By Joe Hobby
I walked thru the empty parking lot until I got to the glass doors, and then I entered the lobby. It had been a long time since I was here, and the minute I walked inside I wanted to click the heels of my sneakers together and say, “There’s no place like home.” That’s because the Stardome in Birmingham is my comedy home.
Since people in Alabama like to take pride in every good thing we have, let me clue ya’ll in on something else you can brag about: The Comedy Club at the Stardome is hands down one of the best comedy venues in the country. It has a near legendary status with comedians. Once I was in a club in New York City, and when one of the comics discovered that the Stardome was my home, he begged for help to him get booked here. I still laugh when I think of someone from the Big Apple wanting desperately to perform in Birmingham.
Of course, the Stardome is the third installment of a comedy club here. In 1992, a fire during a huge winter storm burned the second location to the ground. All of comedian Carrot Top’s props were lost in the blaze, so at least some good came out of it (sarcasm noted). The blaze forced him to cancel his upcoming appearance on the Tonight Show, and Leno made some snarky remarks about the fire on his show.
A number of comedians called him to set him straight, including me. I told Jay that Bruce Ayers runs a top notch operation and treats the comics well. Jay, still a road comic at heart, said, “Give me his phone number. I’ve got a short meeting, then I’ll give him a call. When he gets ready to re-open, let me know and I’ll help him out.”
I hung up the phone and frantically tried to call Bruce, yelling in his voicemail. “Hey, be sure to pick up your phone! Leno’s gonna call you in about thirty minutes!”
Bruce got my message too late, but he did get a voicemail from Jay. Once the club was ready, Leno offered to record a commercial for him – from the set of the Tonight Show!
Birmingham had lost a fine comedy club. However, Bruce saw an opportunity. His eyes became fixed on a an old dinner theatre in a suburb of Birmingham. I remember when he first took me there. It was dark, dusty, and had the ugliest pair of velvet curtains flanking the stage I’ve ever seen. I was immediately struck by it’s size. The old club held just over 300 people. This venue could seat over 500, Vegas-style with multiple levels. It even had skyboxes. The difference in this facility and most comedy clubs is that this building was designed and created from the ground up for performing. Everything – from the green room, to the stage, to the ticket booths, to the kitchen, has been made to give the audience a great experience. With just a few tweaks, this would make Birmingham a shining star on the national comedy scene.
To my delight, Bruce pulled the trigger, and soon the transformation began. I worked close by, so I made frequent trips to the club to check on the progress. It was exciting to know that soon I would have a shiny new playground.
I’ve been on the stage of the Stardome on countless occasions, but I will always remember the first time I stepped in front of a audience there. It seemed like a wall of people rose up in front of me. I’ve been an opener, a feature act, and a headliner. I’ve done hundreds of guest sets, which are when a comic drops in to do a few minutes during the regular show. In addition, I’ve worked corporate gigs at the Stardome, and several New Year’s Eves, where I was intoxicated by the high energy of doing several shows at the same time.
And now, I was back at my home club, making ticket arrangements for my friends to see me and six other comedians perform sets that will be filmed and used on Amazon Prime. One of my dearest comedy friends, Truett Beasley, aka, Killer Beaz, graciously offered me a spot on his new show, the Comedy Buzz.
After hugs and smiles for people I haven’t seen in a while, I did what I always do, walked in the main room of the Stardome. Workers were already setting up cameras and sound equipment for the show. I became as excited as a high school kid on Prom Night.
About 24 hours later, I nervously checked my notes for one last time as Beaz began introducing me to the audience. Walking on stage, I grabbed the microphone, saw that familiar wall of people rising before me, and did my first joke. Fifteen minutes and about forty gags later, I left the stage to raucous applause.
Dorothy was right – there really is no place like home.