For the past year, standup comics and comedy fans in Charlotte have seen the art form rapidly expand, with independent shows and open mic nights suddenly becoming a regular occurrence. One such event playing a role in this rapid expansion is Revolt Comedy, a regular showcase that takes place at Heist Brewery on the first Monday of every month. Co-founder and host Brian O’Neil admitted that, while he didn’t want to take all the credit, he felt the success of Revolt had a significant part to play in the new era of Queen City comedy. He recently visited the Queen City Nerve offices with Revolt cofounder Romante Rahim, who anticipated an impressive turnout for the Oct. 7 event, held as usual at the original Heist Brewery location in NoDa. Ever since the duo decided that the occasional Comedy Zone showcase wasn’t enough, they’ve taken it upon themselves to bring their passion to Charlotte — a process they were excited to detail for me.
Queen City Nerve: When and why were you inspired to create Revolt Comedy?
Brian O’Neil: A year ago now. I thought about creating a comedy show in Charlotte because at the time there weren’t many independent comedy shows outside of the one comedy club that we have, Comedy Zone. It seemed like an opportunity to have a cool show in town. I got the idea for the show when I was in Berlin last summer and I did some open mics out there and the way they had the format was like a showcase. I thought that would be really cool to have a similar format here in Charlotte.
Romante Rahim: He was doing comedy for a short period too, though. I just happened to visit and see one of his shows and saw how great his talent was and I said, “Hey man, let’s do a show.” We just took a leap of faith and jumped off the cliff and connected to Heist Brewery. It’s been a great run, the support and the love have been awesome, just the energy behind the show and just all the recognition we have received and everything has been a great honor.
What impact has comedy had on your lives?
Rahim: For me, Brian’s my brother and so it’s had an impact in that sense that our relationship has grown as friends and brothers. But also at the same time the ability for me to come in and look at the business side of it and help him with his craft and in his talent, it’s almost like helping him bring some of his dreams to the table. We’ve done a few other things as well but it’s been more of an impact because it’s grown our relationship and the ability to help him bring some of his dreams to life.
O’Neil: Getting into comedy was really kind of a, I don’t know, it’s like you find something finally that you’re really good at and so I got into it and I just loved doing it. So the fact that I’m like even pursuing anything more than open mic is like really cool. I’ve designed my life kinda around comedy with like the jobs that I do, or people I interact with are mostly comics now and whenever I go out to events I’m usually going to a comedy event. It’s become really ingrained in who I am now.
Rahim: He laughs 24/7.
O’Neil: Yes! That is exactly how my life is.
How have you guys built and maintained an audience for Revolt?
O’Neil: Man…that’s a really great question.
Rahim: That is a really great question. There’s different perspectives so mine is from a business side. I’m anal for analytics so a lot of analytics and we’ve marketed the show very well we’ve come up with a format that we can stick to that we run with. But I think for the most part the comics who have been in the show, they love the showcase idea of it and just all the details we put in, all of the appreciation for the comics, the way we show it through marketing and putting it together. Interestingly enough I think the word is just out. It’s one of those things where we meet people just about every show we have. We get a new round of people; you could say half the audience sometimes is brand new first time out. And then our partnership with Heist helps because they help market it as well. Then even bringing sponsorships on board. Shoutout to Knob Creek, that’s our sponsor for this week. So I think all those things the word is getting out and people just wanna come, it’s a Monday night, you come in early, laugh and get home early to go to the job that you hate the next day.
O’Neil: What I’ve been doing lately is before shows and after shows I’m going around talking to people asking them how they heard about the show. We get a lot of love from the Charlotte On The Cheap website. A lot of people look up cheap things to do on this day and we pop up. A lot of people have never been to a comedy show. They’ve seen standup comedy on TV, on Netflix or something like that, but never quite experienced this. So for a lot of people we’re kind of their first entry into standup comedy. I just try to connect with people. I connect with people when I do other shows. I always promote my show when I do a show somewhere else. So I’ve had people come from Concord and say “Yeah, we wanted to come to your show because we saw your set and wanted to be a part of that.” There’s many different ways I just try to connect with people online personally. I’ll send stuff out like, “Hey, we’re coming out tomorrow”. It’s honestly like every first Monday of the month there’s a party and I just have to invite people to come hang out with me.
In comedy you have people drawing upon deep subjects for jokes, with some around the country complaining about “cancel culture” and audiences becoming too easily offended. Is that something you’ve experience at Revolt?
O’Neil: We have not experienced any ‘cancel culture’ at all, and uh, knock on wood. We do unfiltered comedy but I think also we set the tone that it’s gonna be that way and if you are offended, be offended, but to lash out at people and try to take away their gigs or something like that is something I’m highly against. We don’t usually have those issues, if anything we just have a tremendous amount of support. I haven’t heard honestly any negative reviews or anything about our show. I think it’s because we give people so many different options, so if one comic offended you you’re probably gonna see another one that is your type of comic. That’s why I always try to keep it diverse — not just color or background but younger and older and things like that, ‘cause our crowds, they fluctuate.
Rahim: To speak on that we had North Carolina Senator Jeff Jackson on the show about three shows back and when he came out a lot of people were asking. “Why is he coming on the show?” There were some people that had different political feelings about it. He came for the show and sat and watched comedians come on, point him out and talk about politics. But overall, it was just a hilarious fun night for everybody including him. He was funny when he got up as well but the fact that he sat through the whole show and he took a lot of jokes from comedians who pointed him out.
Do you know how you would handle any potential backlash?
