Walking into the offices of Comedy Zone owner Brian Heffron about a month before the unveiling of the new club at the N.C. Music Factory, there isn't much laughter going on.
Heffron, sitting behind a small desk, is hunkered over a laptop, surfing the Net, looking over his sprawling network of clubs — and wrapping up all the loose ends on this latest incarnation of the Zone.
In January, Creative Loafing spoke with him about early plans for the new location and the move from College Street (due, in part, to rising rent) to the Music Factory. As opening night (June 23) draws near, Heffron and business partner Chris Boukedes lay out the final details for the club and their plans to give back to Charlotte after a three-year hiatus.
"Comedy in Charlotte has been strong for many years," Heffron said. "It has a strong local group, and we've produced a lot of national touring headliners. I have no doubt that this club will be as successful or more than our past clubs in Charlotte."
The Comedy Zone's initial talent lineup includes: Rob Schneider on June 23 (see main story); America's Got Talent's Grandma Lee on July 6; Last Comic Standing winner Jon Reep on July 13; John Witherspoon on July 21; Jackass star Steve-O on July 28; Todd Yohn on Aug. 3; Pauly Shore on Aug. 9; Flavor Flav on Aug. 25; and Steve Lemme and Kevin Heffernan from Broken Lizard on Sept. 15. Ticket prices vary per show.
Though the venue will be one of the largest comedy destinations in the country, with room for 400 people, its bowl seating arrangement is different from the design of Comedy Zones of the past, (such as the now-defunct location on Independence Boulevard), Heffron said as he surveyed the construction of the new site.
"The one thing about this room is that it's going to be really intimate and that's the only way to watch stand-up comedy," he said — while construction workers put the finishing touches on the ceiling. From the stage, Heffron points out the VIP section and bar to the right and then makes mention that the Zone's food will be more than just chicken wings and fries. The club's menu is provided by The Saloon, a restaurant at the Music Factory that offers a menu of appetizers, signature steaks, seafood, pasta dishes and more.
When Heffron and Boukedes aren't arranging shows at they club, they'll be focusing on The Comedy Zone Project, the fundraising arm of the business. According to Boukedes, charities that work with the Project are sold tickets to shows at a discount. The charity is then able to sell the tickets for a profit. The shows are tailored to fit the charity's mission. "If it's the American Cancer Society, we'd book a comedian who was a cancer survivor," he said.
And to assist Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which is something Heffron and Boukedes plan to do, they would take the show to the school's auditorium. "The schools are really in big trouble financially, and it's so cool to be able to go to their auditorium," said Heffron. "We get 1,000 people in an auditorium, we can save a whole athletic program in one night."
And he knows how to raise money. Heffron founded, with Tammy S. Greyshock, Laugh For The Cure, to raise money for breast cancer research.
"We do almost $1 million a year," he said of the fundraising through his clubs across the country. "Doing fundraising with comedy is a lot funner."