The world of comedy is a rough and tumble one. It’s a highly competitive environment, one that can make or break people quickly. Few comics are willing or interested in tackling the additional challenge of running a business, but that’s precisely what East Nashville comic Da’Herm has been doing for the past five-plus months.
He’s operating the Out East Comedy Club located at Jerry’s Corner Store on Gallatin Avenue. But for Da’Herm, a 28-year-old lifelong East Nashville resident, Out East represents the culmination of a dream, and his chance both to help others and give back to the community.
“This place (a two-floor building on the other side of the store) isn’t something I really ever envisioned growing up,” says Herm. “It’s not like I grew up surrounded by business people or entertainers. It’s also not like I came up in wealth, though my family members worked hard. But I had a knack for telling stories and a personality that people would say was funny. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a natural comic, but I know I’ve been observing people and then putting what I see into stories for many years.
“I’ve been in this business for 10 years,” he continues. “I’ve lived here all my life, grew up around this area. I always knew I wanted to be in comedy, but coming up and getting started the thing I would always hear is there’s no places for people like me to work. The comedy game is kind of strange sometimes. You’ve got people who aren’t comfortable with political comics, or Black comics, or urban comics, or however they want to describe it.
“So when I got the chance to get this place, I decided I wanted to make it both a special place and also one where everyone would be welcome. Considering the history of this spot [once home to Vengeance, a gym known to be frequented by White Supremacists], I thought, ‘man wouldn’t that be a kick, to turn this into a comedy club owned by a young Black man.‘ But at the same time, I didn’t want anyone to think that it was only or exclusively for Black people. So I kind of mixed things up. I invited Black businesses and vendors to have booths here, but I’ve also made the open mic nights 100-percent open. Anyone who thinks they can cut it is invited to come.”
Yet, unfortunately, that perception was one he had to battle in the beginning. “There was a management agency that came to the club and saw me perform and they really liked it,” says Da’Herm. “But then they were a bit concerned because I said I was interested in having Black businesses be vendors here. They took that to mean I was only interested in having Black businesses here and then by extension only Black acts. I quickly got that straightened out.
“We are open to all businesses, but we want to encourage Black ones to utilize our site. One of the things that I want to combat is this idea that there’s so much difference between people. I think offering Black businesses some space, but also being open to comedians of all styles and types — it can help unify the community.”
Da’Herm notes that during the open mic nights, as well as upcoming performances that will feature on a monthly basis such acts as comedian J. McNutt, the club will be laid out in such a way that social distancing will be observed. “We’re taking all precautions to make sure things are safe,” he adds. “We wear masks and ask that the audience do the same. We have plenty of hand sanitizers available, and we sanitize and constantly clean the microphones after every performance.”
In addition, Out East is doing many other things aside from its open mic nights. They’ve reached out to the spoken word community, and now there are frequently spoken word events on the first half of Tuesday nights, followed by open mic. He holds bingo tournaments and events there, a variety of other things on Thursdays, and then the main events throughout the weekends that include everything from roast shows to stand-up presentations, improv shows, karaoke and comedy combinations, zoom and livestream shows, clubhouse nights, and any other concepts he can envision and/or logistically host.
Another thing that sets Out East apart from its competitors is a focus on children’s comedy. Since its inception, Out East has hosted a kids’ night on Sundays. “That’s a way for kids to build up their skills, get confidence on stage and also prepare some of the stars of the future,” Da’Herm adds. “Hey if they’re good enough we can even book them for the adult shows as well. It was very important when I was starting out to get the chance to show what I could do, and that’s part of this club’s mission now, to let the light shine on young people and also on comedians all over the city and region who might not otherwise get the chance to develop their acts in front of a live audience.”
When asked about his influences, Da’Herm points to some familiar names. “Dave Chappelle, Chris Tucker, Bill Burke, Chris Rock, Kat Williams, Mike Epps — these are some of the people who I’ve always admired and whom I really respect as comics. But I have to give a big shoutout to a couple of people in terms of helping me get started. “AG” (Anthony Granderson) and “Black Rob” (Robert Higgins) really gave me a boost and a start in the business. They’ve been my mentors and my examples for what to do in terms of running a business and of how to help others.”
Da’Herm also sees comedy as a window into bridging gaps and helping minimize conflicts and misunderstandings. “One thing is you can really talk to people about anything, any kind of issue, if you can make them laugh,” he says. “I’ve seen it where you can be really getting into some truly controversial content, but if you present it the right way and people find it funny, they also are willing to hear what you’re saying. I’ve never really viewed myself as strictly or mostly a political type comic. I just tell the truth and tell people stories and things that I see and try to make them laugh, but also at the same time it makes them think.”
Operating Out East six nights a week and doubling as the club’s primary booker, Da’Herm acknowledges that he doesn’t really have much spare time. But he’s hardly complaining about that, and in fact, welcomes the extra load. He even has ambitious plans for the future in regards to expansion.
“Maybe it’s a wild goal, but I really want someday to build an empire of comedy clubs nationwide, have different places so any comic — no matter their age, race, gender, whatever — will have a place where they can work and feel free to express themselves through comedy. You can be a clean comic or use profanity, you can talk about real situations or invent stories, just be able to deliver your jokes and be funny. I really don’t have any formulas for how to do it, because I don’t think there’s anyone way to be a good comic. But I know if you believe in yourself and your material and you keep plugging away that you can succeed.”
It was brought to our attention after the print edition had gone to press that Growhouse Method occupied the space in the interim between Vengeance and Out East, and we would like to emphasize this with the following clarification:
In a statement, Growhouse Method wishes to make clear that, “Our business is EXTREMELY inclusive and always has beautiful spirits from all walks of life at our events“ and in no way do they support white supremacy.
Out East Comedy Club
(located at Jerry’s Corner Store)
1401 Gallatin Ave., Unit B
Nashville, TN 37206