The current state of Kent comedy: family, therapy and lots of Pabst


Anthony Savatt, who has been hosting the weekly comedy nights at the Stone Tavern, begins the Stone Tavern’s 200th consecutive comedy show Monday, Dec. 1, 2014.

Mark Oprea

The undisputed patriarch of Kent’s comedy scene, Anthony Savatt, is rarely ever without a crowd. 

Every Sunday night, the 34-year-old comedian finds his way into a seven-minute set at EuroGyro along with a dozen other aspiring comics. He does the same thing Tuesdays at Michel’s on Main St., and often headlines the open mic at the Venice Cafe. He hosts his Monday comedy show at the Stone Tavern like an ruling father, an assertive Archie Bunker. The tavern’s owner, Louis DelBene, said it best: Savatt is the “benign dictator” of Kent comedy.

And this dictator has a large family.

Stand-up comedy in Kent is at a current upswing in success, with Savatt celebrating his 200th consecutive show at the Stone Tavern. Today, there are now four spots in Kent where jokes “run trial” weekly, and a Kent State Comedy Club at the university, along with acts from alumni such as Steve Byrne and John Caparulo sprouting up throughout semesters. If you’re looking local, you’re inevitably running into Savatt — and that’s how he wants it.

“It’s true,” Mitch Powers, Kent comedian and president of the Comedy Club, said. “He is Kent Comedy. This town is his baby.”

Although some beg to differ, Savatt has earned his crown, the head of his comic wolf pack. For the last six years, the Portage County native has hosted shows like Cleveland’s “Laugh Out Loud!,” shared the stage with comedians Chad Zumock and Ryan Dalton, also Kent alumni. It was the aspiring Savatt who suggested the Monday comedy nights at the Stone back in January 2011, making it one of the longest-running consecutive comedy nights in the state of Ohio, second only to clubs in Cleveland and Akron. 

“And it’s pretty damn cool to be a part of all of that,” Savatt said.

But the stand-up scene hasn’t always maintained a Savatt-led proliferation. In fact, the comedian said, there was a long dry spell in city-wide humor that lacked anyone to march it forward.

If there’s anything such as a golden age in Kent comedy than it may exist sometime around the turn of the century. Back in 2001, when Savatt was an accounting major at Kent State, famous comics like Mike Polk Jr., “Hot Carl” Ferrara, Dalton and Zumock composed the top dogs of the Kent scene, playing now-defunct venues like the Red Robin and the Green Room. At the time, comedy nights were only signs that Savatt passed on his route to class. The whole time he was an undergrad at Kent, he did not take one step on to a stage.

“I wasn’t looking for it, and it wasn’t looking for me,” Savatt said.

Coming from two somewhat-distant parents, Savatt’s youth was an upbringing fit for a future comic. His four years at Waterloo High School proved that he’s not prone to embarrassment from self-deprecation, and still claims immunity from stage fright, as it’s just “wiring in the brain.” Any witness of a typical Savatt show — with all its self-loathing and lack of filters — can see that is unbearably true.

It was at an end-of-the-year accounting banquet where Savatt found his schtick. As president of Accounting Club, Savatt stood up for a five-minute speech in front of a crowd of hundreds of business professionals, esteemed accountants and Kent State students. Funny enough for Savatt, a professor in the front row was primed for his humor, and a little intoxicated.

“And as soon as I started talking, he started laughing. It just sort of rippled,” he said. “And soon enough I’ve got 350 people at this banquet just howling at me. It was one of the best feelings that I’ve ever had.”

Savatt knew what he had to do, but life got in the way. After he graduated in 2003, he was fully divorced from his first wife, and had a 3-year-old son to raise. Comedy wasn’t a possibility at the time, and Savatt spent the next few years caught up with his accounting work and off-and-on girlfriends, but still jotting down some material. After driving past the Funny Stop Comedy Club in Cuyahoga Falls for four months, Savatt decided to tell jokes for real on November 18, 2008. It was a day marked in Savatt’s memory: his entrance into the comedy world and also his ex-wife’s birthday. He said both make it “easy to remember.”

