It’s all funny business for the founder of Mizner Park Comedy Club
Entrepreneur Ben Leis is hoping to find some truth in the old adage that laughter is the best medicine. His initiative, Comic Cure, marries standup comics with local nonprofits that could use a boost. His formula is simple: Leis books the comics and selects the charities, which receive a portion of the ticket sales they create. If they sell more than 10 tickets, a representative from the charity can speak about their organization prior to the comedian’s performance, and promote their work with a booth outside the entrance.
Leis developed the idea in 2015 after a trip to Los Angeles to see his brother, professional comic Rich Leis. “I saw what he was doing, and became really inspired by the power and magic of comedy,” he recalls. “I thought, what if we used humor to provide hope and healing to a community? What if we used humor to bring them together and engage them around important topics that are going on in these communities, and bring in nonprofits to benefit from it?”
After years of embryonic performances in Brickell and Wynwood, Leis, a Boca resident, found the perfect space to take his project to the next level: the south room on the second floor of the Mizner Park Cultural Center. In November of last year, he transformed the underused function room into the cabaret-style Mizner Park Comedy Club.
Leis added tables, and removed the ones with lousy sightlines. He integrated oceanic blue lighting for atmosphere, and spruced up the décor with ferns. He festooned the tables with tea lights and Hershey’s Kisses for each performance. And, most importantly, he booked some very funny people, including a summer series this year of “America’s Got Talent” alumni, pairing them with nonprofits including the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, JARC and Tri-County Animal Rescue.
Comic Cure accomplishes more than monthly standup shows: Leis also hosts comedy classes and books comedians for private events. But it’s the comedy club that has cemented his place in the local entertainment scene. Judging by sellout performances all summer, he’s satisfying a sizable demand for laughs amid turbulent times.
1. Your organization has impressive credentials: You’d worked with 200 nonprofits and 2,000 comedians?
That’s our body of work. We’ve primarily been focused on South Florida and Los Angeles. We broke a record out there in L.A.—most comedians on a show. We had three comedians onstage at once, and each, in procession, told a one-liner joke. We’re not officially in Guinness, because we failed to meet one of their criteria points.
2. Why do you think comedians enjoy playing the Mizner Park Comedy Club?
Because it’s intimate. Usually comedians are performing in bars and not comedy clubs, where the comedy is secondary. Anytime a comedian can get onstage and all the energy is directed toward them, that is what comedians want. Comedians also [appreciate] communities or audiences interested in smart comedy. I think we’ve got smart audiences here in Boca.
3. Is there a certain type of comic you gravitate toward?
We gravitate toward what the audience is interested in. One of the first things we do when we enter a new market is do one of our festivals. We launched [last year] with the Mizner Park Comedy Festival and had about 20 comedians performing that night. What we found repeatedly is that audiences gravitated toward clean, smart comedy, with a little bit of edge. That is what we’ve been booking around.
4. Because you have this refurbished room, do you hope to utilize it more often than once a month?
For sure. We want to add more shows, different formats. We want to get into game shows, I want to bring in comedic authors, humorists. I want to start building out festivals where we’re doing author events, workshops. We teach comedy, too, and we’ve had a great response from people interested in learning standup.
5. What are the main points that your instructors drive home to comedians?
One is joke structure. People like to get up and just ramble, but there is a formula to writing jokes. The next thing is point of view: What is unique about your life that’s different from all other comedians? The third is practice, and adding in performance techniques.