What do you call seventy-five comedians crowded outside of Goodnights in Raleigh? 

Tuesday night. 

As they are every week, the comics, all local, are waiting to see if they’ve been awarded one of twenty coveted spots for the evening’s open mic. 

“The local comedy scene works in a cycle,” says Brandy Brown, who’s managed the comedy club since 2015. She got her start here waiting tables and grew to love comedy. She performs less than she used to. Now, she says, she prefers helping budding comics get their start. 

Brown speaks with reverence about the “mass exodus” of talent she came up with just a few years ago, as well as the new crowd that’s taken its place. “It’s a different time in comedy,” she says. “If I ask some of these guys how much time can they do or how many laughs per minute, they look at me like, huh?

Along with host Taylor Hays, she’s responsible for cobbling together the list, then stepping outside to deliver the news. One by one, the would-be performers find out if they’ll get a spot on stage, and in what order. 

One person who will: Jeremy Alder, someone from the old school. He’s thirty-nine and a stalwart of the local scene, a regular at open mics who hosts shows at local bars and breweries. Brown likes Alder because he can “do clean comedy,” she says. “It’s important to have someone who can do clean.”

The earlier, three-minute slots tend to feature newcomers and lesser-known performers; the later spots are reserved for more developed comedians. Alder gets five minutes and lands nineteenth, second to last. 

There isn’t an empty seat in the room. By the time Alder begins his set, the crowd is eager, primed. They receive him well. Every punchline gets a laugh.

Well, almost every punchline. 

While riffing about a recent pet adoption—not a rescue, he points out, since he didn’t save the dog from a burning building—Alder opines about the high cost of veterinary care, including vaccinations.

“I don’t even vaccinate my kids,” he deadpans. 


He backtracks. “I’m just kidding. I didn’t vaccinate that dog, either.”


The bit bombed. 

Alder doesn’t have time to wallow. He’s not off the stage thirty seconds before he’s out the door to his next gig.

Goodnights ranks among the most important open mics in the Triangle, but it’s hardly the only one. Here and across North Carolina, there are comedy clubs, coffee shops, bookstores, and bars that host opportunities for comedians to develop their act.

“Tuesdays are great,” Alder explains as he drives his minivan to Chapel Hill, where he’ll be performing an hour later at Zog’s, “because you can double-dip. If a joke doesn’t do well at the first show, you can try it again during the second.” 

As he reworks the joke in his head, he tries to respect the difference between Raleigh and Chapel Hill audiences. 

“Chapel Hill is a hard place for comedy,” he says. “It’s a more progressive crowd, so you can’t get away with as much.”

Alder should know. It’s not unusual for him to spend four to five nights a week crisscrossing the state in search of an audience, or at least a microphone. He has many haunts, from The Idiot Box in Greensboro, to The Dead Crow in Wilmington, to Charlotte’s Comedy Zone, and all the joints in between. Alder is in the grind. He pays attention to his audiences. He seeks out clues that offer insight into what might fetch a laugh. This is how you cut through a crowded comedy scene, how you deliver a set that resonates with your audience. 

Of course, to do that, you need an audience in the first place.

Soon after he arrives at Zog’s, Alder gets the news from Carrboro comedian Jack Bowen, who sits on a metal folding chair next to a “Po’boys” sign outside the front door.

“It’s a light crowd.”

“Any civilians?”

Bowen shakes his head. “Mostly comics.”

Alder sighs and sloughs up the stairs. A glance around the room confirms it. The few people in the room are comics awaiting their turn. 

“You have to work for it in a room like this,” he says. 

His stomach can’t help but tighten after the first couple of sets. There’s an awkward vibe. No one is laughing. Host Josh Rosenstein tries to keep things lively with his mix of comedy and music, but the audience isn’t having it.

Alder focuses on two men in suits near the front. They aren’t comics. He hopes he can feed off their energy, rather than comics who’ve already heard his act.

This time, Alder goes eighth. This time, there’s far less laughter. This time, when he delivers his vaccination punchline, it is not followed with hollow silence, but a smattering of boos.

Alder takes his lumps. 

“If you can kill in a room like that,” Alder says, “then you can kill anywhere.”

Alder doesn’t swing for the offensive. He denies cancel culture and criticizes comedians who, in his view, “punch down,” including Dave Chappelle. Chapel Hill comic Nic Frederick calls Alder “literally one of the nicest dudes on the scene.” Brown repeatedly refers to him as “dependable.” He describes his own act as “dumbly smart and darkly sweet.”

“My darkest material,” Alder says, “is my stuff about God.”

That much is true. Alder has a bit where his child asks if God is a mommy or a daddy. He told his son, “I think God is both a mommy and a daddy. Because, like a daddy, God left his son when he was very young. And he is also like a mommy because, one day, God got really sad and drowned all of his children.”

Before comedy, Alder was a preacher. Homeschooled in San Antonio, he grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household. After majoring in philosophy at the University of Texas, he attended Duke Divinity from 2005 to 2009. His preaching style used humor to help make difficult ideas more palatable. 

