Center Stage socially distanced stand-up comedy deemed a success

Greg Behrens was one of the comics who performed opening weekend of the Best of Atlanta Comedy Showcase at Center Stage, hosted by Laughing Skull Lounge, in socially distanced fashion. Credit: HillyMonster Photography

Credit: HillyMonster Photography

Credit: HillyMonster Photography

More shows hosted by Laughing Skull Lounge are set to come in future weekends.

The first indoor stand-up shows at Midtown’s Center Stage this past weekend were deemed a success, and organizer Marshall Chiles plans to do them every weekend into the near future.

Chiles, who owns the shuttered Laughing Skull Lounge, has already committed to three more weekends of shows since Center Stage is not booking its basic bread-and-butter concerts yet during this pandemic. (Tickets available here with prices ranging from $20 to $30.)

The shows are structured to ensure proper social distancing, Chiles said, calling the seating arrangement a bit like “reverse Jenga.” Center Stage, which normally has a capacity of 1,050, is maxed out at 200 for the comedy shows of local stand-up artists. On the first night, Friday, September 18, the Best of Atlanta Comedy Showcase drew 160 people, then 140 on Saturday night. Attendees were required to wear masks unless they were drinking something and drinks were delivered directly to their seats. (On Saturday’s show, attendees appeared to be largely compliant wearing masks.)

Each night had a host, Ian Aber, and seven or so comics who did about eight minutes each, followed by a longer set by headliner Lavar Walker. On Friday night, the crowd also received a surprise appearance by “Rush Hour” star and Atlanta resident Chris Tucker.

Chiles said feedback has been positive, with the only complaint that the place felt a little cold, a problem that isn’t typical when the space is full. He said he cannot open his 80-capacity Laughing Skull Lounge a few blocks away from Center Stage because it’s too small. He also tried outdoor shows at Ponce City Market but felt that was too much work for too little gain. The set up with Center Stage is far more viable, he believes, and won’t be subject to weather issues.

Ian Aber hosted the opening weekend of the Laughing Skull Best of Comedy Showcase at Center Stage, socially distanced. Here he is on Saturday, September 19, 2020. CR: Rodney Ho/

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Greg Behrens, a Buford resident who was one of the stand-up comics, said he enjoyed the setup. “It was awesome,” he said. “It’s ideal. I always wanted to play Center Stage, even at minimum capacity. It’s the best we can do right now. The line up is all my friends. It’s nice to see people!”

Some of the comics on Saturday night addressed life during a pandemic. “I quit my job to pursue stand-up comedy on March 7,” Behrens said on stage. “What a great time to go into public speaking as a career. If you’re like me, my mom is very disappointed in you.”

Nobody brought up anything overtly political. One of the comics, former tech executive Paul Ollinger, said there is very little to gain from going political. He was unsure how a small crowd in such a big place might impact his set but he said overall, it felt normal.

“It was much better than I was expecting,” Ollinger said. “It felt like a legit room and a good crowd.”

Mindy Beauregard of Acworth said when she and her husband Christian got the email about the show from Center Stage, they were encouraged by the safety protocols and said the staff did an excellent job. “We felt very safe,” she said, stating the highlight was “just laughing. We need to laugh right now."

Chris Tucker made a surprise appearance September 18, 2020 at Center Stage for the first socially distanced Best of Atlanta Comedy Showcase. CR: HillyMonster Photography

Credit: HillyMonster Photography

Credit: HillyMonster Photography

Center Stage hosted stand-up comedy shows on the weekend of September 18-19, 2020 at greatly reduced capacity and social distance, with masks required (though people could take them off to drink.) CR: Rodney Ho/

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho


Best of Atlanta Comedy Showcase

8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays

$20-$30 individual seats, $140 for four on tables on the floor

Center Stage

1374 W. Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta.

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