Midvale may not be your idea of a good time, but Cary LaSpina and Bill Spinning look at the town's Main Street and see it as a comedy mecca.
LaSpina and Spinning are so sure of their vision, in fact, that they are billing The Comedy Circuit - their new club located in the heart of downtown Midvale - as "America's premier comedy establishment."While that may be stretching the truth a little bit, you can't deny that LaSpina and Spinning are serious about their humor. Certainly The Comedy Circuit, with its special-effects wizardry, slick packaging and $500,000 bankroll, is not the kind of comedy club Salt Lakers have typically endured in the past.
This is not your standard low-budget affair with spray foam insulation on the ceiling, a cardboard backdrop and local disc jockeys warming up the crowd with Utah liquor law jokes.
In fact, after a long dry spell in which Salt Lake City has been one of the few major markets in the country without even one comedy club to its name, the valley now has three promising comedy venues.
In addition to The Comedy Circuit, there is the Comedy Oasis at Bentley's in the downtown Marriott Hotel, and once-a-week comedy at Johnny B's Comedy in the Green Street Social Club in Trolley Square.
The Comedy Oasis was successful enough during a trial eight-week run this fall to sign on for another eight weeks, through New Year's Eve. So far the room has averaged only half-full, which means that the venture's owners are barely breaking even. But they're hoping that having three comedy clubs in the valley will work to everyone's advantage - creating a climate in which Utahns suddenly like stand-up as much as they like basketball.
"Find me an old movie theater," LaSpina told his real estate agent after he decided that the Salt Lake area needed some consistent night life. By then he had already moved to Elk Meadows after 22 yearsin Las Vegas. When he saw Midvale's vacant old movie theater on Main Street, he figured he had found the perfect site for a comedy club.
The fact that it is in Midvale, 10 miles down the interstate from downtown, didn't faze him. LaSpina and Spinning are full of confidence, and also insist they can do well without a liquor license. They're hoping to draw a large college-age crowd.
Both men are products of Las Vegas's razzle-dazzle. LaSpina, who danced with the San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet and Bolshoi before moving to Las Vegas, has choreographed shows for Ann-Margret, Juliet Prowse and Sammy Davis.
Spinning is a songwriter and dancer who, along with his partner Ludovika, won the first Star Search dance championship. Today the men, along with LaSpina's wife, Stevie, and Spinning's mother are owners of LaSpin Productions.
With a touch of gallows humor, the group has chosen as its decorating motif the defunct Sharon Steel mill, which for 66 years employed many of Midvale's residents but which recently has been embroiled in battles with the Environmental Protection Agency over 14 million cubic yards of toxic dust.
LaSpin Productions hired Provo artist Seven Nielsen to paint a giant backdrop of the mill in its glory days, underneath a brownish sky billowing with bad air. Old boilers have been outfitted with special effects to announce the show's comedians and support crew.
The stage takes up two stories and includes a fireman's pole, a spiral staircase and a curtain that appears to get sucked up into the floor.
LaSpina and Spinning say they're going to bring in the best comedy club comics in the country six nights a week 52 weeks a year - people with TV credits and, for the most part, TV-rated humor (not so blue that it couldn't be seen on David Letterman).
This weekend's show features Philip Wellford, the Emmy-award winning comic juggler best known for his Saran Wrap commercials; ventriloquist Sammy King; and comedian Ben Gilbert.
If you think juggling and ventriloquism are two of the entertainment world's cornier acts (sort of accordian music without the accordian), you probably haven't seen Wellford and King.
Wellford's juggling is totally engaging - both technically superb and funny, from his New York juggler interlude (three balls frenetically hopping into the air, snatched at aggressively by two angry hands) to his juggling version of the story of Adam and Eve (in which he manages to take bites of the forbidden fruit each time it arcs near his mouth).
As for King, his dummy is a Hispanic parrot, a remarkably expressive and endearing creature who does the usual ventriloquism shtick of interrupting his human counterpart, but with more charm than most.
The weakest segment of the opening week's comedy trio was Ben Gilbert, an excellent mimic who unfortunately spent too much time telling run-of-the-mill bathroom jokes.
The audience loved it, though. As they say in comedy circles in Los Angeles, Salt Lake audiences are among the most polite in the country.