The first ever Big Terrific, June 5th, 2008. (Photo by Steph Goralnick)

In 2008 I started going to the Big Terrific comedy shows, hosted by Max Silvestri, Gabe Liedman, and Jenny Slate. The shows were free, fun, and close to where I lived—originally taking place at SoundFix, and later moving to Cameo in Williamsburg. Both venues were too small for even the first night's crowd, but that intimacy made it feel even more special.

The first email announcement was sent from Max—it said, in part: "Starting this week Gabe and Jenny and I are going to be hosting together... Every Thursday night at 8 p.m. you can count on amazing comedy in Williamsburg. Please come join us for our inaugural show this Thursday, June 5th."

Every week there was another, often-lengthy and amusing announcement, with a new lineup of guests. Kristen Schaal, Fred Armisen, Todd Barry, John Mulaney, Hannibal Burress, Reggie Watts, Tig Notaro, Chelsea Peretti, Jessi Klein, and Eugene Mirman were amongst the first year's guests. In the years following, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, and Aziz Ansari—who dropped by frequently, including one night before his big show at Madison Square Garden—would all take the stage.

In early 2009, Big Terrific had moved to Cameo, where it remained until last night, the last show at the venue. Louis C.K. showed up.

This Sunday there will be two much-less-intimate final shows at Warsaw in Greenpoint. Below, Max, Jenny, comedians who have performed at their show, bartenders who have served drinks to the crowd, producers, bookers, and attendees tells us about their memories.

Jenny Slate: I have (obviously) many memories of Big Terrific. Big Terrific is not only responsible for the development of my entire identity as a performer, but it was an environment that was all about trust and fun. It nurtured me, it nurtured my friendships with Gabe and Max and many others, and it nurtured my drinking capabilities. It really, really deepened me as a drinker? Is that sad to say? I loved drinking after the show. I loved the feeling of relief that my set was done, that we'd done something that takes focus and energy and a lot of real emotion. It felt like a real workout. I loved drinking with these friends who I knew would protect me and love me, and who I had one more reason to newly admire because they were just so great onstage at every show. You'd come in loving them, and walk out being obsessed with them, being humbled by their talent and their style.

Unless I'm wrong, I'm pretty sure that one night after the show when we were all sitting around, Max played the entire movie of "Paul Blart, Mall Cop" on the projector. He muted it and added the words "PAUL FART MALL FART" over the screen, so that's really what we all saw. It was truly the funniest thing to me, just so immature and so smart at once. Like, he really had to put in the time to get that together, and I think it was worth it.

Gabe Liedman and I had some pretty great "Cindy McCain is a terrifying woman" material for a while. We also used to do a bit where I fake-barfed on his back and he fake-barfed on my boobs. That's one I will miss for sure. But then again, it's just THIS show that's run it's course. I'm sure we'll all be back onstage together soon, and if I know anything about the patterns in MY life, I'm sure someone will barf on my titties again too. Time is a gross, perverted circle, like an anus. That's what they say, right?

Max Silvestri: I think Gabe and Jenny disagree which one of them came up with the name but I’m almost positive Gabe did. We wanted something positive and vague and easy to Google. I did not come up with the name. I do remember that we were at Spitzer’s Corner and eating their fries. Their fries rule.

SoundFix Lounge was an intimidatingly pretty place to do comedy. It had all original moldings and this insanely long beautiful bar. Also, it was gorgeously lit, the audience too. It made for great pictures.

It was bright and warm and inviting, and that the performers could see the audience and the audience could see each other absolutely enhanced the vibe we wanted from the show, which is that it was like a party that everyone was invited to and on equal footing at. Lots of our friends had this unfair notion of what a stand-up show was, which is that if you sat in the front the comedian was gonna pick on you and talk about how your shirt was dumb or whatever. I think people quickly figured out that wasn’t our vibe.

One of my favorite things about both SoundFix and Cameo was that they didn’t have real back stages, or back entrances. Now, that probably annoyed lots of fancy, busy performers who would prefer to not get mobbed and to quietly slip on and then off stage. When Sarah Silverman did it back at SoundFix it was so packed we had to give her a hand and have her climb over the bar. But it also meant that the audience could always see us, the hosts, watching. And we only booked people we loved to watch so it made me very happy to basically get to be an audience member for the 75% of the show, standing or sitting at the side and watching my favorite people.

Early on, Patrick Borelli staged the sixth season of the Wire. Rather than at the docks or the schools or wherever, season 6 was set at a zoo, and he edited a new title sequence that had that Tom Waits song and footage from Baltimore but also footage of zoo animals. And he had all the performers play different people from the Wire and also the zoo. It was great.

