The thing about running a club, it’s a thankless job. It takes a lot of work and patience, made
worse by lack of support from the venue itself.
Time and time again I’ve heard club owners- even at established places-
tell the same story, that the venue expects the club owner to bring in the
crowd while doing little to nothing to promote the events themselves. It takes a lot of patience to push through
it. I should know, I co-founded Taboo
with a partner at one venue and five seasons later we were at a third venue and
I was running the club virtually alone. Night after night the only people in the bar
were there to see the show and when the bar came under new management, they
thanked us by giving us the opportunity to pay them so we could have another
season. We declined and Taboo was dead.

When I got a chance to open a
place on my own I took it. Now Crossfire
is in its second season and I really like the venue, but my relationship with
them is just as tenuous as ever.
Stability just doesn’t come with the territory, so it doesn’t surprise
me that clubs come and go. I’ve seen a
few rise and fall over the last few years, but there’s one I miss more than any
other: Copperfields. Get a bunch of
comics together in a room and it won’t be long until we’re swapping war stories
from that place.


Copperfields started not long after I did, founded by a
sweet old man that loves standup, loves performing, loves being on stage. What he lacked in ability to effectively run
a club in a good venue, he made up in enthusiasm, which created a very surreal
atmosphere. If I’m hungry for stage time
now, I was starving then, so I went every night. At first.
After the first month I started to wonder why I bothered; there was
little to no crowd (five people for the show was a good night), the place was
lit up like an operating room, there were TVs throughout showing football and
you couldn’t always count on the staff to turn them off, and there were a lot
of alcoholics there for cheap beer and the Jack Vegas slot machines at the back
of the room (one night, one of them turned around from Jack Vegas and screamed
“SHUT UP!” at the comic on stage). If I
was lucky, I’d make someone smile or maybe even get a chuckle. I stopped going so often.

Then, at another club, I bombed
for the first time. Hard. It happens to everyone, but when you first
start in standup, it’s a boogeyman. You
know it’s only a matter of time before it will happen for the first time and
you’re afraid of what it will feel like.
Spoiler alert: it sucks.


On a Wednesday, I told a friend after a show that I didn’t care
what the crowd thought of me. On
Thursday, I went to Solna Comedy Club (RIP).
I was so excited, my set was to be twelves minutes long. Twelve minutes! I had less than six months experience by that
point and twelve minutes was more than double the sets I was doing
elsewhere. I invited a bunch of people
and ten of them came to see me. I was up
first and the microphone was wireless, the first time I’d worked with one. It seemed that if I moved in any direction it
caused massive feedback, so I stood as still as I could. The speakers were behind and just above my
head and it sounded like I was screaming, so I held the mic by my chest. Unfortunately, everyone that had come to see
me was standing at the back of the room and couldn’t hear a word I was saying. There was no stage and I was standing
directly next to a table full of people who didn’t know there was going to be a
show and were very irritated that I was there.
Another table nearby was full of people there for comedy and they were
laughing, but I didn’t know then to focus on them and shut out everyone
else. Instead, I started sweating
buckets, delivering material while thinking, “No one’s going to laugh at this.
No one’s going to laugh at this.” After
six minutes I gave up, saying, “Well, I just bombed for the first time. My name’s Ryan Bussell.” I saw my girlfriend laugh at that.

That was the start of a four-day
holiday weekend, which I spent in a dark funk.
All I wanted to do was to stay in bed with the covers pulled over my
head. To this day my girlfriend shudders
at the memory. But it was important to
me as a comic. Certainly I’ve bombed
since then but not nearly as badly. It
still sucks, but it’s easier to deal with.
In any case, I learned a humbling lesson: I do care what the audience
thinks. Or, they don’t have to agree
with me or even like me, but they do need to pay attention to me.


Copperfields was my return to the stage after that debacle
and I had an epiphany- if the crowd didn’t care about me, I didn’t have to care
about them. I wasn’t getting paid, I had
absolutely no responsibility to anyone.
I could do what I liked, try new things, move around on stage more, try
new styles of delivery. I expected
little and got it and I was happy. I was
free. As a direct result, I never had a
bad time there.

Inexplicably, Copperfields added a second night every week
and I went then, too. It had earned a bad
reputation by then and a lot of the comedy community stayed away, which meant
even more stage time for those of us willing to deal with it. I learned that if a joke earned a chuckle
there, it would get an applause break at another club. For all of that and more, I am honestly
grateful that the club existed when it did.

