By GK Gurley | photos courtesy of Third Coast Comedy Club
Nashville may be Music City, but we are a great place for laughs, too. Zanies Comedy Club, a national comedy club chain, has been featuring touring stand-up comics in Nashville for decades. As Nashville has continued to grow, so has its home-grown comedy. Luke Watson, one of the owners and directors of Third Coast Comedy Club (who identifies as gay and uses he/him/his pronouns), has been performing improvisational comedy in venues across town. Seeing Nashville grow, Luke noted the need for a theater space strictly for local comedy. Third Coast Comedy Club opened in 2016, and even through the pandemic, Third Coast is a welcoming, open, and inclusive space to learn comedy and perform.
Watson explained to me how important it was, especially at the time of Third Coast’s opening, to provide comedy classes and a space to perform for all levels of experience in comedy and for anyone who wants it. “Our passion drove us into a year-long search for a venue that could be the home and serve as the center for the Nashville comedy community”, Luke told me. “We found the perfect spot for that home in historic Marathon Village. The building owner loved our vision and agreed to lease us one of his units in the building, surrounded by the best neighbors you could ask for: other entrepreneurs running small businesses and living out their own dreams.”
Third Coast Comedy Club, before the pandemic, hosted a myriad of comedy shows. From improv troupes to sketch comedy to open mics to drag shows, Third Coast was a space for anybody. She Haw held monthly drag shows, and Carol Queerprov performed improv monthly. In this pandemic, Third Coast is maintaining its presence through online courses. Artistic Director Scott Elam explained to me that Third Coast is hosting online improv classes as well as various writing workshops. A committee of Third Coast Community Members with backgrounds in medicine, science, and law are advising Luke on safe and healthy practices when Third Coast opens again, but that timeline is still murky. In the meantime, anyone interested in learning more about improv and what the local comedy community of Nashville is doing, you can visit Third Coast’s Instagram page @thirdcoastcomedyclub and their website thirdcoastcomedy.club. Scott Elam said that many of the online classes have sold out. In discussing their success, Elam said, “Hopefully, long after COVID, we’ll continue to offer classes via Zoom with teachers from all over the country who might not be able to come in otherwise.” This will benefit people who love Third Coast but are not located in Nashville as well. A continued online course presence will allow people from all over to take classes with amazing teachers from all over.
Comedy, especially improv comedy, has historically been a club for white, straight, cis men. Luke, his business partner, Scott Field, and staff have, from opening their doors to navigating comedy during a pandemic, been proactive in making Third Coast an inclusive, diverse space with policies in place to ensure their students and performers have a positive experience, as well as providing an anonymous reporting system through their website in case someone has a negative experience. The Third Coast Safe Space Advisory Board is an active part of Third Coast, but most importantly in growing the demographics and accessibility of improv is the Third Coast partnership with Unscripted.
Unscripted is a 501(C)(3) non-profit started in 2017 under the leadership of Emma Supica. Unscripted’s whole mission is to heal, connect, and empower our community through improv. Emma, Luke, and the Unscripted and Third Coast staff members do this through class scholarships for underrepresented people groups and teaching improv classes, not with the goal of performing on-stage necessarily, but more oriented towards building people up as individuals and as community members. Some such classes include Improv for Anxiety, a class taught by an improviser and facilitated with a therapist; Yes And… Recover, a class for people in 12-step recovery; and they have used various grants to bring improv to art camps, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the list goes on.
Executive Director Emma Supica brings a unique perspective to improv. “My background is as a music educator,” she said, “so arts therapies and artistic programs are very familiar to me. I also knew that several Third Coast improvisers were teaching improv classes in community settings, or using improv principles in other ways than on a stage. I combined my skills in arts education and nonprofit leadership with the talent, interest, and support of Third Coast, and together we created Unscripted.”
Throughout the pandemic, Unscripted continues to provide their regular classes like Improv for Anxiety as well as “Zoomprov breaks,” twice-weekly improv jams held on Zoom simply for the sake of practicing improv virtually with other people passionate about improv. Starting on March 14, Unscripted began partnering with members of Carol Queerprov (myself being one of them) in offering a free six-week intro to improv course specifically for people that identify on the LGBTQIA- 2S+ spectrum. On Sunday evenings, they’re teaching the basics of improv and the important role it has played for us as queer and trans people in finding our voices, exploring gender, and growing community. Join us! Visit unscriptedimprov.org to learn more.
Request from the author:
Third Coast is a special place. It is a locally-owned and queer-owned business that provides a welcoming and open space for so many of us that have felt left out of mainstream performing spaces. It has even brought couples together and hosted a wedding for people that met through their training center!
In-person shows begin at the end of May; in-person classes begin in June. Until they are able to open their doors again, you can support them by financially supporting Unscripted’s work, by attending a Third Coast online class, and by signing up for Unscripted’s Queerprov workshop.