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Funny Business: Tickling our funny bones

Photos by Rain Harlow

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Local comedian, Robert Harris, and owner of Eastside Tavern, Sal Nuccio, give some insight on the COMO comedy scene.

Columbia’s comedy scene has blossomed over the past 10 years, and a lot has gone into that. Although many have day jobs, some comedians do this for a living, and it’s no funny business. 

Life as a COMO comedian 

Robert Harris is one of Columbia’s most popular comedians and has been a part of the Columbia comedy scene for more than 10 years now.  

“I just like to make people laugh; I’ve always been a clown,” he says. “I don’t know — it just feels good, really.” 

Robert always loved comedy but never thought about doing it until he moved to Columbia. After his divorce in 2012, he finally leaned into a comedy career.  

Taking inspiration from comedians like Sam Jay, Bill Burr, and Mitch Hedberg, Robert likes to let jokes come to him, taking influence from everyday experiences.  

“I talk mostly just about stuff that happens to me. If I’m talking to someone and people laugh, I jot it down,” he explains. “If I get on stage and it’s funny, then I write more or elaborate on it as things come to me. I can’t really just sit down and write things out.”  

As a single dad, a big part of Robert’s career has been on hold.  

“This year I just want to focus on doing more road shows, which is something in the past I haven’t done,” he says. “I have a daughter, so I didn’t want to be gone a lot, but she graduates high school this year. So this year I’m going to be focusing on the road.”  

Robert has already lined up shows in nearby states and is eager to see if he can make some fresh faces laugh.  

However, Robert also has some big plans for the Columbia comedy scene.

Behind the scenes  

Robert was able to get his start at the As Yet Unnamed Comedy Show at Eastside Tavern, and although it’s been a hard climb, he now hosts his own show, Pints and Punchlines, at The Blue Note, where he gets a chance to shine more light on local comedians. Robert and his friend, Michael Yetman, started Pints and Punchlines together seven years ago. 

“I think our first show we had 10 people come. We just kept doing it every month and it’s grown,” Robert adds. “The most we’ve had show up is around 300 people.”  

Now that they’ve been on the scene for a while, putting on a show is a smooth process.  

“The process that goes into a show is basically just setting up a lineup, getting everyone’s music ready —  that’s really it,” Robert explains. “There’s not a whole lot on my end; just making sure I talk to The Blue Note. It’s pretty easy, other than picking who I want to have on.” 

Deciding which comedians to host is a task Robert takes his time on.  

“I usually try to do at least two out-of-town comedians. I try to have at least two road comedians. I try to do six comedians each show; sometimes I have more,” he adds. “I’ll have like three or four local comedians. We have people from St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Nashville, just around.” 

While The Blue Note is relatively new to the comedy scene, other venues have been working the scene for a while. 

The comedy scene  

The As Yet Unnamed Comedy Show has been putting on shows at Eastside Tavern since 2007.  

“When we started doing comedy, we had already been open for 10 years,” says Sal Nuccio, owner of Eastside Tavern. “Sometimes I’d sit around the bar with whoever was bartending at the time, and we would think of things to do besides just being a regular old bar; to be more creative and get more involved with the local scene.”  

That’s when Sal and a regular customer, Dan, came up with the idea of doing a regular comedy night.  

Sal doesn’t mean to brag, but he claims to have inspired almost all the comedy shows that are currently running in Columbia, stating that before him there wasn’t a single weekly comedy show near Columbia. 

As a smaller, local business, Sal has his own opinion on the comedy scene.  

“There are three shows right now, and I feel that it’s too many because there’s only so many lovers of comedy. When you have too many cooks in the kitchen it ruins the pot,” he says. “I’ve seen that happen with the live music scene here, too, where there’s too many venues and not enough bands to go around, and then everyone’s shows end up having thin turnouts and stuff like that.” 

Sal says that involvement from the community has wavered over the years, but there are a lot of great people in the comedy community right now.  

“When we first started out, we had a lot of the right people involved, so it came out to a good start in the beginning. Then I saw it die off for a couple of years, but then it resurged with the right people,” he adds. “It’s usually the right people being involved. Right now, I got a guy called Nick Gorgers and another guy, Harley — they just love comedy, it’s almost what they live for.” 

Sal says Nick and Harley aren’t making a living doing comedy — they also have day jobs — “but if there’s anything they like to do with their spare time, it’s comedy.” 

“That type of involvement is what really helps the scene and what helps my show,” he adds.  

You can catch a show weekly at the As Yet Unnamed Comedy Show at 8 p.m. every Tuesday, or you can stop by The Blue Note once a month for Pints and Punchlines. 

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