There's A Comedic Revolt Taking Place In Charlotte, And It's Refreshing
Charlotte’s comedy scene is generally associated exclusively to the Charlotte Comedy Zone, and for those who exist within the comedy culture, it's the Charlotte Comedy Theater & Training Center. Like in most American cities, the comedy zone acts as a hub for well-known comedians who have appeared on film and television to stop through for their Friday to Sunday gigs, with the occasional open mic if the month isn't booked up with notable comedians. As for the Charlotte Comedy Theater, they provide a service for aspiring comedians to learn different mechanics within the art, to which of course they must pay into. So, where does this leave the talented up and coming comedians who aren't famous or looking to pay to play?
In person, a week before the upcoming Revolt Comedy Show, I sat down with the host and rising stand-up comedian Brian O'Neil, accompanied by Romante Rahim, Co-founder and Director of Revolt Comedy Show. O'Neil, from Fluvanna County, Virginia, and Rahim, from Chicago, Illinois, coincidentally crossed paths at various comedy shows while networking in the Queen city. Their partnership and chemistry, though, is as if they've known each other their entire lives. “He’s like Dame Dash, always hyping me up,” said O'Neil of Rahim on their relationship as not only business partners, but more importantly as brothers.
Together, Rahim and O'Neil created a showcase that provides up and coming comedians a professional platform to show their talents without paywalls, while also providing the city of Charlotte with a different experience of raw and fresh comedy that they wouldn’t be privy to anywhere else in town. Rahim was persistent in reiterating that he didn't view Revolt Comedy as an open mic, but more so a showcase and experience. This distinction is what prominently sets Revolt Comedy show apart from other comedy platforms in Charlotte.
Parallel to industries such as film and television, as well as in sports: not having a paywall to go through in comedy is like discovering the rarest of African blood diamonds. The only true prerequisite to be selected on Revolt’s showcase are; continually refining your craft, consistently going to open mics to workout jokes and stage presence, and quite simply, you have to be funny. The Revolt Comedy Show takes place every first Monday of the month at Heist Brewery, located in the NoDa arts district in Charlotte, North Carolina. Impressively, there’s a perfect alignment in Rahim and O'Neil’s prioritization of providing a professional platform for up and coming comedians, as well as a fully curated production experience for the audience.
There is a carefulness that exists within the selection process of the eight to nine comedians who get selected for each show, but it comes with a bit of a conundrum for O'Neil. Unlike Rahim who’s usually focused on the business end, O'Neil finds himself in a peculiar position among his peers as an up and coming comedian himself, as well as the guy who hosts the showcases, and has a direct line to getting fellow comedians on a show. “People think because I know them, I’ll put them on. I have to think about the audiences experience,” O'Neil candidly explained to me.
Often, people in his position wouldn't think twice to provide a favor for their peers, but O'Neil does not neglect the importance of the audience experience, the content, or the optics. “Like, I've seen you offend people at other open mics, and we don't want that here. We have to think about the audience,” O'Neil elaborated hypothetically. Amid this exchange, I was able to identify a very grounded individual in his personal life, who operates with full transparency in business, as well as with himself. This is undoubtedly evident in his self-deprecated comedic style when on stage.
I was taken aback by O'Neil’s revelation that he’d only been fully committed to doing stand-up comedy for about a year and a half. “I told myself I was going to get a passport and do all these things before I turn 30, so I said let me try stand-up comedy,” said O'Neil. Although he’s only been at it for a relatively short period of time, O'Neil commands the stage with a mature and calming presence as if he’s been there before. Nonetheless, the 31-year-old Fluvanna County native is rather reluctant to reveal to his peers how long he’s been doing stand-up, weary of the perception of being viewed as a narcissist.
In early August, I stopped by Crown Station Coffee House and Pub, also located in NoDa, to see O'Neil host a weekly open mic called Train Wreck. In a safe space where many first timers and usual suspects take the stage to work out raw and un-nuanced jokes, O'Neil waited patiently for his turn to take the stage, while being responsible of taking down names of comics who came for the open mic. There wasn’t a hint of jealousy or resentment visible from O'Neil's peers on the night. There was a rather resounding level of respect and admiration as he took the stage to do a brief set before introducing the next batch of comedians. A similar respect and “it” factor were also transparent to Rahim apparently. “There was no doubt when I first saw him on stage. He has that thing,” said Rahim of O'Neil.
Like many creatives, O'Neil juggles the fine line of pursuing his passion, while also taking non-comedic jobs because bills are never ending. “I schedule my calendar around comedy. But sometimes I might miss a show because I have to make more money,” O'Neil explained to me. He described it as sweat equity, as he takes advantage of the comedic downtime as an opportunity to write. In his words, “You're always editing. The work is never finished.
O'Neil’s talent and work ethic in conjunction with Rahim’s magnetically inspirational energy and vision are the perfect blend to grow an important platform such as the Revolt Comedy Show. “We support other people, and we love that people are creating opportunities for one another in Charlotte,” Rahim told me. There’s a consistency that lies between the two’s partnership and what they want to see Revolt Comedy do for others creatively.
Like most businesses, Rahim foresees Revolt Comedy expanding as a brand, and aspires to take a crew of comedians from the showcases on the road. For Rahim, having guests such as North Carolina Senator Jeff Jackson, along with identifiable sponsors such as Smirnoff and Evan Williams not only raise the professionalism, but they heighten the level of experience for the audience. More significant to the revenue, sponsors and notable guests provide the necessary leverage from a business perspective, to fund the aspirations of growing Revolt Comedy.
It's not uncommon that talent exists in Charlotte when considering the arts. It's also not uncommon that many of the gate keeping entities lack the understanding of identifying real talent unless they come with a check or cash deposit. What O'Neil and Rahim have with Revolt Comedy on the other hand, recognizes the comedic talent in Charlotte, and more importantly, they respect it. Their showcase isn't some invasion by outsiders looking to swipe an untapped market; Revolt Comedy is a breath of fresh air fully equipped to raise the bar for up and coming comedians, while providing audiences with a memorable showcase.
Jon Olangi is a senior editor and writer at TTT Media, where he covers culture.