Comedy has changed A LOT in the last 20 years. More than you and I could possibly imagine because statistically speaking most of you were probably 2 years old when it was the 80’s or you were doing something else with your time. The point is some of it is different and thank god for that. More specifically, you should be thanking people like Adam Triplett and Shana Delwiche.
Over the past 2ish years Shana and Adam have been co-managing the Helium Comedy Club on 9th and Hawthorne and that is an extremely important detail that often gets overlooked. The harsh truth is that in the comedy world there are generally two types of comedy club managers: People who care about comedians, and people who care about nachos and whether or not you are eating nachos.
Adam and Shana are the former. I spoke with the two of them on a Saturday evening before the early show. We talked about the wrangling of cats that is running a comedy club, and interacting with the mystic force that is Dave Chappelle. For the record, it's impossible to not do an impersonation of Dave Chappelle when you're talking about him which is where things started:
Danny: Is there anyone coming through soon who can do a good Chappelle?
Adam: Aries Spears does impressions, I wonder if he has a Chappelle? I mean, what's funny is everyone kind of has a Chappelle.
Danny: Yeah, it's sort of Aziz but a little quicker.
Adam: It's a little...yeah mine is terrible. I love to do impressions of the headliners and they usually last about as long as the comic is in town and then it just goes up into smoke because I'm not around them anymore. The ones that stick around are people like Jon Lovitz.
(It was at this point that we both did impressions of Jon Lovitz. I am sorry. I can't be stopped)
Adam: That said, I'm just around these comics a lot doing press runs and stuff like that which is honestly one of the coolest parts of my job. It's also one of the hardest parts of my job because I'm usually here until like 2AM and then I'm up at 7AM doing press.
Danny: Like radio stuff?
Adam: Exactly because they got to record it early and then play it back at 9AM.
Danny: I did want to ask you about that kind of stuff and how you're basically here every day. I don't know why I didn't put it together beforehand but it was only then that I realized that you're here, what, like 6 days a week?
Adam: Basically, the way Shana and I do it is we try to get 2 days off in one way or another. So for example last week Harland Williams was here so I worked Sunday and she worked Thursday or something like that. But one of us is always here. We try to be here together as much as possible but one of us will be here at any given time. It's a juggling act.
Danny: It sounds really crazy! That's a huge amount of time.
Adam: Yeah, I think I speak for both of us when I say that we spend more time here then we do in our own homes. Am I wrong?
Shana: Oh for sure.
Adam: We had this thing where one night we were here just calling the club our "house" and then a comic who will remain nameless wondered back in and was like fumbling around and running into tables and Shana and I were the only ones here at the end of the night.
Shana: This person just had socks and shoes off!
Adam: Yeah, and Shana just turns to me and says, "(this person) is drunk in our house...".
It was this weird moment where it's like, "Oh yeah, this really high profile guy is hammered and knocking over things and we're following him around.".
Danny: That's funny because I thought you meant a local comic for a second. For whatever reason I just pictured ****** ******* walking around in his socks.
Adam: To be fair ****** is someone who would walk around in their socks. That story could very well be about that person.
Danny: Just like, "You guys are so great. I love you and I'm so glad we're friends".
Adam: "Can you believe we get to do this???"
(For the record, if the person we were talking about ever put the pieces together they'd just be happy we could get a laugh at the fact that they take their shoes off quickly, so don't worry fam.)
Danny: I guess with that in mind I'm curious do you ever just get burned out?
Adam: Oh for sure. And that's sort of the case with any job. You get frustrated and you're ready to jump off a bridge one day but then the next day comes and it works itself out. That's something I have to work on where I make sure that I don't get totally burnt. And Shana is the same. We have to manage it. It's really important we're coming in here and we're not miserable. This is the last place you want to see miserable people.
It happens at so many comedy clubs where the management is just miserable and they HATE comics.
Danny: That must make it where you guys have to have a really good relationship with the whole staff. You're all so interconnected in that way.
Adam: It's so corny but we try to do a family thing. Most people who have been here have been around for years now. There's not a lot of turnover. Any turnover has been really weird, right?
Shana: Definitely. There have been people here since it opened. 3 or 4 years for a serving job?
Adam: That's so...uncommon. And a lot of our staff, this is the fun thing. And don't get me wrong. They HATE some nights, but you can go wait tables at some place and deal with that, or, you can go wait tables and Dave Chappelle is standing there telling jokes in front of you. It's a pretty cool thing.
Shana: And a lot of our servers have day jobs. You can't really support yourself on part time. There's not a ton of shifts available but they tell us things like, "This is my fun job! It's the job I like to come to.".
Danny: What was it like having Chappelle here?
