On June 28, 2011, Othello’s of Norman died a quiet death on the outskirts of Campus Corner, leaving onlookers from neighboring restaurants and bars to silently watch as its historic interior was gutted, splayed across the street then removed.
For the general population, it was an ordinary Tuesday. But for Oklahoma’s stand-up comedy faithful, it was so much more.
Othello’s had hosted local comedy every Tuesday since March 2007, after developing Oklahoma City comedian Seth Joseph’s search for more stage time led him there. Joseph spoke with Evan Dillon, who at the time was in charge of booking. Their exchange was recounted in a July edition of Boyd Street Magazine.
“His question to me was, ‘What do you get out of it?’ And I said ‘I get a place to perform. That’s good enough for me,” said Joseph in 2007.
It was good enough for me too. Almost four and a half years later, the weekly show was still going strong, and I had taken over much of the hosting duties. Tuesday was usually a good day. This Tuesday should’ve been a good day.
For one, it was also the second ever Doug Benson day, which was originally a silly one-time holiday declared by former Governor Brad Henry in honor of stand-up comedian and celebrity pothead Doug Benson’s 2010 appearance. But Benson had returned again this year, this time filming pieces of the sequel to his documentary “Super High Me” in Oklahoma. The show was sold out. The energy was high among fans and comedians alike. The second Doug Benson Day was in full swing in Oklahoma City.
It should’ve been a good day for everyone, but back in Norman, it wasn’t for me.
I woke up to a voicemail informing me that Othello’s would be closing its doors for good.
“Really?” I thought, surprised.
Maybe it was destiny. Seth had left long ago. He had even started a show in New Jersey of all places. His departure marked a reccurring theme for the coming years. Great talent had come and left, and had continued to leave to places like New York, Austin, Denver, Phoenix, Chicago and Los Angeles. Maybe it was just time for the show to die. Maybe it was time for all of us to move on.
I took a shower then drove to Othello’s. Jennifer, the owner, was inside, surrounded by boxes and debris.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey. Did you come to see if it was true?”
“Yeah. Kind of. And, I guess, to say thank you.”
“No. Thank you. You guys rocked it.”
“Yeah. Then why are you guys closing?”
“We’ll post something about why later. It’s complicated.”
“Yeah. Are you guys going to find another place?”
“I don’t know? I guess. I hope so.”
When something ends, I always have an intense urge to remember the start. Because without knowing both the ending and the beginning, it’s hard to figure out what everything means in the grand scheme of things. What did we do this for? What am I supposed to take from this?
I thought back to the ridiculousness of the start. I remembered 20 comics performing to crowds so far past capacity that speakers had to be set outside so that everyone could hear. I remembered those very same outdoor speakers blowing fuses, and robbing the entire place of power, forcing whoever was on stage to perform on their voice’s strength alone. I remembered the drunks, the hecklers and the assholes. I remembered the reccurring fans and the friends I shared the stage with. I remembered marathon shows lasting to upwards of four hours. I remembered drinking games in the back, and the meta-comedy high jinx that were bad for the show but good for the soul. What did this all mean? Nothing? Something?
That night I returned to wander around Campus Corner and check up on Othello’s, which was still outwardly cluttered by nightfall.
“Hey. Kash Money is looking for you,” someone said before I made my way inside again.
I took out my phone to call Kash, an aspiring stand-up comedian whose first time on stage was this year.
“Hey Mr. Nghiem,” Kash said. “So where’s the comedy at tonight?”
“I don’t know man. No comedy tonight.”
“Damn. What about next week?”
“I don’t know man. We’ll see. I’m about to go around to bars to look for a new home.”
“Damn. So no comedy tonight. All right Mr. Nghiem. Keep me posted.”
(Note: His facebook status that evening read, “Its a sad night for a n**** with jokes and and don’t have know were to tell them sad sad night.”)
Shortly after, I met with the manager at La Luna, a Mexican restaurant and bar down the street that had expressed interest in comedy.
It was Tuesday so they were already closed.
“We’re closed now. But we could be open on Tuesdays,” he said. “We’re actually looking for a reason to be open on Tuesdays.”
He told me they were building a stage. He said they’re buying a spotlight.
“You buying a P.A?” I asked.
“Already have one. We actually have a couple.”
“Fuck yeah. I’m in.”
So comedy has a new home on Tuesdays. They’re even keeping the name “Othello’s Comedy Night” at La Luna. Was this a happy ending? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think it’s an ending at all. I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer until I figure out what this all means.
I wanted to say thank you to the staff at Othello’s though out the years. I know I probably left out some names, so sorry in advance. In no particular order, thank you Anna, Helene, Scott, Zach, Joel, Jessica, Kim, Riley, Kelsey, Colleen, Veronica, Zoe, Jamie, Mario, Johnnie, Heather, Eddie and whoever cooked that soup. Thank you Jennifer. Thanks Micah and everybody who watched. Thanks everybody who performed. Yes, even you, Cinderblock. You guys are some the most talented people I’ve ever met. Thank you. Thank you. Good night.