BEVERLY — The Cabot theater is not kidding. The operators of the historic theater are planning to open a comedy club in downtown Beverly.
The Cabot has announced that it will open the Off-Cabot Comedy Club at 9 Wallis St. in early March. As the name suggests, the club will be located on a side street off Cabot Street, near Beverly City Hall. The space at 9 Wallis previously operated as a music club before it closed down in June 2020.
The new comedy club will have 150 seats, which Cabot Executive Director Casey Soward said will provide a more intimate setting for comedy than the 800-seat Cabot Theatre, which is located less than half a mile away on Cabot Street. Shows at Off-Cabot will be held Thursdays through Sundays.
“I’m just over the moon about the whole thing,” Soward said. “It’s the greatest thing for the town in terms of activating a really important cultural asset. We think we should be able to fill that on a regular basis and sometimes twice a day on the weekends.”
The creation of a comedy club represents a branching out for The Cabot, a nonprofit historic theater in the heart of the downtown that was purchased by a group of local residents in 2014 and has undergone millions of dollars in renovations and improvements. Soward said he got the idea for the comedy club when he was walking home after a successful comedy show at The Cabot in October and walked past 9 Wallis.
“I left the theater feeling so good and I just thought, ‘Man, the world really needs more of this,’” Soward said. “Since summertime, 9 Wallis has just been sitting there. I thought, wouldn’t that be a great little niche for us to have? I talked to dozens of people about it and everybody said, ‘Wow, what a great idea. I can’t believe nobody’s done that.’”
The Cabot will operate the comedy club in partnership with John Tobin Presents, which produces and operates comedy shows at clubs such as The Comedy Scene, Laugh Boston and Nick’s Comedy Stop.
Tobin Presents has been booking comedy acts at The Cabot for about five years, and John Tobin said the idea of a smaller venue to complement The Cabot made sense.
“It seemed like a logical way for Casey’s team and for our team to really combine forces and book in those acts that maybe can’t fill an 800-seat theater, but they can certainly fill 150 seats in a really intimate place,” Tobin said.
Soward called the comedy club a “natural extension of what we’ve already been doing” at The Cabot. He said The Cabot will continue to host comedy shows, but the smaller Off-Cabot Comedy Club will provide a venue for new comedians trying to establish themselves. He compared it to a baseball team that starts players off in its farm system and then calls them up to the major leagues.
“It will give these comedians a place to grow and be able to work out their material in front of a live audience,” Soward said. “They can build their following and get to the point where they can play on the main stage of The Cabot.”
Soward said the club will also bring in “big-name people” that you wouldn’t expect to see in a 150-seat venue.
Soward said the comedy club could draw 800 to 1,000 people per week to Beverly, which would provide a boost to restaurants and other businesses.
Beverly Main Street Executive Director Rachel Borgatti said the club will fill a “niche” in Beverly and beyond.
“There really isn’t a venue for comedy in Beverly, so I’m excited that they’re going to do it,” she said. “I think it’s a real asset for the North Shore. The restaurants will 100% benefit. I think comedy can be a unique draw that will get folks who will never venture outside otherwise.”
Soward said The Cabot will also rent out the space at 9 Wallis for private events.
The Cabot will lease the space at 9 Wallis, which is privately owned. The building used to be owned by the magic company, Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company, that performed for decades at both the Cabot and Larcom theaters.
The 9 Wallis site is located next to the Larcom Theatre. In fact, the two buildings used to be connected when they were owned by the magic company. The 9 Wallis space was called “The Grand Salon” and was used as an extended lobby.
Soward said he does not consider the comedy club as competition for the Larcom Theatre, which is owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Don and Lisa Crowell and hosts music and other shows, including comedy.
“The kinds of shows in a comedy club are different than you’ll do in a 600-seat theater,” Soward said. “By driving more traffic to the street more people will know about the Larcom. It’s mutually beneficial. You’re building it as a cultural destination.”
The Crowells could not be reached for comment.
Tobin said the Beverly club will give his company, which books comedy acts all over the country, a presence on the North Shore that it has lacked.
“We don’t look at other venues as necessarily competition,” Tobin said. “Great entertainment options, just like great dining options, beget other opportunities. I think there’s room for everybody in these spaces. We’re not trying to big-foot anybody.”
Tobin called 9 Wallis a “one-of-a-kind space” with its intimate setting and a full bar. The Cabot is planning to install new sound and lighting systems.
“We book all types of places and that type of space for people to gather is kind of rare these days,” Tobin said.
Soward said the value of comedy and a night of escape is more important than ever considering the pandemic’s impact on people’s mental health.
“I almost look at it as a community service,” he said. “We need more people laughing right now. We’re not doctors and we’re not hospitals, but I think this is really an important social thing for people.”
Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.