Arts Desk

Shouts, Murmurs, and Nitpicks From Riot Act’s Opening Night

The name is misleading. The Riot Act Comedy Theater is not a place for riotous, risky stand-ups and definitely not the type of theater that will ever be a registered landmark. It hosts comedic acts, so at least it got the middle part right.

The new haunt's debut to the media last night was kind of—but predictably—tame. The first comic to go on was Big Al Goodwin, who didn't push any boundaries, but who did bitch about Virginia drivers and offer a creepy Eddie Vedder impression. Meanwhile, the staff was running out of wine goblets as the crowds flooded the open bar, while many of the Penn Quarter bros who landed on the guest list seemed more focused on the ESPN-tuned plasmas showing the Yankees -Angels game. And as waiters bearing Trader Joe's appetizers made rare passes through the two-story club, some people reached out for a fistful of potstickers instead of just one. Douche move, or good strategy? Point is: The opening night at Riot Act was pretty hectic, so it was difficult to judge what the club will mean to Washington and its comedy scene. Our pros and cons, which hopefully will be funnier than Big Al's riff on the annual snowfall in his native Wisconsin.


  • The place is quite sterile, maybe alarmingly so. It could be the raw newness of the space, but the crisp, undecorated white walls and car-dealership carpeting seem designed to be kept clean.


  • At least it's not full of bobblehead-style animation or tacky neon signs. There's aren't any rules demanding comedy clubs have to look like T.G.I. Friday's ugly cousin. And the carpet, if kept clean, will prevent anyone walking in heels from disturbing a set.


  • Actually, if Riot Act reminds one of anything, it's of a hotel bar. A Crowne Plaza by the airport might have more charm. Nothing about the subterranean theater says "D.C. comedy club"; you'd have to peer out the plate-glass windows of the ground-floor bar to remember you're in Washington.


  • Hotel bars can be great. They're not shrines to local teams, you never know who you're going to meet, and more than likely, someone is using the company's expense account so drinks are never too expensive. And since when has being in Washington ever been great for comedy?


  • Like a hotel bar or function room, the performance space is cavernous. The 20-foot ceilings and sprawling floor offer none of the intimacy of a crowded, grimy comedy club. The stage is tiny, and from the more recessed corners of the room, hardly visible. The plan must be to turn the mics up to 11, because sound doesn't travel well in there.


  • The size of the space allows it to be used for multiple types of events. Sure, it's not ideal for stand up, but if the crowd is attentive, which most are, it'll be fine. A tiny stages means a tighter act. Most stand-ups can stand behind a podium and be fine. Yes, Riot's stage is more of a dais and the ceilings are high and there isn't candlelight, but there's also opportunity for sketch and improv classes, which Riot will be offering.


  • And it ain't cheap, but that's how it goes with comedy clubs. Pay the evening's admission price—say, $17 to see Nick DiPaolo on Oct. 6, and you're still obligated to order two items from the menu. "What's the plural of hummus" the menu asks. Well, spend a night at Riot Act and you can find out. Maybe you just want to go to an open mic? That'll still set you back $10 just to get in the door to see the rawest material.


  • Things cost money. Don't you want to say you've been the first person in the history of D.C. comedy to pay for an open mic? That's something!


  • For $100, you can become a Riot Act VIP. It's not clear what that membership includes, other than a T-shirt to remind you that you dropped a Franklin just to get on a mailing list.


  • T-shirts are very expensive, especially those with a single screened logo, so the $100 is sort of a bargain. Also, you will feel very important and very special.



  • Based on experience at comedy shows and talking to comedy club owners and managers, 70 to 80 percent of comedy club crowds are there just to laugh, not see a specific performer. Therefore, offering nameless comics isn't necesarrily a bad thing. It creates more jobs for stand-ups. They'll be working rooms that would have had to sit through team-building exercises, so if anything, this a public service for office dwellers.


Riot Act Comedy Theater will be good for D.C. and a wash for D.C. comedy. Sure, some great D.C. stand-ups like Jeff Mauer and Jimmy Merrit will be opening for slightly bigger, touring comics, but neither of these guys have any problems opening for slightly bigger, touring comics at the Improv or Arlington Drafthouse. The theater's location is tailor-made for tourists. Just because it has stand-up doesn't mean it has to be ground-breaking. Riot Act will do just fine bringing in the acts that aren't big enough for the Improv and not hip enough for the Drafthouse. It'll be interesting to see if the space slowly transitions into a corporate retreat space or is able to sustain itself as a comedy club that nobody really asked for.

Also, the timing could not have been better/more inappropriate for Riot Act Comedy Theater to open. Once again, Riot Act is a comedy club, and not a Pearl Jam album nor what's been going on all week in the U.K.

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  • T

    You guys- it just opened up and like any new place will need to gte its sea legs straight. Id go back in a few weeks and see how its faring then. Also- totally lame to mention the London riots - not a funny connection at all

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  • Sam Le Blanc

    Dude, lighten up! I have been to the club twice in the past two weeks. While not perfect, I laughed out loud a lot and enjoyed myself thoroughly. Did you laugh at all or were you so busy looking for negative things to write about, that you failed to enjoy yourself.

