SU students transform a Comstock basement into an underground comedy club

SU students create an underground comedy club

Wednesday nights at The Playground bring students together to laugh off the stress from school.
Published: March 2, 2022
Alternative Text
Elizabeth Goldblatt delivers her stand-up comedy set at The Playground in the basement of 311 Comstock.

From the street, 311 Comstock Ave. looks like any other student house on a Wednesday night. Now, students are discovering the entrance through the back door leads to an underground comedy club. Rows of eclectic seats, cushions and couches face a handmade stage with a spray painted backdrop emblazoned with “The Playground.”

Three Syracuse University upperclassmen, James Cunningham, Elizabeth Goldblatt and Sophie Schlosser, came together this semester to create The Playground, a non-judgmental haven for stand-up comedy experimentation.

The Playground test drove their first show a few weeks ago to a select audience. It was a success, and every Wednesday since then the 311 house opens its back door at 8 p.m. for students to filter in from the cold to laugh together for a few hours in a sweaty college basement.

“You have kids from all different walks of life on campus, coming together in one spot to laugh. I think that’s really cool,” Cunningham said. “So honestly, if there’s more of a connection on campus just from our stupid jokes, that would be amazing. And even if that doesn’t happen, if we can make someone’s day better, that works too.”

As of now, the show features eight or nine different student comics with sets ranging from five to 10 minutes each. The three founders rotate as host each week. When not hosting, Cunningham, Goldblatt and Schlosser deliver sets of their own among the other comics.

James Cunningham performs at The Playground comedy show
James Cunningham performs at The Playground.

This basement of humor serves as a stage for students to relay the odd, the hilarious and the embarrassing. Sets vary from witty one-liners to hilarious re-tellings of memorable events. Each comic brings unpredictable content, ranging from villainous mothers and childhood religion to Tinder mishaps and soiling your pants.

While hosting last week, Goldblatt joked, “let’s keep it in The Playground,” emphasizing the full freedom of expression The Playground provides to aspiring comedians.

Cunningham, a television, radio and film junior, started the comedy club for more exposure to the scene. This summer, he plans on moving to Austin, Texas to work at a comedy club.

“I was researching because I wanted to practice before I went out there and made a fool out of myself,” Cunningham said. “So, I was looking around Syracuse and there’s no open mics. I pretty much just said, ‘F**k it, I’ll make my own.’”

Over winter break, Cunningham began recruiting help for the project. He first reached out to Goldblatt, a senior also studying television, radio and film, who he met last semester in a comedy writing course taught by Evan Smith. Smith encouraged the two to write together, Cunningham said.

“I feel like what I love about [Syracuse] is we are given this dumpster of a canvas to create our lives on and you meet the most creative people ever. And there’s such a self-starting attitude around here because it’s not a huge city,” Goldblatt said. “So, it’s all kind of on us to create this big town.”

Cunningham next presented the idea to Schlosser, another television, radio and film junior, and a friend with a mutual appreciation for stand-up comedy.

Sophie Schlosser performs at underground comedy club The Playground
Sophie Schlosser reviews her notes during her set at The Playground.

“The three founders – me, Liz and James – we really all just bring something completely different to the table. We all have our individual skill sets and that’s why I think we work so well together,” Schlosser said.

Each founder has made their own contributions to bring The Playground to life. Cunningham spearheaded the project from the start alongside his long-form conversation podcast, Bad Role Models. He said he provided financing, equipment, and seating, even building the entire stage himself.

Goldblatt said she used her comedic connections at SU to draw in the acts and provided her basement for the location. Schlosser mentioned how she organized the actual show and headed up their branding.

When choosing a name, “The Playground” felt natural.

“The house kind of came with this name, like one of those houses that just kind of carried on the name after different groups of people,” Goldblatt said. “So I’m hoping that the people who live here next are able to continue this.”

Out of the three founders, Goldblatt is the only 311 resident. However, Cunningham said Goldblatt’s roommates, the “311 girls,” are “integral to this project.” They help fill the gaps and support The Playground, including setting up, promotion, photography, running the door and more.

Griffin Palmer performs at The Playground comedy show
Griffin Palmer relays jokes about his mother during his set at The Playground.

Schlosser said she never thought she would be doing stand-up every Wednesday night, but the inclusivity makes her happy.

“Anyone can get up there and do a set,” Schlosser said. “We want new comics every week to come in and make people more comfortable with getting up there and getting really far out of their comfort zone.”

Many of the students delivering sets at The Playground are new to stand-up, including students Maggie Farley and Griffin Palmer. Goldblatt recruited them from Zamboni Revolution, SU’s long-form improv group.

“It was a crazy environment to walk into because I had never done something like that, but it’s definitely very supportive,” said Palmer, who is a fourth year in industrial and interaction design.

Farley sees The Playground as “a nice break halfway through the week to go and make people laugh.” The health and exercise science senior said she had students approaching her after a show saying they related to her set talking about her Catholic upbringing.

“It’s so nice, even though you’re making a joke out of all of it, someone else can kind of relate to it and can see it on that comedic side,” Farley said.