Throughout his childhood, every Sunday morning Steve Rivera sat in church listening to his preacher father deliver a heartfelt sermon to his congregants. But that’s not all he delivered. His father always made sure to interject a funny anecdote or joke into his message to keep the congregation engaged.
“He made people laugh so hard,” Rivera says. “I thought, ‘I want to do that.’”
Throughout his school years, Rivera did his best to make someone chuckle. A fan of “The Carol Burnett Show” and “In Living Color”, Rivera appreciated both sketch and stand-up comedy. He began performing at open mic nights, but never felt like he fit in since he refused to include off-color jokes in his set.
“I didn’t want to compromise what I believed in,” Rivera says. “I wanted to be as pure and creative as possible without using those words as a crutch. Besides, I think profanity eliminates the cleverness of writing.”
While living in Chicago, Rivera was encouraged when he stumbled upon a wave of successful comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, and Sinbad doing clean comedy. Rivera began performing at holiday galas and church events, and found that a demographic existed that craved clean comedy. He began to seek out other entertainers in the area, and that’s when he met Dennis Tooley. Rivera shared his vision of one day owning a comedy club, and after some starts and stops in churches and other venues, Rivera opened Gutty’s Comedy Club in 2003, named from the idea of gut-busting laughter.
“I wanted the club to house anything comedy, from improv to sketch to stand-up,” explains Rivera, a freelance graphic and web designer by trade.
Rivera’s background enabled him to create all of the poster boards, logos, signage and other promotional materials for the club. Tooley did all the booking.
When Rivera and his wife Valerie moved to Greenwood, he got a job as marketing director for Australian Gold and temporarily put his comedy dreams on the back-burner. Tooley, who also lived in the area, asked Rivera if he had any interest in resurrecting his dream. They tried a few different venues before opening Gutty’s Comedy Club in August of 2019 in the old Catered Cabaret location.
Every Sunday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Gutty’s offers its Laff Sabbath stand-up open mic event. The venue offers two prime-time shows on Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., in which it showcases a guest comedian, feature comedian, and nationally-known headliner.
Gutty’s also offers workshops for stand-up and improv that cater to all ages.
“We had a 13-year-old go through stand-up one-on-one class, then practiced her set here at a real comedy club,” Rivera says. “We also have a young man with autism who comes to every open mic night to break his fear of public speaking. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”
The community response to Gutty’s has been overwhelmingly positive across all demographics, from 18 to 88.
“We really have connected with the city, and the momentum is starting to rise,” says Rivera, noting that the mayor and chamber of commerce members have been welcoming as well. “Mostly, people just are thankful to have a comedy club back in Greenwood.”
The intimate venue comfortably seats 80 – the perfect size for a comedy club according to Rivera.
“You want the laughs to stay in the room and not escape into the ceiling,” Rivera says. “And you don’t want the crowd too far from the stage.”
Rivera loves connecting with new comedians and giving them opportunities to showcase their talent.
“It gives me joy to feature new comics and see their growth over time,” he says. “I also love to hear the crowd’s laughter envelop the club. That’s what it’s all about.”
Gutty’s Comedy Club is located at 350 South Madison Avenue in Greenwood. For more information, call 317-395-3020 and visit guttyscomedyclub.com.