Editor’s note: The following story is sponsored by Plexpod, a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes.
Nostalgia for the 1990s hit Billy Brimblecom hard when he recalled his days as a young comedian, performing alongside colleagues and friends — including the now-internationally famous actor Jason Sudeikis — at ComedySportz in River Market.
“Creatively, it was just a really great place that had really great vibes,” said Brimblecom, co-founder of Thundergong with Sudeikis and a regular performer at ComedySportz from 1995 to 1997. “It was just this special time where the stars aligned, and there was a big, great group of people who got to come together every night to make people laugh.”
ComedySportz, known today as ComedyCity, got its start entertaining crowds at Independence Avenue and Delaware Street — now home to Plexpod River Market’s coworking and flex office space — in the fall of 1995. The comedy club brought laughs to the neighborhood for more than five years before relocating to various locations and then temporarily closing in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a very electric atmosphere filled with great people,” Brimblecom said of the River Market location. “It was how I met a core group of pals who I am still close with today. So, yes, it was a crazy environment — very creative, very funny and constant laughter.”
Sudeikis, a film and television actor native to Overland Park, currently stars on the Apple TV series “Ted Lasso.”
Click here to read about how Sudeikis boosted a Kansas City entrepreneur and friend’s apparel line with a well-worn on-screen wardrobe choice.
Corey Rittmaster — another comedian who performed alongside Brimblecom throughout the 1990s — echoed Brimblecom’s sentiment. The actor and writer referred to the club’s River Market days as the “golden era” of ComedySportz.
“I mean, it was electric,” Rittmaster emphasized. “It was some of the best improv we were doing — and we were in a space that I thought really showcased us well and brought a cool energy to the club.”
Between strong talent and a unique location, the duo recalled sold-out shows with as many as 160 customers filling the venue with laughter and positive energy.
“Our Saturday night 7:30 show would be sold out two, three weeks in advance — then the 10 o’clock show would sell out shortly after that,” Rittmaster noted. “Eventually, we added a 5 o’clock show on Saturdays because we were getting so much attention.”
The venue included three stages: the small stage in the lounge for performers’ own sketch comedy shows; the big stage for the main performances; and finally the immersive stage that was intended primarily for private “comedy trials” or improvised courtroom skits.
The thriving popularity of ComedySports came at a time when River Market was just beginning to see new developments, the duo said — recalling trendy brewpubs and condos popping up throughout the mid- to late-1990s.
ComedySportz shows primarily took the format of two teams competing against one another in various improv games, the performers explained. Performers would take suggestions from the audience, and then the audience members voted on whether they enjoyed the blue team or the red team’s performance more.
One of Brimblecom’s favorite memories was set during a game of Object Freeze in which performers created skits based around objects from the audience. Ed Goodman, a fellow performer and friend of Brimblecom, had grabbed an audience member’s cell phone (a much less common object for one to have at the time) and proceeded to exit the building.
“Ed looked at the audience with his crazy, beady eyes and just took off,” Brimblecom said. “People were laughing — we kept trying to do the show, but then you’d see Ed appearing out of nowhere talking on the cell phone. … The show could never really get back on track because everyone was laughing so hard at what he was doing.”
Beyond River Market, Brimblecom went on to pursue a career as a drummer and is now the executive director of Steps of Faith Foundation in Kansas City, the beneficiary of the annual Thundergong event, which features a wide range of nationally-known comedy and musical headliners.
Click here to learn more about Steps of Faith.
Although Rittmaster, Sudeikis and Goodman eventually planted their roots on the West Coast, the ComedySportz performers remain good friends, he shared.
“It was such a unifying experience to be on stage with a great group of guys — working together as a team to try and make people laugh,” Brimblecom said.
Taking out the stages but keeping the community aspect, the building — near the iconic Made in KC Trolley Cafe and Betty Rae’s Ice Cream — has a new life as a Plexpod location. In 2019, the locally grown coworking community took over the space, which has also been home for retailers and offices since ComedySportz’s departure.
Gerald Smith, founder of Plexpod, was drawn to the location because of River Market’s recent revitalization and unique geographic location near the Missouri River, he said.
“It’s really a special place,” Smith noted. “We repeatedly heard from folks asking us to consider a River Market location since there were no options for flex office space in that area. One thing we have learned, people that live in River Market are very loyal to the area and support local businesses.”
Click here to read more about Plexpod’s expansion into the River Market back in 2019.
The past certainly plays a role in the present, Smith said — noting he was taken back to the 1990s himself when Brimblecom shared stories about ComedySportz.
“[River Market] just has that historical flavor that predates the high rises located downtown,” Smith added. “[Also the various] amenities and outdoor access play a huge part in what makes the area attractive.”