For the Laughing Gull Comedy Club, the early signs are laughable, which in the world of comedy clubs has to be considered a fantastic omen of success.
This is Laughing Gull’s first year in operation, and with a summer home at the Theater of Dare in Kitty Hawk, owners Greg Smrdel and Ami Hill are optimistic that Laughing Gull will be around for a while.
For Smrdel, who has done some standup comedy himself, the Theater of Dare (TOD) is about as good a venue as he could hope to find.
“It’s set up like a typical small theater where you would see a comedy show,” he said.
Through the summer shows are scheduled on Monday evenings. After the summer, when the TOD begins its fall/winter schedule of theatrical productions, Laughing Gull will be a bit nomadic.
But there’s a plan for that. Even before the summer shows began, the comedy club was scheduling what Smrdel calls “pop up shows” at various places around the Outer Banks. The Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills might host a comedian one night. And another week a show might be in Kitty Hawk or Manteo—that’s what the business model called for over the winter.
“We just basically did pop-up shows at places like the Sand Trap Tavern (in Kitty Hawk), and the Outer Banks Brewing Station, and of course, NouVines,” Smrdel said.
NouVines, the wine bar in Manteo is another of the regular tour stops for Laughing Gull. Right now the schedule calls for one Wednesday per month, usually the fourth Wednesday.
Smrdel and Hill have made it clear, they’re not interested in X-rated comedy. That doesn’t mean that the topics and even the language occasionally will not drift into adult themes—in fact, they regularly do.
There is a real difference, though, between objectifying people with sexual content and a series of obscene words and first-night comedian Dan Ellison, the Educated Redneck, talking about why men should never wear a Speedo on the beach.
Then there was Tom Holaday, Coach Tom, now retired after 30 years as a PE teacher and coach. Some of his reflections on life in the schools and the teaching profession were riotous.
He noted there was a teacher who spanked a kid at a school and was suspended for five days. He paused for a moment, before adding “…with pay.”
“I read that in the newspaper, I went to school the next day and beat the (put your word here) out of ten of them. Took nine weeks off…with pay,” he recounted.
Coach Tom had other fond memories. Like his top nine excuses from his students. He admitted he was hoping for a top ten list but didn’t quite have that many.
Still, the first on his list may have summed up what teachers everywhere have experienced.
“Dear School. Please accuse Johnny from being absent January 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33,” he read, with the observation, “Do you see what we’re dealing with here?”
There were a number of teachers in the audience that night and as hard as everyone else seemed to be laughing, they could hardly catch their breath.
For Smrdel, it’s been a journey through standup comedy that had him in Ohio for a while where he first tried his hand at the craft. While there, he also had a comedy club and he worked all of that around his day job as a DJ.
He had cut his teeth in the radio business on the Outer Banks in the 1980s and always wanted to get back to the beach, but family life and kids kept him in Ohio.
“I just had to wait to the point where the kids were older and on their own,” he said.
That was two years ago, just in time for COVID.
He’s done some writing and some editing of local publications. He also had written a number of books, mostly about the Outer Banks, but he makes it clear that comedy is where he wants to be.
He had met Ami Hill, who owns the pink, or maybe coral, Bus252 that does popup art shows locally, found out she loved comedy and was really knowledgeable about the industry.
“She’s a great student of comedy,” he said describing her. “She knows comedians like somebody in the business.”
Teaming up with Hill, when the COVID restrictions were lifted, he knew the time was right.
“If there’s any time we need to laugh, it’s now,” Smrdel said.