Crackers closes, ending 40-year run as local stand-up comedy destination

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Crackers Comedy
The 207 N. Delaware St. location of Crackers Comedy Club opened in 2016. (IBJ photo/Dave Lindquist)

Crackers Comedy Club, a stand-up comedy brand that provided laughs at five different Indianapolis locations during the past 40 years, is permanently closed.

Owner Ruth-Anne Herber said Crackers, 207 N. Delaware St., won’t reopen following year-end performances by Indianapolis comedian Dwight Simmons because the business is unable to fulfill its rent commitments.

“I can’t work it out with my landlord,” she said.

The last of the Crackers sites opened in 2016. Herber leased space above India Garden restaurant from India Garden’s owner, Tony Mehra.

Expressing that she’s “crushed” about the comedy club’s demise, Herber said Crackers couldn’t overcome financial challenges associated with the pandemic, 2020’s protests for racial justice and recent road construction on Delaware Street.

Herber said Crackers received a Paycheck Protection Program loan in 2020. Later that year, a $25,000 Hospitality Establishment Lifeline Payment grant from the city protected Crackers from eviction.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand how much sacrifice goes into being a small business owner,” Herber said. “We don’t do this to get rich. It’s a passion for whatever it is you’re doing.”

The Cathedral High School alum said it’s disappointing to see independent businesses criticized during the pandemic.

“I promise you everybody is waking up and doing the best they can to get through this without losing their shirt, or their house,” Herber said.

Downtown competition for Crackers arrived in 2019, when Helium Comedy Club opened at 10 W. Georgia St. Helium, part of a national chain of stand-up venues, is known for presenting high-profile comedians. The local Helium has hosted acts such as Brian Regan, Jay Pharoah and Bob Saget, who died Sunday at age 65.

“People are gravitating to these big names,” Herber said of the modern stand-up landscape. “Everybody wants to hear the big-name comedians. Right now, it’s not easy for smaller venues to bring in big names. It costs quite a bit of money, and you have to sell a lot of tickets and a lot of merchandise to make a profit on that.”

Herber mentioned touring comedians Kevin Downey Jr. and James Johann as two Crackers favorites who deliver laughs even though they’re not household names.

She said she wasn’t interested in engaging Helium in an arms race of celebrity bookings.

“The only people who succeed at making money off that are the agents and the comedians themselves,” Herber said. “People are going to overpay for the talent, which trickles down to the consumer.”

Founded by Jim Schliebner and Susie Beiman in 1982, the original Crackers presented rising stars Jay Leno, Garry Shandling and Saget at 708 Broad Ripple Ave.

In 1984, Crackers moved to a spot at the Fashion Mall, 8702 Keystone Crossing.

In 1999, Crackers moved back to Broad Ripple, establishing an upstairs showroom at 6281 N. College Ave. Before that club closed in 2017, it hosted performances by acts such as Jim Gaffigan, D.L. Hughley, Marc Maron, Lisa Lampanelli and Daniel Tosh.

Also in 1999, a second Crackers opened at 247 S. Meridian St., launching a 16-year era in which two clubs operated simultaneously. The Meridian Street venue closed in 2015.

Herber, whose career arc at Crackers began with a waitress role and progressed to a promotion to general manager in 1999, said she plans to sell furnishings and equipment owned by Crackers.

In the meantime, she encouraged people to support independent business owners.

“If you have a favorite venue or a favorite restaurant, ask them if there’s something you can do to help them out,” Herber said.

Indianapolis comedian Jeff Bodart posted a note of appreciation for Crackers on social media.

“I learned how to be a comedian and how to develop material on those stages,” wrote Bodart, who made his Crackers debut in 2001. “(I) made so many friends, from staff to comics to fans.”

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14 thoughts on “Crackers closes, ending 40-year run as local stand-up comedy destination

    1. Spoken like someone that hasn’t been downtown since the Union Station Festival Marketplace closed.

      I enjoy the boom of new businesses and restaurants that have opened despite a raging Pandemic being fueled by “freedom” loving “it’s my choice” to get sick, die, and infect others, Republicans. Unfortunately that particular Republican strategy was really bad for a place that relies on crowds and audience energy to generate income.

    2. Downtown did suffer during the start of the pandemic, like every other place did. However, I would recommend maybe leaving your culdesac and go downtown to see the great businesses that have survived and the new ones that are bringing new and exciting things to the area. There are certainly some empty storefronts which I’m sure will be filled this year. I think the main reason Crackers closed was because of Helium, a better run comedy club that brought in big names and did not hand out free tickets to their shows. Instead of blindly complaining about something actually go see it for yourself.

    3. Imagine putting “freedom” in scare quotes and thinking you’re a respectable person.

      Then again, there are people gormless enough to think a pandemic with a 99.8% survival rate is “raging”, that only the unvaxxed spread COVID (even the legacy media has had to take a loss on that falsehood), and that the rate of openings exceeds that of closures, most of which was initially spawned by the June ’20, riots, which even a staid publication like IBJ is too cowardly to call by its actual name. Businesses don’t shutter or after protests, Dave L.

  1. I agree. Apart from the fact that retail is suffering as it is both in and out of the city. I’ve actually been surprised by all the new restaurants and hotels opening up downtown. Too bad Michael is too politically blind to see it.

    1. Sorry haven’t been by that area in a while and just now saw the updated article in the Indy star from the first of november. Looking forward to when that opens.

    2. I haven’t walked by in a while but I know the windows had the sugar factory signage all the way around the corner. I’m not sure if any construction is happening inside of it though.

  2. I suspect the WWWoC (Woke World’s War on Comedy) has something to do with this club’s declining revenue as well. Comedy clubs worked great when any and every person and any and every topic could be the subject of a joke. Good comedians were funny when they were spontaneous and unpredictable.

    Now, way too many comedians have to watch what they say at the risk of having themselves canceled and their careers destroyed by the distinctly humor-impaired totalitarians of the Woke Left. It’s why Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock won’t do college campuses anymore. It’s why people like Steven Colbert, who actually used to be funny, has morphed into a political hack dedicated to advancing a decidedly unfunny progressive party line.

    Dave Chappelle has the chops and the financial wherewithal to survive the Woke crowd’s attacks, so he can riff where the spirit takes him (in other words, he’s funny). But the typical comedian who would perform at Crackers doesn’t have that luxury.

    RIP Crackers. Indeed, increasingly, RIP comedy.

    1. James T. ~ As the father of a graduate of the Conservatory program at the Second City in Chicago and who does improv and sketch shows as well as stand-up comedy in Chicago’s best-known clubs, I can assure that you could not be more wrong.

  3. The opening of resteraunts isn’t indicative of vibrancy. I would argue it’s indicative of the low interest loans that have been available for quite some time. The hospitality and food service industries are ones that tend to canabalize. In sure they either won’t make it or others will close. You can’t sit here and argue that downtown is vibrant at the moment. Not compared to years past – and yes the downturn was noticeable before COVID hit. As someone who has an office downtown I see it everyday with my eyes. Considering most of the CBD is encompassed with a permanent TIF, and seemingly endless prop-up from the City, we really aren’t getting our monies worth.

    1. Murray R. ~ Like claims of “voter fraud,” without evidence to support your assertions I will remain skeptical.