About 300 people are crowded inside Skandalos — a comedy and music club on Independence Boulevard — most sitting in groups at tables, while others stand near the bar. Top hip-hop songs mixed in with old-school favorites are blaring through the speakers. This, combined with the drinks being served, is getting the crowd livened up as they anxiously await the start of the show. Most of them arrived on time, if not early — something any church service would envy (there'll be a little pulpitting here, but more on that later). The scene is taking place on what is typically an unpopular night of the week for nightlife. And it's all going down on a side of town that in recent years has also become unpopular.
Don't underestimate the power of laughter.
Each Tuesday night, Tone-X and Friends is center stage at Skandalos. The event has been going strong, gaining momentum even, since launching in April 2008, and is now one of Charlotte's leading weekly comedy showcases. Comedian and Power 98 FM radio personality Tone-X is the star of the show -- as the name of the event implies -- along with his co-host Chris "Funnyman" Robinson. They have a strong supporting cast in what is at once a comedy night, talent showcase, recession-proof event, and family affair. For Tone-X, it's the highlight of his week, which says a lot for a man who has as much going on as he does.
"We live for this night every week," says Tone-X, 41, backstage at a recent show. "As soon as Wednesday hits, we can't wait for Tuesday."
For someone who's been up since 4:30 a.m., when his day started with the 6 a.m. airing of The Morning Maddhouse radio show, Tone-X has a surprising amount of energy. It's 8:30 p.m., and he and Robinson will be hitting the stage in a few minutes. But in the meantime, he's backstage and has picked up a makeshift dumbbell and starts doing curls. It's like he's got energy to burn -- and there's not a Red Bull in sight. A few of the local comedians who'll be participating in tonight's improv competition pop in to give their customary fist-bumps and handshakes. A few VIPs, like Carolina Panthers wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, stop by to briefly chop it up also.
It's about 8:45 p.m. and it's showtime. Tone-X huddles up with Robinson and leads the two in a prayer. He thanks God for bringing them all together again, and asks Him for another successful show. He says he knows it's already a success because they are here.
"A lot of people didn't think it would work because of the location, being on Independence and all of that," Tone-X says. "But it's a blessed event and it's the funniest night in Charlotte."
Tone-X and Robinson open the show with a banter that's to the audience's amusement. "If you ever doubted whether Michael Jackson was black, you know now. Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died on the same day. Farrah has been buried already, while the Jacksons [were] talking about 'We're still making arrangements.'"
There's also a funny moment in which Robinson reads off the drink specials for the night, while Tone-X translates it in Spanish -- though it ends up sounding more like a combination of Ricky Ricardo and James Brown speaking. Clearly Tone-X doesn't know Spanish, though Skandalos is a Latin club. This is indicative of the diversity you'll find in both the humor and the audience. While the crowd is predominantly black, peppered throughout you'll find people of all races. And there's a large age range, too.
"Our core audience is just people who like to have a good time -- that's 21 or 101," Tone-X says. "Black, white, pinstriped, plaid -- it doesn't matter. Laughter is the best medicine and right about now, a lot of people need to laugh because society is crazy. And we just take the load off."
Tone-X got that successful night that he asked God for at the start of the evening. A group of local and aspiring comedians served as the opening acts and competed in an improv competition in which they were divided into teams. Tone-X anchored one of the teams while Robinson served as the moderator -- think of MTV's Wild 'N Out with Tone-X being Nick Cannon and Robinson being D-Wreck. The format of the show rotates week to week, with one week featuring improv and the next featuring open mic. The night is capped off with the headlining act, usually a nationally known comedian. On this night, it's Double D from Atlanta.
While many comedy shows draw their crowds based on the headliners, this show takes a slightly different approach. Oftentimes the audience won't know who the headliner is until they've arrived, meaning they've already bought their ticket.