Comedy booker, producer, and venue owner Rebecca Trent believes in fostering talent and building community. With founders Sean Patton and Chesley Calloway she celebrates Thursday’s seventh anniversary of East Village staple Comedy as a Second Language (known as “Kabin” to the bar weekly’s regulars), and with fellow Hunters Point residents continues standing her ground on behalf of a neighborhood in transition.
What’s the significance of a New York comedy show lasting seven years, and how are you celebrating the anniversary?
There’s a few out there that have been going on longer. Seth Herzog’s Sweet I think has 10 years coming up. But seven years is a pretty proud number to achieve for a weekly comedy show. We’ve only cancelled two times. Once was when it landed on Halloween, and once was when there was an electrical fire in the building. We’ve played through floods and blizzards, we’ve played through absolutely every imaginable set of circumstances: no microphone, no lighting, a door being suck so we couldn’t get out. Nick Turner once jumped on a pew and broke it in half. That was fun.
So we’ve been through a heck of a lot. And I’m the most recent producer; in my living room there’s a framed picture of Sean Patton, Chesley Calloway and some dude I don’t know. That dude I don’t know was one of the original threesome. That was when it originally started. Now the threesome is Sean and Ches and me.
The first anniversary I had with them was the fifth year, and we had 55 comics. Last year we were the 6th of June, so we performed 6/6 with 66 comics. And this year we’re aiming for 77. So it’s going to be one heck of a marathon show. I’m super excited about it. Murderfist is going to close it out, and we’ve got Bonnie McFarlane, Rich Vos, Wyatt Cenac, Tom Shillue, Ted Alexandro, Bobby Kelly. And then Sean Patton, and…as far as this being a newsworthy, noteworthy thing, Chesley is stepping down. It’s going to be his last Thursday at Kabin as the host and co-producer. Scotland Green and Rojo Perez will be taking his place. So that’s a bit noteworthy.
It’s still going to have the same booker/producer, but the truth is Scotland has been co-producing for about six months anyway. Sean’s not around here as much as he used to be, but he is around all this summer, so it’s going to be him and me and the two boys all summer. And then when Sean inevitably has to hit the road again, we’ll have Rojo and Scotland to set up the room and to host it. But I’m still going to be the booker. Nothing will drastically change because of this. It’s not like it will be “Only prop comics from now on!”
Other than failing to carry the mantle of prop comedy, what are the distinguishing characteristics of a Kabin show? What do attendees experience that they might not find elsewhere in New York?
It’s a real New York room. It’s a gritty New York room. The comedian is right up at ya. There’s not a lot of space between the artist and the audience. I really like that aspect of Kabin, and that’s not something you get to experience in most places. It’s also, like, the dirtiest bar in America, so that’s something to brag about, I guess. We have top-notch comedians that come in from all over, so we tend to have a lot of people in you don’t necessarily get a chance to see otherwise, and every single one of those comedians has been vetted by other comedians. That’s something you can’t necessarily say at every other show. It’s been vetted by mean, judgmental comedians. Not those comedians who are nice guys.
It’s also such a super-convenient place location-wise. It’s such a great place to have people drop in. So we’re in a really great position to have really great artists come in. As an audience member, I might see a lineup of names I don’t recognize, but by the time I get home, I can talk about how I saw Todd Barry and Louis C.K. drop in with Hannibal Buress.
And it’s a show that goes late, so folks can come in after their regular stuff. It’s a great hang; it’s a good place to hang out with comics. Ultimately it’s just one of the more fun vibes in the city, and that’s a big part of it. I’d also like to say that the booker is pretty fantastic. She waits until she feels that people are really, really ready to have a kill set. Because it’s so important to me to make sure these artists have an extremely good experience at Kabin. Sometimes it just hurts my soul. It want it to all be the best. So I try and make sure that every comic that goes on that stage is ready to go on that stage.
How does one go from running a Mexican restaurant in Hunters Point to directing Colin Quinn shows and producing Eddie Pepitone specials?
