MOUNT VERNON — Comedians Sean Finnerty and Jason Reynard believe that comedy should be accessible. Traveling hours to the nearest comedy club, purchasing expensive tickets and paying a two drink minimum shouldn’t be a requirement to seeing a quality stand up routine in person.
That’s why the pair co-founded The Craft Comedy Tour, which brings professional shows to local breweries and restaurants outside of the regular comedy club circuit.
The tour kicked off last month with shows in Columbus and Newark, plus multiple shows in Canton.
“We’re big in Canton,” said Reynard, laughing. “They have a lot of breweries up there.”
The team will be doing seven more shows in Ohio this month, including a stop at Amato’s Woodfired Pizza July 28.
“They had contacted us to see if they were interested in having them here and of course we said yes,” said Amato’s manager Erica Grigsby. “I think it’s a wonderful idea. It’s very reasonably-priced entertainment.”
Reynard described the concept of the tour as a throwback to the days of vaudeville, when shows traveled from city to city performing in town theaters and opera houses. In many small, Midwestern towns, those theaters sit empty now.
“Small town America has kind of been overlooked when it comes to live performances,” he said. “There’s multiple towns we’ve been to where they’ve never had a show ever. It’s fun to be a part of something like that.”
Setting up shows in random venues, many of which they’ve never visited before, hasn’t come without its challenges. Sometimes, it takes a little improvising.
“Every different venue is an obstacle in and of itself,” said Reynard.
One of the duo’s shows last month was supposed to take place outside, but incessant rain forced them inside at the last minute. The only space available was the brewhouse —75 audience members sat inside the cramped room with no fans, no ventilation and no air conditioning.
“There was a fermenter right in front of the stage,” he said.
Nevertheless, the enthusiasm of audiences makes the endeavor worth it.
“We went to this town in eastern Ohio called Bloomingdale and their population is 220,” said Reynard. “We had 85 people show up.”
Reynard is no stranger to life in a small in town. A 2004 graduate of Newark High School, he got his first taste of live stand-up in college. He had enrolled in a humor writing course where students had two options for their final exam: they could write a ten page paper or perform an original stand-up routine in front of the class. Out of nearly 250 students, only four or five chose to perform. Reynard was one of them.
“I got a standing ovation and have been hooked ever since,” he said.
Reynard’s newfound love for comedy inspired him to switch his major from creative writing to comparative politics. He figured it would be a good source of comedic inspiration.
“It was probably the biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you say or what your perspective is, if you get too political, you’re alienating half the crowd. People take politics way too seriously at this point, and it isn’t worth the battle to me.”
If he does talk about what’s going on on the Hill, he’s not afraid to poke fun at those on all ends of the political spectrum. But these days, Reynard’s routine focus mostly on observational and story-based comedy, drawing on the humor of his own experiences.
“I try to dissect the absurdities of events in life that are beyond my control,” he said. “I’m a control freak who has control over nothing, so that spawns its own humor.”
After graduating from Ohio University, Reynard competed in the Ohio’s Funniest Comedian competition at the Funnybone in Columbus. He later moved to Arizona where he performed at clubs including Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy, The Tempe Improv and Stand Up Scottsdale. While honing his skills at various clubs, he supported himself like many aspiring performers do—by working as a campaign manager and political consultant on the side.
“It wasn’t until 2014, maybe 2015, that I started thinking about comedy as a full time job,” he said.
Ultimately, it was a brief stint as a boxing coach that gave Reynard the courage to chase his dream.
“I was training non-stop. Eating, breathing, sleeping boxing,” said Reynard. “After that stopped I just applied the same approach to comedy.”
Not long afterwards, Reynard moved to New York City, where he met Irish comedian Sean Finnerty. The two became friends and eventually launched The Craft Comedy Tour.
Finnerty has played numerous comedy festivals and some of the biggest comedy venues in the Big Apple. Earlier this year, he made his television debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
In August, the tour will make some stops in California and then travel to Tennessee. If all goes well, the two hope that the tour will eventually be a full-time, year-round endeavor that brings both high-profile and young upstart comedians to venues across the country.
After all, everyone benefits from a good laugh.
“Life is tough and it doesn’t get any easier the older that you get,” said Reynard. “If something bad happens to you, you only have two things that you can do, you can either laugh about it or cry about it. I’m choosing to do the laughing part.”
Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite or the Craft Comedy Tour’s website or Facebook page. Limited seating is available.