Aspen Comedy Club owner isn’t laughing
ASPEN ” Trying to operate a comedy club in Aspen has become a bad joke for its owner. And some of the comics aren’t laughing all the way to the bank, because they haven’t been paid.
David Edgar, who opened the Aspen Comedy Club last summer, replacing Texas Reds in the space, shut his doors three weeks ago. He will try a “do-over” next month under a new name, “Bonkerz,” which is a Florida-based booking agency for comics.
Edgar, his wife and two sons closed the barbecue joint on Cooper Avenue and replaced it with a comedy club in August. Edgar signed on with booking agent John Yoder, of Funny Business Inc., who provided a line-up of comedians until the club closed.
The 200-seat venue had steady business for a few months, but as time wore on, people stopped coming. The dismal business during the holiday weeks was the last straw for Edgar, who closed the club shortly after.
“I had 10 people over three days,” he said, adding his bills mounted and it has taken several weeks to pay off his debts to Yoder and the comics he booked for Edgar.
Some still haven’t been paid.
Lori Callahan, a Denver comedian, said her January show was canceled at the last minute, just before Edgar closed the business. She claims Edgar owes her $1,000.
“We had a verbal contract, and my itinerary acts as intent,” said Callahan, who also opened for David Alan Grier last Labor Day at the Aspen Comedy Club. “I can’t take a hit like this right now.”
Edgar said he didn’t even know Callahan was supposed to perform; he thought Aries Spears was the headliner the last week before he closed.
“I didn’t know [Callahan] was coming,” he said, adding he only refunded money to ticket holders hoping to see the Spears show. “I apologized to her but she didn’t want to hear it.”
Callahan said when she called Edgar to demand her money, he hung up on her.
Edgar said he did hang up the phone because she became hostile and brought up a sore spot with him ” that he had bounced checks to other comics.
Yoder said some of the comedians he represents, as well as himself, initially were not paid by Edgar. “There were some checks that bounced but he has made good on most of them,” Yoder said, adding Edgar still owes him for a week’s worth of business. He also said while he likes Edgar, the situation with Callahan wasn’t handled properly.
“You can’t cancel on people and then not pay them,” Yoder said. “That doesn’t make me look very good, and that’s not how you treat people … it’s just not right.”
Another comedian, David Crow, who performed in Aspen in October, is still waiting for his $3,200 check, which initially bounced.
“He said he would send it but I’m still waiting,” Crow said, adding he can’t recoup the costs of traveling to Aspen, which was outrageously expensive.
Edgar admits he got in over his head and was inexperienced in the comedy business. That’s why he’s changing his strategy.
Bonkerz is a national chain and has clubs throughout the U.S., mostly in casinos and small clubs in Florida and the Midwest.
“They put their name on it, and they supply comics who have either movie or TV credits,” Edgar said, adding he will pay a fee to Bonkerz to book the comics.
Edgar attempted to follow the business plan of Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg by only bringing big acts to the club. But that proved to be expensive. Trying to fill the house every night at $35 a ticket, plus food and booze sales, wasn’t enough to pay the bills.
“It was overwhelming me,” said Edgar, who on Dec. 26 opened a Mexican restaurant called Dos Hermanos where the old Sopris Inn was downvalley on Highway 82.
The math just didn’t seem to play out and those in the industry noticed.
“I could look around and see the empty seats and I thought ‘something isn’t right here,'” Crow said.
In addition to paying the comedians for their performances, Edgar also had to provide transportation and high-end accommodations to the talent.
It wasn’t long before the bills began to mount. The Edgars were required to pay 50 percent up front of the comedians’ fee, plus the 10 percent booking fee to Yoder.
Edgar thought big names would attract big crowds, but he had trouble filling the place every night, with regional comics performing during the week and headliners on the weekends.
“My recommendation was to operate it like a regular comedy club, and get some people in there that aren’t all high-end names,” said Yoder, who books 63 venues every week from Aruba to New York City. “He thinks getting another booker in there will solve it but it won’t.
“I’m mixed because he is a nice guy but he was not experienced,” Yoder added. “Less quality acts would be better … but the issue is if Aspen is right for comedy … for a town that size.”
Edgar said when he re-opens Feb. 14, the club will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday for comedy. Comedy will be conducted for two hours and a D.J. will provide music in a club atmosphere during the latter part of the night. Wednesdays will be reserved as “Argentinean Night,” when the foreigners will be welcome.
The club, located downstairs at 520 East Cooper Ave., has housed many restaurants and bars over the years that couldn’t make it. Edgar, who bought the 4,000-square-foot space in 2006 for $2 million, wonders if it’s jinxed. But he’s still crossing his fingers for a turnaround.
“Hopefully [Bonkerz] will make something happen and break the bad curse down there,” Edgar said.
Meanwhile, Edgar put the property up for sale at $2.6 million in November and also is offering it for lease.
Commercial real estate broker Bill Small, who works for Frias Properties, said the property is under contract.
“If everything goes smoothly, it will close in March,” he said, adding the prospective buyer is interested in leasing the space to new tenants. Edgar is asking between $60 and $65 a square foot if the space doesn’t sell and he opts to lease it.
Regardless of what happens, Callahan is waiting for her money.
“I don’t think he cares, but I’ll make him care because I won’t hesitate to picket in front of his restaurant,” Callahan said. “This man needs to be stopped.”
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.