A slew of comedy clubs went under during the pandemic. Teehee's in Des Moines is one that survived, benefiting everyone.

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Sid Juwarker might be one of the unluckiest men in Iowa.

Why? Well, Sid decided to open a comedy club in 2019. Which is awesome. Des Moines needed an independent comedy club. Unfortunately, 2019 was right before something big happened.

What was it again? Oh, right: the pandemic.

Sid sunk everything he had into getting his club up and running, only to watch as the world shut down around him.

Through force of will, however, Sid was able to do what many established businesses couldn’t: survive the mess COVID gave the world.

Two years later, as everything normalized, a grateful city applauded Sid’s efforts as he earned his early retirement from comedy club ownership and sold Teehee’s Comedy Club to one of its partners, AJ Simmons.

AJ and Sid met on the comedy scene in Des Moines; they were both performers.

As AJ was a graphic designer by trade, he was recruited to name and design Sid’s dream club. Then, he contributed to the room creatively for about a year before being offered a stake in the business.

In March 2022, when an exhausted Sid decided to move on, AJ took the reins.

To keep comedy alive in Des Moines, AJ has a multi-pronged approach, starting with local talent.

“The local scene is everything to me,” AJ says. “Des Moines is very fertile soil for anyone looking to try something new, and creative.”

AJ recognizes something that comedy-strong cities like New York and Chicago figured out years ago: you are nothing without your local comics.

AJ recognizes something that comedy-strong cities like New York and Chicago figured out years ago: you are nothing without your local comics. While many clubs focus on the “As seen on” comedians—those who only have a TV credit to their name—AJ understands that the only way a comedian gets good is through attrition.

Comedians can’t learn their craft if they have nowhere to perform.

Thus, instead of only offering professional shows on Friday/Saturday, Teehee’s has two nights of open microphone shows. On Wednesday, anyone interested in taking a stab at stand-up comedy can sign up and sling their thoughts into a microphone. On Thursday, established comics will be able to try out their newest jokes.

All this is being done in order to establish Teehee’s as a place comedians feel comfortable. Added to that is an understanding of how to grow a reputation and maintain a business.

This is an oversimplification, but there are two kinds of comedy clubs out there: the “As Seen On,” and “Trust us.”

The “As seen on” clubs cater to the people who have been on TV. No TV credit? You can’t play the room. They believe audiences want outside verification that the person they’re seeing is funny.

AJ is interested in the “Trust us” approach.

That’s where the club itself becomes known for bringing in great talent, whether or not you recognize the name.

“There are very talented people working all over the country that don’t have Netflix specials yet,” AJ says. “But who probably deserve them as much as anyone.”

So right off the bat you have four nights the business is open: traditional shows on the weekend, and open two open microphones during the week.

But it doesn’t end there.

AJ still has rent to pay, so the doors have to be open. Monday nights will be a traditional “Service Industry” night. The bar will be open, but instead of performers on stage, board games and drink specials will entice people inside.

Sunday will eventually have the occasional improv show. At the moment improv groups practice their craft on that night.

Bad Bitch Bingo will take place two Tuesdays of every month, the brainchild of Des Moines comedian Sarah Mattox. She runs the show while the room plays music and movies in the background.

Teehee’s will also host No Shame Theater once a month. It’s an open mic, but not for stand-up comedians.

“There are musicians, burlesque performers, magicians, jugglers, drag performers, and basically everything you can think of that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of stand-up comedy,” AJ explained.

As has been noted in previous “Keeping Comedy Alive” entries, all this action is key to bringing in money on “off” nights. By offering a variety of offerings to people looking to get off the couch, AJ is doing what he can to entice people to enter his doors.

One final twist: instead of having your standard comedy club bar, AJ put local brewpub Firetrucker Brewery in charge of the libations side of things. Their motto is, “Beer is art,” meaning you won’t be getting watered-down, mass-produced sludge to sip between laughs.

All in all, AJ is doing all he can to make Iowa a comedic force to be reckoned with.

nathan timmel

Not as edgy as Clinton, but livelier than Nixon, nathan is a stand-up comedian who has performed in venues across the U.S. and for American troops serving overseas. He is also the author of the vigilante...