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Columbus increasingly helps comedians stand up

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

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Three years ago, the only ventures a week-night hopeful could count on were stale karaoke and out-dated trivia, but more recently on Wednesday nights, three Columbus venues — Surly Girl, The Funny Bone and Woodlands Tavern — were hosting comedy nights and packing them in.

“I think it’s definitely been growing,” Aaron Nemo, fourth-year in English and local stand-up comedian, said of the comedy scene in Columbus. “When I first started there were, I think, two or three decent open mics. Now there are probably four or five.”

Weekly open mic nights, monthly showcases and improve nights have been popping up throughout Columbus. On the list of venues that have added a comedy night in the past year are Shadowbox Live, Woodlands Tavern and Pizza Rustica, which started a weekly open mic night on Thursdays.

“I started (doing stand-up) in 2009 and immediately was like, ‘There needs to be more comedy in Columbus,'” said Dylan Shelton, a Columbus comedian who moved to New York in 2011. “So I started to bring in national acts using my tax refund.”

Shelton contributes to ColumbusisFunny.com, which highlights comedy efforts and shows in Columbus. He moved to New York to try to make a name for himself as a comedian, but travels back to Columbus to organize shows at Woodlands Tavern with national acts like Sean Patton, Todd Barry and Rory Scovel.

“It’s almost impossible to make a living from comedy in Columbus without any other means,” Shelton said. “It’s a nice place to start as a do-it-yourself alternative.”

Columbus has some variety of comedy going most week nights, so new comedians can try to work on their craft.

Nemo recalled his first stand-up experience in Columbus as a first-year at the Funny Bone with poorly structured jokes and intense nerves.

“My brain was going 9,000 mph and I can barely remember anything other than maybe getting a few giggles. Needless to say, I didn’t win the contest,” Nemo said.

Columbus shows hold varying levels of comedy caliber, but are mostly a tool for local comedians to improve their act, Nemo said.

“The Funny Bone is where all the best of Columbus go,” Nemo said. “Scarlet and Grey and Surly Girl are where the good people are trying new stuff and getting a feel for what works.”

Nemo, like many Columbus stand-up acts before him, plans to move to New York after graduation and start building his routine again, but said it’s hard to leave Columbus because he feels he’s reached a level of respect among other top comedians.

Shelton, though currently working his way up in New York, said he has always had plans to return to Columbus.

“Right now I would say I’m a middle-level, feature-level comedian,” Shelton said. “But I’d like to establish myself more and bring some recognition back to Columbus.”

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