Dane Hesseldahl is in a chipper mood, despite the fact that the night before our interview he slept in the new, not-quite-refurbished club he bought with fellow comedian Jes Anderson. That shows you the dedication that Hesseldahl is putting into Capitol Hill Comedy/Bar—for several days now, he's been grinding and sanding the entire floor himself while taking a hiatus from his day job on the design engineering team at Disney+. This rare, funny tech bro and his business partner hope to make their spot a hub of Seattle's comedy scene, filling the void left by the beloved Jai Thai's closure.
A May 1 soft opening beckons for Capitol Hill Comedy/Bar, with the first official show on May 6, featuring hilarious headliner Sam Miller, Anderson, and Joe Gomez.
Hesseldahl is stoked about Comedy/Bar's location (the old Highline music venue/vegan restaurant above Blade & Timber) and its potential to boost local comics' careers. Even though the duo have only been in the game for a little over two years, they have much crucial experience. Anderson and Hesseldahl organized events with Jai Thai and, since last October, have been overseeing bookings with the Central Comedy monthly at Central Cinema, for which they've booked shows through the summer. Eventually, Hesseldahl says that they “want to hand over the reins [of Central Comedy] to another comedian whose career would benefit from doing that job.” Former CC producer Isaac Novak has been focusing on the Upper Left Comedy Festival.
With CHC/B, Hesseldahl will manage the bar (beer, wine, cocktails, cider, and non-alcoholic cocktails made with Pathfinder spirits will be served, plus snacky food such as french fries and chicken fingers); Anderson will book the talent. Hesseldahl calls Anderson “the hardest-working comic I know. She's all over Washington and Oregon. She helps run shows in Tacoma and Olympia and Seattle. She's out there every night at open mics. I really wanted someone who knew local comedy.”
One look at Anderson's workload proves Hesseldahl's point. She co-hosts The Tarp Report podcast with fellow Olympia comic Sam Miller, books the open-mic night at Tacoma's Super Funny Comedy Club, and is involved with the Northwest Women's Comedy Festival.
With regard to bookings, Anderson and Hesseldahl obviously prize funniness above all else, but they also strive for diversity. “I want our lineups to have a little something for everybody, no matter their taste in humor,” Anderson says. “I'm all about mixing it up with diverse and inclusive lineups. We'll have local talent and national headliners, and we'll make sure we cover all sorts of comedic styles and backgrounds.”
“We want to bring in comics who treat humanity with respect and dignity,” Hesseldahl says. “That's not hard. I don't know where that lands on that 'woke' spectrum, but for me, it's about dignity and respect.”
Despite their connections with Jai Thai, Hesseldahl and Anderson intend to do things on a grander scale with their new club. “We're going to be bringing in bigger acts, national headliners, we're going to be doing full headliner weekends, three days a week,” Hesseldahl says. “But the underlying goal is for us to elevate local comedy. We'll bring in those headliners and we'll have local comics on for five shows, to give them opportunities.”
Headliners slated for May include the Hard Times writer Johnny Taylor Jr., Simon Kaufman, and Adam Tiller.
Beyond showcasing high-quality comics, Anderson also wants CHC/B to “team up with local comedy clubs and organizations to create a supportive network for our up-and-coming comedians. That way, we're not only giving everyone a good laugh, but also helping to grow the comedy scene. There is such a large social aspect to comedy, that having a spot to go like this is essential. In the end, I just want to create a fun, entertaining, and welcoming atmosphere for everyone who loves comedy as much as I do.”
Hesseldahl adds, “At other places' open mics, comics go in, do their set, and then leave. There's no place to hang. We'll be open before shows, we'll stay open after shows. We'll encourage people to hang out after shows and do writing groups and tag [the art of telling jokes that build upon another comic's joke]. Tags can lead to cool sparks of creativity. You end up going down a path you didn't have before.
“I want there to be a place for comics to watch each other's acts, sit around after and drink beer and... accelerate their art. Have that sense of community that I feel like we lost when Jai Thai went away. That's the most important thing.”
Capacity at CHC/B is 200, with the front room able to seat 145. It's a long, narrow room, so Hesseldahl plans to hang speakers in the back of the venue so laughter can be heard by comics onstage. “We're going to... pump [the laughter] through some monitors on the stage. We'll have state-of-the-art audio and video capabilities. We're running through a digital mixer that has a huge hard drive that caches everything. So we'll have lossless audio of separate crowd tracks and the stage. We can give comedians that video and audio to promote themselves—and us, as well.” This is where Hesseldahl's tech background really comes in handy.
And, yes, the balcony, with its choice Broadway vista, will be open. “For Pride weekend,” Hesseldahl enthuses, “we're going to kill out there. We're going to have drag queens on the balcony roasting people [as they parade by].”
Anderson and Hesseldahl are acutely aware of the nearby Club Comedy on 15th Avenue and respect what Rick Taylor has done for Seattle's comedy community. They don't view them as competition so much as an ally. “People have made [a big deal] about how close we are, but the way I view it is, there are a lot of comedy fans on Capitol Hill,” Hesseldahl says. “There's more than we can service in both of these clubs. What's that phrase? 'A rising tide raises all boats.' The more people coming to Capitol Hill for comedy, the better. It's not us vs them; it's just us. We're all trying to build comedy up in Seattle as best as we can.”
Capitol Hill Comedy/Bar's grand opening is Sat, May 6 with Sam Miller, Jes Anderson, and Joe Gomez, 9 pm, $5, 21+.
Follow Capitol Hill Comedy/Bar on Instagram at @comedyslashbar.