Sacramento Comedy Spot founder and owner Brian Crall has pulled off some impressive marathons in his day: While still a theatre student at Sacramento State, Crall listened to 24 straight hours of ’90s rock band Chumbawumba as part of “Chumba for Charity,” risking his sanity but raising $2,000 toward a drama scholarship he founded.
This March, the capital region’s king of comedy is taking the concept to a new level with the Sacramento Comedy Spot’s 72-hour Improv Marathon, featuring three consecutive days of dozens of shows, guest performances, and workshops.
The three-day event, taking place this weekend, is one of the Comedy Spot’s marquee annual celebrations of local comedy — a scene that owes its very existence to Crall, who surveyed the Sacramento comedy landscape in the early 2000s and found it largely barren.
“The only way that we could do what we wanted to do was to create our own stage, and so that’s really how the Sacramento Comedy Spot was born,” Crall says. “We were sick of playing in bars where we had to unplug koi ponds for people to hear us.”
Creating his own stage is exactly what Crall did in 2005, when he opened the first-iteration Sacramento Comedy Spot on Broadway as a venue for his own brand of improvisational comedy.
In the 11 years since, the Comedy Spot moved into a theater five times as large in the heart of midtown and has grown from a handful of performers and friends into a community institution. The theater is home to shows and classes seven nights a week, more than 112 regular performers, countless current and former students, and thousands of side-split spectators; it is Northern California’s first and largest comedy school and an inseparable part of Sacramento’s cultural identity in 2016.
“What’s funny is all I wanted to do was just create a space where we could experiment and do this kind of comedy that we wanted to do,” Crall says, “but the best side effect of that was that we ended up building this huge community of performers and talent, and we all lean on each other and have fun together.
“The most important part of the Comedy Spot is bringing together all these people that wouldn’t normally come together.”
Crall arrived at his place atop Sacramento’s comedy community in roundabout fashion. He initially was a business major at Sacramento State but reenrolled in the Theatre Department after taking time off to find his true passion. That’s when everything clicked for the aspiring young performer, who auditioned for every play possible, worked long days and nights on virtually every production, and became an integral part of the campus’ performing community.
After college, he founded his first improv group, the Free Hooch Comedy Troupe, and its local success led to Crall’s founding of the Sacramento Comedy Spot.
“We learned so much because we had so much time to fail,” Crall says. “I always joke that I practically had to pay people to take classes at first. It’s like trying to start your own market: You’re selling a product that’s never been sold in Sacramento before, so where do you find people that like this because it doesn’t even exist here?”
Crall put everything into the fledgling theater, investing what money he had early on into growing the venue, raising funds to paint a wall here, to replace a light there.
It paid off: The Sacramento Comedy Spot 2.0 opened on 20th between J and K streets in 2008. Today, Crall teaches four of the theater’s five classes, each filled to capacity weekly, and in 2015 had to open a second classroom around the corner to accommodate the growing demand. Coupled with 13 years teaching improv classes with Sacramento State’s Academic Talent Search programs, Crall personally has mentored and inspired hundreds of students of all ages, in the process creating a dynamic, passionate comedy community.
This month’s Improv Marathon – along with the Sacramento Comedy Festival and Comedy Spot’s National Stand-Up Competition – brings together performers and spectators from around the country, putting Sacramento on the national map alongside renowned comedy destinations like Chicago and Los Angeles. And when it comes to Sacramento comedy, the conversation starts with Crall.
“I’m not selling future comedians, but what I am selling is just being comfortable with yourself and gaining confidence,” Crall says. “Some of the best feedback has been from kids who are now adults that said that my class was the first time where they felt comfortable.
“People say we’re the cheapest therapy in town.”
Photo by Jessica Vernone/Sacramento State