The $1 Room

is a fast becoming a popular Thursday night comedy show, for its cheap price ($1), quality talent, and endearingly goofy hosts, Brad Steuernagel, Peter Kassnove, and Cassidy Henehan, who woo their audience with wacky plucked-from-the-headlines characters and a mix of comedians such as Patrick Borelli, Liam McEneaney, Pat O’Shea, AD Miles, and Eugene Mirman, along up-and-comers such as Aziz Ansari, with occasional out-of-town guests passing through New York, making it a small, relaxed room where performers can test out new material to a receptive crowd who just may get an unexpected heckler, drunken set, or other crazy antics. Regulars will even become familiar with the hosts’ lovable shticks and look forward to their off-the-wall short films, about everything from Ann Coulter to eating pizza. After a recent show, Gothamist attempted to peek into the inner workings of The $1 Room and its creators.

How long have you been running the show and how did it come together?
Cassidy Henehan: The show itself we inherited it from Rod Teagles who was here on Thursdays doing Rod Teagle’s Sordid Summer Showdown, with Rich Zeroth and Jon Bulette. Their show had a finite run and at the end, we all wanted to do the show, they had heard the show was ending and the space would be available and asked Brad and Telephone Bar liked the idea.

Brad Steuernagel: We all attended that show regularly and we were at the show when we heard that it was ending that Telephone Bar wants a comedy show here and Cass said I’ll do the show

Peter Kassnove: The original title was Shits and Giggles cause we also wanted to start a softball team called Hits and Giggles. We wanted to have a weekly show that have upcoming comedians, it would be reasonable. Wanted to make it a situation where people could see quality comedy at a decent price.

BS: Like a reverse bringer show. We’d split the door with comedians and get a free drink. At a bringer show, you have to bring friends to get a cut of the door. Telephone Bar is one of the best bars in this area because it’s not full of just creeps. They poke their head in and often they come see the show. We did have one incident where a woman threw something at Bobby Tisdale.

CH: In the same way the guys who wanted to start America, we wanted a show where we wouldn’t get treated like shit, where the comedians would be treated like peers, rather than someone who’s on the downside trying to hold onto a show, someone with illusions of greatness. We wanted to run this like artists, to run the show that we wanted to be on.

PK: It’s a situation we’ve all been in, where we did bringer shows. You’d have times where you show up and then one of your friends got caught on a subway and you couldn’t go on because you didn’t bring enough people. It would never happen here because plenty of people would show up with nobody and that’s fine.

CH: All you have to do is be respectful of our show, be funny, and show up.

What’s your favorite thing about running the show?
CH: In the middle of this city it’s good for me to be able to come here every week. I appreciate the room just to be able to come somewhere every week and know that if I handle my business of interacting with an audience, it doesn’t matter if it’s marketable or you brought enough friends. We wanted to make a good show and that’s our only priority.

How do you decide who to book? Is it all people you know and word of mouth?
BS: Most of the people are friends of ours and we started the show and it’s the ground level so we were like do you want to do our show and they were people who’d done the Teagles show and from there it was word of mouth, whoever showed up and said can I get a spot I tried to include them. We tried to pair it down to a tight rotation of people who were consistently funny who were professional even though it was only $1, which says a lot about their character. If someone emails me and says my friend did your show, I’ll try and work them in, and that’s it.

PK: That’s the point, it’s hit or miss and we’ve had people that who made us laugh hysterically. We had a guy who came tonight, we didn’t know anything about him and he was great, he was funny and it was a pleasant surprise.

What’s different about your show from other downtown shows?
BS: It’s only an hour, that’s pretty much it. It follows the downtown formula, with the hosts performing and a set number of guests, a character or a video but our show is tight, it’s an hour, max. We want people to come in and enjoy the show and not feel like I wish I could leave now.

PK: We end shows and people are expecting morel. We’d much rather that and have people want to come back next week, we’ve all been to those shows.

