Old Town mainstay Harvey's Comedy Club has closed after 25 years.
Before the most recent comedy boom, Harvey's was for years the only dedicated comedy lounge in Portland. Until it closed on Saturday night, it was one of the longest-running comedy clubs in the nation.
Owner Barry Kolin had been already planning to sell the club and retire back in January, he says. Harvey's hosted a roast of Kolin back in January to help "kick him to the curb and into retirement," and the owners of Spokane Comedy Club in Spokane had been prepping a deal to buy Harvey's and rename it the Portland Comedy Club.
"But when it came time to put up the money they backed out," Kolin says. "Funny how that works!"
Spokane co-owner Renee Fandt confirmed with WW that the deal had fallen through.
But even without a buyer lined up, Kolin says a heart attack three weeks ago caused him to close his long-running comedy club.
“I was 90 percent blocked on one side and 80 percent on the other,” he says. “Business is strong, but I just can’t go on anymore. I need a new knee and a new hip and I had a heart attack! My body said, ‘Stop! Help!'”
Kolin nonetheless owns the building with his two brothers, and says he's talking to multiple interested parties about re-opening the space as a comedy club.
"Hopefully I'll pass the baton to a younger group of people," he says. "I've had a fabulous run for 25 years."
Kolin has actually been running businesses in the Old Town location for even longer—he started with Harvey's Restaurant and Lounge in 1979.
“The original Harvey’s Restaurant and Lounge, I had Dixieland jazz playing,” says Kolin. “They played ‘And the Saints go Marching In’ so many times, I added jazz—Mel Brown performed here. But I was looking for a different format, and when the comedy scene blew up in the 80s, a guy had a spot called the Last Laugh next to Harvey’s Restaurant and Lounge. I had dinner with Tim Allen, I had dinner with Howie Mandell, Steve Harvey, all of ’em. In the ’90s I took it over myself.”
Originally, says Kolin, he took the advice of the late comic Dave Andersen and stuck to clean comedy. He says he remembers one comic in particular who bristled at this.
"I booked this red-headed guy," says Kolin. "I asked him, 'Do you do clean comedy?' and he says, 'Do you know who I am? I'm Louis CK, I don't do clean comedy.' He says to me 'I'm probably not going to do comedy at your club again, so I'm just going to do what I normally do.'"
Kolin laughs, "He blew the doors off that night."
Kolin says he's expanded into "R-rated" comedy over the years—although the club kept the rep as a place that doesn't work blue.
“A lot of guys don’t like the guy in front of them going down a dick joke path—they like the people that work in front of them to be pretty clean. The F-word over and over is not funny. But unless it was egregiously tasteless I never really censored anyone—the audience will let you know.”
He also says he values his customers, more than he does booking the famous names.
“My goal was to bring in the funny people, but maybe not the famous people,” he says. “I had Bobby Slayton from San Francisco, he was in Dreamgirls, they called him the Pitbull of Comedy. I like people to do crowdwork, but Bobby Slayton wouldn’t let up on these people in the front row. This gal got up crying and left the show. He turned the whole room against him. I put him up in a nice hotel, and he turned the room against him. That was very embarrassing for me.”
Though the final Harvey's showcase was Saturday night, those looking to visit the venue for one last time before it changes owners can do so Tuesday, July 18. Comic Mike Quu has booked the space for his Full Throttle Comedy tour.
"Harvey's is part of the fabric of Portland," Kolin says. "People turn 21 here, have their anniversary, have their bachelorette party. We drew 20,000 people a month and we've been doing it for 25 years."