Aspen Comedy Club goes belly up
Ryan Summerlin March 7, 2008
ASPEN ” Add the Aspen Comedy Club to a long list of businesses that have gone belly up at 520 E. Cooper St.
Dave Edgar, the owner of the comedy club that was formerly Texas Reds, confirmed Thursday that he’s done trying to make a go of the business.
The downstairs space is shuttered, and no more laughs are being had at the comedy club, which opened in August.
And Joe Sanfelippo, owner of Bonkerz, a Florida-based booking agency with whom Edgar signed a 26-week contract earlier this year, isn’t laughing either. In all likelihood, Sanfelippo will sue Edgar for wrongfully breaking the business deal, he said.
The club operated under the Bonkerz license for only three weeks before it came to an abrupt end.
“I’m going to pursue a lawsuit against him for the other 23 weeks he owes,” Sanfelippo said, estimating the lost business is in the “five figures.”
He added Edgar refuses to talk to him but recently e-mailed him saying, “I’m no longer using your comedians, my lawyer will call you.”
The business deal gone bad has left comics who were booked at the Aspen Comedy Club in the coming weeks without gigs and holding the bag on expensive airline tickets.
Dean Napolitano, whose career includes dozens of television credits, was supposed to perform this weekend at the Aspen Comedy Club. Thea Vidale, another veteran comedian, was supposed to be in Aspen later this month. As of now, they are out of work and haven’t been reimbursed for the expenses they incurred to travel to Aspen.
“He’s really affecting these people’s lives,” Sanfelippo said.
It’s not the first time comedians have been by stiffed by Edgar.
After making a run as a high-end comedy club attracting well-known comedians like David Alan Grier, Edgar shut his doors in late December because he failed to attract enough people to fill the 200-seat venue.
His bills mounted and some comedians, including Grier, weren’t paid. Edgar said he has since paid his debts from last year’s operation, which involved booking agent John Yoder, of Funny Business Inc., who provided the lineup of comedians until the club closed the first time.
Edgar attempted a “do-over” with the Bonkerz name ” a nationally-known chain that has clubs throughout the U.S., mostly in casinos and small clubs in Florida and the Midwest.
Edgar said he bailed from Bonkerz because the comedians Sanfelippo was booking were foul-mouthed has-beens. The content and vulgar language apparently offended Edgar’s customers, who were few and far between. On some nights, there weren’t even a dozen people in the venue.
“When 25 people show up one night, and the next night there are only four, you know it’s not good,” Edgar said. “It’s pretty obvious that Aspen isn’t into that language.”
But Sanfelippo said from the beginning that Edgar refused to take his company’s consulting advice, which the comedy club was paying for through a weekly payment that included the price of the comedian’s performance.
When Sanfelippo met with Edgar nearly two months ago, Sanfelippo said they agreed on how to operate the club and proceed with its marketing. But when a Bonkerz trainer came out soon after, nothing had been done.
“He was completely unprepared,” Sanfelippo said, adding he is personally out about $6,000 in expenses in trying to set up the Bonkerz name in Aspen. “We laid out a marketing plan and he didn’t do it.”
Edgar said he didn’t agree with Sanfelippo’s plan of offering hundreds of free tickets to get people through the doors and just rely on liquor sales.
“His business model was to cold call people to have a free party for 20 people, and that doesn’t work in Aspen,” Edgar said.
He added that he will pay the expenses of the comedians who were booked but he first has to figure out how much is owed. Edgar said he paid $3,000 a week to Bonkerz and he doesn’t know how much goes to the comedians and what’s absorbed by the agency.
“We don’t want to happen what happened last time,” Edgar said. “We want these people paid.”
Sanfelippo said Edgar defaulted on the contract the first week because he didn’t send the payment prior to the first performance, and instead paid the comedian directly. And that method of payment continued.
“For three Saturdays we had shows where I had to threaten to not put on a comedian because they hadn’t been paid,” Sanfelippo said, adding he’s received criticism from agents who represent comedians around the country because he’s connected with Edgar.
“He’s constantly trying to get out of paying people,” Sanfelippo said. “He completely burnt me.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I thought I was a good judge … I can’t believe I got sucked into this.”
In the beginning, Edgar attempted to follow the business plan of Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg by only bringing big acts to the club. But that proved to be expensive. Trying to fill the house every night at $35 a ticket, plus food and booze sales, wasn’t enough to pay the bills.
In going from high to low ends of the spectrum in comedic acts, Edgar has resolved himself to the fact that Aspen can’t support a year-round comedy club.
And now, the space will remain empty indefinitely.
“We haven’t really had time to digest what to do next,” Edgar said.
The 4,000-square-foot location ” which has housed many restaurants and bars over the years that couldn’t make it ” was bought by Edgar in 2006 for $2 million. He put the property up for sale at $2.6 million in November. Edgar said it’s under contract.
But if the sale falls through, Edgar said he’s also looking for someone to lease the space. His real estate broker, Bill Small, said the lease price is between $60 and $65 a square foot.
Meanwhile, Edgar and his family in December opened a Mexican restaurant called Dos Hermanos in the former Sopris Restaurant space on Highway 82, just upvalley of Glenwood Springs.