NME After Print: Sparks fly at The Comedy Vault
Update: As of Wednesday, May 29th, The Comedy Vault locked their doors and presented a sign on the front door stating, "For Access Please Contact Peterson Properties, LLC 505.884.3578." The property has also been listed for rent.
Albuquerque’s first dedicated comedy club in years opened this month. Instead of fanfare, they were greeted by protests. Located at 325 Central Avenue Southwest, the club opened after months of construction delays. Protesters lined up near the entrance holding signs that read "Honk if you respect women" and "Sexual Harassment isn’t funny." It turns out the owner of the Comedy Vault, Kimothy Sparks, is no stranger to controversy. A transplant from Texas, Sparks came to Albuquerque looking to begin a new phase of his life, as the owner of The Comedy Vault.
The construction began in 2018 to renovate the building at Fourth and Central into a full-service comedy bar. Albuquerque hadn’t had a dedicated comedy venue since Laff’s closed in 2009. The current comedy scene was excited to have a place that promised to book traveling and local comedians alike. Here in Albuquerque, the comedy scene has been kept alive and kicking by local comedians running open mic nights and operating almost like an occasionally dysfunctional, family unit. Anyone could show up to an open mic here in town and test out their comedy chops. There was always a comedian willing to help a newbie learn the ropes, provide skill-building workshops and helpful hints from seasoned veterans. Of course, like any family, there were fights and disagreements, but the scene flourished showcases open mics almost every night somewhere in town.
The comedians embraced the promised new venue, offering to help in any capacity they could - from working in the venue to offering to help book big-name acts. Unfortunately, from almost the beginning, there were signs of trouble. It began with inappropriate Facebook posts and text messages between the owner and some comedians. That was to be expected to work with comedians, right? Comedians certainly can be rude and inappropriate but, they, like other people, have lines.
Long before the club scheduled its initial shows, local comedians were already being banned from the club. Some were banned for disagreeing with the owner on Facebook, some for not going with the flow. By the time the initial opening date came and went, due to construction delays, the number of local comedians who were invited to perform at the club had dwindled further.
Things came to a head in mid-May when a female comedian, Nicolina Nicthe, who was also an employee of the club, came forward with claims of sexual harassment by the owner. Armed with inappropriate text messages to back up her story, she inspired other banned female comedians to come forward and stand up to the club owner. Court documents found an online revealed this isn’t the first time Sparks has been embroiled in claims related to this. These factors are what sparked the protest the night of the Grand Opening. A number of comedians were there in solidarity to protest the treatment of the harassed comedians. Others shared stories of having their shows canceled with no notice due to constructions delays or other reasons. A traveling podcast coming to Albuquerque riled up Twitter and made Kimothy a trending term in the US, due to being canceled on Thursday because of how the political views of their podcast differed from the views of the owner. On Facebook, the owner stated he thought everyone has had enough of politics and would not be booking any political comedians.
It can be hard to establish the truth, as there are always two sides to any story. Since the other side has chosen to remain silent, we only have the screenshots of text messages and public Facebook posts to go on. From these messages, we know the owner changes his mind on the fly, cancels performances with no regard for the people performing, and sends inappropriate text messages to female employees. Things like this should always be taken into account when choosing to deal with a local or national business. The behavior of the owner or management is a reflection on their business and affects their practices. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident. While completing this article, I began receiving more screenshot text messages from other female comedians they received prior to being banned from the club. Potential Problems Podcast has a pretty good breakdown of the whole situation if you really want to dive in. https://youtu.be/FAIMzL8aKCQ