A raucous, jovial crowd cackling to the delight of local and touring comedians — it’s Giggles comedy night at the Glen Tavern Inn and the place is packed. Most of the crowd is seated in rows of chairs, while a few scattered others mill about near the back, clinking beers. They range in age from 30-somethings to a notable 81-year-old local. And they seem to have come to let off some steam on a warm Friday night.
Probably better-known for its ghost-filled history, thanks to the Travel Channel show Ghost Adventures, the former speakeasy and Hollywood getaway is a choice locale for Ventura County’s most intimate comedy night. Most comedy in the area is performed at clubs with expansive stages and drink minimums. Giggles, however, which moved to Glen Tavern Inn last year after a brief stint at another location, is unique in its approach and, hence, in its venue.
The crowd is friendly, and almost everyone seems to know each other. As the night’s creator and emcee, comedian-actor Tom McClain, 44, explains, “I wanted to do something for Santa Paula. It’s a cool town; we wanted to do something that makes it more of a destination, but also adds something for locals to do.”
“Every show has drop-ins from national headliners you’d see on the marquees of clubs all over the country,” he adds. And yet, by design, the night costs just $5-10.
McClain is a family man with a 14-year career in comedy. The Sacramento native joined the military in his late teens, then later worked at a homeless shelter for kids, where he had a natural rapport with them, he says. He explains that he had a lucky start to his career in comedy, first hitting clubs in Sacramento and San Francisco and booking weekly shows almost immediately. Seven years back, he and his wife moved to Santa Paula, where they put down roots and had two kids.
McClain, who last year joined the “KVTA Morning Show” on News Talk 1590 KVTA as a sports commentator, says that he and his family love living in Ventura County. He wanted to blend his comedy life — which often took him out on the road — with his life in town, which is what led to the monthly Friday night event Giggles.
He says he wouldn’t be able to do Giggles without people like his front-door guy, Jim Eaton, and his aforementioned 81-year-old friend Mike Weiner, a Korean War veteran who passes out fliers around town and comes to every show.
At a recent sold-out show, locals like Weiner came out in droves, and packed the 100-person room. While there are about 40 regulars and many others who hear about it thanks to McClain’s mentions of it on the radio show, McClain says one of the most memorable nights he’s had was actually the smallest turnout of just 20 late last year. The comedian and character actor John DiResta (Miss Congeniality) performed and gave one of the best comedy sets McClain says he’d ever encountered, despite the relatively diminutive crowd size.
“That was the night when I realized there was something really magical about this venue,” says McClain. “It started out disappointing because we didn’t have the crowd size we wanted, but he just destroyed, and it was a lesson. Everyone that was there knew they were part of something special.”
DiResta now drops in occasionally, as do others such as Tom McGillen (Joe Dirt), Joey Gaynor (Unsolved Mysteries: Ghosts of the Comedy Store) and Bruce Baum (The Simpsons).
It’s clearly a labor of love for McClain and his crew. “You can do the math. When you look at our price point, it’s not a huge budget — but these comedians are coming out for a fraction of what they would anywhere else and it’s kind of crazy because it’s really out of the way for them.” Comics wanting to play Giggles hit him up on an almost daily basis, thanks to good word of mouth.
“I want to make sure every show is good because I want everyone to say, ‘At least that’s an option.’ I want you to come back, I want you to see it’s a worthwhile thing.”
Giggles takes place monthly at the Glen Tavern Inn, 134 N. Mill St., Santa Paula. The next show will be on Friday, July 7, and feature Bruce Baum and Blake Clark. For more information call 933-5550; tickets are currently available at the front desk.