Cameo was originally meant to be more of an actual gallery when they opened, with live shows and also art on the walls, but I’m sure they changed their minds after the first dance party where some young artist’s work was covered in sweat and nosebleeds. But they left this giant installation over the stage, kind of a giant arrowhead of crinkled white paper.

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(Photo via mways flickr)

We were so bad at documenting anything about the show, but I honestly wish we somehow could have saved all the jokes comedians made about that when they walked on stage. For the first 3 or 4 years in Cameo, almost every comedian referenced it. It was the easiest icebreaker with a slightly judgey Williamsburg crowd. “Wizard pubes!” Whatever. It became such a thing that most comics realized everything had been done to death, and it would be funny that somebody new would do the show for the first time, an LA comic, and make a well-crafted joke about it, and the crowd would be like, “Yeah, sure, whatever.”

One time, David Rees performed on the show; he’s already a very tall man but he stood on the stool and did his entire set completely immersed it in the art whiskers. The audience could really only see his crotch. The other thing about them never taking it down is that it got closer and closer to the stage. Originally, the paper was sort of twisted, but humidity and everything else made it uncrinkle and get about 5 inches lower. Many sets by tall comics were derailed because static made the paper stick to their heads.

Cameo renovated the place a few years into our run and the room got a lot better. They were getting slammed with noise complaints. That’s why SoundFix closed down, too. A very influential Polish woman lived a few doors down and called multiple times a day. At that point SoundFix was only booking comedy and occasionally the quietest acoustic band at like 6 p.m. Literally the twee-est mellowest music imaginable, like a waif-ish little singer whispering, “moonlight” into a rolled up piece of paper, and the Polish lady would still call. Whatever, she’d lived there longer. If I were her I’d complain. Even if the music or comedy isn’t disruptive, imagine trying to go to bed and overhearing the small talk of drunken 20-somethings in Williamsburg while they smoke cigarettes? “And it’s like, if you don’t support me going back to Toronto to restart my PhD, why do we even host this dinner party series?” I’m on her side.

The irony of Cameo’s noise complaints was that they mostly came from a very famous comedian and actor who lived directly behind the venue. Even comedians need to sleep.

Putting on a weekly a show for years and years is a chore, but Gabe and Jenny are my best friends and showing up every week just trying to make them laugh on the side of the stage was an absolute joy. We probably all absorbed too much of each other’s comedy and cadence and now sometimes I’ll talk in a way where I’m not sure who started doing it first.

Time passes, and everyone gets better and everyone moves to LA, but it was always such a satisfying thing to have a friend who was hilarious move away and then come back to do the show and realize holy shit, they are a force. Like, their fanbases would be packing out the show when only a few years ago they were just anybody popping up to do a spot. I am taking no credit for any of it, they were already amazing and well-known when they started doing our show, but guys like John Mulaney, Rory Scovel, Pete Holmes, Kumail Nanjiani, Chelsea Peretti, Reggie Watts, Hannibal Buress, suddenly one day they’d show up and the crowd would be whispering about them. That was very fun. Doing a show a long time lets you watch that rise.

Sami Promisloff, Big Terrific producer: It's wild to look back in a life spent in New York City and realize you spent every Wednesday night in the same place without fail—for YEARS. I did it for 3.5, and Max did for about 7 by this point! The constancy in a city that's all about changing and moving onto the next hot thing. To sit in the soundbooth as producer for all that time, witnessing the incredible revolving door of regulars and visitors onstage, and most importantly, the audiences that came to rely on watching Big Terrific every week with little promotion, is one of the most special things I'll ever see in my life. I'm forever grateful and indebted to Max, Jenny, and Gabe for creating the supremely unique Big Terrific environment, to my co-producer wizards Caroline Creaghead and Jeremy Levenbach for showing me the way along the way, for trusting me even remotely to communicate with people performing on the show week to week, and assisting in the mere capacity of "vibe master" at all, let alone for so long.

I am also supremely grateful to the crew at Cameo for keeping the lights on. Literally. The light board in there was an infamously fickle bitch that would turn on us if the wind blew the wrong way, and it accidentally sabotaged a handful of comics who handled things as gracefully as possible, even if it looked like an impromptu rave.