Adam: That was the craziest week of my life. Like that would be a crazy week if you knew it was coming for a year out. Because there are certain weekends where we look at our calendar and we're like, "Oh shit, Joe Rogan is going to be packed. Whitney Cummings is going to be packed.". You know those dates are going to be a big deal. The staff knows.
I can look at that calendar on the wall right now and tell you what type of weekend any weekend is going to be like. But with Chappelle, Shana calls me and says "We are a phone call away from having something really really huge.". And she says, "Think of the biggest comic you can imagine.".
First I said Kevin Hart, because I knew Louis CK physically wasn't going to be close. And then #3 was Chappelle. And honestly when I said Chappelle I was sort of dicking off. That was me giving up at the game.
Danny: But you won!
Adam: Here's the other thing: We had another headliner scheduled for that week. When I looked at that calendar I knew we'd maybe order 4 kegs and a couple bottles of wine. Not a crazy weekend. And then we get this phone call and he's coming on Wednesday.
Shana: And we got the call on Tuesday at 8PM.
Danny: 24 hours notice?
Adam: Oh yeah. We had no schedule. Most people weren't going to work that weekend because we were probably only going to draw 150 people originally. And then he was here. Walking in the club.
Danny: I feel like it would be especially weird just because I remember mid 2000s Chappelle being sort of lankier and now he's just all swoll!
Adam: Yeah! And he would wear a jacket or a polo but now he's coming in with tight black tank tops. And there's a big gulf by the way between a white tank top and a black tank top. That's a big jump in your life.
Danny: Was he cool?
Adam: Sure! He was different though because he's not like those other big marquee comics.
Shana: He's a nice guy, but he's not really trying to be your friend.
Adam: Yeah, Chappelle was different. First of all: No entourage. He had maybe 2 people with him. One of the guys was named Smerve Griffin who was his manager. And then there was a guy from Livenation. But he was just with him for the first day. And that's really uncommon. You will see A TON of people regardless of their stature with sometimes 3 or 4 people.
Adam: You would be surprised.
Danny: I mean, the concept of an entourage seems like something HBO made up for the show Entourage.
Adam: A lot of times comics have an assistant or a road manager or something. And then sometimes you get friends and friends of friends.
Danny: It's funny because if you're a comic who's made it you're probably going to know lower profile people and they may not have day jobs so why not tour around with them! And if you're a big enough name you can just get your management to pay for everything.
Adam: It's interesting too because the juxtaposition of comedy with being in a band is different. Because if you're in a band you can say that one of your friends is going to carry the gear and there's a structure for that.
Danny: "The Roadie".
Adam: Right! Exactly. It's a paid position that makes sense but with comedy it's just you and a mic. Maybe you got some merch but that's it.
Shana: Another thing about Chappelle is the fire marshal told us we had to remove all the tables 30 minutes prior to the show, but then he called back about an hour later and said we were within our legal parameters.
Adam: Well we got rattled by every major inspection service.
Shana: The health inspector because he was smoking on stage, the police because he's a black comic, boil notice with the water. We had to buy like 700lbs of ice.
Adam: Oh, it was more than that for sure.
Danny: Wait hold on. Chappelle was here during the boil notice?
(For people who just moved to Portland: The water system here is great, but it's also kind of kooky so every once and a while the Portland Water Bureau will institute a boil notice on all water because a bear shit in the Bull Run Water Shed or some creep pissed in the reservoir. It's super tite.)
Adam: Oh yeah. So that takes water or whatever or ice off the table. And by the way: When that kind of stuff happens every business is trying to stay open so we had to go out to the middle of nowhere to get ice. And then you can't use the soft drink gun at the bar because the gun uses water so you gotta buy Pepsi, ginger ale, tonic water, club soda.
Shana: And the ice machine.
Adam: You gotta dump ALL the ice.
Danny: So all that was just the cherry. But it sounds like it worked out?
Adam: It did! And the other crazy thing is that after he would get off stage he kept saying, "Let's do 2 more tomorrow.". And we're coming at him like, "We are so honored to have you here and be chosen.". Because that's when he was building up to that run at Radio City Music Hall. So he had nothing material wise, but that was almost the coolest part.
I had never seen Chappelle but everyone has heard stories about how Chappelle will do 4 hours of time and he will just sit there and smoke and doesn't really have any kind of direction. He's not even really doing crowd work, he's just "talking" to people in the crowd. So the first 2 or 3 days were like that. Saturday rolls around and everyone is kinda like, "Alright we get it. He's gunna come through, smoke a little bit, whatever.". And you occasionally see him go back to something. Like this was around when those planes were disappearing so he would talk about how they were landing on Tupac Island. He's dancing around some subjects but he's mostly talking to people.
