In 2008, The Parlor in Bellevue’s Lincoln Square transitioned from a place to grab a bite and shoot some pool to the beginnings of the region’s premier comedy club.
Since that transition, Reuben Buck, The Parlor’s booking agent, has been the man responsible for filling out the calendar and making sure the venue is filled with a steady stream of laughs.
“Comedy club booking agent” is such a rare profession that one may wonder how someone like Buck could possibly find himself in the career field of scheduling comedic talent.
Buck got a degree in marketing and advertising and a second degree in industrial psychology — more commonly known as business psychology — from Texas State University in 1988 and didn’t waste any time getting his boots on the ground.
A mere two days after graduation, Buck journeyed to Europe, where he began working for the United Service Organizations (USO), a nonprofit that provides live entertainment to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.
“(At first, I) started with marketing and then (I transitioned into doing) shows, bringing acts over for our troops,” Buck recalled. “From there I went to work for companies like Heineken and Miller Brewing over there. I was bringing all these comic acts; this was the early ’90s during the Def Jam comedy days.”
Five years after he returned to the states in 2000, Buck began his career at The Parlor much the same way he did at the USO: as a marketing consultant. From there, Buck helped to grow the venue from a downtown Bellevue watering hole to a premier comedy club hosting more than 70,000 annual patrons.
425 Business sat down with Buck to find out what goes into his unusual line of work.
Q: What are the nuts and bolts of The Parlor’s comedy shows?
A: We’re the biggest A-list room in the Northwest; everybody on our roster is relevant. Last year we did over 70 separate shows, and some of those shows have five or six show runs, so we do over 300 shows a year. We have shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — one show Thursday and two shows Friday and Saturday. There are generally three acts: The first is the Host, the person who warms up the crowd; they’re usually local, and they do five to 10 minutes. Then there’s the Feature, the opener. Sometimes they come with the headliner, or we may have to find a local comic. They do 20 minutes. Last comes the Headliner, who does 45 minutes to an hour.
Q: What is your greatest fear in your job? Hiring someone who doesn’t make people laugh?
A: A lot of our performers are pretty big celebrities, brought in from out of town — New York, L.A., or Chicago — so sometimes they have obligations like filming or a TV show, so my greatest fear is that someone big — and this has happened now and then — will have to cancel at the last minute because of their overriding obligation.
Q: Can you recall a time when this has occurred?
A: One time we had a comic here over a weekend while he had a movie coming out. He did his first show Thursday night, flew back to L.A., did a premiere Friday afternoon, then flew back up here Friday night for his next show. It was nuts. So (it can be) risky. We actually tracked his flight. He eventually went on about an hour late, but he made it.
Q: Have you ever had a performer who just bombed on stage? If so, what did you learn from that experience?
A: Oh yeah, sometimes. What I have learned is that just because someone is famous doesn’t mean they’re going to kill. They may create some ticket sales, but they still have to win over the audience, they have to perform, they just can’t wing it. I can be standing in the wings, getting a bad feeling that things are not going well, and I immediately have to figure out how to triage the show.
Q: How do you continuously discover a never-ending stream of comedy acts to fill the Parlor’s calendar?
A: I go to a lot of comedy festivals to see who’s up and coming. I just can’t watch videos all the time; it doesn’t work; there’s just too much to do. A lot of times other comics will tell me who I should look at. They’re pretty tight, most of them, so they look out for each other.
We had one person cancel, and I had to fill the spot with three days’ notice, and the guy (who) stepped in was Kevin Hart. When you’re booking talent, it’s not like you have a menu that you just order off of when you need to fill a date. I can call agencies and ask for their heavy hitters all day long, but so is everyone else. They have new people they want to introduce, and I want to show new comics, too, so it’s a give and take.
Q: It seems like after a while you would become completely inured to jokes. Do you find that you’ve become numb to it?
A: I can tell if they’re not funny. On the flip side, sometimes you can just get a feeling that, oh boy, this guy’s going to be big. For example, a comic I’d been following for a few years, Nate Bargatze — I knew he had something.
Q: Have you noticed any sort of odd behavior with comics?
A: We’ll get someone who’s been on a very popular TV show or movie, and the audience will only want them to say their catch phrase. Then we have comics who got famous because of a show, but they don’t want to talk about it. They get mad if it’s brought up, and I always thought that was the weirdest thing. Comics are pretty neurotic. I could write a book about that.