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Timmy Sherrill isn’t thinking about the last laugh. Not at all. As far as he’s concerned, live comedy in Wilmington is as buoyant today as it was when his Nutt Street Comedy Room crowed at peak volume in the brick-wall basement of 255 N. Front St. downtown.
Grievously for the venue’s regulars, that peak was right when word came that Nutt Street had to go. The management of the greater building the club occupied was experiencing some financial difficulty; tenants had to clear out. That was less than two months ago, and Nutt Street has been in couch-hop mode since its final night in the basement mid-July.
But, said Sherrill, that is to say Nutt Street is still alive; the floating entity has comedians booked in Wilmington through the rest of the year and is raring to get into a new, permanent location.
“The club is closed, but I’m still bringing the comedy,” Sherrill said Tuesday, noting City Stage at 21 N. Front St. has been the primary substitute for his shows. Pauly Shore, the MTV alum and comedian eternally “The Weasel,” will headline there Aug. 25.
Nutt Street’s Facebook page provides updates on all its bookings.
The weekly events, like the Wednesday night improv and Thursday night open mic (both free), will carry on at City Stage for the time being. But Sherrill said the weekend main-event comedy shows, with touring acts, will probably move to different venues starting in September (when City Stage’s theater season will take precedence).
That’s at least until he can find a permanent, new home for his club.
Nutt Street, with its essential brick-wall-with-logo stage, opened in June 2008 and, local comedians say, served two remarkable roles. As a venue for touring comics–Todd Glass, Kyle Grooms, James Adomian, and Kyle Kinane were notables among many–Nutt Street put Wilmington on the map as a strong southern room that would routinely fill seats.
But it also gave local aspiring comedians a chance.
“It’s where most everyone here got their start,” said Steve Marcinowski, 28, part of the Nutt House Improv Troupe and regular at the Thursday night open mics. He also often opened for headliners on weekends in the Nutt Street basement. “There’s so many guys who started there, and the scene got so strong.”
The basement’s open mic nights were routinely at lung capacity, and shows of hands always indicated new audience members each week. The sign-up list for just a few minutes on stage usually held dozens of names. (Sherrill said turnouts remain high at City Stage.)
“For the comics, it was a creative outlet that gave us a lot of experience, where most comics would never get that kind of experience in another city,” said Steve Melia, 43, who has performed for seven years.
“I travel a lot. As a comic, I get to see open mics in other comedy places across the country,” Melia said. “And Nutt Street was very unique. I’ve always said that Timmy [Sherrill] was like a comic’s dream. He was fair. There were no games going on. Whether you were a beginner, whether you were good or bad, if you were consistent and you supported the club, he’d give you a shot.”
Said 23-year-old Colton DeMonte, another Nutt troupe member and house regular, “What Nutt Street gave me was something I think everyone searches for when they are pursuing a dream or a career they like, and that is identity. I can confidently say I am a comedian. I had always done acting or film, but this was the first outlet that gave me credibility in the entertainment business.”
John Gray, 33, has been involved with local comedy since 2004 with troupes and, later, standup. Seeing the scene multiply after Nutt Street’s opening was a testament, he said.
“It made me realize just how important, for any community, an open forum to potentially perform is,” said Gray. “Just giving that opportunity to anybody to let their voice be heard for a little bit in a positive, entertaining way….”
Twenty-two-year-old Madison Davis, who began standup at Nutt Street two years ago, said she “sobbed at the bar” over stiff drinks when she heard the club had to vacate its home. Sherrill “just assured everyone,” she said, “and I felt better about it, but it felt so surreal, because that room was so awesome. The brick wall, all the names on it. It was sad.”
The club turned on a lot of people to live comedy here, she added. “I go to UNCW and people have come up to me and said, ‘We just stumbled upon this, and now we go every week,’” Davis related.
The physical club’s closure was tied to the shuttering of longtime music venue The Soapbox Laundro-Lounge, which was the dominant presence in the building the Nutt Street Comedy Room occupied. Soapbox owner Brent Watkins issued patrons a statement in late June explaining ongoing financial difficulties with the property, which is now on the market.
“The reality has been that without a significant injection of outside capital for the purchase and much needed facilities improvements, The Soapbox cannot, going forward, continue to operate within its original confines,” Watkins wrote.
While Nutt Street was known as the only full-time comedy club in the Cape Fear, other venues in town, like Orton’s on Front Street and the Wilmington Sportsman Club on Castle Street, also host laugh nights or related events. TheaterNOW on South 10th Street is planning for weekly comedy Wednesday nights starting in September, according to its website.
Sherrill asserted that when he restores his operation to a standalone site, its name will remain Nutt Street, no matter the location.
Contended Davis, “He probably just wants to keep the Nutt Street name because he personalized a Nutt Street belt buckle for himself.”