Marcel Mensah | Eat More Spiders
Building Underground Comedy from the Ground Up: LONER X Ryan Howe
Photography Via duckduckgoofs.com | Shot by Candice Conner
If you've been keeping up with LONER, you may have noticed we just published an article titled "Boston’s Underground Comedy Speakeasy - and why it’s important" where we told you about one of Boston's best, "if you know you know" spots in the city.
To follow that up LONER interviewed Ryan Howe, the man behind a multitude of underground shows, creative spaces and open mics.
If you haven't already go check out out our previous coverage below
If you haven't read the previous pieces - for context, Duck Duck Goofs is; an underground comedy showcase that take's place in a Cambridge speakeasy every Thursday night. It's chock full of locals, comedy aficionados and even folks that have been featured on big programs like comedy central.
Ryan Also hosts an assortment of other events in the area, including an always exciting, weekly open mic night in Somerville (more on that some other time).
M: How long has Duck Duck Goofs been going? Has it always been in this format?
R: Duck Duck Goofs started in January - we started running a free weekly show on Wednesdays at Newtowne Grille, quickly expanded to weekly Friday shows as well, and then also started a twice-a-month Saturday show at the Cambridge Community Center.
I'm always pretty hungry for expansion. The format has been the same from the beginning - a musician opening up the show, and then about four comics doing ten to fifteen minute sets follow the musician.
The biggest differences have been locales - we have venue hopped quite a lot in our five month life, and are happy to finally have found a home that feels long term at The Cantab Lounge.
M: Can you explain the work that goes into producing a weekly underground show?
R: Well, I book the comedians and the musicians a few months out, so that only feels like work about once a month. That's more of the puzzle solving portion of the show: building a line-up that feels diverse in style, finding the musicians that work well for a comedy show, figuring out the pacing of the show.
But the brunt of the work is in the promotion - I know that the comedians we book are funny. I have faith in the talent of the musicians. And I trust myself as the host and producer to keep the show to a length that leaves people satisfied, but still excited for more. But the biggest job is getting butts in seats. And finding the right people to be those butts in those seats.
I feel blessed with the audience members we have, and the amount of audience members that have become continuous Duck Duck Goofs fans - It's always a huge win to see someone back at a show when I met them a few weeks ago at an earlier show.
I always invite people to hang out after the shows, and I really mean it - I love meeting people. And my favorite question is always "how did you find out about the show?" - and people find out in every way. So I have to be a one man promotion machine to get as many people in as possible.
I bark for hours at a time, trying to get as many strangers as possible in, I put posters up all, I make and run Instagram and Facebook ads, I post in Secret Boston, and on the Boston Calendar, and I trust the Eventbrite algorithm to guide the people who will be interested in a show back to us. I have an email list I send weekly emails to, which I try to keep light and funny.
There really is no show without the people, without the audience we're just a bunch of silly people screaming into an empty room. And this has been extra challenging because we've had to switch venues and weekly showtimes about four times at this point.
So we haven't had the benefit of one location continuously. And once we've started to build an audience that knows "the Duck Duck Goofs shows are at x place at y time," we've had to move to a completely different slot in a different venue.
The best promotion is running a great show, though, because people come back. And they bring their friends back. We've only been at The Cantab Lounge for three weeks! I have faith in the shows - and right now, it's all about making them consistently great, and hopefully in two years, I can rest, because the word of mouth has brought enough people in, and I don't have to get the initial mouths in to spread their words.
M: What's something about Duck Duck Goofs that you want people to know - maybe something most won't see at first glance?
R: Oh man - I don't know how to answer this question. I feel like I'm really transparent about everything with Duck Duck Goofs - maybe the only thing that I'm really proud of, that people wouldn't know about, is that we pay our musicians and our comedians more than any other independent show in town.
It's a really cool feeling when musicians get paid for doing their first Goofs show, because oftentimes it's the first time they've ever been paid to play. They're used to being exploited. And from a standpoint of a person who has found himself in a position to build something special, to be the person in charge, I find it really important that not only am I not exploiting people, but I'm setting them up for future success by giving them a base rate to start negotiations with when they're talking to different producers.
I'd love to live in a world without money, where we all get to make our art and share it for free, but that world doesn't exist, but rather than playing by the rules of the gatekeepers of the past, I want to make my own rules, and I want those rules to actually benefit the artists that I'm working with.
Perhaps it's foolish, and I'll lose a lot of money this way, but I think that the better I treat the people around me, and the more that I pay them, the better it is for the entire creator economy long-term.
We have this great opportunity as young producers and artists to take care of each other and to set a new standard, and I'd be a fool to not take advantage of that opportunity to improve the small corner of the world that I operate in.
M: When do you feel the most proud of the work you're doing with Duck Duck Goofs?
R: I feel the most proud of the work I'm doing with Duck Duck Goofs when I see a return audience member. That's when I know we're doing something right. There's been a really awesome thing happening with the Goofs Underground at the Cantab Lounge show - we've had a contingency of about 8-10 audience members who have come to every single show since we started a month ago.
It's been a fantastic feeling. It has made my job a little harder though! I have to be extra cautious of how often I'm booking people who have been on the shows before - I used to sometimes be able to get away with putting some people on the same show two weeks in a row, because no one was coming to EVERY show, they would come to one a couple of weeks later.
But now, I'm trying to do a three to four month rotation so that there's always someone fresh for the audience. It's a fun challenge, and I love that there are such die-hard goofs fans - it really is an awesome feeling to watch this community of goofs grow.
M: How was life during COVID for the Duck Duck Goofs community? Where do you see yourself moving forward?
R: There was no Duck Duck Goofs before Covid! We're a post-covid collective, baby. We got to start from the beginning as the world started to open up again, which has been hugely beneficial.
We didn't have to navigate covid, really at all. And to answer the question about the future of Goofs - we wanna build a goofs empire. I'd love to produce shows Wednesday through Sunday, with multiple shows on Fridays and Saturdays.
It would be a dream. For now, the goal is to keep putting on shows we're incredible proud of and let the community build through word of mouth and just being really friggin silly.
R: Okay. And finally, the last plugs.
We run shows at The Cantab Lounge every Thursday at 8
Night School is our secret, underground speakeasy series at Cambridge Community Center. Now at 8PM and 10PM, every 2nd and 4th saturday of the month.
And for the month of July, we'll be producing our second Lilypad residency. I've yet to come up with a fun name for it, but it will be at 10PM every single Friday and Saturday for the whole month of July.
Thanks so much for the interview, Marcel. Looking forward to seeing you again soon - probably tonight, at The Lilypad.