Zach Galifianakis at the 2nd anniversary show

Every night we had a show was my favorite night, because the energy was unique to the occasion every single time start to finish. For me, the most special occasions were always when performers would come to work material at length before taking it to a grander stage elsewhere. It's surreal to see bits evolve in that sacred space, and then the rest of the world experiences the final product you saw in its infancy—like Zach Galifianakis' SNL monologues, Simon Amstell visiting from the UK while performing one-man shows in the city, Aziz's Madison Square Garden show, and countless Comedy Central specials and late night spots later. Reggie Watts dropping into our "informal" 5th anniversary show before the big one at Music Hall, and creating the most amazing improvised theme song for the show (I still pray someone somewhere taped this... please share if you did!)

I think the hardest I've ever seen the room crack up was hands down when Tig Notaro stopped by before an NPR taping, and told a crazy story involving multiple run-ins with Taylor Dayne... songs haunting her for days, until she was at a restaurant and physically ran INTO her. I'm surprised we did not all drown in our own tears from how hard everyone was losing it over this TRUE story she told with such deadpan. No one could believe it.

Greg Johnson, comedian: I adore Jenny, Max, and Gabe. It's no surprise they created one of the best free live shows ever, but to do it for such a long time is a very rare and remarkable feat.

I was with Sarah Silverman one Big Terrific, at the original venue. And Bob Odenkirk once, 6 weeks before Breaking Bad ended. And to do shows to great packed crowds with comics like that, if you love comedy, I think, is a special feeling. It's unforgettable.

One night I hosted the show and Aziz Ansari stopped by. I brought him up. He'd done the show many times, but at this show, the very next night, he was scheduled to headline at Madison Square Garden. Sold out. Yeah. So, I mean, you know your show is one of the best of all time if someone in the lineup has asked to perform at your free show, 24 hours before headlining a sold out show at The World's Most Famous Arena.

I love Max, Gabe and Jenny. It makes me sad that Jenny and Gabe moved to LA, and now this whole show is going away too. It's emotional. But I guess comedy is emotional, right? That was deep.

Nick Turner, comedian: After my first set on Big Terrific in February of 2011, Max sent me an email saying that I could look forward to being booked frequently. The email admitted that they were lazy about booking new comedians and they didn't book anyone they didn't enjoy watching. It's absolutely one of my favorite emails I've ever received and he wasn't lying. I've done that show more than any other in the past four years. At times I've done the show 3 times in a month. Once, when Caroline Creaghead was booking the room she and Max booked me independently of each other on the same show. I'm so appreciative of the quality stage time that exclusivity afforded me and the effortlessly cool vibe of the room.

Caroline Creaghead, booker/producer: I joined the party late, it was only because Jenny had moved to LA and Max and Gabe were getting busier. In fact it wasn't long after I started booking Big T until Gabe headed West as well. I was someone people turned to when their fun little show had grown into something big and established and they needed a producer who was good with spreadsheets but also had good taste and could hang.

I remember going to see Big Terrific when it was at SoundFix, not long after I'd moved to New York. I was interning at The Onion then, fresh out of The Midwest, still wearing boot-cut jeans. I was on the outside looking in and definitely wanted to be a part of that party. It was just three friends who had many more funny friends having the very best time. I don't know if they actually booked the show or just scanned the crowd and brought up whatever wonderful comics were there.

Anyway, by the time I got involved, it was a well-known fixture both for audiences and for comics. Comics wanted to get booked on it because the crowd was so consistent, and it had a certain "cool" cache. One of those milestone shows in town that bears some paltry relational consequence when you can say you've done it, but some comics obsess over hitting those marks.

It was very different by then. We still had fun, but booking weeks in a row of guest hosts to keep it consistent while Max is out for pilot season is not the same thing as three friends having the time of their lives and an enchanted audience getting to watch as they lovingly invite a parade of rising comedy stars to take the stage. Max and I are friends of course, and had a good working relationship, but mostly because he knew he could trust me not to drop the ball or fuck up the show. And even though it wasn't a party like it was when they started it, it was still a great, great show to do. For him and for everyone we had on.

I'm sad the show is ending, but it had to. The same way I had to leave New York. It grew up, and the nature of it and priorities for it changed, and unfortunately you can't stay at the party you started when you were 23 forever.

Alex Blagg: In some way, Big Terrific was borne of my failure. In 2007, Jenny Slate and Gabe Liedman wanted to move their standup show from Manhattan out to Brooklyn, and I convinced them to let me help produce it for them. The only problem was I had no idea how to produce a standup comedy show, and I mostly just wanted to hang out with them because they were (and still are) hilarious and just the best people. So we found this venue called Hugs (no idea if it still exists), and started doing a show there that was, pretty much from the beginning, a nightmare scenario. They wanted us to provide our own microphones. The bar was perpetually filled with loud assholes talking over the show. It was a terrible place to perform or watch comedy. I think I might have picked it, too, because—again—I had no idea how to produce a comedy show.

