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Sue Holland

Disney's Comedy Warehouse

Pleasure Island staple keeps guests laughing

Friday, February 27, 2004
By Sue Holland, staff writer

Way back in 1989, Disney opened up Pleasure Island, with an assortment of nightclubs, shops and restaurants geared primarily to adults. Over the years many clubs have closed and others have opened, but the Comedy Warehouse is one of the original nightspots and its popularity only seems to increase with each passing year.

On a relatively quiet night at Pleasure Island it is not uncommon to find few people in many of the other clubs, yet the Comedy Warehouse will have guests lined up waiting to get in and will usually fill every available seat.

The Comedy Warehouse is located at the top of the hill in Pleasure Island, next to the West End Stage and across from BET Soundstage and the Adventurer's Club. The closest Pleasure Island entrance would be the one near Planet Hollywood at the West Side.

The shows are included in the Pleasure Island admission passes, and there is no minimum age limit at this club. However, since Disney cannot control what comes out of the mouths of people in the audience, you might want to think twice before bringing your children to what is essentially a bar.

Every nightclub at Pleasure Island has a theme, and the Comedy Warehouse building is designed to appear like a warehouse. Inside, assorted old signs and props adorn the walls and ceiling, as if they are being stored here.

Old props and sign adorn the walls. Photo by Sue Holland.

Seating is mostly on bar stools, except for the first 20 people in line who are seated in chairs on the floor directly in front of the stage. Behind them a staircase with rows of tiered (barstool) seating rises up a level. Guests enter upstairs, climb down the stairs to be seated, then exit from downstairs.

Anyone unable to climb stairs would need to check in with the cast member in front of the club to receive a pass and directions to the ramp leading to the back door downstairs. Generally up to two parties with wheelchairs can be accommodated at each show, so it is possible a guest may have to wait until the following show before they can get in. By the same token, if the line is already full by the time a walking person shows up, he or she may not get in to the next show and would have to wait for the following one—this club is very popular, and capacity is limited.

To be on the safe side, arrive approximately 20-30 minutes before the seating time. Earlier shows will have a shorter line, while later shows will fill up more quickly.

Guests enjoying a show at the Comedy Warehouse. Photo by Sue Holland.

The Comedy Warehouse holds approximately 265 guests per show, but not all of the 265 people will necessarily have a good view. Each row of tiered seats has a barstool at a narrow counter, and behind that row of stools is a row of slightly taller barstools against the back wall. People seated here do not have a counter on which to rest their drinks, and depending on their height and the height of the people directly in front of them, visibility can be a real challenge.

Servers come around as soon as people are seated, taking orders for bar drinks, soda, coffee, hot chocolate, popcorn and huge soft pretzels. Drinks come in plastic cups and can leave with you. They also sell a special souvenir cup, which can be refilled (for a fee) on future visits.

Currently, there are four shows per night on Sunday through Wednesday and five shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The seating times are listed outside the club, and the show begins 10 to 15 minutes later. Right now seating times are 8:20 p.m., 9:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m., midnight and 1 a.m., with the 1 a.m. show only being performed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each show lasts approximately 30-35 minutes, which tend to fly by quickly.

When the Comedy Warehouse first opened, the format was different than it is today. They did a scripted show called “Forbidden Disney,” which basically poked fun at the whole tourist-at-Walt-Disney-World experience. Unfortunately I never saw this show, which I've heard was very funny. However, for repeat visitors (and Comedy Warehouse seems to average close to 50 percent repeat visitors at most shows) watching the same scripted show over and over would get old eventually.

The format then changed to improvisation, combined with occasional “guest” celebrities performing stand-up comedy. Photos of many of the celebrities adorn the walls as you enter the Comedy Warehouse.

For the last several years the format has been improv comedy, performed by the Disney cast. Five actors and a keyboard player work in each show, with each actor working three to four shows per night. There are also a couple of talented technicians operating the sound and lights, and it's not uncommon for these folks to improvise, as well. If two actors are creating a scene and the sound guy rings a doorbell or sounds an explosion, then those actors will incorporate that into the scene whether that was their original intent or not.

I spoke with Bill Shepherd, entertainment manager for the Comedy Warehouse, about what sets this club apart from other improv venues. He explained that they strive for everything they do to be scenic, meaning that they create theatrical characters guests can believe in rather than just being joke tellers. The actors all have characters they have created, and they will become these characters at different times depending on the circumstances of the show. They are definitely more “real” and add to the quality of the show, which I haven't seen elsewhere.

Of course, some people are just naturally funnier than others are, and Disney tries to identify those people during the audition process and hire them. It's much easier to take a naturally funny person and teach them improv than it is to take someone who has mastered the techniques of improv and teach them to be funny.

