Comedian Rick Taylor and his husband Chris Ferguson have been producing comedy shows on Capitol Hill for a year now where Broadway’s Jai Thai restaurant doubles as, well, a comedy venue.
As Taylor and Ferguson see it, they had the organizational skills that they could use to take the Punchline shows to the next level. Booking in advance, promoting through social media and through signs, flyers, buttons, and word of mouth, they’ve done their best to elevate their show to where it is now. Part of that is making sure the audience feels welcome and has somewhere to sit and enjoy the show. Part of it is making Punchline a show where comics feel at home. “That’s really helped us build the room,” said Taylor.
In addition to producing live comedy shows, Taylor has also produced Billy Wayne Davis’ new self-titled album. He’s going to be producing Emmett Montgomery’s upcoming album as well. Taylor has a lifelong interest in comedy, but it’s only in the last two years that he’s been a stand-up. He spent twelve years as on-air radio radio talent here in Seattle, which is where he met Davis. Davis helped convince him to jump into comedy. The skills that he learned from years in radio came in handy.
“I’m an old guy,” said Taylor. “I’m 43, so having come to this only a couple of years ago, I have very little intention of ever being a starving artist again. I did that to be in radio, and that’s why adjusting to comedy wasn’t super difficult for me.”
Taylor and Ferguson produce two other comedy shows on the Hill: Candy Basket at the Capitol Club, and Side Effects at the Wildrose. Once he got the performance bug, and he and Ferguson considered how the Hill was wide open as they saw it for some new comedy shows, that was that.
“Some people would call it compulsive and I wouldn’t disagree,” Taylor said. “That’s the kind of person I am. That’s why we’ve become really involved. When we decide we’re going to do something we really do it.” Ferguson isn’t a comic, but he’s a big comedy fan. He and Taylor have been together for fifteen years, and as they see it that means doing things together. Once Taylor became obsessed with stand-up comedy, Ferguson saw the writing on the wall. “Either I was going to get involved or I was never going to see him anymore,” Ferguson said.
As residents of the Hill for the past ten years, Taylor and Ferguson have seen firsthand how it’s a destination neighborhood. They think that the Hill has a very vibrant music and club scene, but also that there are adults who might not want to listen to loud music. There are people who might instead really enjoy sitting in a dark Thai restaurant and listen to people making them laugh. They want to be one of the options for entertainment.
“[Jai Thai] is uniquely positioned to be the biggest regular comedy room that’s going on on the Hill,” said Taylor. There’s a million people that walk by this place every day, all we have to do is draw them into a comedy show.”
The Jai Thai show is basically a workshop. The laughs are hard-earned, and afterwards the jokes are better, or discarded. “This isn’t a comedy club,” said Taylor. “This is a room that’s provided for comics to come and try to have each experience you need to have in comedy.” Those experiences as he sees them include going up in front of all sorts of audiences, learning to host, and eventually performing trusted material at a showcase. If Taylor and Ferguson like what you’re doing at their open mic they may invite you to perform at a Punchline showcase, which is every other Friday at Jai Thai. The next showcase is tonight, April 13th at 9PM.
Last July, Taylor and Ferguson rolled out their first original show at the Capitol Club: Candy Basket. Every third Wednesday it’s a monthly showcase of local and out of town comics. The goal is to have the show reflect the diversity of the Hill. Different ethnicities, genders, backgrounds– they think about this when putting the shows together the same way that they think about flyers and buttons. It’s all part of a plan.
Their newest show is Side Effects at the Wildrose. It’s on the first Wednesday of the month. For this show, it’s been about bringing the show to the people more than bringing people to the show.
Ferguson and Lena Holz do take care with who they select to perform at Side Effects. “[Audiences on the Hill] don’t like homophobic material, they don’t like rape material. They don’t like material that’s going to be bad against women, anything like that. I think it’s definitely a more PC audience,” said Ferguson. That’s everywhere on the Hill. According to Taylor and Ferguson that gets bumped up another notch at the Wildrose, and they make sure the comics they book suit the room. Taylor said, “If being a comic full time is your goal, then you’re going to have to learn to adjust to a lot of different environments, regardless of who you are.” The next show is Wednesday May 3rd.
“I think we’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible here,” Taylor said.
Taylor thinks there’s room for a larger comedy venue on the Hill as time goes on. With the coming light rail station opening in three years, Capitol Hill will open up even more for people seeking entertainment. In the meantime Ferguson and Taylor intend to improve and build. “We’re trying not to take on new shows,” said Ferguson. “We’re trying to cultivate what we have, make everything better.”