In late 2008, Nick David entered a comedy competition at the old 1111 Nightclub, run by the aptly named Madame Ha-Ha. Flush from the experience, David convinced Josh Ames of Manchester’s Shaskeen Pub to let him host a weekly standup night with fellow comic Brad Hagen.
Initially dubbed Nick & Brad’s Open Mic, the Wednesday night event soon became known as Laugh Free or Die. Just as quickly, it became a magnet for comedians from across New England who dropped by to do five to seven minutes of jokes.
For four and a half years, David ran the room, booking comics and guest hosts. But in early April, Laugh Free or Die moved down Elm Street to Murphy’s Taproom as his former venue changed hands.
The change doubled Wednesday night comedy options in Manchester, a boon for fans and comics alike.
Nick Lavallee, Dave Carter and Sean Tumblety are now in charge at the Shaskeen. Lavallee said in a recent phone interview that the trio plans a revamped approach similar to the Thursday night showcase format launched last fall at the Halligan Tavern in Milford. There will be advertised sets from top-tier comics in addition to open mic performers.
“The real treat is we have a paid feature and paid headliner,” he said. “Real polished, professional acts to see for free.”
Though David hadn’t felt an urgency to change, a new location has him also looking at Wednesday night with fresh eyes.
“Here’s my take on it — if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, and I didn’t think it was broke over there,” he said as he worked on a list of comics for a recent Murphy’s show. “I could have continued doing the same thing. But having said that, now that I’ve moved I have to think of something to draw people in.”
That may include themed comedy nights, or a bit with comics trading acts called Swaperoo — but probably not the latter.
“That was fun, but the audience didn’t get it as much,” said David. “The comics loved it, but the audience couldn’t understand why stuff was funny.”
In the coming months, Lavallee hopes to build new synergy in the comedy scene with his Shaskeen and Halligan events.
“The long term plan is that these two rooms be places touring acts consider booking as a headliner,” he said, offering the well-attended John Tole/Day Drinking show on April 7 as an example.
“I really hope our rooms stay full, so that those doing a weekend in Boston want to come to our room on Wednesday and Thursday in preparation,” he said. “It’s part of a growing interest in live comedy being brought to Manchester.”
David was surprised by the change, but Shaskeen owner Ames believes it was the right choice.
“Nick Lavallee is a friend of everyone here, he’s helped with a lot of events and his career is doing very well,” he said. “We felt it was the right time to make a switch because of that and based on the amount of energy Nick David was putting into it.”
Ames expressed concern about how frequently David delegated his responsibilities to another host.
“Part of their gripe was I was missing a lot of Wednesdays,” responded David. “But I always put the show together, scheduled comics and had a good host. It wasn’t like things fell apart.”
The initial response at both venues is positive. On April 3, a crowd of 80 gathered for the inaugural event at Murphy’s. Some comics told snarky jokes about what some perceived as the hostile takeover of a comedy scene that Nick David had built from scratch.
Meanwhile, the Shaskeen was also packed. Elm Street isn’t the Sunset Strip, but two clubs supporting comedy at the same time is a good thing to most concerned. From the Seacoast to Lake Winnipesaukee, new venues are opening all the time. With this new move, a comic can now drive from Boston or Portland in the middle of the week and look forward to double output.