Use the scroller above to see photos of Lenny Clarke at the Ding Ho club in 1980, left, and in 2013 at the TD Garden.
By Nick A. Zaino III, Globe correspondentWhen I first moved to Boston from Buffalo in 1998, I felt spoiled. The comedy scene I had left featured two clubs and bigger comics occasionally doing theater gigs. I witnessed newbies fighting for space at a hotel open mike that catered to musicians. I saw comics stand up, do their bit to a sea of indifference or barely latent hostility, and disappear.
Moving to Boston, I got to see comedians like Jon Stewart work in a club setting at the Comedy Connection in Faneuil Hall. I got to see weird shows like Tim McIntire’s Thursday Night Fights at the Comedy Studio. Open mikes are still brutal, but I got to see some younger comics work at the Studio in relative safety. And I got an introduction to just how rich Boston comedy history is when I saw a three-hour-plus show at the Somerville Theatre featuring comics who had played the legendary Ding Ho club in the ’80s.
It sounds like a fairy tale now, to describe the Boston comedy scene as it was in the ’80s. A club in every restaurant and dance hall, shows seven nights a week, comedians making a living wage just from doing live stand-up comedy, the idea that comedy was the new rock ’n’ roll. There is an incredible energy emanating from those stories, listening to Lenny Clarke talk about doing nine shows in a night, or watching a documentary like former Boston comic Fran Solomita’s “When Stand Up Stood Out.” Comedians like Ken Rogerson came to Boston from other scenes because of Boston’s “comedy-town” reputation.
There are fewer clubs in Boston now, and across the country. The theories behind that are many — stand-up on television and the Internet sapped some of the audience, and to others, it was a fad. Where all the theories end up is a lessening of demand for live comedy in clubs, which means fewer venues. The club scene in Boston has had several shake-ups in just the past five years. Mottley’s, Tommy’s, and Cheers opened in the wake of the Comedy Connection moving to the Wilbur, and they have all closed for one reason or another. Dick Doherty moved his business from the Vault to Howl at the Moon. Nick’s, Giggles, and the Comedy Studio are still around.
And now Laugh Boston steps into the fray, opening its doors Friday and Saturday with free preview shows featuring Jimmy Dunn, Kelly MacFarland, and Harrison Stebbins. Laugh Boston, located in the Westin Seaport Waterfront Hotel, will seat 300, bigger than other Boston clubs but smaller than the Wilbur, and they hope to attract acts that currently wouldn’t be able to play the other venues. They won’t bring back the boom, but that’s history. I still get to see big names at the Wilbur and the new kids at the Studio, Grandma’s Basement, and Great Scott. And if I really want to see comedy seven nights a week, if I search hard enough, I can find an open mike on a Tuesday where the kids are sweating it out. Just for old time’s sake.