Anyway, after a few weeks of feeling like I was failing them completely, I did the courageous thing and told Jenny and Gabe I didn't think I was doing a very good job producing their show, and they'd probably be better off without me. (JK, that was actually the cowardly thing—it would have been courageous to dig in, work harder, and help them figure out the right show!) Luckily, around that time, our mutual friend Max Silvestri stepped in and did just that, and Big Terrific was born, magic was made, and Max, Jenny and Gabe went on to create a landmark New York comedy show and become the individual comedy juggernauts they are today. So yeah, I pretty much made all that happen with my own laziness and ineptitude as a comedy producer.

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The crowd at the first ever Big Terrific, SoundFix. (Photo by Steph Goralnick)

Amrit Singh: In the very beginning, at SoundFix, it felt substantially similar to so many art projects that any group of friends you’re close to might have launched for reasons shared, or unknown, or ambitious, or idle. "Hey, we have a band now, and a Pianos residency." "Come check out my gallery exhibit." "On Tuesday nights this month I’m screening films I like, at the bar." Etc. I don’t presume to know precisely what conversations Max, Gabe, and Jenny had around the inception of Big Terrific, but like any good Williamsburg resident I did have so many friends that were launching something similar, an ongoing concept series or gathering, each with their own weeknight so as not to crowd out the other. Except, well, most of those other friends’ projects aren’t having oral histories compiled about them. And for the better part of the next decade, Wednesdays became synonymous with Big Terrific. For me, in a way, maybe forever.

There are reasons for this, none of which are rocket science. Like, the first time I saw Jenny, my tagline for her and BT became "come see her before she’s your next crush on SNL." Which would make me a great scout for SNL if that wasn’t what everybody always said every time after having seen her in those days. (In fairness, I’m pretty sure this does mean we are all showbiz geniuses and that justifies our inevitable moves to LA, probably.) Gabe cracked the code of making anxiety over things like what Netflix’s predictive algorithm said about your personality and honking down on that D while retaining Brussels sprouts farts feel naughty and neighborly and universal all at the same time — even if you didn’t subscribe to Netflix.

And watching Max’s sets evolve really was the symbolic throughline of the whole enterprise: Working in the same hallmark bits for years, but each time a little different, a new permutation or twist of phrase surprising even himself, birthing entirely new rants and wormholes that we all explored together, himself included. It was that ritual repetitiveness — every Wednesday night—mixed with that curlicue, absurd, intellectual experimentation—that typified exactly how it felt to make a habit of visiting Big Terrific every week.

So there was those hosts, and their marathon commitment to negotiating the logistics of a free, weekly comedy show. But also, there was an uncanny knack for bookings.

Man, thinking back I’ve seen a laughably long list of such amazing comedians at Big Terrific, often repeatedly. Aziz, Zach Galifianaikis, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Jon Glaser, Nick Offerman, Hannibal Buress, Kumail Nanjiani, Joe Mande, Gabe Delahaye, Pete Holmes, Patrick Borelli, Louis C.K. (last night at the final Cameo show, in fact). Some as "secret" performers, others just right there on the bill. The best, though, is the trajectory illustrated by someone like Reggie Watts, who at an early time at SoundFix played to like 12 people as he improvised a song about Stereogum (at the time I was "the guy from Stereogum" standing in the back). That night few knew who he was, but everyone became a fan; by the end, a guy like Reggie could fill the room just at the hint he might be there. That’s the arc for a litany of BT’s guestlist through the years, and a testament to this show's vision.

For all the big names, though, for me, the main draw was always Gabe and Max and Jenny’s collaborative sets, through which they honed lovably distinct voices and a combustibly synergistic rapport. And the beautiful thing about that chemistry, to which I can attest from many dinner parties and afterparties, is that every moment around them, when they’re together, feels like one of those Big Terrific cyphers. Sometimes performers are "on" or "off" depending on their proximity to a stage. For Jenny, Gabe, and Max, it’s a function of their proximity to each other. If they’re together, welcome to the show.

