Local comedians ‘stand up’ at The Laugh Attic

Andrew McGuinness performing at The Laugh Attic. Photo/Danny Pee

MANCHESTER, NH – American writer Mark Twain—arguably the funniest person in all American letters—once wrote that “humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

But what a fickle thing humor can be, especially in a politically-correct world where irony and hostility are easily blurred; where jokes can be seen as personal slights; and the ribbing of a person, or people, however playful, can be perceived as hate speech.

It draws a narrow and slippery line for contemporary comedians to toe.

Still, some brave souls walk that line each week at a Queen City venue that continues to offer the opportunity for comics to strut their stuff.

Kaile Krenzer performs at Laugh Attic. Photo/Danny Pee

Every Thursday night at The Strange Brew Tavern in downtown Manchester, local stand-up comedians try their material at “The Laugh Attic,” an open mic series hosted by Danny Pee.         

The venue, which welcomes anyone with the guts and gall to stand in front of an audience and attempt to be funny, was launched on Oct. 12, 2017, by local comedians Ben Davis and Tim Pitts. 

At the time, both men were performing at the comedy open mics at The Shaskeen Pub and Murphy’s Taproom, and they were searching for another location for stand-up comics in the area to perform. 

It turned out that The Strange Brew’s owner Mitch Sawaya was amenable to hosting an open mic comedy venue in the “attic” of the bar[1].

“I focused on making an open mic show that was the truest expression of an open mic,” said Davis, a New Hampshire native. “You could say whatever the hell you wanted there. It was alright if the audience didn’t like it. There were people [at open mics] who were practicing.” 

Davis and Pitts originally co-hosted “The Laugh Attic at The Strange Brew”, but due to a busy traveling schedule at his day job, Pitts had to step down and was replaced by Tom Spohn.

However, Davis stayed on as host for six and half years—with a “Cal Ripkin-like” consistency, he said—before Pee took the helm in 2024.

Since the days of Lenny Bruce being hauled off stages and arrested for obscenity, many comedians have understood a tacit obligation to push the boundaries of humor, and “The Laugh Attic” has its fair share of comedians who certainly try to straddle that line. 

“You want to give people the opportunity to push boundaries and explore beyond their comfort zone,” said Pitts, whose own material trends toward darker topics. “This is the place where the best comics and the worst comics can go, and if the people in the audience don’t like it, then don’t laugh. The silence sends a message.” 

Pee said that keeping the stakes low—or even non-existent—at the open-mic allows comics to try things that will sometimes rile the crowd with anger or disdain. “We self-police really well[2],” he said. “We take care of our own.”

Sometimes comedians just flat-out bomb, and according to Davis, “bombing” comes with the territory in stand-up comedy. 

“Bombing is the worst, but it’s also the most important part of the process,” Davis said. “If you’re not bombing, you’re doing bullshit, and only doing the stuff that you know works. That’s not what an open mic is for.” 

Since the first days of stand-up comedy at vaudeville shows, there has always been the ubiquitous character of the heckler, the pest waiting in the crowd to unnerve and distract the performer.

While hecklers at “The Laugh Attic” are not commonplace or encouraged, they’re certainly part of the learning curve for any comedian.

“If you’re going to have a comedy career, you have to deal with hecklers. It’s good practice,” Pitts said. 

Meanwhile, the crowds at “The Laugh Attic” are growing and trending toward a younger demographic, which is consistent with many of the other open mic/spoken word venues in Manchester

“The scene here is a young one,” said Pee. “We’re in a boom for comedy, post-pandemic. When people come here, they can get a flavor for what the comedy scene is like, both its ups and its downs.” 

Young or old, standing in front of a room and trying to make strangers laugh remains one of the hardest and most nerve-racking gigs for any performer—in any art form. 

“This is where people can find out if they’re funny or not,” said Davis. “An open mic is a weekly party that you don’t need an invite to attend.” 

Twain also wrote that “Humor is the good-natured side of truth.” So for those seeking truth or laughter or, sometimes, a cringe, “The Laugh Attic” opens its doors each Thursday at 9 p.m. at The Strange Brew Tavern.

Admittance and the laughter are free.

You can follow The Laugh Attic, Tim Pitts and Danny Pee on Instagram.      

[1] The title “The Laugh Attic” turns out to be both literal and a play on words, apropos for a comedy show, I suppose.

[2] I bore witness to Pee’s claim. At the show I attended, there was some kerfuddle after a person on stage delivered some ignorant and unsavory commentary, without a hint of irony. At least, the “comedian’s” words seemed “ignorant and unsavory” in this journalist’s estimation—yet I abide by the First Amendment. But the community at-large decisively “self-policed” on the side of decency.