Idiot Box returns to downtown Greensboro
Jennie Stencel is looking forward to comedy as a full-time job, as well as having her own building. After sharing space with their friends at Geeksboro Coffee and Beverage Company on Lawndale since late 2016, Stencel and her husband Steve Lesser are moving their Idiot Box Comedy Club back to downtown Greensboro, where they’re taking over the site of the former Carolina Greene Market Place at 502 N. Greene Street.
It’s surprising to hear Stencel say she’s “going full-time,” as she’s always seemed a very busy comedian and club owner. Prior to partnering with Geeksboro, she and Lesser ran the Idiot Box for 13 years on Elm Street. But this will be the first time in the club’s history that it will feature shows five nights a week.
Stencel explained that, even on Elm Street, it was rarely open more than two or three nights a week.
“Those locations were never full-time businesses because I couldn’t be away from home that many nights in a row. But now our schedules are better and we have more management people working to keep it going. This going to be the first time it’s truly been full, full time, and that’s exciting.”
Plus, having teenagers means that she has more time away from home than she did when they were children, and can put that time into keeping the Idiot Box open. “Now that they’re older, it’s not a problem. I just have to keep them off drugs, and I can drug test them right there in the club.”
The former WXII reporter turned comedian and improv entrepreneur said that she’s going to miss Geeksboro.
“It was so great partnering with them, but this is a good place for us to expand. We can have more space, more shows, more nights, and more big names.” Not to mention more parking. “We’ll share a lot with Beer Thirty, but there’s a lot of street parking down at that end of North Greene, too.”
Plus, downtown has changed since the Idiot Box was on Elm, and a lot of that change has taken place at or near the north end of Greene.
“There are so many new apartments and all the ones that have been renovated. That means more people are living within walking distance of the club, which is cool.”
She hopes to open in August.
“We’re waiting on the permits. I thought they’d all been signed, but then there were some things that needed to be revised, and we’re waiting for new signatures before beginning construction.”
She said they needed to put in new bathrooms and a bar. “The actual work should just take a couple of weeks, from start to finish. I’m hoping that it will happen in August, but you’re always a sitting duck with inspections and stuff like that.”
Besides doing more stand-up and improv shows, she’s looking forward to holding more comedy classes, adding that she wants to expand on the Idiot Box’s success as a training ground for new talent.
“First thing we’re going to do is offer our improv workshops at a super discounted rate, so anyone who’s ever wanted to try can come and give it a shot.”
She explained that such classes usually cost between $200 and $500 elsewhere and that the Idiot Box has typically charged $150. “But I’ll be charging 40 to 50 bucks for a two to five-week course, with several courses so more people can sign up.”
She sounded excited about that. “If everybody let more improvisation into their lives, they’d feel lot better. It’s an incredibly fun activity, like really positive therapy, but also super fun.”
She said she’s also excited about having increased space and time for the North Carolina Comedy Festival. “We launched that last February, but it’s going to be so much bigger now.”
She said she and her associates already started working on it. “We brought in 250 comics last year, and a bunch of headliners, but that was just a start. It’s going to be huge.”
I asked her if the had anything to say to the Idiot Box’s loyal following. Her answer was a joyful rallying cry.
“Keep following us, keep following us! We’re sorry we keep moving. We love doing comedy in Greensboro and we love supporting the arts community and bringing in professional comedians into the area.”