    Don't need a new comedy club? Why not? This is still America and comedy club's are legal.

    Don't like the decor? Ok it is a little bare, but give them some time to develop a personality.

    Too expensive? I went to dinner around the corner where they wanted $12 for a cocktail. $12!!? A movie is $12 to $15 dollars and a movie in a venue that serves beer is almost $20. Riot Act was a bargain.

    Don't like their business plan? Why not? They are trying to reach out to the local community, involve tourists and business, support amateurs, and have fun? Maybe paying for open mic night might not work, and they will have to adjust; but give them a chance. Seems to me they are being smart and aggressive about bringing in crowds. Just because they want to have tourists or corporate events does not make them a "corporate retreat." It just might make them successful.

    "That nobody really asked for" means what? Few people are asking for more restaurants, bars, cupcake places, or CVS. Yet they pop up and find a market. It's called capitalism, and it pays for your paper.

    The whole connection to London is and "bad timing" is so lame. You know damn well the name and opening date were picked well in advance of the whole London scene. They have no control over world events.

    Listen, the owners raised capital, invested in DC, created jobs, and are looking to involve the community. It is so easy to go around and pretend you are the great arbiter of the comedy scene, but these guys are actually doing something. You don't have to like it all and constructive criticism is good for the them. Why not avoid snide meaningless jabs and provide readers with a balanced view?

    Did I mention the comics I have seen (six all together) were funny? Not every joke worked, but I did laugh - a lot. Isn't that the idea of a comedy club?

  • Lauren


    1) I copped the Riot Act VIP shirt on 8/11! $100 NOT ONLY got ME a T-shirt. BUT had you OFFICIOUS MONKEY POPINJAY BUFFOONS @CP did your homework, you'd know that SHIRT NOT ONLY gets you IN FREE every TUESDAY...TO BOOT lots of VIP discounts, & VIP MEMBER INVITES to ALL the BAD ASS soirees, shows, and events!

    2) IF you're SERIOUSLY KVETCHING & GRIPING about a PLACE being a LUXURIOUS, CLASSY, STERILE & CHIC hotel STYLE bar/establishment, with 20 ft. LOFT CEILINGS as a CON, THEN you NEED to GO right back into whatever CAVE & ROCK you CRAWLED & SLITHERED OUT OF in OSAMA-VILLE.

    3) I've BEEN to EACH & EVERY AFOREMENTIONED other RAT GROTTO-STYLE 60 capacity comedy SH*THOLES, where $25 tickets & STANDARD 2 drink minimum amount to MUCH more then I've SPENT on my 2 VISITS to Riot Act. I took my GF & spent $50 for EVERYTHING! 2 tickets, & 4 drinks ON Thursday 8/17 Todd Rexx show! So AGAIN, IF you CAN'T AFFORD $25 a PIECE between you & your pal, lover, wife, gf, or B*TT-buddy....AGAIN, CRAWL back into your CAVE in OSAMA-VILLE!

    I'm an Engineer under a federal contractor. I can BARELY MANAGE a 9 FT Employee office with an annual budget of $24M. So I CAN'T even FATHOM, dealing with PIDDLING GRUMBLING LIL DOXIES all day, and running a HUGE 300+ capacity comedy club, with 40 or more employees! I SURE as **** DON'T KNOW/CARE or GIVE A **** WHO the **** Riot Act owners/investors are! BUT I GIVE them CREDIT for taking the state of the DC comedy game to such a LUXURIOUSLY DYNAMIC & FABLED PARAGON LEVEL. PLUS I CAN'T STAND TRADUCING BOGUS MALEVOLENT PAPPARAZZI PLAYAH HATERZ! So ALL YOU PLAYAH HATING BAMAZ @CP, Like DUDE says, "don't HATE da PLAYER fool, HATE da GAME!"

  • Steven Putsky

    I just want to say that Riot Act is totally freaking uhmazing! I caught the Big Al Goodwin show the night before last with my wife, and it was totally awesome! The RA staff was totally professional & polite, service was 5 stars, and we had the quesodillas & ribs also. And for 'hotel bar food' the food was totally 5 stars as well. We will definitely be making RA our 2nd home away from home! For the same money you'd spend eating a dinner with a bottle wine at the surrounding restaurants, you can catch a great comedy show, eat a great dinner & have a few drinks at RA.

    My wife and I both have been to a dozen comedy clubs, but Riot Act is unquestionably "the king" of all comedy clubs. I have to say that I totally Sam & Lauren, its so easy to be a douche with antic shenanigans. Besides, since when did City Paper staff become such highly acclaimed worldly critics? Believe you me, Riot Act isn't going to be just a Landmark, its sure to be DC staple & shrine. I don't know what company Riot Act is owned by, but I wish I could've bought their stock! I feel grateful that they decided to come to DC and bless us with such a cool, comfortable, classy place for me, my wife, family, friends & community to enjoy!