Did you ever hear the expression, “Be careful what you wish for, for it may come true”? In the following case, I am hoping that more Buffalonians wish for whatever it is that they desire, because sometimes all it takes is a wish to bring something great to this city. In this particular instance it’s comedian Kristen Becker (Dykes of Hazard) who has wished for ‘something great’. It all began about a year ago when Marc Grossman, owner of Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia (Facebook) called her up and asked that she consider using an online booking website (strictly for comics) that he had created. Kristen in turn (this part actually sends shivers down my spine) asked Marc to open one of his national comedy clubs in Buffalo. At first Marc wasn’t exactly sure what to say. Then he told Kristen that Buffalo wasn’t on his list. That’s when Kristen (more shivers) told Marc to give her the funding to do it herself. And that’s when Marc began to take her seriously.
Before long Marc and his brother (business partner) were on a plane to Buffalo. Kristen was determined that the two would be taken care of, so she took them around town, introduced them to people and showed them the city in only a way that Kristen can. “Sometimes it can be to Buffalo’s benefit that its national image is not the best,” Kristen told me. “Because if you can figure out a way to get an investor here they are blown away by this city. I knew that if I could get Marc here that I could convince him to open a club in Buffalo… or that I would at least have a good shot.”
If Kristen could convince Helium to open in Buffalo, that would put this city on the comedy map overnight. It just so happened that while the club owners were scoping out Buffalo, Morrissey’s (Cobblestone District) went on the market. But Morrissey’s wasn’t big enough. “That’s when we discovered that Benchwarmers was also for grabs,” Kristen said. “If we combined the two, there would be room for a 260 seat showroom and a nightclub with a 100 seat bar and grill. When Marc got back to Philadelphia he began discussions with the developer (Savarino). It didn’t take long to seal the deal, and Buffalo is now going to be the third city, after Philadelphia and Portland, to land a Helium Comedy Club (scheduled to open late fall to early winter). This club will bring in the top acts from around the country and will become a destination for comedy lovers from around the region. As for the investment, we’re looking at half a million dollars on the low end, and the creation of 25-30 jobs. It’s funny to think about, but Marc told me that Buffalo went from not being on his radar to Buffalo as the “No Brainer”. He looked at the demographics (1,000,000 people to pull from) and realized that there was no full time comedy club in the area. Now he wants to build an A+ club with the caliber to match that of a NYC sexy nightclub.”
Not only will the addition of Helium be great for Buffalo’s national ranking in the comedy circuit, it’s going to give local comics a giant boost in the industry. “This is going to be key to keeping local comics in town. We’ll be hiring MCs and feature acts from Buffalo. Those comics will have access to other clubs in the Helium family. They can also get picked up by feature acts traveling through Buffalo as openers. Those opportunities never existed before. At the same time, it is important for a traveling comic to have a recognized home club that he or she can brag about. A beginner comic can start off as an MC and work his or her way to being a feature act. The local comics will be able to learn a lot from the national acts. Helium has a stellar reputation among comedians. The quality of the stage, the sound and the lighting is top of the line. Marc is only planning to have five or six clubs in the country, and it won’t be long before Helium is the number one club. With Morrissey’s being converted to Helium, Benchwarmers will be transformed into a nightclub called Elements (with dining) – the two will be attached. That means that people will be able to eat dinner, catch a show and then grab a cocktail… all in the same building.”
Kristen is excited to raise the bar when it comes to the comedy scene in Buffalo. She’s going to be the General Manager of Helium, but in order to do that she had to give up her comedy gig at Nietzsche’s in Allentown. “Actually, I am handing the reins over to another local comic who will continue the tradition at that club,” she informed me. “Buffalo needs to have multiple venues of all caliber. Since 2006 I’ve managed to grow my stable of comics from 8 to 78. Now there is a waiting list to perform that is 2-3 weeks out… and it’s growing quick. With this new outside investment coming to Buffalo, I finally feel that I have completed what I set out to do. Helium is a community oriented, non-chain, national comedy club that will help to change the face of the city. I look back to the year 2005 when I never intended on staying in Buffalo… it was at that time that I started to see that this place could use a little comedy. Buffalo is an opportunity waiting to happen. Now the scene is really about to take off and I’m proud to have had a part in the exciting process.”