When new actors are hired, they rehearse with the cast for approximately seven days, four hours a day. During that time the new actors will observe the shows in the evening. The experienced actors rehearse briefly once in a while, particularly if a new structure (game) is being introduced or needs work.

During the shows, the actors not onstage are watching on a monitor backstage and everyone jots down comments on what worked, what could have been better, and so on. Before the last show, they sit down at a “notes” meeting and read all of the comments written that evening. Before the first show, they also meet to review the schedule of which structure will be performed in each show, who will take the lead or play specific positions, and who is working in each show.

The structures are the games that are played onstage. Each show is opened by the keyboard player warming up the crowd. This can be a short lively song, a song where the words have been altered to fit the Comedy Warehouse or—in the case of Carol Stein—a common children's song played as if a specified classical composer and some other composer had written it. Both the song and the composers are obtained from audience suggestions, and the crowd is rightfully impressed from the start.

Following the warm-up, an actor will come out on stage to perform the first structure, which most of the time consists of calling an unsuspecting guest at one of the telephones mounted on the wall. After interviewing the guest to get general information about his life, the rest of the cast is introduced and they create a song about that person. Sometimes they skip the phone interview and open with a poem, where an actor asks for an object, then asks for that object to be used in a title, after which the cast of five takes turns creating lines of a poem by that name.

Brian interviews an audience member for the opening song material. Photo by Sue Holland.

During the shows, the actors are always aware of the limits Disney places on them in terms of what they can and cannot say. This is not a club where you will hear swearing or extreme vulgarity. You will hear plenty of innuendo, however, as some actors push those Disney limits in very funny ways.

epending on which structures are chosen for a particular show, the actors will generally perform one to three more before the closing number. A couple of my favorite structures happen to be the longest, and these can essential be the entire show except for the opening and closing. In “Cliché,” an actor is sent outside and an obscure cliché or saying is solicited from the audience. The actor is brought back inside and the other four act out various clues until he finally guesses not only the clichˇ but also his specific location. The clues are done so cleverly the actor being tortured frequently has the sounds of all the words but needs help to make sense of them. The audience is left amazed at the sheer talent and great fun unfolding before their eyes.

The other long structure is “Conducted Story.” One actor directs the other four in taking turns telling a story titled by the audience. The director randomly moves from one actor to another, and if the chosen actor makes any mistake, the audience yells “die” to kill that actor. A mistake could be a pause before speaking, stumbling over words, getting too bizarre to the point it makes no sense, or making a logic error based on the story so far—for example, the lead character is Bill, so calling him Steve would be an error. The stories do get silly, but the audience decides where the line is between silly (good) and stupid (bad), and will kill an actor if he crosses that line. Once an actor has to die, he gets further suggestions from the audience and acts out a theatrical death based on those ideas. I enjoy the deaths even more than the story, as they are almost always hysterical.

Actors Jake, Mary and Matt playing contestants on talk show “Up Your Alley.” Photo by Sue Holland.

There are too many structures for me to describe them all, but some seem to appear more frequently than others do. The actors do a game show called “Schmeopardy,” where the three contestants each play characters with an occupation suggested by the audience. The actor who plays the host is also a character, and the audience provides all of the answers in each category, leaving the contestants to buzz in with the winning question.

They also do a talk show called “Up Your Alley,” hosted by an actor in character who requests the audience to say “up yours” each time the name of the show is mentioned. The audience suggests a subject for the talk show, and either three actors or two actors and a volunteer from the audience become the contestants who answer questions from the audience. Both structures are great fun.

To close each show an actor will solicit either an embarrassing moment story or a pet peeve from an audience volunteer, then the cast will create a song about that topic. Once the show ends all guests must leave, but they can get in line for the next one if they wish. Every show is different since it's all based on audience suggestions, so you can attend shows multiple nights on each trip and never have to worry about getting bored. (They do have a short scripted piece poking fun at guests trying to find their car in the Animal Kingdom parking lot, but the rest of the show is improvised.).

Because the shows are so dependent on suggestions from guests, the audience can make or break a show. I've been present when the actors have been very funny but the audience just sits there as if they were in church or in a coma. Without feedback, it's hard for the actors to know what works with this audience and what doesn't. Once in a great while there will be a show that just is not as funny as usual, but if that happens, give them another try. There are also a good number of shows that are so funny your face and stomach may hurt from laughing so hard.

Quite often after a show the actors will come out and greet guests as they exit. They are very approachable and genuinely nice people, so feel free to let them know you enjoyed the show.

Next time

In the next article I'll introduce the cast of the Comedy Warehouse. They are all incredibly talented and have done many interesting things prior to Disney and while working at the Comedy Warehouse.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Sue here.


Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”


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