Wit’s End: The New Home for Comedy in Charleston

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    Wit’s End: The New Home for Comedy in Charleston
    Published: June 26, 2024

    The closing of the Sparrow in January was a sad day for Charleston’s local comedy scene. Many feared that the loss of this Park Circle hub for standup would leave a hole in the city’s already underground community. Thankfully, the Sparrow’s producer Josh Bates had better plans. His brand new comedy club Wit’s End opened on June 1st, and it’s the new go-to spot for live, local comedy in Charleston.

    Located on Rivers Ave in North Charleston, near the Starlight Motor Inn, Wit’s End features a two-story establishment with a spacious barroom and a 90-cap venue on the first floor. The second floor includes a lounge, green room, and a future podcast studio.

    Open six days a week, the programming at Wit’s End includes an open mic for comics every Monday and Wednesday night at 8pm, with sign-up at 7:30pm. Friday and Saturday nights are the main comedy shows featuring ticketed events with both touring and local comedians.

    Although Wit’s End has only been open four weeks, their weekends are already booked through December, with names like Caleb Synan, Steph Tolev, Sam Tallant, and more on the calendar. Plus, this coming weekend, our friends at Rip City pull off two nights at the new venue.

    According to Josh, turnout for their events so far has been excellent. It’s clear that there is demand for underground and rising comedy in Charleston, and Wit’s End supplies this in a professional, yet welcoming environment.

    The Comedic Landscape: Charleston Edition

    Josh Bates, owner of Wit’s End Comedy Lounge in North Charleston, SC.

    Bates himself is one of Charleston’s most well-known local comics. Being around the business has taught him how to treat performers the right way, which he believes is what helps to keep his calendar filled with exciting names every weekend.

    “The reason why we get really good comics from all across the country is I pay them well,” Bates explains. “Because I’m a comic myself, so I know what it’s like, and it sucks.”

    As for his background, Bates attended film and theater school and then dropped out to join the military, but continued to do theater for fun. After completing his military service and leaving corporate America behind, he landed upon comedy, and never looked back.

    “I always had a fascination with doing comedy and finally just did it on a whim,” Bates recalls, “and then liked it so much where I quit theater and was doing comedy full time, and then producing at the Sparrow.”

    Now, with the Sparrow closed down, Bates finds himself behind the wheel at Wit’s End, and he has plans for it to become one of the premier comedy clubs in the South.

    Collaboration & Community: Rip City & Wit’s End

    Also check out my Rip Ciy interview from September 2023.

    “What’s interesting is you don’t have to go to New York anymore,” Bates continues. “You don’t have to go to Chicago to do comedy. You could do it anywhere. A lot of comics are hanging out in Nashville, Austin, Denver, Atlanta, because you can travel. So, people are learning that, and it’s good to start seeing comedians working together and collaborating together.”

    Bates explains that this was the reason why he wanted to partner with Henry Riggs and Maari Suorsa from Nameless Numberhead, the local comedy duo behind the successful sketch comedy show, Rip City.

    “We want them 100% apart with us,” Josh says. “So they just taught a class this weekend here, and then Rip City is going to do a show [this] week here.”

    Not Just Comedy

    Another part of the community-driven, collaborative approach behind Wit’s End is their desire to engage with all the arts, not just comedy.

    “I want Wit’s End to be not just a place for comedy, but for art in general. I want people to feel like they own a part of it,” Bates explains. “It’s not just here to sell booze to people, but we are here if you want to do a podcast, if you want to display your art and have a show. It’s like, let’s do it, but let’s do it in a professional way that the rest of the town wants to come and see it. I know people have done that before, but I think it’s a matter of accessibility for everybody.”

    Charleston has never had a proper comedy club. We have Theatre 99, which we agreed is an excellent spot to see improv comedy in downtown Charleston, but it’s a different kind of vibe from what Josh is going for with Wit’s End.

    It All Starts With Open Mics

    “We have probably 20 to 30 comics in town that are truly working comics to a degree. And that needs to be like double. And it all starts with open mics. We need to encourage it a little bit more.”

    However, despite the open mic being welcome to all, comics are encouraged to come prepared with strong material, for the benefit of the whole scene.

    “I think one of the problems comedians have is that we’re so excited about doing shows that will just put anything up. The quality is not necessarily there, and audiences sometimes aren’t forgiving,” Bates explains. “So I’m always afraid of those people that got a babysitter, and they did all the stuff to go to your show that just sucked. And now they’re like, I’m never going to do that again. Which screws everybody in the scene because now we just lost a customer.”

    Music fans reading this know that the problem is not exclusive to comedy, but persists across other art forms as well.

    “I think you have to publicize it the right way when the talent’s not there,” Josh continues. “Let people know, hey, this guy’s been doing comedy for two or three years. Don’t hype it up and make it like they’re about to see a guy who’s been headlining across the country. No, you’re just going to see Steve, and Steve is just ripping on some stuff.”

    You never know what you’re going to get at an open mic or an underground comedy show, and Josh says he’s happy to see so many new faces coming out to perform.

    “The last few open mics, I would say half are brand new people. I think they were just waiting for a new place to try it out. And people are showing up. People are showing up. It amazes me. People come through the doors.”

    The Grand Finale

    Wit’s End staff photo.

    Wit’s End also has a full kitchen, which is currently serving flatbreads and simple dishes, but soon will be enhanced with elevated fares. Josh also plans to extend the collaborative spirit of Wit’s End to the kitchen, with kitchen takeovers and food & beverage employee specials on Sundays.

    Stay tuned for more news on the kitchen from Wit’s End. For now, I will leave you with some closing thoughts from Mr. Bates.

    “Just come out and support live comedy. It’s live art. There’s really good comedians in town. There’s really good comedians in the region that we’re having. Later in the year, we have Sam Tallant for example. I think he’s the best comedian in all of America right now. And he’s coming to little old Wit’s End. So, there’s a lot of shit happening here that I think a lot of people would enjoy. Come out!”

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