Comedic wonderland: Mic Drop Comedy opens doors in Kearny Mesa – The San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego, prepare yourselves for some comedy in wonderland at Mic Drop Comedy, a new comedy club in Kearny Mesa that celebrated its grand opening this month.
Well, the space isn’t exactly new. The building on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard actually used to house Comedy Palace, the now-shuttered club that brought laughs to San Diego for more than three decades.
Comedy Palace closed in 2020, but it fell into good hands with Hillary Hutson and Casey Currier. When the opportunity arose to take over the space, Hutson and Currier came prepared — armed with extensive comedy résumés and a creative vision.
“Comedy clubs are very similar in style,” Currier said. “Most of them have the same chicken tenders on the menu; most have the same pictures on the wall. They all have the same two-drink minimum. It’s the same model — it was our goal to do everything different and to take a new school approach to it.
“We just tried to take everything we learned in comedy clubs and do them a bit different with what we think is a unique twist on it,” he said.
These differences include an expansive à la carte menu from an in-house chef, but no drink or item minimums. (The club also keeps nondrinkers in mind, serving up mocktails and offering VIP ticket deals to designated drivers.) With plenty of parking and a right-off-the-freeway location, the club also prides itself on accessibility for guests.
Aesthetically speaking, Mic Drop boasts a very bold, nontraditional décor. The space is covered with an abundance of murals, paintings and live art installations — crafted by San Diego 2-D and 3-D artists Carly Ealey and Chris Konecki — with an “Alice in Wonderland” theme.
And it’s more than just looking cool; there’s a meaning behind the theme’s madness.
Entertainment, especially comedy, was one of the first things to shut down due to COVID-19. From Zoom shows to outdoor sets, a lot changed for the industry. Those changes are reflected in the décor, starting with the tagged, overgrown walls in the front room, where the bar is located. Then guests walk through a tunnel-like hallway — which you can’t go back through — to the Main Showroom, revealing an eclectic space full of innovation and hope.
“You walk into this comedy club that shut down during a pandemic that tells the story of what happened — and then you go down the rabbit hole into what comedy has evolved into,” Hutson said.
The process to open up this comedic wonderland wasn’t easy and hit its fair share of delays. But all of the planning, hard work and attention to detail paid off May 6, when Mic Drop officially opened its doors with a jam-packed lineup across both stages: the Main Showroom and Gold Room.
Opening weekend was headlined by Shapel Lacey and Jasmine Ellis. Lacey, a Los Angeles-based comedian by way of Phoenix, shared that the feel of all of his shows were great — something he credits to the design of the space.
“That’s one thing Hillary and Casey pride themselves on: making audience members feel like they’re gonna get a good experience as soon as they walk in. That already sets up for the comic to go out to a great crowd,” Lacey said, noting that there is usually at least one off-crowd during usual weekend show stints.
“They really pay attention to all areas of the club aspect: the look, the food, audience members, the comedians — everything and anything that involves the comedy club,” he said.
Hutson has managed many comedy festivals over the years, including the San Diego Comedy Festival in 2019. One of her focuses has always been to cater to and take care of performers.
“My interest in originally wanting to have my own club was (asking myself): ‘How do I give them more opportunities? We’re giving them eight weekends a year (by managing festivals), but how do I give them more?’ Well, you own the club,” Hutson said, adding that she wants Mic Drop to have the same community feel as her festivals.
“That’s what keeps a comedy club (alive),” Lacey said. “Some comedy clubs aren’t really comic-friendly, to where they let comedians come hang out. You kind of need that, because when you let the comics hang out, it makes them feel like they’re in a safe space and a place where they can perform at. They’ll always show love to that club.”
And the provided opportunities for comics go beyond stage sets. Mic Drop offers free monthly workshops, a booth in the back to watch and learn from other performers, and a podcasting room available to rent. Plus, every set is photographed and videotaped — a rare, but highly valuable, commodity in the comedy scene.
“The Gold Room is designed to help nurture and grow smaller, local talent,” Huston said, referring to the smaller, 50-seat stage. “(It) helps them develop; learn how to produce shows. Stand up comedy is so much more than just going on stage and being funny. You really have to learn the business, networking and production sides of it. There’s so many areas. And having that Gold Room allows us to really help grow the local talent and the local comedy scene.”
The Gold Room is viewed as a launching pad for talent, with the goal of eventually graduating to the Main Showcase. That space will also be home to weekly showcases called “Shoot for the Moon,” where managers stack the lineup with local comics. Then on the third Wednesday of every month, the owners will host a “Moon Showcase,” which invites bookers, agents and managers into the audience to scout talent. (Interested comedians can submit a request to perform in the showcase through Mic Drop’s website.)
“The fact that we have a 50-seat venue, and that we can book on strictly creative shows, to me is the best part of the whole venue,” Currier said. “In the larger venues, you have to make sure you have a certain amount of butts in seats to profit and turn the lights on — and there really is no pressure at all in the Gold Room.”
While Mic Drop shakes up the comedy club model, Hutson and Currier took special care to honor the roots of the space. In addition to the Alice in Wonderland-themed décor, pieces of the Comedy Palace remain, including the club’s original (refurbished) chairs.
Memories are also scattered in the bar top — from photos of Jimmy Wolpert, a former Comedy Palace employee who passed away in 2018, to a local festival badge from previous club owner George Salek. (That festival happens to be where Hutson originally met Salek).
“There are nods to the family (in the décor) because I really wanted to do a tribute to them — because I think they’re important in the comedy community. … We tried really hard to preserve a lot of pieces of the (Comedy) Palace because we know that it’s been there for so long and that it’s important for the guests and the performers,” Hutson said, noting that mission included the decision to keep the “Gold Room” name intact, as it was a dedication to Wolpert.
“It really did boil down to preserving the arts in the space that it’s been held for 30 years,” Currier said. “The idea that we could preserve lapse in the space — you know, it’s seeped in these walls for over 30 years — that was the driving force behind us opening this venue.”
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