At the time though, I don’t
think I yet appreciated it as a training ground to the extent that I do
now. Back then, I kept going out of pure
fascination, because I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. In fact, my opening line on that stage was,
“I love coming here because I always get surprised. On my way I think, ‘There’s no way it could
possibly be worse than the last time I was there,’ but somehow it is.” You might think that’s a shitty way to start
a show but it always worked because it was obvious to everyone there that this
was not quite what they’d expected a comedy club to be like.


There was a comic there almost
every night, let’s call her X. It seemed
like she was co-running the club, but if this was official it wasn’t
clear. What she lacked in ability to
entertain a crowd, she made up in enthusiasm, which created a very surreal
atmosphere. She was usually the first
act and joked that the reason she got so much stage time was because she was
sleeping with the host; once, a female comic asked her off stage if that was
true and X started to sob. A ukulele and
“ribald” songs were a significant part of her act, one night causing a comic
with plans for a UK tour to erupt in laughter.
The host mistook that for laughing with her, and after X was done he
introduced her to the comic. “You should
take her with you!” She beamed with
pride, he squirmed with discomfort.


There was the time, the only
time, a certain comic was there to headline.
He sat at the comics’ table at the back of the room with his head in his
hands, mouth and eyes wide open. When he
took the stage he addressed the six people in the crowd, “I’ve been here all
night and I have to ask- why are you here??”


There was the time two people
showed up, the only two people in the room other than comics. For the first time, I talked to someone from
stage, found out one of them was visiting from Gothenburg. “Let’s pretend you came all this way to see
me, okay?” I performed, essentially, to
an audience of one and we had a blast.


There was the time the bartender
gave me a beer on the house and said, “You’re the funniest one that shows up
here.” The same night I mocked the
Halloween decorations on the ceiling and the St. Pat’s decorations over the
bar- it was August- and he never spoke to me again.


There was the time a woman teaching
a comedy course brought her class to Copperfields for their first-ever
gig. I couldn’t imagine a more hellish
first time, but one of them was quite funny.
Maybe that was a good test after all.
I encouraged her and she stuck with standup for a while longer, which is
more than I can say for her classmates.


Since so few comics were asking to be part of the show, the
host added music to the bill. First half
comedy, second half open mic for music.
Which was fine, in theory, except the time I was up fourth and there was
a full house, a rare event, which was exciting.
Unfortunately, the first two comics still bombed. The third comic was more of a pro and
actually got the crowd going, so I was happy to follow him. Before I could, though, X walked up to
me. “There’s a band here playing in the
second half, they have drums in a car double-parked outside so they need to set
them up now.”

“Now?! But the crowd is finally warmed up!”

“They won’t take long.”

They took twenty minutes. Three college kids setting up an electronic
drum kit. The host went up and
ineffectually tried to improv and keep the crowd happy. X did the same, with the same result, playing
the same song she’d played fifteen minutes earlier. A couple of guys in the crowd doubled over
laughing, the same way that comic had done before, called her to their table
when she was done and asked if she could play that song just one more
time. She beamed with pride, went up on
stage and played it a third time. After
that, despite the kids not being done, I walked on stage. “Hi everyone!
I want to thank my backup band for taking so long, after my hour on
stage we’re going to have a huge climax.
They’re great guys but they don’t have much sense of TIMING OR KNOWING
liked seeing me vent bile on them and the kids got the point, scurrying off the


As time went on, the line between comedy and music vanished
and the nights got even more chaotic.
You might be third on the list to go on stage only to have the host
throw a musical act on instead. During a
season premiere, due to renovations in the main room we had to move the show to
a small corner upstairs. There was a
stage, albeit tiny, and a small crowd to match.
The host didn’t bother with a setlist for comics, leaving it up to us to
decide. Which we did, but he still threw
music acts on as he liked. Including an
opera singer who, shockingly, didn’t go over well, followed by a three-piece
band that wouldn’t leave the stage after they were done. This made the already small stage even
smaller, so we could barely move when we were up there. We could’ve sat on the snare kit. The drummer got the idea to do drum rolls for
random punchlines, which delighted a one-liner comic to no end (and by “delighted”
I mean he hated it).

When it was my turn I got heckled, which happens so rarely
that while I do hate it overall, I sort of appreciated it that night. I had mocked the crowd for having no pride in
Sweden, not knowing that the proudest woman in Sweden was there. She barked at me then and would later shout
out random words like “flag” and “Vasa Museum”.
I had fun beating her into submission.

The “comedy” portion of the show being over, we just
left. Which is kind of a shame, because
it turned out that the season premiere was also the club’s finale, and if I’d
known that then I would’ve stayed and had a few drinks in its honor. Copperfields, you were the worst of clubs and
the best of clubs. Thanks for the