Well, you’re skipping the part where I’m a trained director and that I started the theater. The whole origin story has nothing to do with the restaurant. I had never served plate of food or poured a beer before I came to the Creek. I bought the Creek because of the theater. I started a theater company, which I had to disband because I couldn’t keep up with that and the demands of running the venue. But I was lucky enough to be able to be in front of Colin Quinn’s production of Unconstitutional, which is currently on tour and soon is going to be filmed at Constitution Hall, which is super exciting. And as far as I understand, Eddie requested me. I have known Eddie through James Adomian for three or four years now.
Basically I have a space that I have opened up to artists, and every once in a while the most amazing project or the most amazing artist will come along, I’ll get to work with them, and it will be like heaven on earth. I have been able to work with Colin and Eddie as a result of that. It’s really just people connecting with me through the venue.
You also help scout for and book festivals. Is it difficult switching between those different parts of your brain, from producing to examining talent from a more critical perspective?
I think if I wasn’t able to, I would lose perspective in general. It’s almost like I need I need to be looking at the whole elephant to figure out what I’m supposed to be chewing on next, you know? I don’t have trouble switching back and forth, but I feel like I’m one of those people who, if I didn’t have 30 things to focus on, I’d drive myself insane focusing on something awful. So I just sort of keep going all the time.
Just going from wearing this hat to that hat to the next hat…anyone who owns a restaurant or a small business will tell you that they have to do that anyway. And at some point, if I’m already doing 10 things, 11’s not going to kill me.
Lately one of those 11 is actively addressing the MTA’s weekend improvements to the 7 train line.
They shut again down this past weekend, and it fucking crippled us.
It’s like 42.3 percent of the weekends in 2014, and then this project eventually is going to continue on through 2017. So far, the only thing that we’ve been able to effect change on is they graciously came back to us and had the train shut down on Friday at 2 a.m. rather than midnight (so it’s Saturday 2 a.m., if that makes sense). So we got a couple hours of service, which is great for me, but it doesn’t help any of the restaurants in my neighborhood who are trying to seat people on Saturday.
It’s a very frustrating process, very frustrating specifically because we are a city that has zero jurisdiction over the authorities inside of it. There’s nobody in charge of the MTA. Nobody can tell them what to do. They get to tell us what to do. And they had a $1.9 billion unanticipated surplus in 2013! And in 2014 they raised the fares–which they’re going to do again at the end of this year–and they started charging us a dollar for cards with an expiration date on them.
So everything that those people do is crooked and backwards and horrible, and I hope they see the light and understand how they drastically affect the neighborhoods that they disservice. But I have zero faith that they’re ever going to care, because they’re just another one-percenter big business bullshit organization that could give a shit if they get us to wherever we’re supposed to be on time. I can’t get my employees here on time. God forbid should I get on one of those damn shuttle buses, because I’ll tell ya, those things take forever. It’s an extra hour and 15 minutes to get into the city from here. I could not believe the last time I tried. It’s absolutely insane.
I don’t have the money for cabs. And all these loaded employees of the MTA, they all live in Westchester and drive SUVs and what have you. That’s not the reality for most New Yorkers! Most New Yorkers need to use the train! Part of it is their hands are tied, too, because they have to make improvements, but I wish they would do it over, like, a Sunday-Monday. Or spread it out, so half of it’s Sunday-Monday, half of it’s Thursday-Friday. Most New Yorkers work seven days a week. We’re 24-7. I know that we have to accommodate the 9-to-5ers on Monday through Friday, but they are not as vast a majority as they used to be, and we need to stop punishing everybody else for having the audacity to have a food-services job. It’s ridiculous.
Go ahead and make the changes, but just give me the damn shuttle that will go through the tunnel so I can go straight to Grand Central, and stop this nonsense of taking me deeper into Queens to go into Manhattan. It’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard in my life. That’s not how anybody would solve that problem! And the only reason they won’t do it is they don’t want to set a precedent. They literally just don’t want people to think that if you negotiate with the MTA that you’ll ever get anywhere. So they just say “no” as a matter of course because they don’t want to set a precedent. They’re awful.
Comedy as a Second Language celebrates its seventh anniversary 7 p.m. Thursday to 4 a.m. Friday at Kabin Bar and Lounge.
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