Every few months, when former local comedy legend Kevin Ferguson is out for dinner with his wife, a fan will stop by the table and ask why he doesn't just reopen the Snickerz comedy club.
Happy in retirement, Ferguson just shrugs his shoulders, laughs and shares a memory or two.
Most people fondly remember the club at 5535 St. Joe Road in the Marketplace of Canterbury. From 1986 to 2015, it was a place to enjoy a cold drink and watch in-person comedians, including big-name greats such as Steve Harvey, Tim Allen and Drew Carey.
It was also the home of Ferguson's television show “Night Shift” for almost 30 years before he decided it was finally time to take his wife on a real vacation.
But now when people ask him about reopening the club, he can tell them about the Summit City Comedy Club, which opened at the end of last month in the same location. Steve Rannazzisi of FX's “The League” was the headliner, performing in front of a packed house.
The club is now owned by Bark Entertainment. Bark stands for Bree, Adam, Renee and Kevin. Adam is former touring stand-up comic Adam Norwest, who is the managing member. The others are his wife, Bree, and parents, Renee and Kevin.
During his own stand-up career, Norwest actually performed at Snickerz a couple of times before he left the constant travel behind to initiate the family business.
“It was always one of the most fun audiences,” he recalled. “The audiences were always ready to laugh and have a good time. Comedians don't ask for a lot – a stage, a microphone and some lights and then a good audience – and Fort Wayne always provided that for me. Snickerz always had a great reputation as a fun place to perform.”
Because of Norwest's friends from the road and those he's worked with in the family's other clubs, Norwest has booked some stellar talent for the new club. Bigger names include Jay Mohr, Jason Mewes, Damon Wayans Jr. and Steve-O, all appearing over the next two months. Most comedians he's signed up have appeared on HBO, Netflix or Comedy Central specials.
Norwest is already booking 10 months out.
“The bigger thing is just in building the relationships with comedians,” Norwest said. “They only have so many weeks a year that they want to work. If they know your club is going to treat them right, they're happy to work with you.”
In addition to Fort Wayne, Norwest and his family own clubs in Tacoma and Spokane, Washington; Appleton, Wisconsin; and Oklahoma City; with another club opening soon in Louisville.
Though the structure is the same, the building has a new design. For several months, Bark Entertainment gutted the club and started over with a new color scheme and sound system, plus new flooring and seating. Even the outside has been repainted and now features pictures of deceased comedy legends like George Carlin, Johnny Carson and Lucille Ball.
“It's always exciting to do something new and start from the ground up,” said Bark Regional Manager Alaina Pruyne. “I know this used to be a club a few years ago, and I'm sure there's a lot of locals who are excited for that to be back. Plus, comedy is always something new, and there's always something exciting going on.”
Norwest hasn't worried about opening a new comedy club in the middle of a pandemic. He said the other clubs have survived during COVID-19 and he's sure Fort Wayne will as well. People are eager to get out and relax and laugh, he said.
“We have a business model that we've seen work, so we trust in that and believe in that,” Norwest said. “In a way, it's one weekend at a time, and in a way, it's one year out. We're here to stay. We purchased the building, so we're not planning on going anywhere. I'm excited to take (Kevin Ferguson's) legacy and build on it with our own.”
Ferguson said he's just going to be a customer now, but he's looking forward to having a few laughs with old friends and new ones.
“It's going to be really something, and I'm really happy for them,” he said.
If you go
What: Summit City Comedy Club
Where: 5535 St. Joe Road
For information: summitcitycomedy.com
• Jason Mewes, Thursday through Saturday • Steve O, Jan. 17 • Damon Wayans Jr., Jan. 21-23 • Josh Firestine, Jan. 27 • Jay Mohr, Jan. 28 and 29