Saturday 7:30 show comes and that's the "Dinner Show". It always sells out no matter the comic. He comes to that show. Does exactly an hour. Doesn't talk to the crowd once. It was basically an HBO special. Every bit of it was culled from shit he did that week. You thought it was going out into the ether, but he had everything. And I know he wasn't recording it.
He did 6 shows and basically wrote an hour.
Danny: That's amazing!
I want to shift gears a little bit. Something that I wanted to ask you about is the concept of being in this sort of management position but as a person who did perform.
(Adam used to be in a band and toured for several years back in the mid 2000s.)
Danny: I'm curious how you transitioned into that.
Adam: You know, I don't think I do the worlds greatest job as far as when I was a performer back in the day. But I do think the greatest strength that I have in this job is my background in performing. I know what it's like to be on tour. I get what having a bad night on stage is like. I understand all that. That was a big thing when new management took over Helium Portland. Shana and I wanted to let people know this is an artist friendly place.
Two years ago this place was dark on Wednesdays. Just static. Now I don't have enough Wednesdays for all the show we want to do. That comes from being in bands and being in scenes and always wanting to be able to give that space. Understanding the need for it.
Danny: I absolutely remember that transition. Wednesday there just wouldn't be a show unless someone was going a really long week. And then all of a sudden we started seeing shows.
Adam: What's funny is Shana and i were just talking about how the first show we did on Wednesdays was Buzzword Bingo. You got a bingo card and everyone's premises were spots. The problem though is it bombed and nobody knew the potential Wednesdays could have and now we're really bummed just because we really wish we could bring that back. We loved that show and it's a bummer that it went away. Really it was The Dirty Dozen that was the show that caught fire.
There's a million reasons why that show works and now we're trying to build outward with it. Next month we will be doing a roast battle.
Danny: Oh man, when Jacob mentioned that and started posting about it I couldn't get over how good of an idea it was. Just super good implementation. Even if the audience doesn't know everything about the comics they're still going to get it.
Adam: If you've ever heard a bunch of people busting each others balls or whatever you know when someone strikes a chord. You can feel the rhythm.
Danny: They know when they're in on something.
Adam: But yeah, transitioning from a performance background feels like my biggest strength. Because I don't have a ton of experience when it comes to liquor costs and bar costs and Shana is like a master at that stuff.
Adam: She's amazing and it's one of the reasons we kind of balance out really well. We can cover each others blind spots.
Danny: When you guys started to do more Wednesday shows it felt like from my perspective it was necessary to be very integrated into the local scene. When that transition started were you consciously like, "Let's hang out with these people.".
Adam: You know what it did, it wasn't a conscious decision at all, it was just we got the opportunity because there was an extra day. Before the only contact with local comics was on Tuesdays, and half of Tuesday is spent in here hashing out the open mic list.
It's interesting you say people who weren't just hosting because that was definitely a big thing where we wanted to crack that open a little bit and get people on the stage. The Dirty Dozen is amazing for that. Especially for younger comics who maybe haven't done all that much. It's a nice thing to do the Dirty Dozen and to get paid for telling jokes. It's a big deal to have that motivation for the first time. And again as a performer I knew what it was like to be doing a show and think, "Well we're doing this thing and maybe we'll get paid or something?".
To have a thing where you get asked to do a show is important. And actually you fall into this: My favorite DD shows specifically are the ones where we have performers where that's not their go to thing. I think of you or Alex Falcone in that case.
Danny: Oh Falcone doing the DD would be so silly!
Adam: It's like an exercise.
Danny: Yeah, I always tell people I don't know how dirty it's going to get but it will get weird? It'll be disconcerting, that's for sure.
Adam: You will have a reaction.
Danny: Here's a question I'm sure a couple comics may be interested in: When you're watching the open mic is there a thing that jumps out at you when you see new people.
Adam: It's like a million little things. It's funny, we sound like psychopaths sometimes in here talking. One thing I'm really big on is I love to see people writing. That's something I will always notice, or if someone is just sort of riding the same 3 minutes. I'll notice if someone tried something new or if they tweaked something.
And then sometimes you'll notice someone's confidence change. We'll also talk about the concept of "raw potential" and how someone just immediately gets laughs or they just have something about them, and then how they figure things out. You notice that immediately. Even if it's just the tiniest little bit.
I won't mention names but there's someone recently who we noticed recently who has a lot of raw potential and there's something there but the question then is can they write? Or can they figure that part of it out? Are the things they're saying just sort of naturally funny or are they crafting something?
Danny: Can they build.
Adam: Right. And we actually saw that person crafting. Working on new material and tweaking old material. That's someone to keep an eye on. I mean the way the open mic list runs sometimes is half the time Shana and I sit in these 2 chairs and just yell at each other.