However, his doubts weren’t welcomed by his parents or the church, and, as he sought a more skeptical and progressive experience—and following his divorce in 2014—he no longer felt comfortable in the church.

“I found myself in a negative space, and I needed to lighten up,” he says. “So I googled, “Comedy Chapel Hill” and watched an open mic at DSI. I thought, I can do that, so I signed up the next week. I did OK, well enough to want to keep doing it. So I kept coming back.”

Now, Alder considers this community of comedians his church. One of the temples is Chapel Hill’s The PIT, which hosts open mics and mainstage comedy along with improv shows, classes, and shows like Alder and Will Purpura’s “Fresh Bits,” a high-paced, high-energy show that features two minutes of relatively new material from both emerging and established comedians. This is where, on Thursday night, Alder is billed to appear at “Chet Chats,” a new show hosted by Nic Frederick.

“It’s like a TED talk,” Frederick says, “if it were delivered by a crazy person.”

A modest crowd shows up to watch area comics step into character and deliver jokes via PowerPoint. Alder tight-rolls his jeans and affixes the microphone to his ear like a headset. He channels his character, Chad “Bro” Doucheman, then delivers “Ten Life Lessons I’ve Learned Looking at Goats on the Internet.”

One slide shows a “fainting goat” with its feet in the air. Chad explains to the crowd that this goat taught him that, like a fainting goat that seizes up when it’s anxious and scared, it’s OK to quit when you are anxious and scared.

“Because while quitters never win,” Alder’s character explains, “they also never really lose … technically.”

Another slide offers a white goat with a black face. “This is Shane Gilli-goat,” Chad says. “I learned from Shane not to do racisms. Shane did a lot of racisms and lost his job at SNL. Shane is canceled.”

Alder leaves the room in stitches.

Alder’s vaccination joke still has yet to land. 

He tried it during his four-set hosting gig for touring comic Dusty Slay on Friday and Saturday night at the Raleigh Improv. He connects with three of the four audiences, but that joke never draws laughs. He refuses to let it go. He’ll work and rework it, often furiously scribbling notes at the bar in the moments leading up to his set. He’ll experiment with new deliveries. He’ll try out new tags.

It took Alder two years to cobble together a solid ten minutes. Three years to get fifteen. After five years, he feels confident he can do forty-five. His goal is a dependable one-hour set.

“If you want to make money, you need at least forty-five minutes to headline,” Alder says. “It takes about four to five years for a comic to decide if they have a legitimate shot to do this professionally. At that point, most people move to New York, LA, or Chicago.”

Alder is an exception to that rule, as custody issues keep him headquartered in the Triangle. However, he insists that “there are many more ways to make it in comedy now, because of the internet.” 

His material has landed him in many of the area’s top comedy festivals and contests. He’s recently appeared at the Asheville Comedy Festival and the North Carolina Comedy Festival. Earlier this year, he finished in third place at the Carolina’s Funniest Comic competition. He also showcased at Santa Monica’s West Side Standup Show. 

This workmanlike approach results in frequent requests from venues looking for a host or a featured performer to round out a touring talent showcase.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. “Most people quit. They try it, then after they bomb once or twice, they give in.”

Alder first bombed during his third or fourth show. He was angry, but he says quitting was never an option.

“Too many comics blame the audience, which is stupid,” he says. “You have to acknowledge when a joke doesn’t land. The audience needs to understand that you recognize it, or else it will be awkward.”

Alder does his best to help other comics while paying his dues. He appears in shows hosted by fellow comedians and offers them a spot in his local productions. He first produced “Homegrown” at Local 506, which featured two-to-three-minute acts for local comedians. However, low attendance forced him to move elsewhere. In November 2017, he produced “The Sunday Show” at Hillsborough’s Mystery Brewing, but when the brewery closed down, he moved it across town to Yonder Bar. (Disclosure: The author of this story co-owns Yonder.) The showcase features a diverse, local lineup of eight comics, mostly members of the local scene.

“Overall, the scene in the Triangle is more supportive than competitive,” Alder says. “Everybody wants everybody else to do better. It’s not at all cutthroat. If you’re putting in the work—going to open mics, appearing in other people’s shows—you’ll make it.”

Alder’s Sunday Show rounds out a long week. As host, part of his job is to greet and mingle with the audience, as well as ensure the comfort of the other comedians. When the lights have dimmed, he greets the room by asking for a show of hands.

“Raise your hand if this is your first time to The Sunday Show,” he instructs.

About twenty hands go up.

“Now raise your hands if you have never been to The Sunday Show before.”

A few more hands.

“That number should be the same,” he tells them. 

Uproarious laughter. 

With the crowd warmed up, Alder launches into an eight-minute set to kick off the evening. 

Once again, he tries the vaccination joke. It’s the same joke. But this time, for whatever reason, it kills.

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com.

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