O’Neill: I have a counseling background so I can use it to be like, “What about the show offended you?” and I can say, “Well, this person may have gone through a similar event and is finding some humor in this,” and you can tell them also that this is a comedian trying to be funny. They’re not trying to run for office or start a bill that’s going to exclude your community or whatever you thought about that joke. This person is just trying to be artistic and take a risk. There’s a lot of risk taking in comedy. That’s kind of the great thing about comedy is that you’re always continuously working at it.
Rahim: And our show is all about love, man. Our show is love. You come, you feel the energy popping. I’m not a comic, I’m just business and brain, but comedy’s a hard thing. You’re standing in front of people and you’re trying to make them laugh and I think sometimes it’s hard to give them the laugh. But also at the same time you’re telling your story. Most comedians that I’ve gotten to meet and work with are telling a story. Their life and what they’ve gone through and so forth and that’s hard to do sometimes. But our show’s about love and fun. Get your laugh medicine!
Do you get a lot of comedy fans as opposed to just other comedians in the audience?
O’Neil: Yeah, most of our audiences are just public and fans. When we first started we had a lot of comics come through because, one, they were showing support, and then others I think were just skeptical and trying to check out what this whole thing was. I was so new I had no connections in the scene, so I was maybe six months in starting this show and when they see that it’s a dope show they’re like, “Oh wow”. And I’m not trying to take full claim but I think our show had a really big impact on the Charlotte comedy scene at the moment where you see a lot of independent shows that are around town. I think people saw our show and were like, “What motivated them to get a show started?”
Rahim: The nights we do have a bunch of comedians come, they say it’s like a family reunion, so I’ll take that all day. A majority of our shows Brian intros and asks whose first time here and the room will light up like fireworks. You look on our Facebook page you can see comedians responding and saying it’s a family reunion. So I’ll take that all day ‘cause it’s family at the end of the day. We’re all in this together regardless of what people say.
How have you seen the overall comedy scene grow and change in Charlotte since starting Revolt?
O’Neil: A lot. I would say at least every week you have at least one independent show going on if not two or three. We’re starting to build up more open mics. Open mics will open and close really quickly but as far as shows go I only knew one comic that had a show going and as far as independent shows I couldn’t think of anyone else.
Rahim: I started looking at analytics of what other people are doing, and I can say honestly any given week we could go to someone else’s show now. We couldn’t say that a year ago.
Is your audience growing consistently?
O’Neil: It’s been pretty consistent. Before every show, about two hours before showtime I’m like, “Alright, this is the night where only three people show up. This is the night.” and every night I’m wrong. We always get about 80-plus people come out. It’s always a packed room standing room. But when that two hours hit I’m gonna have the same feeling until I see the first person come in the door. Because you don’t know. You see people hit “Interested” or “Going” on Facebook but you just don’t know.
What kind of turn out are you expecting for Monday?
Rahim: I expect a big turnout Monday. We put in the work. The support and appreciation of comics when they personally send us messages about the fun they had at the show. That’s definitely a badge of honor. For me I don’t let up off the gas. I eat, sleep, travel, move around all with Revolt Comedy. We keep working, keep pushing, keep going. I think we’ll have a decent turn out. And he’s real about the two-hour thing. That’s so funny every show.
How does playing the show help other comedians?
Rahim: From my perspective, I think every comic takes their own little piece of it on a case-by-case basis. I had a comic come to me a couple weeks after one of our shows and she was saying how she appreciated the love and really felt like she was a part of it. It’s all about the experience. If we can give you one you didn’t get somewhere else or you feel like you haven’t had one until that point, it’s going to give you some confidence.
O’Neil: I think Revolt is a crossroads for some, especially for amateur comics coming up. You’ve been performing at open mics and you’ve been performing at some of these other shows but here’s a show where it’s like “Okay, got a crowd here that don’t know you,” because at some comedy shows you have to bring a certain amount of people to be able to perform. So you know you’re getting a genuine laugh from your jokes. And that’s why I feel like he wants that honest feedback and he earned it from writing and performing the joke. You get that from Revolt because our crowd isn’t necessarily an easy crowd, it’s an honest crowd. They’re not gonna boo you. They’re not one of those tough New York crowds where they’re throwing tomatoes or something. I don’t think that really happens, but yeah, it’s an honest crowd. It’s a fun crowd, they came here to laugh but at the same time you have to make them laugh.
Your slogan is “Peace, Love, Revolt.” How did you land on that?
Rahim: I mean we get love. Honestly it’s love. The peace comes ‘cause this is a place where you can come and laugh the troubles away. The love is there from us, from the person standing next to you, other comedians, the people in the room, the venue itself. And revolt is saying, “Hey, take a chance. Don’t take what the naysayers say and don’t think otherwise, take a shot.” So it’s all love. We get little seeds of confidence from our own, just people who say “Love what you guys are doing,” and that’s family.
Brian, you work on a podcast about polyamory. Is that part of your comedy career or something separate?
O’Neil: I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to tie both of them together. I know once it starts to click, it’s going to click. It’s a little bit different because my podcast is not comedy-based, it’s a relationship podcast. We talk about polyamourous and ethical monogamy. It’s called Queen City Poly. That got started from me and my partner listening to polyamourous podcasts and thinking “That’s wack.” So we were thinking we could create something that’s a little bit more conversation-based, a little bit more fun, a little bit more light, ‘cause the ones we were listening too were really academic. When I got into comedy everyone was like, “Oh, you already have a podcast? You’re doing great!” As a comic you’ve got to have a podcast or something where other people can hear you and see you other than your standup. Standup is like, “Hey, I’m in your town, come see me do an hour of comedy,” but podcasts are how you get a following and things like that. Now the key is going to be for me to bridge the gap between the polyamory and the comedy. I’m still figuring that out as a growing comedian and podcaster. I’m only a year and a few months in.
Rahim: Shout out to Brian O’Neil.