BY ELLIE HENSLEY
Through a door in the back of a bustling burger joint in Midtown, you’ll find one of the most beloved and intimate comedy clubs in the Southeast.
Laughing Skull Lounge on Peachtree Street has the most popular open mic night in the region, said general manager Bob Place. It’s also a favorite among celebrity comedians, who have been known to drop by unannounced for a show on the weekends.
Place, a comedian himself, gave us a rundown on what you can expect if you attend a show at the Laughing Skull these days, as well as how the stand-up spot has weathered the pandemic. Read more below.
Comedy That Connects
Laughing Skull opened in 2009 adjacent to Midtown’s The Vortex. While the two share the same branding, Laughing Skull operates as a separate business, and The Vortex functions as its landlord.
The intimate 74-seat club offers just the right environment for stand-up, Place said.
“I have fancy lights rigged up and a curtain that opens and closes on stage to try to have the most explosive entertainment experience inside a tiny little theatre,” he said.
Currently, Laughing Skull offers three types of shows. From Monday through Wednesday, it hosts Open Mic Night, which comedians must apply to participate in ahead of time and is already booked out through November.
“People, for whatever reason, love it, and that’s not typical for an open mic,” Place said.
Thursday Nights are Stand-Up Socials, which the club markets as “comedy that connects.”
“It’s kind of like speed dating with a stand-up comic,” Place said. “The comic sits down at a table with some conversation starters, does a bit, and then when the host comes out, you switch tables.”
Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, the club hosts a Best of Atlanta Comedy Showcase, during which 10 comics present 10 minutes of their best comedy. Place, a stand-up comic since 2000, often performs on these evenings. He has been GM of Laughing Skull since 2012, and met the lounge’s owner Marshall Chiles while performing at one of Chiles’ previous ventures, The Funny Farm Comedy Club, in Roswell, Ga.
“Everyone who works here is a comedian, including the owner,” Place said. ‘We just live and breathe stand-up comedy over here.”
Celebrity drop-ins are a fairly regular occurrence at Laughing Skull, especially since podcaster Joe Rogan visited in 2013 and started raving about the club on his show. Well-known comics have been known to test out new material at the lounge while visiting Atlanta.
Surprise guests have included Dave Chappelle, Zac Galifianakis, Bill Burr, Amy Schumer, Ron White, the late Robin Williams and Chris Tucker, who lives in the area. Right before the pandemic shutdown, Kevin Hart was performing at the lounge regularly to practice for his upcoming Netflix special. But most of the time, Place himself doesn’t know they’re coming ahead of time.
“It’s usually incredibly last minute. They just pop in,” Place said.
Comedy Works Best When Everyone’s Together
Laughing Skull’s Midtown location was closed for nearly a year beginning March 15, 2020 with the onset of the pandemic. Place tried out a variety of different formats while the venue was closed, including virtual shows and outdoor shows at Ponce City Market.
Last fall, Laughing Skull partnered with Center Stage to host variety shows that included acts like sword swallowers, dancers and singers in addition to comedians. The 1,100-seat venue was capped at 200 tickets per show to ensure social distancing, which offered far more space than Laughing Skull’s venue in Midtown. Until recently, Laughing Skull performers were also putting on shows at The Omni Hotel at The Battery.
Laughing Skull reopened in February 2021 and has worked its way back up to full capacity. Place also reconfigured the layout of the audience so everyone in attendance is seated at a high-top table rather than in rows.
For Place, there’s nothing quite as “magical” as experiencing stand-up comedy with a live audience.
“For a minute, I didn’t know if we were coming back, if anyone was coming back,” he said. “Comedy works best when everyone’s together… Seeing a show, being part of a crowd, it becomes like a beehive where you all sort of lock together. It all functions together, and that is very magical to me.”
Purchasing advance tickets online for Laughing Skull shows is recommended, as they often sell out. See upcoming showtimes and get tickets here.
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