ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Another business doing better: stand-up comedy. New York City now boasts almost 20 full-time comedy clubs, including really big ones that seat 300 people and offer expansive wine lists. How about a Shiraz to go with that airline joke?
Okay, the shtick gets better just ahead with reporter Mike Pesca.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
MIKE PESCA: On a recent Friday night at the Gotham Comedy Club, the crowd of almost 300 people was buzzing before the show. They were taking in the mahogany exteriors, the drink menu - which featured a half a dozen offerings ending in tini - and the fact that everything but the material on stage was actually clean. Ladies and gentleman, your MC, Brad Trackman.
Mr. BRAD TRACKMAN (MC, Gotham Comedy Club): I'm in a relationship right now. I'm going to be honest with you guys. It's not going very well, you know. She's got issues.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. TRACKMAN: Trust issues. That's what she says in her journal.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: MC'ing at a big club like Gotham on a weekend warrants $150. The possibility that a good but unknown comic could earn $1,000 a week just by playing the New York clubs is a relatively new phenomenon. It was brought on by a comedians' union, but also by the economic realities of there being 19 full-time comedy clubs in New York City. Trackman is sanguine about the boom.
Mr. TRACKMAN: New York City is the best city, bar none, in the world to develop as a comedian. There's so much more opportunity to develop, so much more stage time. Whether it's the, you know, a bringer show or an open mike that maybe you're performing for other comedians - the bottom line is you're getting on stage. You're developing, even if you think you're not.
PESCA: Bringer shows are where an unproven comedian supplies his own audience. After about 12 of these, comics tend to lost friends. But after a young comedian like Trackman escapes that hell and proves he can get consistent laughs, here's what a weeknight schedule might look like: a set at Gotham, down to The Comedy Cellar in the Village, pop over to the Boston Comedy Club, back to Gotham for the late show, and maybe winding up at this place.
Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentleman, the world famous (unintelligible).
PESCA: Here's how veteran comic Fran Salamido(ph) describes the Comic Strip.
Mr. FRAN SALAMIDO (Comedian): It's a bucket-of-blood comedy club. It's a big square room in the back. The bar's in the front room, so there's no distraction that way. It's situated perfectly, physically for the comedian.
PESCA: On Tuesdays, the MC at The Comic Strip is Scott Blakeman.
Mr. SCOTT BLAKEMAN (MC, The Comic Strip): Actually, Bush's poll ratings, I was watching the news tonight. Now it's down to 29. Not even percent, just 29.
PESCA: There are a number of theories as to why stand-up is doing so well. One theory says that clips on TiVo have whetted people's appetites for stand-up. But Blakeman's explanation, like his humor, tends towards the political.
Mr. BLAKEMAN: The more disaster in the country is only the better for comedy clubs. I don't think we could be at lower point in terms of our government right now, so maybe that's why comedy's doing so well.
PESCA: Upon reflection, he concedes that for comedy, this is the best kind of bad time. Politics are creating a mood of discontent, but the economy is humming along, the perfect comedic storm. Plus, there's diversity within the comedy universe. Gotham books mostly conventional comedians like you'd see on Leno or Letterman. But Comics - a new 14,000-square-foot club - books alternative comedians, like the guys who wind up writing on "The Daily Show."
And you can't cover the New York comedy scene without mentioning improv, so there's improv. Something's working, because as veteran comic Bobby Slayton, the pit bull of comedy, points out, this is tough town.
Mr. BOBBY SLAYTON (Comedian): To sell tickets in New York is really hard, because you have so many entertainment options. Now, you go to these cities where people go to the comedy club. There's not a lot to do in Peoria, you know what I mean? There's a karaoke bar. There's a sports bar. There's a gay bar. There's the Olive Garden, and a comedy club.
PESCA: Of course, all is not perfect with being a comedian, even with all these venues. The bringer system is soul-crushing. Other comics using the profession as a stepping stone is annoying, and unimaginative club owners - while quaint throwbacks to yesterday - can be stifling. Of course, as with game cocks and stockbrokers, comedians are fueled by a little discontent, which makes it funnier for you and me. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.