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Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 06/14/21
Comedian Mike Goodwin performing on Angel Studios’ Dry Bar Comedy
Comedy is laughing matter. Angel Studios is perhaps best known for its hugely-successful faith-based dramatic series The Chosen but the company is also scoring big in the comedy genre, particularly with its “clean” stand-up show Dry Bar Comedy. I spoke about that, first with Angel’s co-founder and chief content officer Jeffrey Harmon and then with Keith Stubbs, the comedian and comedy club owner who books the acts.
JWK: Dry Bar Comedy is basically a stand-up comedy show, right?
Jeffrey Harmon: It’s kind of following the path HBO took. They got their start with stand-up comedy and (then) Netflix kind of became the premiere spot for that. (We asked) what can we do that we have skill sets in that doesn’t have to have…ten-million dollar budgets to create? (We decided) we could do stand-up comedy. We did the math and we were like we could probably do this at about 1/10th the cost…Probably the hardest part is getting the comedians prepared to do a set that’s safe for families because most of these comedians don’t normally do that.
JWK: Do they apply to you or do you go out and find them?
JH: In the beginning, we had to find them and it was like pulling teeth. It was really, really hard. We had some connections and then we connected and partnered with Keith Stubbs who is the president of Dry Bar. I brought Keith in. He runs Wiseguys here in Utah which is the biggest comedy hub in Salt Lake. He had connections to tons of comedians and he started convincing some of the ones that were more open to the idea initially to come in and do shows. So, we invested in three separate seasons – which was about 140 comedians – and we did shows with them. It was pretty nerve-wracking but we finally got to break-even on cash flow. And then it exploded. 2018, I think is when it just blew up.
Now, for the last several years we’ve had over a billion views per year. It actually has significantly more reach in number of people than The Chosen; it’s just not as deep. The Chosen is a very deep, committed community and I think it will eventually be bigger (than Dry Bar) but Dry Bar has just a massive reach of a billion views per year. It’s got millions of followers.
JWK: Like you say, that’s how HBO and Netflix and a lot of media distribution companies kinda got into original productions.
JH: Yeah. We’re able to do something that looks as good as what they do for just very low budgets. We’re in comedy. (At our) Harmon Brothers ad agency, that’s what we do. We understand comedy really well. It seemed like a good fit. Over half of our comedians have all made royalties now. Fifty-percent of the comedians are making royalties long-term and some of them make a full-time living…We’ve got comedians making six figures a year off it. We’ve had comedians whose entire careers have been made off of Dry Bar.
So, that was our first thing. It’s a very, very different thing than The Chosen. Basically, we look at Dry Bar as a global comedy community that likes “safe” stand-up comedy. Then you’ve got your global Christian community around The Chosen. We’ll be building up around that. And then there’s the kind of global economics and liberty community around Tuttle Twins…It’s all built around (the concept of) community.
JWK: Regarding comedy, I was impressed by your sitcom Freelancers. That’s doing well, right?
JH: Yes. They’re funded on Season Two. We’re very excited about their community as well…Freelancers is like a cousin of Dry Bar…We’ve (also) got shows coming out that are very related to The Chosen. We have The Wingfeather Saga based on a really high-selling book series from Penguin Random House…(The Wingfeather Saga) has a really strong community. That’s our first foray into family fantasy. We’re really excited about that. They had been approached by a whole bunch of studios about their series. It’s kind of like (your show Photo Finish) where it’s not (directly about) faith but they’ve got Christian symbolism in it and there’s definitely elements of God (and) the family. When you watch the pilot, there’s prayer in the pilot – but it’s fantasy. Those guys have just over and over again had to say “No” to different groups because they all say “You need to tone these elements in your book.” They weren’t willing to compromise and we’re just like “Hey, trust you guys” because one of the producers of Veggie Tales is on their team. When you watch the pilot you’ll see they’re very, very good with illustrations, very good with the artwork and the music – and then you read the books and there’s this foundation there…It gives you a really clear picture of what they’re capable of.
JWK: Getting back to Dry Bar, a lot of the great TV sitcoms were developed around stand-up comedians. Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld, Home Improvement and Roseanne, are just some I can name off the top of my head. Have you explored developing sitcoms around any of the comics featured on Dry Bar?
JH: Yeah. That’s something that we’re looking at. Nothing in full development but we’re definitely exploring that right now.
JWK: Anything else you’d like to mention?
JH: No. Just make sure you get in touch with Keith Stubbs. He’s the heart and DNA of Dry Bar Comedy.
And so I did.
JWK: So, tell me about yourself, your story, your comedy clubs and your path to Dry Bar Comedy.
I started doing stand-up comedy in ’91 when I was living in Los Angeles. That’s how I got personally started. I’m a comedian and have been for a long time. I toured for years…A few years ago when (what is now Angel Studios) decided to step into the stand-up comedy world, they reached out to me to (utilize) my relationships with comedians.
JWK: And you’ve been doing Dry Bar Comedy for how long?
KS: Dry Bar Comedy began in 2017.
JWK: What are you looking when you book comedians for Dry Bar Comedy?
KS: Comedians that have broad appeal and (are) basically funny for everyone where it’s not a situation where (the material) might be considered over the line…If you’re listening to it with someone in your family or co-workers or even on your own, it’s gonna have that broad appeal and it’s, obviously, safe. I mean for everyone.
JWK: I was just listening to Mike Goodwin on Dry Bar. He was quite funny. Tell me about him and how you choose your comedians.
KS: It’s a combination of relationships that I have with the comedians themselves and with different agents…It’s to the point now where the more established we’ve become, the more comedians reach out directly to me.
JWK: Do you find that comedians sometimes feel pressured to be off color and that a venue like this is actually a relief to them – and may even, in a sense, be freeing?
KS: I think with some comedians it’s a challenge but I think, overall, they do appreciate it because…it’s a comfortable venue and the audiences know what to expect…It’s actually a breath of fresh air and I think it’s a bit of a relief to them.
JWK: I asked Jeffrey Harmon about this. Have you talked about developing sitcoms around any of these comics?
KS: We are working on different programming ideas but nothing specific.
JWK: How can people watch Dry Bar Comedy?
KS: Our website is DryBarComedy.com. We’re all over social media. Our Facebook page has over seven-million followers. We have over a million subscribers (to our) YouTube channel and we have a new app that will have our entire library of content…We have over two-billion views on different platforms.
JWK: So, there’s obviously a demand for this kind of comedy.
KS: There’s no doubt about it. 100% there’s a demand…If you want to relax, Dry Bar’s the place to go because it’s great content with broad appeal and it’s funny for everyone – which, to me, just nails it.