Ozark, Ala., has a comedy club. So do Greenville, N.C., and Boise, Idaho. With more than 300 comedy clubs in the United States now, you can find stand-up comics any night of the week just about anywhere.
Except in Utah.
Since Salt Lake City's only comedy club, Cartoons, folded this past spring, you can now drive form one end of the state to the other and be hard pressed to find someone to laugh at.
Sure we're sober in Utah. But are we that sober? Are we the only state in the nation that just doesn't want to have a good time? Probably not, say national and local comedy experts.
Even Pat Johnson, owner of the now defunct Cartoons, thinks "Utah is ready for comedy." She blames her club's decline on several factors, including a lack of enough close-by parking during Cartoons' stint on West Temple, and a lack of support from local hotels in luring the tourist trade.
Others put the blame more on the club's failure to promote itself effectively.
"For the most part, if a comedy club is managed correctly, it can't fail," says Barry Weintraub, publisher of the magazine Comedy U.S.A. in New York City. And for the most part, he says, the country's comedy clubs "have been running successfully for years."
Comedy is apparently a big enough business these days that at least two beverage companies are banking that laughs will turn into profits. White Mountain Cooler, for example, is sponsoring the White Mountain Cooler Comedy Tour to 22 cities this summer, and its frequent radio advertisements are "comedy breaks" featuring a dozen or so new comics.
Over at Smirnoff Vodka, the marketing department has set up a toll-free line (1-800-SMR-NOFF) that gives you 60 seconds of "jokes, jabs and general hilarity" from Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff, no relation.
There are one-liners everywhere. In fact, "Punchline," a movie about two stand-up comics, played by Tom Hanks and Sally Field, opens in October.
But here we are in Salt Lake City, where the only laughs we've had all summer were provided by the White Mountain Cooler folks, who brought in two comics for four days in June and July.
With no regular comedy club now in the city, they had to set up a less-than-perfect stage on the dance floor at Studebaker's, where the regular clientele had to be reminded to stop talking while the comedian was at the mike.
Despite the drawbacks, the two White Mountain comics here in mid-July _ Jack Coen and Henry Cho _ said they thought the Salt Lake audiences were good ones. We may not be as sophisticated as New Yorkers, but we apparently get most of the jokes. And we're generally very polite.
And yet those of us who frequented Cartoons during its four-year existence began to realize that for some reason the club drew a clientele that was fond of what Weintraub of Comedy U.S.A. calls "crotch humor" _ maybe as a kind of rebellion against what they perceived as a repressed local culture.
Generally, says local comedian Dick Carter, the same customers came back to Cartoons again and again _ which means that the club was pleasing its audience . . . but that it wasn't drawing a diverse crowd. Some nights, recalls Carter, the audience would only number 15 or 20.
By the time Cartoons moved back to its original Sugar House location earlier this year, it was often bringing in "featured" performers (the middle man in a typical show) and running them as "headliners" in order to save money.
Despite its drawbacks, however, comedians like Carter are grateful for the support they received from Cartoons. Carter, 68, first got up on a Cartoons stage during an amateur contest in 1985. Since then he has appeared in comedy houses in the South and West, and this month he will be one of 40 comedians, picked from a field of 600, to compete in the San Francisco Stand-Up Comedy Competition.
Janine Gardner, Utah's most successful female comic, is now appearing regularly as a featured performer throughout the Midwest and South.
Cartoons owner Johnson says she is pretty burned out on comedians right now. Not from hearing their material, she says, but from "dealing with their egos." She got tired, she says, of "babysitting" three comedians a week.
Still, she thinks she might give it another go. She says she might talk to some downtown hotels about starting a new comedy club, maybe just on the weekends.
In the meantime, Weintraub of Comedy U.S.A. says he will be letting his readers know that there is an opening in the Salt Lake market. Maybe, he says, one of the new comedy franchises will move in. In fact there are rumors that the Comedy Works may be looking at space in Trolley Square.
Comedy fans hope something pans out. Most of the big names of comedy _ Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, Jay Leno, Steven Wright, Gallagher, Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin, Sam Kinison, Rich Little _ have appeared in Utah in the past three years. What the city needs is a vehicle for the rising, lesser-known comedians _ and a setting for comedy that's more intimate than a 3,000-seat concert hall.