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Between two purple sconces and a shelf of hot sauce in East Lansing, comedy thrives. The Salsa Parlor comedy show is the latest evolution of monthly house shows in East Lansing booking national and local acts from the big stage to the living room.
The donations funded venue is the closest thing Greater Lansing has to a dedicated comedy club.
“People ask me if I want to open a club and I say, ‘Not really, but someone should,’” Louis Michael, show organizer and homeowner said. “There is clearly a market for it.”
For Michael, a touring comedian himself, Salsa Parlor is comedy first and business second.
“A donations bucket, snacks and comedy in my living room is the farthest I want to go.”
In 2014, Lansing comedy club Connxctions closed, leaving Lansing’s comedy scene mostly in the hands of comedy nights at local bars. Michigan State University student Tom Gannon started the first Lansing house comedy show entitled the “825 Albert Comedy Show” in 2014, within months of Connxctions closing.
“I was 20 at the time and any bar or comedy club was 21 plus. I had difficulties finding anywhere to perform in Lansing,” Gannon said.
The age difference between him and comedians above 20 lead to a disparity in comedic taste. “College students like the jokes college students tell and I started the show to provide college students a place for comedy.”
For Gannon, hosting the first show was “terrifying.”
With a budget of $300, Gannon bought a microphone and amplifier and used the remaining $200 to pay Stewart Huff, a touring comedian, to headline his living room.
There wasn’t a typical first show audience of a dozen or so people. There was a mob.
“We had so many people where the show could no longer fit in the house physically, so I opened up the windows and had people watch from outside.”
He could only imagine what passers-by must’ve thought with so many people looking through the windows and laughing, he said.
Following his early success, Gannon expanded the show, booking more local and touring comedians to do their sets.
Fliers and Facebook posts were the main form of marketing. Most were comedic takes on stereotypes of each, including a missing dog flyer and Facebook post about a family emergency with twist endings saying to come to the comedy show.
“If I put a lot of legwork in with the flyers, people would come,” Gannon said.
Some shows would see triple digit attendance.
In 2015, Gannon moved to Austin, Texas to pursue graduate school in mathematics, leaving the torch passed to Louis Michael’s home, christened the “1542 River Terrace Comedy Show.”
“River Terrace was a dead end street, and the irony isn’t lost with me living in my college town with my degree on a dead end street,” Michael said. “There is always a handful of young professionals that stick around, and we want cool shit to do too.”
As the show began, Michael said he didn’t know what he’d be in for.
“For me, it was like a high school party when your parents would leave on the weekend. Roll up the rug, put everything breakable in cabinets and tape them shut. We have the easy to clean hardwood floors, a mop, chairs, couches and pizza on the table.”
The new location was met with lower attendance at first, but more and more people slowly trickled in, Michael said.
“Most people think, ‘A comedy show in a living room? I don’t trust this.’ But one by one they would go and see it didn’t suck. They came back and told their friends and they too found out it didn’t suck.”
The audience is not just college students anymore, he added.
“It’s nice, because it is starting to be all walks of life. Some townies heard about it and some older people heard about it who went to Connxctions. I get it, but it’s not quite a comedy club. It is a once a month showcase of local comics working really hard at comedy.”
Comic Myles De Leeuw performed multiple times for Michael’s house show, and said he deserves all the donations he can get.
“He takes good care of the people he lets into his home.”
The intimacy between the comics and the crowd at house shows is a huge advantage as a comic.
“If you don’t have a crowd that is there for comedy, nine times out of 10, the joke is not going to land well for you,” De Leeuw said.
However, there are some downsides to house shows.
“I see a lot of house shows fail where people book continuously the same people over and over. The audience might see the same jokes over and over,” she said. “But Louis’ house show is probably one of the best ones around.”
De Leeuw says the house show will beat comedy night at bars everytime.
“If you go into a bar, and people don’t know a comedy show is happening there, it is a huge fight to get them on board. It’s like, ‘Did you come here to talk to your friends? Well goddamn you!’” 1542 played its last show in June, moving with Michael to the Salsa Parlor.
The first August show at the Salsa Parlor was a hit. Sixty people came and filled the living room, but the East Lansing Police Department also showed up after a noise complaint.
“The cops were very cool about it,” Michael said.
House show tours are becoming a popular movement in comedy, Michael said.
“Comics go on house show runs. My buddy Tanner has a house show in Ann Arbor the last Saturday of the month, and he and I will book similar out of town lineups. They will do mine Friday and his Saturday, like doing a club weekend, but with houses.”
Michael said he doesn’t understand why house shows have a secret reputation.
“I am screaming about it and posting about it all the time. People come over and say, ‘It is so cool and secret to have a comedy show in a house.’ I have to tell them they aren’t special and we want to tell everybody. I don’t think I’m doing a grandiose task. I am just an idiot that thought to have fun in my house.”