Who’s your typical audience members? Do you usually know most of them?
BS: Half are friends and half people who are on our email list. We’re also in Time Out New York.

CH: More people are generally interested in one of the performers, I don’t think we get as many straight walk-ins.

Why even charge admission if you're only charging $1? Does anyone ever give you a hard time about the admission fee?
BS: The worst thing that’s happened, we’ve change a couple times, quarters are cool but when it gets down to dimes and nickels . . . I’d rather someone tell me they owe me a dollar than give me dimes and nickels.

PK: And it goes back to the comedians.

BS: We’d love to charge 5 or 8 dollars to split it between the comedians, because comedians in the downtown shows don’t usually get paid which is too bad because everybody’s talented and someone just needs to set a precedent, to say we’re doing it. But if everybody started to charge, other people would realize that people are paying money to see this, then this kind of comedy must be valuable. Right now we’re still at a dollar.

CH: Something that I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is that everyone from waiters to dancers bus boys and porters, everybody is so disposable in this town. You get treated like shit because you know whoever has the power knows there’s 100 people getting of the boat that can do the exact same thing you can do in your job professionally or creatively. The powers that be see you as disposable and you’re just a face in the crowd and it’s nice for us to be able to treat people a little better.

BS: We have 4 comedians so they get 5, 6 bucks and a drink ticket. Why should you not get paid?

PK: We’ve all been in situations where you’ve done a bringer show and it’s like forget about having the courage to go onstage-you can literally be asked to not perform because a friend didn’t show up.

CH: My mom literally paid 3 admissions to get into a comedy club and came back outside so we just get the money together and perform.

BS: I want to have a creative outlet a weekly creative outlet it’s a definite privilege. In the downtown scene you’ll do 3 shows and you have to wait 3 or 4 months to do those shows again. There’s this weird rotation where unless you have a name that’s the system you have to wait 3 months.

What’s the process for making each of your short videos?
PK: We’ll start with a concept. If it wasn’t for Brad, we’d be sitting in a room laughing. We have an idea and we laugh for 3 hours and Brad comes back with a finished product.

CH: Brad takes the raw footage and actually has a clear idea of what this is about.

BS: We usually film for two hours, sit around for two hours.

You guys have made lots of hilarious videos, including the pizza party one where you basically stuff your faces. Tell me honestly - are you always stoned when you make them?.
PK: We’ve never filmed high. Starts from an idea and ends up and one fo the reasons we’re attracted to it but we always had an aspiration to do skits and when we bullshit and we talk and every one once in a while somebody says that’s a great idea for a skit, it turns into a little more. With the pizza party one, it started out as “let’s just film us having a pizza party” and Brad suggested we structure that and we turned it into a skit.

Along with the goofy humor, there's definitely a political, left-leaning element to your show. I saw Aziz Ansari do his WTC bit there, and you once showed Ann Colter on TV to prove that there are Republican comedians. How do your politics play into the show?
CH: It’s hard in a room where you could just say “George Bush Is A Doodiehead” and get a huge laugh, but it’s not gonna improve us understanding each other and it’s just contributing to the black-and-white/us vs. them attitude that has the entire world thinking that some other guy is the reason for their problems.

PK: I rant and rave on my own. I’m a teacher so I have my own personal problems with politics especially the Bloomberg agenda so comedy is a release. It’s an escape for me. I never got into comedy to change the world although I want to. I want to make people laugh and I’m a laugh whore. I’m first and foremost a middle child, I crave attention, that’s the only reason comedy spoke to me.

CH: With me personally, whatever is on my mind that week, that’s what I’m gonna end up writing about. It’s not like I say I have to werit eform 10 to 11, I have my pen and I write down. When the RNC was here, that was on my mind and it’s walsy, I’ve always been interested but it’s not a conscious thing for me to talk about politics any more than it is to talk about weed or dingleberries. It’s like my personal therapy, whatever I need to get out. I approach comedy as therapy for me to get out whatever I need to get out and sometimes am particularly passionate about global politics.