For most of Big Terrific’s run I was, to put it one way, a "professional indie rock concert goer." And as Big Terrific hit its stride, it became an indispensable part of my routine because it was a necessary respite from Williamsburg’s music scene, and yet somehow totally harmonious with and reflective of it. There was a spirit at play in those BT sets, and those show billings, that typified an incredibly exciting, vital, creative, and ultimately transitional time in Brooklyn, as the very idea of the borough became commodified and attractive to people of many stripes. Big Terrific was a laughtrack to a cultural boom in the Brooklyn sensibility, as its artists gained traction and moved from warehouses to more glittery habitats. Really, from an aesthetics standpoint, what could be more post-millennial New York?

Like Jenny and Gabe and a couple of other names mentioned in this letter, I live in Los Angeles now. And while it’s been difficult to come back home, here, with any frequency, just knowing that I could return any given week and saunter over to Cameo on a Wednesday at 8PM to see Max honing a hyper-synaptic and utterly painterly soliloquy while ushering in new talent and introducing the occasional latter-day legend has been so reassuring. It’s the sort of thing that made me feel more secure in my new home, thinking that maybe I still understood the place I left, and that it would maybe still understand me when I came back. Big Terrific’s winding up now, as all things do, but its finality is the symbolic end of a special time for a lot of people, myself absolutely included. And so I made sure to be in town for this final run of shows. Last night was the last at Cameo, and yes Louis C.K. and Hannibal Buress did surprise sets, but the reason to rejoice, as always, was the familial chemistry of Max and Jenny and Gabe (in absentia). And on Sunday we’ll all sidle into that weird and beautiful happy/sad past/future laughter space for the night, knowing that we were lucky to spend years sitting at a table of hearty LOLs and good humans who shared a lot, and who hosted a little friendly art project, for reasons that were shared, or unknown, or ambitious, or idle, that ultimately did a lot of things for my brain, my sensibility, my social life, and my heart. I miss BT already. Thank you Max and Jenny and Gabe I love you.

Paul Caine: I started attending back in 2008 and have been consistently dropping by since then.

Max is the most generous laugh-er ever. Even if no one in the crowd laughed at a joke, Max would let out this really loud, distinctive hoot of a laugh. It always sounded genuine, and I am sure it was a big confidence booster for someone on stage watching a dead-eyed Williamsburg crowd shift in their seats.

One of the best things about the Big Terrific has been watching the three hosts evolve and grow as stand up comics. At the very beginning, they were just out of college (more or less) and their material reflected comics who were still figuring out their voices. By the end, all three were not only consistently hilarious, but deeply individualistic. It's also been very fun to watch the hosts workshop their jokes over a period of months or years. In 2012, Gabe had this joke about John Travolta getting an Indian burn-style hand job that I must have heard 10 times, and each time it got funnier and funnier. Max has been tweaking this joke about masturbating in front of a school playground for what seems like at least a year—last week it was as funny as it's ever been.

And now, a special section for Grady, the bartender.

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(Photo by Steph Goralnick)

Max Silvestri: One of the best parts of the show was making friends with all the bartenders. Tammy, Eric, Grady. I love all these people. We got deep and also very dark.

Nick Turner: Also shoutout to Grady. Literally the only great bartender at any comedy show.

Caroline Creaghead: The one thing that made it genuinely super fun for me was Grady. Have you talked to Grady? That guy is the fucking best. He embodied what it used to be. He was always sweet, and hilarious, and having fun even though there's no possible way it was financially worth it for him to be there. I mean I wasn't making money either, but he wasn't even in the game, he just enjoyed the comedy. That was totally refreshing for me—I was so entrenched at that point it seemed like everyone I knew was angling or working me in some way for my contacts and he definitely wasn't. And man I loved hanging out with him.

One time the music show after us was cancelled so we hung out drinking after the show with the other good folks who worked at Cameo and I think there were Jagerbombs involved. Or Irish car bombs? Something gross. And the next day I had a meeting with some marketing execs from IFC at a fancy restaurant and I had to excuse myself twice from the table to puke. It was terrible, but way more fun to laugh about that story with Grady than whatever grown-up business bullshit would have otherwise come out of that meeting.

Grady Walker, "bartender for the ole Big T": One time a guy fainted at the bar, that was pretty rad... Oh, and also one time Gabe and Max did a benefit show for me after I lost my recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, it was the only time in BT history that they ever charged a cover (I think). $10. I couldn't sleep the night before thinking that no one was going to show up and pay a cover for a normally free comedy show . I showed up to work the next day to see a line of people waiting outside of Cameo. The show sold out in 20 minutes. They raised me $2000 in less then 2 hours. That also was pretty rad.