They say that laughter is the best medicine.
For Sag Harbor native and comedian Joe Winchell, laughter has become an integral part of his career. During the better part of the last decade, Winchell’s traveled west extensively, sometimes well into Nassau County and beyond, to practice and perform his craft. And while he’s done dozens of sets at several comedy clubs across the island, most notably the Governor’s clubs in Bellmore, Bohemia and Levittown, a new one closer to home just recently opened up.
Sticks and Stones Comedy Club debuted a little less than a month ago, as the first Hamptons-based comedy club in over 30 years.
“You know, I think people get tired of going to the same places over and over,” Winchell says of the East End entertainment scene. “This a really great thing and I think it’ll do very well.”
Operating out of the Southampton Cultural Center next to Lake Agawam, the comedy club is the brainchild of two producers and friends for over 25 years: Abby Russell and Lynn Kaplan. According to Russell, Southampton was a thriving comedic hot spot back in the 1980s, when the hamlet’s East End Comedy Club played host to some of the great humorists of the era. “Judd Apatow would come visit the club all the time back then when he was a teenager because his mom was waitressing there,” says Russell. “It definitely saw some very interesting folks come through.”
At Sticks and Stones, Russell will continue that tradition, bringing in some familiar names from the comedic world sure to create a positive buzz along with some lesser-known comics, like Winchell, trying to get their foot in the door.
During opening weekend which featured comics Carmen Lynch and Jordan Rock, Winchel hosted both nights and is optimistic about new locale’s future. “I like hosting,” he says. “People tend to pay attention to the first one out, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to be the first one on this stage.”
For club owner Russell, it’s all about creating a sense of community for residents across the South Fork. “I’ve always had a strong connection to the arts scene out here,” she says, noting she originally started coming to the East End to visit her grandparents’ at their Water Mill house, which she now lives in, every summer while she was growing up.
No stranger to the comedy world, Russell and club producer Kaplan’s respective resumés include plenty of noteworthy gigs. While Russell created the HBO-sponsored Hamptons Comedy Festival back in 2000, Kaplan worked on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, “8,000 years ago,” Kaplan says. And although they’ve known each other teetering close to three decades, “I’m still not totally sure how we met,” Kaplan says of Russell, “but we’ve always wanted to work together.” It was during the pair’s over-the-phone conversations while in quarantine that the idea for Sticks and Stones was ultimately born.
“The intention wasn’t to start a comedy club,” Russell says. “But during the pandemic, I kept thinking ‘God, I wanna go out!.’ I love to laugh, I mean who doesn’t? And I’ve always loved comics, so I thought, ‘Maybe there could be another comedy club out here.’”
Russell was in talks with SCC to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Hamptons Comedy Festival, and although Covid put the kabash on the celebration, it planted the seed for the location.
“I had a relationship already with Kirsten Lonnie, their executive director,” she says. “She’s all about the arts so it ended up being a really good fit.”
It’s a good fit for Winchell too, who’s been riding the proverbial wave of life as a stand-up comic. “It takes a while to find your voice in comedy,” he says, noting the nominal pay, trying to gauge the pulse of a crowd, and just getting to the venue in general. According to Winchell, the theater space at SCC includes top of the line sound systems, high-tech lighting, and a stage where the people on it are at eye level with the audience. “It’s fantastic,” he says.
Over the next couple of weeks, Sticks and Stones will host comedians Eddie Pepitone and JT Habersaat (Tuesday, August 8), Tom Cotter and Kerri Louise (Thursday, August 10), and Liz Miele and Maria Shehata (Tuesday, August 15). Tickets start at $35. All shows are 21+. There will be at least two shows each week well into September, according to Russell and the comedy club is slated to be opened year-round. Performances start at 7 p.m. and doors open an hour beforehand. Farm-to-table bites will be available from Hen of the Woods Market with drinks by The Club House. For more information, call 917-855-4828.
Sticks and Stones Comedy Club is located within the Southampton Cultural Center, located at 25 Pond Lane in Southampton.