American Exceptionalism: The Comedy Attic

This is the first in the series American Exceptionalism - portraits of exceptional individuals thriving in independent enterprise. 

Intense and impatient are the words Jared Thompson uses to describe himself. "Super, super impatient," Thompson says, "I know exactly what I want."

Jared and his wife Dayna are the owner-manager duo of a small comedy club above a bar in Bloomington, Indiana called The Comedy Attic . The club opened in 2008, and rapidly grew into not only Indiana's premier comedy venue, but also one with a national reputation among comedians and critics. In January of 2013, USA Today listed the Attic as one of 10 Great Places Where Comedy is King. Some of comedy's biggest names make a point to seek out time on their stage; people like Todd GlassMarc Maron, Kyle Kinane, The Sklar Brothers, Rory Scovel, Jon Dore and Maria Bamford.

Marc Maron at The Comedy Attic

Marc Maron at The Comedy Attic

Words like "unlikely," and "batshit looneyballs" come to mind when contemplating this kind of success. In a span of four-and-a-half years, how does an upstart comedy club with 164 seats in a small city opening in the midst of a financial disaster blast from fledgling to au-fait?

In early 2008, Jared Thompson was a cable sales executive. He and Dayna had built a comfortable life in Bloomington. With a career seemingly on autopilot, bringing in good money, things were easy. "I had the most overpaid job in history," Thompson says. "I didn't even have a staff...I had no responsibilities whatsoever," he continues, "all that I was graded on was numbers." Then came news that Comcast would purchase his company, and his position would move to a suburb of Indianapolis. While the move would mean higher pay, Thompson had no interest in working for Comcast, and even less in Indianapolis. He and Dayna came to the decision to forego the move, give up Jared's job, and start something new.

"We started thinking what can we do? What can we add to this town that we love that doesn't already exist here, and literally five minutes later we were looking up how to open a comedy club," Jared says, "We knew that we loved stand up comedy, and we knew that Bloomington was not offering it on a regular basis." At the time, it was a massive risk; the couple withdrew funds from a 401k for startup capital, just before the 2008 stock market crash.

For the first year and a half, The Comedy Attic operated as a Funny Bone, but it didn't take long for the Thompsons to learn the ropes of comedy booking and club operations, and by 2009, they no longer needed the management support.  The learning curve was aided by previous experience Jared had in booking punk shows. The Comedy Attic was reborn as an independent club.

Since then, through tenacity and savvy, the Attic has thrived. In regards to the work involved with booking and scheduling, an aspect many people assume to be the biggest obstacle, Jared only has to say, "It's the easiest thing you could ever do." Agents reach out to him, not the other way around. While it hasn't been a simple road, and unexpected expenses always creep up, it's been a risk well worth taking. And it's a story that proves there's life beyond the corporate grind, that ordinary people still have opportunities to take risks, push, and succeed.

"How much do you care about what you put your name on?" is Jared's bottom line, "how good you are at something is based upon how much you care about it, and that's all that matters."

Visit comedyattic.com for more information on the club, news clips, and their schedule of upcoming performances.

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