavor, where you can say anything and everything you ever really wanted to on stage. The unpredictable local comic, J.C. Ratliff, hosts this event.  He is a renegade time bomb of whoa! Einstein Simplified, an experienced improv troupe, performs a free show every Tuesday night at 8 PM at The Well.
  • Thursday night’s Left Hand Comedy is another free open-mic (9:30 PM – 12 AM) at Twisted Mike’s Taproom in West Knoxville, which is a slightly more intimate venue with a dedicated crowd of regulars. Local comic Collin Gerberding hosts this event. Side Splitters, also in West Knoxville, offers 2 to 3 monthly open mic nights at 10 PM.
  • Friday night’s for Knox Vegas Open Mic Comedy (9 PM – 11 PM) at Sassy Ann’s in the 4th and Gill neighborhood. No cover charge and performers drink for free. Nakht Ricks is the host. For more information about performing or attending, please click here.

A lot of comedians involved in the open mic scene have day jobs, but some have been courageous or crazy enough to pursue comedy as a full-time profession.

Matt Ward has made a lot of headway as a touring comedian and comedy show producer through his company Knox Comedy Live. Matt is presently on tour with his “Dork For Life” comedy show.

Matt Ward on tour.

Matt Ward on tour outside a mall in Ohio.

J.C. Ratliff and Collin Gerberding also work hard at the comedy scene, and blessedly all these people share camaraderie and support for each other.  They understand that for a scene to survive and flourish, you show up at each other’s shows.

Is that The Crow?! No, it's comic J.C. Ratcliff.

Is that The Crow?! No, it’s comic J.C. Ratliff.

Collin Gerberding has been honing his comedy craft for several years, and he began performing at comedy open mic nights in 2012. He says, “It’s just something I have to do…in terms of that drive that honestly says, ‘I NEED to do this.’” Collin has a pleasing acerbic and geeky wit. He received the most consistent laughter during the open mic night I attended. He also welcomed all participants up to the stage, from the seasoned comics to the fresh meat who stepped up to the mic for the very first time.

Collin Gerberding performing at Side Splitters. Photo by Cinnamon Studios.

Collin Gerberding performing at Side Splitters. Photo by Cinnamon Studios.

Jeff Blank and Sassy Frass (cover photo) are partners in love and comedy. Jeff has been performing live stand-up comedy for years.  Sassy Frass (stage name), is a relative newcomer to the stand-up comedy scene.  Sassy, also a local burlesque performer, says, “You know you’re going to get a response when you go out there and bare your body, because that’s the agreement with the crowd. They know it’s coming and they applaud your courage.

“With stand-up comedy, you’re doing the same thing…you’re baring it all but your clothes stay on. The courage isn’t as obvious, I guess.  It’s just you and your mind, your thoughts, and your words attempting to elicit that response, and if people like it, you feel validated for your mind and personality.  If not, it’s hard.”

Sassy Frass and Jeff Blake.

Sassy Frass and Jeff Blank.

Sassy Frass continues, “Jeff, who if I hadn’t seen have a rare bad night comedically, I’d think never had an off-night. Jeff is extremely supportive…of the comedy scene in Knoxville, and he really promotes people attending all the events to show support. This helps create a real sense of community.

“Without the open mic nights, I’d only have myself or my close friends to tell me if I’m funny. In comedy, if you want to go anywhere with it, you really do need to know if your material hits the right chord with a wider audience.”

The stand-up open mic night is artistic evolution in action.  It deserves an audience of people willing to see others courageously stick their necks out and share their take on the day-to-day things that make us laugh, drive us crazy, or make us sick. Plus it is one active medium that allows you, the audience member, to participate and actually help shape art in some ways.

Come out to an open mic night where you might see the beginning career of the next comedic genius, where you can root for the underdog, and where you might get a laughter induced endorphin rush that makes you feel better than any medication. And, the only bill you will receive is a bar tab if you decide to imbibe.

See Anna Rogers and The Follies Girls’ variety show with special guests Chad Sanborn & Bourgeois Betty at The Well on January 3, 2014. Ages 21 & up. $5 cover charge.

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© Anna Rogers, 2013.

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