A ‘Comedy Kibbutz’ on the Upper West Side

You might spot Jerry Seinfeld in the audience at the West Side Comedy Club. A Q&A with manager Felicia Madison

| 28 Sep 2021 | 02:41

The West Side Comedy Club in New York City is a bright spot underground. Simply walk downstairs and start laughing. It’s intimate and upbeat, and has something we all need more of: fun.

You can enter on 201 West 75th Street, or enter around the corner at their corresponding restaurant, Playa Betty’s on Amsterdam Avenue.

It features both new and established comedians, with styles that offer something for everyone. At a recent show, Bill Burr performed to a full house and Jerry Seinfeld was there to see him. Equally comical are the “New Talent Showcases” that give the next great jokesters a chance.

“The club is still new,” explains manager and comedian Felicia Madison. “I say it’s one year BC. One year DC, and hopefully lots of years AC.”

In addition to her role as talent booker and new talent director, Madison runs classes and open mics via a development room she founded called “F Comedy.” She recently spoke to The West Side Spirit:

How would you describe the club?

It’s a small intimate venue where you can get up close and personal with your favorite comic.

Intimate and elegant.

Words that don’t usually go along with comedy, and you can have a nice meal or just have drinks. It’s an hour and 15-30 minutes of comedy. A fun night. You can get here a half hour early and eat your dinner before the show starts. The food comes from upstairs at Playa Betty’s. It’s all brought down to you.

It’s nice that you also have open mics and classes.

Mics do really well. I’m told they’re the nicest mics in New York. Usually you get open mics and people don’t pay attention or they leave. I’m pretty strict about clean comedy so you don’t get a lot of the crude, gross jokes.

To stay and help people gives it a community. It’s kind of like a comedy kibbutz. We all know each other. They’re hanging out, they’re chatting. When you build a rapport, it’s easier to give feedback because you know them and you don’t have to explain their jokes, you just dive into what they have.

What advice do you have to up and coming comedians, or to those who would like to be up and coming?

It’s a tough career, but one of my friends started here at the open mic, and now she’s headlining at Caroline’s, and she’s doing a lot of really great stuff. There are a couple of comedians where that happened. It’s a very nurturing environment. I would suggest to anyone who’s new to come to one of my mics or to take one of the classes that are offered through F Comedy. There are Mics, which are practice, and then there are Classes.

I can help from beginner to medium, but once they get passed medium, I don’t really have the skill set to help them get better. Then I would push them off on someone else to help them get better. I feel like I really have a pretty good eye and I’m pretty good at honing a joke and finding a joke, but I’m still myself somewhat of a beginner. I tell people this is my opinion, and it’s not really worth that much, so take it or leave it because I could be wrong.

I’ve gone to see people who are professionals and they’ve given me things that I felt haven’t been good, so you always have to take people’s opinions and advice in stride and see what works for you.

How is it for women these days? A bit better?

It’s a lot better. My joke is that the glass ceiling has been shattered because all white men have crashed through it. They’ve opened it up wide.

A lot of women still complain that there are not a lot of women on the lineups, and they’re not. I don’t seem to find that at our club. If we have four to five people, a lot of times there are two women, Once I had a show with all four women and I was a little nervous because I thought, will it sell? I thought, well, women are the ones who buy the tickets, so why would four men sell and not four women? And it did sell. So that was sort of an interesting wake up call for me. I think now we’re trying to get more women of color into the clubs. That’s the new push.

And there are some Asian women who are interesting too.

Oh, they’re great. Like Jocelyn Chia, she’s one of my favorites. She’s worked here a lot. She was one of my first friends in comedy. She was on one of my shows. I think it’s a hard career for women. You’re out at night. It’s hard to have a family and kids. They’re on the road a lot. I find a lot of the women don’t have family or kids until they get more successful.

I don’t know, maybe eventually they’ll figure out how to have kids and not have one parent home. They’re working on it, I think. Maybe. They are really doing things to help women succeed. Like nail polish that stays on for two weeks, and dry hair shampoo. If only they could figure out childcare. That little something. But thanks for the hairspray.

In general I find a lot of the young women are saying, “I don’t want to get married, I don’t want to have kids.” Oh. That’s interesting. Why didn’t I think of that? (Laughs.)

I’ve noticed that women comedians on YouTube are really honest about their thoughts on sex.

Yeah. My favorite comedian who I would love to get in the club, one of my goals, is Taylor Tomlinson. She’s brilliant. Super smart, super cute. She’s going to be a star.

How does it work, you reach out to them and then also people reach out to you?

There’s a system involved. There’s an avail system. People send you their avails, and then it’s my job to put together a lineup that I think will work. You don’t want four loud people or four quiet people.

It’s like a recipe.

Yeah, the right recipe to work. Every comedian has a different style. Some of them are like deadpan and quiet. Some of them are louder. You can’t have all loud, you can’t have all deadpan and quiet. I always joke around that booking a show in Manhattan, which has obviously the best and the cream of the crop of comedy, is like sticking your hand into a jar of jelly beans. You just have to make sure they’re not all the same color.

It might be fun to present readings of humorous essays like David Sedaris does, or from Broadway shows.

That’s interesting. Maybe on Wednesday nights.

What shows have stayed in your memory lately?

It was a great show with Bill Burr. How could you be disappointed with Bill Burr? He was amazing. Jerry Seinfeld was here, but he didn’t perform. He came to watch Bill. I said to Jerry, “I really want to get you here.” So maybe he’ll come.

What’s your vision for the future?

I’d like to make it a nice go-to place. I’d like to make it clean comedy too, so it could be family oriented, with a family night. Come with not too young kids. The premiere place for comedy above 42nd Street. A home away from home.

Lese Dunton is a journalist who started The New Sun Newspaper in the early 90s and has recently launched a new site called LookingForHumor.com.