For the past few years, The Red Door Tavern has been the home for stand-up comedy in Columbia. Originally known as The Garden Deli when they first opened in 2011, they completely revamped in 2012 and expanded into a full bar and venue, decked out with an expanded showroom and some kickass pinball machines. The Red Door has become a presence in the Columbia scene, providing a place for comedy to thrive.
With the support of a venue with an intimate space, and stage time for the comedians to develop, the stand-up scene in Columbia is stronger ever. Red Door hosts an open mic every Monday, as well as a feature showcase every Friday. Numerous comedians have traveled from all over to perform there, including nationally touring headliners. Everything is falling into place, and the hard work of local comics has paid off. Each week, comedians like Jenn Snyder, Wayne Cousins, John Gibson, Topher Riddle, and Joe Coughlin take the stage at Red Door, often for sold-out crowds.
I spoke with comedian/Red Door owner and operator, John Gibson, about the success of the venue, the comedy scene, and the upcoming Soda City Comedy Tour. Donate to the Soda City Tour and check out the interview below.
Justin Thompson: Where were you working before Red Door?
John Gibson: Before Red Door, I was a District Manager for Red Bull in Memphis, TN. I left there to come back to Columbia and finish my degree. I started working at Publix while in school. I had to have a full time job to get in state tuition. After that I was working at New Brookland Tavern as a doorman and bartender while we were working on opening Red Door.
JT: Why did you decide to get a degree in theatre?
JG: I have been doing theatre since I was in middle school. I have always loved the stage and I followed my passion for performing. I love entertaining people and especially love making them laugh. I actually learned more of the behind the scenes work while at USC. I mainly started focusing on technical scene construction. Andy Mills is the Technical Director there and he helped me to learn skills that I still use today. They have really excellent people at the University of South Carolina Theatre Department. I would recommend that program to anyone wanting to pursue that field.
JT: What brought upon the change in focus from food spot to bar and venue?
JG: We still have focus on the food. We are constantly trying to come up with food items that we believe that our guests will enjoy. We are starting to realize that we are more of a destination spot. People come here to see shows, especially the comedy. That’s why we try and have something going on every night.
JT: What do you love about running a venue?
JG: The people. I love all the different groups of people we get to do shows for here. It is really nice knowing that people come here to be entertained and they leave here very happy. The majority of them always return. It is a hard job, but very rewarding. I must say that I couldn’t do these Friday comedy shows without the help of Jenn Snyder. She has helped the scene grow into what it is today. I mean, I sell alcohol and good food and have great shows, what more could someone ask for?
JT: Well, what do you hate about running a venue?
JG: The hours are not the best at times. I mean, I am here seven days a week. I don’t really get time off. Any time I do get to myself, I try and work on my comedy and booking our upcoming tour.
JT: How have the comedy shows been beneficial to the Red Door? It’s a symbiotic thing right? You provide a great venue, and the comics bring in folks who might not have stopped by before?
JG: Comedy has helped the Red Door out tremendously. We are now known in town as the place to go see great comedians and have some great beers as well. It has been a dream come true. Our Friday nights are always busy, and that has everything to do with comedy. As the comics say: “It’s our little clubhouse”.
JT: What are you goals right now?
JG: I would like to see Red Door move into a larger venue, but that takes a good amount of money. Owning a small business is more expensive than most people know. We are saving up, and hopefully we can get to a bigger space and bring even bigger shows to Columbia.
JT: Who have been some of your favorite comics that have performed there?
JG: I appreciate seeing anyone that has a talent for what they do. I love watching all of the locals grow and become better comedians. I really enjoyed Matt Ward from Knoxville, Caleb Synan, and Joe Pettis’ Underwear Comedy Tour. We are about to have Dave Stone in October and Myq Kaplan with Zach Sherwin in August. I am looking forward to seeing those guys perform here.
JT: it seems like the comics and shows in Columbia keep getting better and better. I think having a venue that is so supportive has been a big part. Do you think the audiences have been changing over the past few years as well?
JG: I don’t quite know if the audiences have changed over the years. I think with all the hard work myself and Jenn have put into this, more and more people are finding out that there is a legitimate comedy scene in Columbia. We still have the same people that come to the shows, but we also have nights where we won’t know a single person in the crowd. It’s definitely growing.
JT: I’ve seen you guys refer to each other as a comedy family. How are you guys like a family? Is it because you’re supportive? Do you also fight like a family as well? Are you and Jenn the Mom and Dad?
JG: We are very supportive of one another and of the new comics as well. We want every comic to succeed and we also try to find those out there that have never performed before and help them through open mics, comedy workshops, and one on one conversation. There are occasions, like with any group of people, when we might not all agree on something, but we don’t fight. We are more supportive of one another more than anything else.
Haha. I would not say we are the mom and dad, but I would say that we are the two that have worked the hardest to make the scene what it is now. With her knowledge of the comedy scene and what it takes to be a great comic and my knowledge of the business side of things, we compliment one another and it makes us a great team.
JT: How did the idea for the tour come about? What do you guys hope to get out of it?
JG: Jenn and I were talking one afternoon, over drinks of course, and the idea came up of us really wanting to do more out-of-town shows, and really showcase for other areas the talent that is coming out of Columbia. We both were like, “Hey, how about a tour?” We then asked through the various contacts that both Jenn and I have made, we have been able to book this tour.
We are just trying to showcase Columbia talent and also see what other scenes are like across the country. It’s nice every once in a while to get out of your comfort zone and entertain people in other areas. Truth be told, if you can make other people laugh, then you got something good going.
JT: You guys also started doing shows at River Rat Brewery, how did you guys get hooked up with them?
JG: My friend Tyler used to work for a beer company in North Carolina. He took me to River Rat one afternoon for beers. He had been talking about the comedy shows and all that we do in town with the guys down there. I then met Mike, the owner, and told him what it was we did with the comedy shows. He gave us a shot one Saturday, and now we have a monthly show there that draws well over 100 people every time. Tyler is now a brewer at River Rat and I must say I really owe it to Tyler and Mike for giving us a shot. It is an amazing show.
JT: If you could tell readers anything to get them to check out Red Door, what would it be?
JG: There is more comedy in town than just the Comedy house. We are the spot to come out on a Monday or Friday night and be entertained. If you like to laugh, then come out. Mondays are our open mic night, so if a person wants to come try doing stand up, that is the night to do it. There have been more and more comics showing up, so we have a variety of performers on stage. We also have a great craft beer selection. Over 20 different varieties to choose from.
JT: What are you favorite beers and food items that folks should try if they come through?
We carry River Rat on tap. Any of our draft beers are really good. Right now, I recommend the River Rat Double IPA with a pita pizza or our signature banana pepper spread tots. They seem to compliment each other really well.
JT: Are you accepting donations at Red Door as well as online?
JG: You mean for the tour? Yeah, we are accepting donations at both of them. Anyone that does not want to donate online can come by and drop off any donations to us. Also, we are planning on having a couple of benefit shows before the tour. Check outwww.sodacitystandup.com for more details of when they are happening.
JT: Thanks for the interview, John.
Be sure to stop by The Red Door Tavern at 134 1/2 State Street, West Columbia. And go ahead and like them on Facebook too.