December 24, 2013

New Big Easy adding laughs to Portland lineup

Oliver Keithly, who ran The Comedy Connection, expects to open his new comedy/music club in January.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

Two longtime Portland entertainment venues that closed recently are expected to reopen in January under the same roof.

click image to enlarge

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer: Oliver Keithly, who ran Comedy Connection in Portland for years, will open a new, as-yet-unnamed comedy club in the Old Port space recently vacated by the Big Easy music hall.

click image to enlarge

The Big Easy, in Portland’s Old Port, closed in October. The venue will reopen in January as a comedy club and music hall, says Oliver Keithly, who is partnering with his son in the venture.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Oliver Keithly, who ran The Comedy Connection on Custom House Wharf for 20 years, said Monday that he and his son, Harrison Keithly, will open a comedy club in the Market Street location that The Big Easy vacated in October. He said the new, still-unnamed club will feature comedy shows in the early evening and bands later at night.

Keithly said he has yet to work out final lease terms with the building’s owner, Michael Mastronardi. But he is so confident that the new venue will open that he plans to announce it this week at a performance by comedian Bob Marley. Keithly is Marley’s longtime manager. Marley will begin a run of four shows Friday at Merrill Auditorium.

Mastronardi, who runs the White Cap Grille in the same building where The Big Easy operated until October, said in an email that an announcement about the opening will come soon. “We have obtained all the necessary permits and licenses to reopen, and everything is in place for a soft opening very soon,” he wrote.

The Comedy Connection operated on Custom House Wharf until October of 2012, about a month after it and the adjacent Porthole restaurant were shut down when a city health inspector found a rat infestation. Keithly ran both businesses but did not own the building.

He did not renew the lease when it expired, and a completely renovated Porthole has reopened under new ownership and management.

The Big Easy, operated by Ken Bell, closed in October after its lease expired. It had operated as a music club on Market Street since the late 1990s, and before that operated on Fore Street for a decade.

The Comedy Connection was known for booking local comedians and well-known touring comedians, and that will continue in the new location, Keithly said. As for the bands, Keithly said he and his son plan to book the kinds of acts that played The Big Easy, including many local bands that are building their careers.

Spencer Albee, a Portland musician, said, “I’m glad that local comedians will once again have a place to call home. ... I’ll reserve comment on that space as a music venue until I see it in action. A venue’s success is usually based upon the character of the ownership and management. There are a number of great venues in town already, but there’s always room for more.”

Another musician, Pete Kilpatrick, said, “I agree with Spence. The Big Easy was a venue that really made the musicians feel at home and welcome, whether they were performing that night or not. I will be interested to see how the dynamic is when they reopen.”

Keithly said he probably will keep The Big Easy name initially.

Marley, who got his start at The Comedy Connection, said Monday that he was happy to hear that Keithly will open a new comedy club.

He said Keithly’s “passion” for comedy made The Comedy Connection a great place to perform.

“I don’t think anybody gets rich running a comedy club,” Marley said. “He does it because he loves it.”

Keithly said he hopes to open the club by mid-January. He envisions comedy shows at 7 p.m. on weekends, followed by bands after 9:30 p.m., with separate admissions for each.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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