Idiot Box moving to Geeksboro

by Ian McDowell

After a decade downtown, the Idiot Box Comedy Club is leaving Elm Street for the Historic Lawndale Shopping Center, where it will be partnering and sharing space with Geeksboro Coffee & Beverage Company. Co-founder and co-owner Jennie Stencel is excited about the new venue and what it means for her funny business, which she takes very seriously.”We didn’t plan this, it just happened. We’d gone to talk with Geeksboro owner Joe Scott about partnering for a single event. But we really hit it off, and he showed me the space and we both thought ‘gosh, we’d be so great together in this building.’ And a new location means we can get all the people who won’t come downtown,” Stencel said. “There are a lot of people who live in Greensboro who have never ever come downtown and never will. They don’t even know we’re here.”Jennie stresses that the move is not the result of any conflict between herself, her partner Steve Lesser and the property owners at 348 S. Elm. “Our landlords are wonderful. We love them. They wanted to keep us, but they were also really sweet about us leaving and there have been no problems,” she said. “It’s just we don’t think downtown is the perfect spot for a comedy club. Business has been generally okay, but not as good as it should be for the amount of work we’ve put in, or for the quality of the shows we do. They’re great and deserve a bigger audience, and we think a new space is the key to that. I don’t really know why we’ve never had more people come in, but it’s always a lower number than it should be. It would go a little bit up, a little bit down, and for a while now it’s been kind of a plateau. When it did that, we were, like, that’s weird, it should be going up. And I think our location just isn’t perfect for is.”

I asked her what changes the new location will bring, especially with the increased traffic that the new Hops has brought to Greensboro’s oldest shopping center at 2134 Lawndale Drive. “We’re moving our show times back a bit so people aren’t frustrated looking for a space. That’s one of the things that was hard downtown. People would come in 20 minutes late to a show and they’d be frustrated and less ready to laugh because they’d been circling the block. If you’re not familiar with downtown, you don’t know all the secret spots.”So our show times are going to be a little different because of parking and peak hours. It’s busy at dinner time there, so our shows are going to be at 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., and we’re adding a matinee, a family matinee. You know, a clean improv show. Thursday at 8:30 p.m. will be Open Mike. Friday night is Standup at 8:30 and 10. Saturday night is improv again at 8:30 and 10:00. The family matinee show will be Saturday. We’ll teach improv and stand-up classes a couple of nights a week.”Before she and Steve opened the club in 2003, Jennie, who grew up in Chapel Hill, never spent much time in Greensboro. “I only recall coming here once, to buy my wedding dress.” She now finds it hard to believe she’s been here for 13 years.”It doesn’t seem that long! We’ve actually had two locations on Elm. We were in the Elm Street Center for the first six years, then moved to Elm and McGee for the last seven. We love our neighbors and we love the restaurants, but it’s time for the change. It’s always sad saying goodbye to something, but we’re absolutely excited to work with Geeksboro. There’s a big overlap in our audience and theirs. Their customers are really smart, and a smart crowd is a great crowd. They get the jokes. It’s one more thing to do in that area. For instance, just look at all the people who turn out for board game night at Geeksboro. Well, now they can do that and see a show. You can go to Hops and see a show and not have to move your car. I think we’re going to be a plus for the area. Everything feeds into everything else. You’d think you’d have that downtown, but you don’t.”I remind her that there’s an odd serendipity in the move. One of her new neighbors will be Acme Comics, which frequently co-sponsors events with Geeksboro, and which actually began at her present address on Elm Street. “I knew that! And originally, 13 years ago, we looked at the space where Geeksboro is now as a place to put the club, and the proximity to Acme was one of the things that tempted us. So we’re pretty excited.”When asked to comment, Geeksboro’s Joe Scott proved similarly enthusiastic. “As owner and event promoter, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with Jennie, Steve and other members of their Idiot Box team on quite a few projects. I love that they are driven, open to new ideas and most importantly, dedicated to what they do to keep working on this thing they’ve created for nearly two decades. Where a lot of creatives in this city either give up or move out of town, Jennie and Steve have stayed at it. By combining their community with the one we’ve created at Geeksboro, the possibilities are infinite.”The Idiot Box’s last performance at 348 Elm Street will be Saturday, August 27. The opening performance at Geeksboro will be Friday, September 2.