When he started Blue Room Comedy Club LLC in 2016, Chris Richele wasn’t just opening a performance venue; he was trying to build a culture of comedy.
Blue Room held its first shows in a room at Billiards of Springfield. The room wasn’t blue; it was a space that was intended for blues musicians, but local comedians were the ones who grabbed the mic.
Since its start in a space off a pool hall, Blue Room Comedy Club moved to its own location in 2020, at a spot formerly occupied by The Well Church on West College Street.
Richele says he was scouting locations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Billiards was closed, and he didn’t think it was likely to open again. But he wanted the comedy momentum he had built to keep going.
“I walked in there and immediately fell in love with the place,” he says of the new location. “I thought, wow – this is a comedy club!”
The Well had accidentally created the perfect space for comedy, Richele says. The bathrooms were there; there was a coffee shop in front that could be adapted into a bar. The church’s overflow seating area was converted to a kitchen, and the sanctuary made a perfect performance space.
Richele used a $90,000 startup loan from the city of Springfield to place his club in the building across from Regal College Station movie theater, in an area he says the city had envisioned as an entertainment district. He leases his space from Tillman Redevelopment LLC, whose website lists the cost as $5,875 per month.
In 2019, the last year at Billiards, the club sold $275,000 in tickets. In the new space in 2021, Richele says the club made over $500,000 on tickets and food and beverage sales. He projects it will hit $1 million in 2022.
“The Blue Room’s purpose is to create a comedy culture – a comedy scene – while educating the audience,” he says.
And Springfield audiences understand the culture of comedy, according to Richele.
There’s a sweet spot for a small club like the Blue Room, Richele says. He can book comics who are new and might become big or comics who used to be big.
The most popular shows tend to be by those with large followings on TikTok or YouTube, Richele says.
Big names are not out of the question, though, Richele says. A club like the Blue Room can be a testing ground for comics of the stature of Amy Schumer or Anthony Jeselnik.
“Before they do a theater run, they work out their material at small clubs,” Richele says. “They pick small clubs they want to perform at, but to get that opportunity, I have to make the club great and make the audiences great.”
Ticket prices vary, usually from $20 to $55, and booking prices also vary.
“You can get anybody to come to Springfield, Missouri, as long as you pay them,” Richele says.
He calls himself a horse trader, negotiating with an agency, who takes an offer to a manager, who then makes a recommendation to a performer.
A big part of the job for a comedy club is to grow audiences by giving them the acts they want to see, but also building trust, so they will also turn out for comics they’ve never heard of.
“We have to create that comedy opportunity,” Richele says. “That way our club becomes like a destination for our town and for tourists that come to Springfield, and it’s also a destination for comics that want to come here.”
The goal is to have a club where both audiences and comedians can have a good time. The intimate space – the Blue Room seats 200 – allows for interaction between audience and performer.
He added that interaction needs to be natural. Audiences must not distract performers with heckling, and comedians don’t respect clubs that allow it.
Riffing – interaction with the audience that is instigated by the performer – is something different.
“It can be such an organic, funny moment,” he says. “It should never be forced, but it’s great when it happens.”
What happens between a comedian and an audience at the Blue Room is a symbiotic relationship, according to Richele. And comics feed off that energy, Richele says.
“The performer can definitely feel the brush, the energy, of the audience being close to them,” he says.
Brandy Martin is one Springfieldian who has experienced this energy. She says she has enjoyed performances both before and after the Blue Room’s move, but there is something special about the new location.
“It was nicer,” she says. “I hadn’t been out in a long time, but everyone that came in was dressed nicely, so the audience is responsive – and my drink was elegant.”
One of her recent visits to the club was to see actress and comedian Margaret Cho, whose work openly addresses issues of race and sexuality.
“I love how comedy provides a vehicle for tough topics to be addressed,” says Martin, a church administrator.
Cal Ingram, a financial operations professional, also likes to attend events at the Blue Room, including jazz performances of MOJO, the Missouri Jazz Orchestra, which is housed there.
Ingram called the club an underappreciated gem.
Richele and wife Mollye Richele are joint owners of the club. Chris Richele says Mollye is the pit boss, making sure everything operates well night to night, while he is the professional cat-herder, handling bookings, contracts and promotions.
There are open mic events on Sundays and Thursdays, and they draw comedians from throughout the region, as well as local talent.
“One of the goals of the Blue Room is to help develop talent to leave the nest and go out into the world to become a professional comedian,” Richele says.
The only way to learn to do comedy is to fail, he says.
“It’s a skillset,” he says. “It takes 1,000 hours to learn to be good at something, but you only get five minutes a time at an open mic.”
His club, too, is working on perfecting its appeal.
“We still have some growing to do,” he says. “As we grow, we hope that Springfield trusts us to go with us.”
The latest survey data yield results.