Goodnights Comedy Club, a cornerstone of the Raleigh standup scene for more than 30 years, is going underground.
The climb down into the legendary club’s new location in the Village District is reminiscent of a late Friday night at college—stumbling down a narrow flight of stairs into a tiny black-box theater, where you push your way through the crowd only to find yourself crushed into a corner.
This new Goodnights space, at 401 Woodburn Road, is much more spacious than those infamous makeshift stages in Chicago, often found in dingy basements. But on a Friday night, you still have to push your way through the crowd to get to the solid wood bar or find a seat in the tiered performance space.
“When we found this underground space, that was the moment where we’re like, ‘Yeah, this is what we have to do. Go underground where people can just laugh and forget about life on Main Street,’” says Goodnights owner Brad Grossman.
Grossman has been hard at work finishing the new space after moving out of the old location in a historic ice-cream factory on West Morgan Street in July 2022. The move to Woodburn Road, in January of this year, was a chance to finally mimic the underground design of his first business venture, Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia, a favorite among audiences, Grossman says.
“The way [Goodnights] was built 40 years ago didn’t match the needs of a comedy fan,” he says. “Sometimes you want to go underground and learn and talk and laugh at the most ridiculous things in life.”
After the seriousness of the past few years, “now is the time” to relearn how to laugh, Grossman says.
“That’s what Goodnights and comedy bring to the community,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to sit back and just take a break from everyday life. Have a drink and enjoy a laugh. That’s pretty important.”
A comic walks onto a stage …
The entrance to Goodnights—camouflaged on a corner just a few yards right of the Flying Biscuit—was easy to spot two weeks ago, on January 20, during the club’s opening weekend. Dozens of people spilled out onto the sidewalk, lining up to see the first of many headliners in the new space, podcaster and Comedy Central regular Anthony Jeselnik.
“We live in South Carolina, actually; we came up for the show,” says George May, who made the four-hour drive with his old college friend Michael Almonte. “We love Jeselnik. We just saw he was touring, and this was one of the closer spots.”
May and Almonte had never been to Goodnights before, but they were thrilled when they heard they could catch one of their favorite comics here, May says. He enjoys Jeselnik’s dark humor and misdirections. As far as the space goes, “it’s dope,” Almonte asserts.
On Friday night, the crowd is loud, chatting and laughing even before the show starts. It’s a full house, with couples and groups of friends sitting at every table, sipping wine and swigging beer next to bare brick walls. The underground space is dimly lit, creating an intimate atmosphere even with an audience of more than 300.
The first opener, Jason Seabrooks, walks on to a burst of music so loud that you can feel the vibrations of the bass. As soon as he enters, there’s nothing but the spotlight and the mic—and of course, the guy on stage, talking about how messed up life is and somehow getting you to laugh at it.
Seabrooks has plenty of in-jokes for North Carolina natives, taking digs at Johnston County with one breath and the audience itself in the next. The next comic, Blair Socci, treads farther over the line, making blunt observations about abortion restrictions and degrading North Carolina’s anti-abortion stance. She’s saying things a lot of people might think but never speak out loud. It’s a relief and catharsis all wrapped up in a surprisingly raspy voice.
Carrying on a tradition
Back in the good old days, the Village had a thriving underground complex, thousands of square feet of nightclubs, music venues, and quirky stores. From the early 1970s through the mid-1980s, the Village underground was known for its live music scene, welcoming local legends as well as nationally renowned bands including R.E.M., the Ramones, Pat Benatar, Bette Midler, and even Duke Ellington.
Now, Goodnights is right across from where that once-bustling hot spot lived. That was big, says Grossman.
“I get to kind of revitalize what the community remembered about this area, which was the Village underground,” he says. “To see people come through here [opening] night and just shake their head and smile, you knew you did something right.”
Patrons agree. Ruth Seiler, who came to the club’s opening weekend with her husband, Colin, talks about the Village’s former underground scene fondly.
“I remember when it was Bargain Box down here when it was the retail. My mom knew it for the underground club scene,” Seiler says. “[Goodnights] is the perfect addition to this area. It feels like it’s been here forever.”
Plenty of popular comedians are slated to appear at Goodnights in the next few months—including Matt Rife, Rachel Feinstein, and Adam Carolla, among others—but welcoming well-known faces from HBO and Netflix is only one part of what Grossman is trying to achieve with Goodnights and its next chapter, he says.
A few days before opening weekend, it was Helen Wildy on the stage, a local comic who moved to Raleigh from Seattle after starting her comedy career in Pittsburgh. In mid-January, she recorded her debut album, thanks to support from Grossman and his recording studio, Helium Comedy Records.
It’s “the biggest thing that’s happened to my comedy career so far,” Wildy says, adding that she’s excited to see several other comics also set to record their debut albums in the new space.
Wildy has also performed at Goodnights’ old location and its pop-up in the Village, earning the “hat trick of Goodnights,” she says with a laugh.
The new club “felt like an instant classic,” Wildy adds. “I’ve been in a lot of comedy clubs all over America and the vibe is so perfect. An underground club is always best. [It has] lower ceilings, traps in the laughter, just [makes] better shows.”
Wildy is also a big fan of the comedy scene in Raleigh, which she calls “wonderful.”
“The amount of talent here is wild. It blows my mind all the time,” Wildy says. “Everyone has been so welcoming and friendly of new people coming to the scene. And Goodnights has been so great at highlighting local performers and really giving them a platform. It’s lovely to have a club that’s so supportive … as well as bringing out all this insane national talent.”
In addition to the expansive main stage, Goodnights also has a small performance space, Room 861, named after the club’s old location.
“It really gives local and up-and-coming comedians an opportunity to perform, when otherwise you would just have a big name on Saturday nights,” Grossman says. “Arguably, the show in here will be funnier because maybe [the comedians] are working that much harder. It’s a toss-up.”
Grossman and his brother Marc want to grow the local comedy industry, he says. They’re using their recording studio to shoot specials for “people you’ve never heard of,” Grossman says.
“We need to get more people into this space [Room 861] to understand that … it’s a nice space to have a drink or go see a show in the small room. It’s just a different experience,” Grossman says. “If we can grow talent, whether it’s on our stages or online, that grows the industry and it’s good for everybody.”
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