A few years later, Savatt was doing open mics at the Red Robin and the Green Room. He first hosted his own show at the Kent Stage with Akron comedian Justin Cash in September 2009, but it was a flop and the two bombed, Savatt said. He was nervous to the point of forgetting jokes. Yet Savatt took away a valuable lesson: its the comedy itself, not the promotion.

After Savatt lost his job in 2009, he began doing the Sunday open mics at EuroGyro in Kent, recently opened at the time. Comics like Shawn Boyd and Chris Clem would show up, soon overtaking the bar, evolving it into comedy night. For Savatt and amateurs today, the spot was training wheels for a bigger, more-impressionable crowd.

“That’s where we all got good, I guess,” he said. “If that’s what we are now.”

With the foundations of a new Kent scene beginning to form, Savatt one of its seeds, venues unfortunately began to close their doors on comedy. The Green Room eventually nixed its open mic nights; the Red Robin morphed into the Brewhouse. Savatt, with his first album, “Everyone’s Gay But Me,” under his arm, was now a familiar face to every local comic. When DelBene bought out the Professor’s Pub in 2010, there was only one comedian he looked to to “reboot” the pub’s comedy night: Savatt.

Savatt had a lot of work to do: Intelligent and crafty comedians, he said, such as Chad McKenzie, Chris Simcheck and Sam Zavan moved out of town, just when he stood up as it’s unofficial leader. And, in their midst, they left behind nothing save for a crowd of locals, veterans and “shrieking” homeless folk — not very conducive to reviving a scene.

“I was starting to give up, because many months were going by where no one was at the Stone, even other comics,” Savatt said. “But everyone still kept supporting it so we kept it going.”

Under a new generation of Kent comedy are a list of names including Sean Sullivan, Jenson Strock, Dylan Lusk and Powers — Savatt somewhat like a “comedy dad” to many. Strock, a senior media major at Kent State, thinks of Savatt both as Kent comedy’s garrulous leader, and the usher for a new lineup of young, student comics.

“There’s this huge wave of ambition that Anthony has had recently,” she said. “And I think there’s a lot of young people that want to do comedy now because of places like Michel’s and the Stone — that is, what Anthony is doing.”

Yet the Monday comedy nights at the Stone are where Savatt shines.

As host, Savatt is caring, yet reps his DelBene moniker of “dictator” like a badge. He gets angry if people talk during others sets, and has asked some to leave in the past. He makes the lineup and introduces other comics, more times than not with a bolstering nudge, a way of preparing them for their seven minutes of stage time. Whatever the backlash is, Savatt knows his good intentions ride high.

“As a host, I know you’re supposed to be likable, and sometimes I’m not,” he said. “But everyone knows it’s the vibe of the show.”

Just like in the beginning, Savatt struts on stage ready and willing to dish out his tell-all, self-deprecating style of comedy, most bits hit-or-miss with the Monday crowd. It’s what Savatt has been doing since he first began his stint in stand-up, and just like his ascension to Kent’s top gun, it’s been a routine done for the sake of itself — for the sake of comedy.

“Looking back over the last few years, it’s helped me more than it’s hurt me,” Savatt said. “It’s like a vortex: I would have never needed comedy if I never started comedy. It started and now I need to keep it going.”

Eyes forward, Savatt and the Kent family of comedy are hopeful about the scene’s future. Savatt even hopes to see a “legit” comedy club sprouting up in the city, one alike to the ones found in Cleveland and Akron, and around the country. He even wants to lead the troupe nationwide with a Kent comedy festival.

As far as riding with the likes of Polk and Zumock, Savatt isn’t so keen about fame as people would think. He’s too settled in his town, his child. If anything, the Father of Kent’s Comedy scene simply wants to watch both his teenager and his comedy scene grow, as making it solely in comedy, he said, isn’t a lucrative ride.

Savatt does what comes naturally and turns to a joke: “Doing comedy for money is like being a trucker so you can spend more time with your family.”

It looks like the last laugh in Kent still lies with Savatt, at least for the time being.

Contact Mark at [email protected].