Flappers May Not Be Cool, but It Shows Potential

I’ll come right out and say it: Flappers isn’t “cool”… yet. It is a comedy club (strike one, arguably) with clichéd 1980s comedy boom-themed décor and an inexplicably 1920s-themed name (strike two), it doesn’t have a liquor license (strike three) or a kitchen (strike four), and it is situated in a secluded area on the top floor of the Packing House (strike five) in Claremont, California (strike six). Though it may be too early to tell, this all suggests that you might want to look elsewhere for your girls’ nights out.

Now, to be fair to Flappers, it doesn’t have a liquor license or a kitchen yet—its Claremont location opened relatively recently, and to compensate for lack of more adult fare, the venue is selling soda and candy at the door and offering a $17 coupon for a future show if you buy two items. And in the immeasurably vast realm of comedy clubs with silly names, Flappers is nowhere near the most egregious offender: comedians often discuss how hard it is to defend their livelihood to their parents when their most important TV appearance ends with Jimmy Kimmel announcing that said comedian will be appearing at Chuckle Turds in Boise next Thursday through Sunday. “Flappers” is a respectable name by comparison. The owner and staff are also unimpeachably nice and welcoming, a fact not to be dismissed.

Its décor and location are undoubtedly depressing, though I’ll chalk the former up to Flappers’s infancy. Behind the stage is a fake red brick wall and a painted sign, on which there are fake flashing lights around the club’s name. I assume that with time—if the club does well and stays open—it will do away with the brick wall and the painted sign. The location, however, is a little harder to fix. The club is essentially a large, dressed-up alcove on the second floor of the Packing House, and the wide aluminum vent tubes that run across the ceiling spoil the club’s illusion somewhat. The Packing House is a big building with such a sparse assortment of stores that Flappers gave me the strong and persistent feeling that I was sitting in the last comedy club in post-apocalyptic California.

The actual comedy at Flappers was decent, with Jim Ruel opening and James P. Connolly headlining the night that I attended. According to his press release, Ruel is an Native American comedian from Wisconsin who tours with two other Native American comedians around clubs and casinos in a trio called “The Chiefs of Comedy.” The release also mentions that Ruel went to Stanford, implying that his material is sharp and brainy (and perhaps Silicon Valley-themed).

However, none of these adjectives particularly applied to Ruel’s performance on Saturday. He wasn’t “Larry the Cable Guy” dumb by any stretch of imagination, but there wasn’t much particularly smart about his material either. He joked about playing World of Warcraft as a 38-year-old, about his two-year-old daughter, and about his ethnicity. His delivery was sleepy and self-dismissive, his pauses between jokes were inordinately long, and he didn’t seem committed to any of his material.

It was easy to see why Ruel was opening and not headlining. He occupies an unfortunate niche ethnic space in comedy that he neither addressed scathingly nor escaped totally. Ruel seems doomed to have the extra modifier “Native American” glued in front of “comedian” for the rest of his career.

After a 15-minute intermission uncharacteristic for a comedy club, Ruel introduced main act James P. Connolly. Connolly’s delivery and stage persona were stronger and more clearly defined than Ruel’s. His comedic voice was affable and gently teasing, and his real voice drawled inexplicably—Connolly was born and raised in Los Angeles—in the smooth tone of a game show host. Connolly’s stage presence separated him from Ruel much more than his material’s strength. He was confident and smart-alecky in an amusing but inoffensive way. He joked about breaking his foot, bear attacks, the difference between young and old people, and creepy boy scout leaders. All fitfully funny, none brilliant. But he sold his material way better than Ruel did, and even structured his set decently, neatly fitting in three or four callbacks when the opportunity arose.

For a fan of stand-up comedy like yours truly, Flappers is nice to have close by. However, if you don’t share the slightest hint of enthusiasm for the form, I can’t imagine that the place would be very attractive to you. It’s not the most obvious place to spend a Saturday night. My advice, if you are inclined to check it out: don’t go to Flappers to see “comedy” in the general sense. Instead, go if a comedian that you already know and like is performing there. Or, once that liquor license goes through, for a cocktail.

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