Cincinnati's comedy scene is highly regarded in the nationwide stand-up community. Consider that the area has produced comedians such as Gary Owen, Geoff Tate, Josh Sneed, Katt Williams and Greg Warren, to name just a few, all of whom have multiple TV and film credits. Several other comics like Alex Stone, Dave Waite, Gabe Kea, Kelly Collette and Ryan Singer have been in the national spotlight either through radio and TV appearances or via national comedy competitions.
However, the size of the Cincinnati market precludes the town from having multiple comedy clubs like, say, New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. Even cities like Philadelphia and Houston have only one or two dedicated comedy clubs.
With the number of places in which to hone their craft in short supply, it has befallen many comedians to organize their own independent shows. It’s a concept that developed somewhat oddly in comedy club-heavy towns like the aforementioned, and it’s now in Cincinnati.
Locally, the comedian-organized MOTR Mouth presents stand-up comedy the first Tuesday of each month at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. The show marked its two-year anniversary this past May. MOTR Mouth’s roots go back to 2012, when Geoff Tate recorded his CD in the pub’s basement showroom. Fellow comic Karl Spaeth suggested the space.
“I realized the basement was the perfect room to have a comedy show,” he says. “So I talked to one of the owners, Chris Schadler, about booking Geoff’s CD recording there, and they let us do that there three days in a row, three different shows. It was packed every night.”
MOTR Pub then became interested in doing more comedy shows in the bar’s basement.
Tate responded by developing a stand-up show called Trainwreck, which ran for about a year. However, he discontinued it when he decided to split time between Cincinnati and Los Angeles. Spaeth then started MOTR Mouth to fill the void.
The stand-up comedy showcase is held every second Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the basement. Unlike Go Bananas’ Pro-Am show, which is an open mic that features a mix of new comics and seasoned performers, MOTR Mouth is comprised of experienced comedians. Spaeth draws talent from Cincinnati as well as towns like Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus and Louisville.
“Lately it’s been mostly out-of-towners,” he says. “But usually I have four out-of-town people a show and then have three local comics.” Spaeth hadn’t planned on being a show booker when he started his comedy career — it was sort of thrust upon him. “I didn’t ever want to be a booker,” he says, laughing. “It’s just, the opportunity presented itself, and it’s not a lot of work to book the show.”
MOTR Mouth has built a solid reputation among comedians in Cincinnati as well as in other cities, where comics will tell each other of their experiences in the Queen City.
“People will call me about it,” Spaeth says. “I give them a month with an opening, and they say yes or no.”
Occasionally, nationally touring comedians will reach out to him. Since most traditional comedy clubs book Wednesdays through Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays are generally off days for comedians. Those travelling between Midwestern cities will sometimes swing down to Cincinnati to do MOTR Mouth.
“That’s happened quite a bit,” Spaeth says. “One time that happened with Dave Stone, who just had an album come out and has been on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Comedy Central and Last Comic Standing. He contacted me after Ryan Singer told him about it.”
Booking the show has been beneficial to Spaeth, though. “Part of the reason I started it was because of the lack of stage time in Cincinnati,” he says. “I could at least guarantee myself a place where I could do whatever I wanted to once a month.”
It’s also forced him to write more, as he hosts the show and likes to come up with a new five minutes each time.
“Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t,” he says. “It’s a good exercise. Even if I don’t have anything the day before the show, I have to be funny for five minutes because I set the tone for the show.”
Spaeth likes to create more of a party atmosphere, in which the audience is just hanging out listening to their funny friends. “Only they’re not allowed to talk,” he adds with a laugh.
Spaeth will relocate to Chicago in August. He still plans to have a hand in MOTR Mouth, but fellow comedian Mark Chalifoux will take on a bigger role in running the show. Chalifoux is a Cincinnati-based comic who spent a few years on the New York comedy scene. He returned to Southwest Ohio in 2014 because he and his wife felt it was a better place to raise their daughter.
“Karl is one of the first guys I really hung out with a lot when I first moved back,” Chalifoux says. “And I did his show once before. I started getting involved in it and really enjoyed the show. The room is really cool and I think it just reminded me of some of the really cool bar shows in New York.”
Chalifoux ran one such show along with Ludlow, Ky., native Dave Waite, at a place called Winebar in New York City. With so many shows, the competition for audiences was stiff.
“I remember one show, we had Gabe Kea, myself and Dave, and all three of us had been on TV or radio in some manner, along with Greg Warren, Henry Phillips and Joe List,” he says. Chalifoux reasons the average comedy fan in the Midwest would have to pay $50 to see a lineup like that, but the crowd was sparse; he says they only had about 15 people.
At MOTR Mouth, the crowd is ready for a show. “They’re excited for it,” Chalifoux says. “It’s a small room, so it’s a tight feel and it’s nice to be able to do a variety of material. From a performance standpoint it ranks right up there with the top bar shows in New York.”
And Chalifoux plans to keep it that way.
MOTR MOUTH takes place Tuesday at MOTR Pub. More info: motrpub.com .