Adam: Seriously! We have had to get to the point where before the list starts we have to like bow to each other. And say things like, "I love you, you love me, everybody loves each other in this club.". And then we just end up screaming at each other for an hour.
Danny: Oh wow. So it's a lot of deliberate placement.
Adam: You mean like specific order?
Danny: More so the idea where you're like, "I'd like to see this person.".
Adam: Yeah, and of course there's tons of other little things that are all involved there. But I would say there's like 3-5 slots on every mic that we have serious knockdown drag outs. Or we'll really just want to get someone on this week, or it's been a while since we checked in, or something like that. Like, some Tuesdays I may not be in the room but we tape everything and we always have that and go back to it.
Danny: You guys listen to every tape? Dang!
Adam: Well we don't listen to the whole tape but we definitely keep an eye on everything. That said, there's so many times where even if we're not here we will show up just to catch even a little bit of the mic. We're always trying to keep an eye on that kind of thing.
Danny: Well I absolutely appreciate that vigilance. Oh yeah, another thing I was curious about: Often times there's a situation here or at another showcase or whenever where a whole crowd will react to a person's joke negatively but someone will be losing their shit laughing in the back. Is there a specific situation where you can remember that happening or is there a thing/trope that you just find funny?
Adam: I'll say personally that I have this very weird thing where full names make me laugh really hard. Even if you're just telling me a story and you say something like, "...so Renee Sanchez is there...", that will always make me laugh.
Danny: That is very specific!
Adam: It's just a funny bone thing that I have. There was one night where Sean Jordan was here...
Danny: I'm sure he's a huge proponent of making you laugh that way.
Adam: Of course. He was telling me some story where he knew the person's first name but couldn't remember the last name because he knows how hard that would make me laugh. And then something like 3 days go by and my phone buzzes and it's a text from Sean with just this person's last name.
Shana what do you have? Do you have anything like that?
Shana: Stuff that just gets me? I feel like that's my entire life. Just thinking things that nobody else thinks are funny are hilarious.
Adam: You've got a really distinct laugh too which makes it really difficult. Like if someone trips over something or says something that doesn't fly you can always pick out Shana. I sort of blend in a little more.
Shana: I think I like the super weirdos though. I can't watch Christian Ricketts without dying. Jason Traeger too.
Adam: We're really big fans of Ricketts and Traeger. One of the first shows we pitched was Test Tube.
(Test Tube is Helium's recurring "weirdo alt show" for lack of a better title. It used to be run by Steven Wilber and now Phil Schallberger is manning the helm. It's really interesting, weird, and most importantly funny.)
Adam: Like, Buzzword Bingo was the first thing we got off the ground but having show for experimental comedy was so important to us. Because look; certain people you just can't see hosting for someone like Jon Lovitz or some big mainstream act. Can you imagine someone like Tim Ledwith in front of him?
Danny: That would be hilarious to me.
Adam: Oh, it would be the greatest show I've ever seen for sure. Jason Traeger opening up for Arnez J was awesome. Because Traeger was initially going to be opening for JB Smoove and he dropped out and Arnez got put in. And Traeger would've done great with JB as well just because you've got a lot of people who've watched Curb Your Enthusiasm so they're comedy minded, but Traeger--his first weekend here--opens for Arnez who draws maybe a 98% black crowd.
Shana: Wearing the whitest pants you've ever seen by the way.
Adam: And the first couple of shows were a little rough, but by Sunday I remember watching him and thinking, "Oh my gosh. He's figured it out!". He found out how to make a set that'll work for these people. Now this audience isn't throwing chairs for him and running around in the dark, but, the first show on tape and the last show sound completely different.
Danny: That's so cool to see that development.
Adam: And see that wasn't technically his weekend but when the Arnez J thing popped up it was sort of a trial by fire on your first week here. I just remember walking out of that weekend with Shana saying, "That's a comic. He got it.".
Shana: And it doesn't always work out perfectly...
Adam: ...and Traeger would acknowledge that. He was actually saying on stage "I'm not going to patronize you guys. It's so hard for me not to do that.".
Danny: Well I don't want to influence you guys in any way but I'd love to see more of that. I think weirdo combos are super interesting.
Adam: I will say I do love to see guys go up for crowds that are not necessarily their crowd. Something that is not a perfect match.
Shana: I think one other thing that's also super cool is just seeing so many comics excel. Like they start off as MCs then they feature, then they headline and now they're in NYC or LA. That's super cool to be involved in the scene that way. We get to see so much growth.
Adam and Shana don't have shows which is usually what I put in this bottom area so I'm not really sure what to say. You should honestly just check out the mic at Helium on Tuesday at 8PM every week. It's great, and it is their masterpiece.