New ComedySportz ‘arena’ to open this weekend

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ComedySportz fans should get ready for a fresh experience as the 20-year-old improv comedy group opens its new space this weekend at 420 S. 1st St. in the Walker’s Point neighborhood.

The building, the location of a J.C. Licht Co. paint store, is easier to find and can hold more people than the previous location at 126 N. Jefferson St. in the Historic Third Ward, said ComedySportz Milwaukee founder Dick Chudnow.

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The new bar will seat 100 people, nearly twice as many as the old location. Chudnow said he expects the nightlife aspect of ComedySportz to be enhanced by the new location, because so many bars and restaurants are nearby. The banquet hall, which will be used for bachelorette parties, birthday parties, corporate meetings, team-building and improvisation workshops will seat 180.

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"One of the main challenges has been having to upgrade everything," Chudnow said.

The new theater was built in a vacant warehouse space behind the J.C. Licht paint store, which will remain in the front of the building. An old boiler room was transformed into a kitchen for ComedySportz.

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"There was lots of concrete to be removed," said Fred Stier, president and chief executive officer of Stier Construction Co., the general contractor for the project.

"Whenever you have an existing building, it’s a challenge to have to work with what’s given you," said Bruce Wydeven, the project’s architect. "It also is an opportunity."

Wydeven said he has tried to expose as much of the existing structure as possible, giving the theater the look of an old sports venue, like County Stadium.

"We tried to expose a lot of the existing steel tresses in the roof and brick in the exterior," he said. Wydeven said he also tried to open up the ceiling as much as possible.

While Stier has built theaters before, he said he has never constructed a theater intended to look like a sports arena.

"The stands are almost the same type you would have at a Brewers’ stadium," Stier said. The stage gives the impression of a baseball field, dugout and all.

"People will be right on top of the show," Stier said.

"It looks wonderful," Chudnow said to a worker building the ticket booth at the front lobby, which uses the curves of the arena to its advantage.

Workers painting, hammering and moving surrounded Chudnow as he walked through the new building equipped in a hard hat.

"I don’t know anything about construction," Chudnow said. But he has remained quite involved with the process. He has been at the site every day from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Chudnow said the move has brought a great deal of excitement, and some stress.

"When you move, it’s always a crapshoot," he said.

Yet, Stier Construction Co.’s flexibility has eased his stress, and Chudnow said he is very happy with the work the builders have done.

"It has been some design as you go," Stier said.

One recent addition was a door with a sign which says "Complaint Department," Stier said. When people open the door, there will be a brick wall behind it – a door that leads to nowhere.

"They keep thinking of more funny and entertaining ideas," Stier said.

"It’s a really neat project," he said. "You don’t get a lot of these in your career."

In addition to the complaint department, a large video screen will be placed in the theater, and fun-house style mirrors sit in the lobby to entertain fans waiting for a show to begin.

"The lighting and sound system will be much better," Stier said.

Some of the chairs will be toilet seats.

"And you won’t even have to get up to go to the bathroom," Chudnow joked.

ComedySportz is changing more than its building. It also is altering its routine.

Some modifications include shorter introductions by the referee and more games.

However, of all the changes, Chudnow said, one addition is very important to him.

"We have the only whoopi cushion dispenser in the world," he said.

Chudnow and Stier said the building will be ready this weekend, in time for the ComedySportz World Championship, which will take place Aug. 4-7. Fans can call the box office at (414) 272-8888 for show times.

July 23, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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