When Marshall Chiles first began performing stand-up in Atlanta in the mid-’90s, the only thing he found more difficult than nailing a joke was finding a comedy club in the city that would allow him to tell one.
“You had Wednesday nights at the Punchline, which was impossible to get on, and if you were a white comedian, if you went to open mics uptown, they would put you on basically because it would be like feeding meat on to the lions, ” he said. “I was so desperate for stage time that I would go to karaoke bars and try to perform material I wrote on the napkins.”
A Georgia native and comic, it was those experiences as a young performer that led Chiles to establish The Laughing Skull Lounge, a comedy club located in Midtown designed to offer comedic talent in Atlanta an opportunity to perform, network and most importantly, make a room full of clubgoers laugh.
Since its opening in 2009, The Laughing Skull has grown to become one of the most established comedy venues in the South, attracting established comics such as Dave Chapelle, Amy Schumer, Joe Rogan and Robin Williams to come up and take the stage.
“I’m building a comedy empire to pass onto my kids so they can run it into the ground,” Chiles said.
With the expansion of production in the Georgia television and film industry, comedy clubs such as The Laughing Skull have contributed to allowing local comedians to have an outlet to perform new material and gain exposure to both a regional and national audience.
“All of us go onstage and take L’s every day, but it is still a craft we love so much.”
Rama Sambatur, Comedian
“Atlanta is thriving and a great place for comedians to move to,” Chiles said. “Comedians can come here and get a lot more stage time and opportunities compared to being somewhere like LA or New York.”
Ty Colegate, a professional comedian and founder of Fifth Place Comedy, a weekly showcase popular for featuring a diverse cluster of rising local comedians, concurs with Chiles’ outlook.
“Every time you go on stage is like going to the gym; sometimes you’re not going to always hit the new record on the squat press,” he said. “Open mics are where you go to suck. I’ve bombed open mics a million times and will continue to bomb them. You have to make room to allow for creativity to exist and know that it’s not the end all, be all.”
“Comedy is something where you have to keep on your feet. All of us go onstage and take L’s every day, but it is still a craft we love so much,” said Rama Sambatur, a Duluth-based engineer who has recently begun moonlighting onto the Atlanta circuit.
“The culture here breeds a different type of comic that you’re not going to find somewhere else.”
Ty Colgate, Comedian and Host
Inspired by comedians such as Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham and Louis CK during childhood, Sambatur has been a consistent performer within the stand-up scene since May 2021. Despite occasional ups and downs, he considers Atlanta the perfect outlet to kickstart his comedy career.
“There are so many different rooms here for any demographic you want to hit, be it country folks, city folks, suburban folks. It’s one of the most diverse scenes you can find,” he said.
“The culture here breeds a different type of comic that you’re not going to find somewhere else like Ohio,” Colgate said. “I’m not saying that the comics are better here, but some of our top echelons are truly unique.”
One of the members of this top echelon includes Katherine Blanford, an Atlanta comedy veteran who recently made her television debut with a performance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” starring Jimmy Fallon.
“It was probably the greatest day of my life,” Blanford said of her television experience. “It was a lot of hard work the week leading up to it, rewriting and fine-tuning my jokes, but once I got there, it felt as though my smile was trying to escape my face.”
“It could be allergies, but it’s probably narcissism”
— The Tonight Show (@FallonTonight) August 7, 2022
A career that initially began with a Chelsea Handler monologue for a sorority talent show in college has evolved to include a comedy album streaming on Apple Music and “Cheaties,” a podcast hosted with fellow Atlanta comedian Lace Larrabee.
“Atlanta is a great scene to begin in, develop and learn what your voice is. You can get onstage here five times a night if you want to,” she said.
Blanford names The Laughing Skull and Punchline Comedy Club as her two favorite venues to perform in the city and credits many of her Atlanta colleagues with helping to support her career.
“We are all so tight-knit, and we’re always rooting for each other,” she said. “Whenever there is a big moment of growth or a huge career opportunity for me, David Perdue is always there to give me the inspiration that I need. Vas Sanchez, Carlette Jennings and my cohost Lace are the same as well.”
Breaking away slightly from her local roots, Blanford is set to launch a nationwide comedy tour this fall, starting next week in Lake Park, Florida, and ending in late November in Chicago.
For those interested in pursuing stand-up for themselves, Blanford has a simple piece of advice.
“For anyone starting, take your time and don’t compare yourself to other comics. It is such an individual timeline for everybody; you must focus on developing yourself.”
It is then that she reminiscences on her own beginnings performing the open mic circuit when she first arrived in Georgia.
“I remember going to improv that was in Buckhead, and six months after I started performing at their open mic, they shut down,” she said. “I still have to wonder if it may have had something to do with me.”