What advice would you give about running a successful show?
BS: If you’re getting into comedy, do something with music, whether in your film or your act. People just love music, they think it’s the funniest thing, slow motion and music.

PK: If you have access to a fat guy, go for it-luckily these guys do. When we first started, we were in the middle of the RNC, and Cass was on fire and brought a ton of energy that made us all excited to forge forth, literally. We all used to tell dick jokes and Cass did a 10 minutes set about how much the RNC pissed him off but it was hysterical. We all started out different, we still have a common ground because of our sense of humor.

What’s been the most memorable moment of the show for you?
BS: The most memorable moment was Bobby Tisdale’s meltdown. It was the best reaction to someone in the crowd messing with a comedian I’ve seen in a long time.

CH: I don’t even think that woman really knew she was heckling. I think she was a little drunk and had never been to a comedy show before.

PK: When he did that it was right after a set that I bombed and I didn’t react as strongly. It was a fantastic moment for the comedians at the show.

BS: The worst shows are the ones not when the show is bad but when we’re bitching at each other about petty bullshit during the show, talking too loud, little logistical stuff, when the production side goes awry.

CH: My personal highlight for the show is just these two dudes, watching Mets games with Peter and yelling about the Judeo-Christian Arab Muslim holy war with Brad, that’s the best part.

Who would you love to see perform at The $1 Room that hasn't?
BS: It would be cool to have some real old timers come by and rip it up like Pat Cooper or have someone like Chuck Barris or Dick Cavett come by and just tell old showbiz stories.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the comedy scene?
BS: If you're moving here from out of state and you have been doing comedy awhile, go to as many shows around town as you can on a regular basis. After you've seen what they have to offer, pick the ones that feature comedians that you feel have the same sensibilities. Introduce yourself to the host or ask other comedians that have done the show how the show is booked. Mind your Ps and Qs and if you feel like you getting brushed off, don't get an attitude, it'll come back to bite you in the ass. If you're new to comedy, NYC is a hard place to cut your teeth. I would stick to open mics until you feel like you've found your own voice or until you're comfortable performing on stage and your material starts to work on a regular basis.

Is comedy more competitive in New York than other cities? Do you feel a sense of camaraderie with your fellow comedians? Are audiences here friendlier than in other cities?
BS: I haven't done much in the club scene, but the "downtown scene" feels like everybody enjoys watching each other and generally supports each other’s shows. As far as audience goes, the friendlier aspect has more to do with the type of venue. If you throw up a mic in the back of a sports bar while people are trying to watch “the game,” chances are folks ain't gonna be so nice. If people take the time to come out to a back room and are ready for comedy, they'll give you a chance.

What's been Telephone Bar's reaction to the comedy series? What do you like about the location?
BS: They seem to enjoy it, otherwise I don't think we would be doing it there anymore, I guess. I like the neighborhood, we get a good mix of people who enjoy a tight comedy show and a cool place to drink.

What exactly went on at your First Annual Drunk Show?
BS: Cassidy did a bunch of material about drinking and Peter did a set drunk; it wasn't that different from a regular show.

BS: What would you advise someone who has an extreme heckler, like Bobby Tisdale did? How would you react in such a situation?
That lady wasn't even that extreme, she just picked the wrong comedian to toss a candy wrapper at. I usually use my Midwestern smarts and avoid confrontation, but if they start to get real mouthy, which almost never happens at our show, I'll say something rude like "Knock it off Turkey" or "Can it, Ding Dong." They get the picture.

The $1 Room is tonight at 9 p.m. at Telephone Bar, 149 2nd Avenue between 9th and 10th, featuring comedians Adam Lowitt, Debbie Shea, Robert Buschemi and Sean O’Connor. Find out more information and watch $1 Room short films at The $1 Room website.