When the great names in stand-up comedy come to Birmingham, there’s one place they all go. The Comedy Club Stardome is one of the best-known comedy clubs in the Southeast, hosting names such as Craig Ferguson, Chris Rock, Jeff Foxworthy and Louis Black.
Bruce Ayers started the Comedy Club in 1983 in a rented hotel banquet room that only fit about 200 people. Ayers had nearly a decade of experience in the nightclub business, but comedy clubs were a brand-new concept. He soon found that his Birmingham audience couldn’t identify with many comedians’ experiences.
“In the beginning, most of the comedians came from New York or they came from L.A., and they were talking about things people couldn’t really relate to,” Ayers said.
His breakthrough came by chance. Before a show in November 1983, Ayers asked one of the comedians to recognize the birthday of a friend, who owned a Piggly Wiggly, while onstage. The comedian, then-unknown Sinbad, created an impromptu routine around Piggly Wiggly that was a hit with the audience.
“The people went nuts because he was clean and he would talk about things local people could relate to,” Ayers said. “Sinbad became my first star.”
Over its 30-year history, the Comedy Club has been the birthplace of many comedians’ careers. Carrot Top and Steve Harvey performed there before they were famous, and Ayers’ connection to Sinbad gave Harvey his first big break. Jeff Foxworthy had his first paid show in the club in 1985, and Larry the Cable Guy was a regular for 10 years before he joined Blue Collar Comedy.
“We get to see them when they’re a nobody, and all of a sudden, 10 or 15 years later, they’re a big star,” Ayers said. “It’s really, really cool for us to see that.”
The Comedy Club was located on Green Springs Avenue from 1985 until 1993, when a fire completely destroyed the building. Ayers reopened the club, renamed the Comedy Club Stardome, in its current location with the help of his wife, Che Che, and his daughters, Gena Zimmerman and Dena Dow.
“My favorite part is that I work with my family,” Ayers said. “We have a business that we’ve kept going for 30 years, and I get to spend time with them every day.”
The Comedy Club Stardome is one of the most popular places for comedy, and audiences come six nights a week to have dinner and drinks while they enjoy both famous and amateur performers.
“People come up to me and go, ‘You know, I should have been coming sooner. I had so much fun,’” Ayers said. “All of the best comedians in the country have been here, and we just love what we do.”