by Lisa Murray Gregory | photography by Phil Grout
It should have been enough. Except it wasn’t.
Jim Bryan was at the top of his profession as a healthcare executive. “I was running my own retirement community, 240 beds, 300-something staff, 15 departments heads,” he says.
At an earlier time in his life, Bryan had been a comedian, but he had put that dream aside. After all, he was married now with five children. “I was busy with all them little kids,” he says with a smile. “And all the responsibilities at work.”
But then he got sick. “It was like my mind was saying, ‘He’s not getting the hint.’ How long am I not going to do what I believe I was intended to do?”
Bryan, now 40, began having stomach issues and lost a lot of weight. While there were legitimate health issues, much of it was due to stress. That’s when he knew he had to follow his heart. With the support of his wife, he stepped away from his life in healthcare and embraced a new life that led to him opening Hanover’s Church of Satire Comedy Club in December 2018.
“Had my wife been like, ‘Too bad, man, suck it up. We’ve got five kids,’ I would have sucked it up,” says Bryan, who still works occasionally as a consultant. “For her to say, ‘Let’s do this!’ — well, it was the final confirmation and validation that I required.”
Now he can’t imagine being anywhere or doing anything else.
“Some pretty special stuff happens in here,” he says.
And he is not the only one who thinks so.
“The positivity and energy that Jim and his whole crew puts into the place is contagious,” says comedian Mike Lebovitz, who has been featured on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, on Comedy Central, and on HBO’s The Deuce. He says Church of Satire is his “new favorite club” for performing. “And not just for me coming there to work but also for the people coming to see the show. They can feel it.”
He added, “This is a guy who is clearly following his passion.”
Bryan, who was born in Las Vegas and grew up on Long Island, took to the idea of becoming a comedian early on when he first saw Eddie Murphy. He was just “10 or 11 years old at the time and much too young to probably be watching Eddie Murphy’s’ act,” he says with a chuckle.
“It sort of stimulated my imagination that maybe I could make people laugh like that,” he says.
As he got older, Bryan graduated to George Carlin and Richard Pryor. And then, by age 16 or 17, “I was thinking this is what I want to do. This was calling to me,” he says.
In 2002, he returned to his birthplace of Las Vegas and began his journey as a stand-up comedian.
“I had a day job. I did stand-up,” he says of those early days.
Then he met Tara Fritz, the woman who would become his wife and mother to his children. She was on vacation from her home in Hanover, visiting family in Las Vegas. After they married, they settled in the Hanover area in 2007.
“We didn’t want to raise our family in Las Vegas,” says Bryan.
However, upon arriving in his new home, Bryan had one question. “Where was the comedy at?” That question faded away as he pursued his healthcare career and left comedy behind.
Once he decided to again embrace his comedic ambitions, he tested the waters performing at such clubs as Caroline’s in New York City and at clubs in Baltimore, before taking the plunge and establishing his own comedy club.
And the name?
“People are coming together here,” he says. “They are going to be laughing together. They are going to be having a good time together and opening their minds. And they are all going to walk out feeling refreshed and motivated and inspired. Sounds kind of like church to me.”
That experience takes place on actual pews, which he purchased from the family’s church. And the folks who are filling those pews at Church of Satire are being exposed to different voices, different perspectives — just as Bryan intended.
“It takes a little bit of a leap of faith for some comedians to come to a place like this,” he says. “But when they come here, more often than not they are pleasantly surprised by the ability for the people of Hanover to get the joke.”
Comedian Juannell Riley would agree. “The energy in that room is really not like a lot of places,” he says. “People show up to have a good time. And it is really apparent.”
He says he certainly felt the love, and not just from the audience.
Riley, a comedian from New York City, was appearing at the club during Easter weekend when he ran into transportation issues getting home. “I said, ‘Why don’t you come home with us and have Easter with us?” asked Bryan, who lives on a farm with a menagerie that includes dogs, cats, rabbits, goats and chickens.
“It was pretty amazing,” says Riley. “For starters,” he added with a chuckle, “I had never had an egg so recently out of a chicken.”
Riley also enjoyed seeing another side to the man who had hired him to perform. “I got to see a family man hide eggs for his kids,” he says. “Help them find them. And then celebrate when they did. I’m happy with the way things turned out. I really enjoyed myself. I consider the man a friend.”
And he is urging his fellow comedians to check out the club, as well. Comedians have come from far and wide to perform. Some even make sacrifices to do so.
“What Jim is able to pay me — I don’t work for that. But for him I do,” says Lebovitz.
Lebovitz adjusted his fee, but with one caveat. “I was teasing him,” he says. “He said, ‘This is what I can pay you.’ I was like, ‘OK, I usually work for a little bit more than that. So, if you’ll throw in some of those pretzels you guys are famous for, we’ll call it a deal.’”
True to his word, Bryan “presented me with two giant boxes,” says Lebovitz. “My kids were eating those for months afterwards. It was unnecessary but greatly appreciated. It’s another example of this dude and what he’s trying to do. It wasn’t about the snacks, but the message behind the snacks.
“I can’t wait to get back there.”
The club has been well received in the community and has become a part of the emergence of a more dynamic, vibrant downtown area, with various businesses working together. For example, nearby Divino Pizzeria and Grille created a special menu for Church of Satire, and delivers to guests. The club does not serve food or alcohol, but allows patrons to BYOB. Beverages can be purchased at nearby microbreweries Miscreation Brewing Company and Something Wicked Brewery.
“It’s been so good for the area,” says Heather Jackowski, a frequent visitor to the club. “You see people at the breweries, and you know you will later see them at Church of Satire.”
Bryan, who has himself performed throughout the country, often hosts the shows. He has also headlined, selling out the venue. He’s is a natural-born storyteller, whether he is talking about the birth of his first child or a raccoon in the family’s garage — all done with humor.
“I like to take people away from the world for a while,” he says.
For Jackowski, Church of Satire is a welcome respite.
“I can be having the worst week ever,” she says. “Then I go see a show, and I laugh so hard. I walk out of there, and I feel like a brand-new person. I feel re-energized. I have a smile on my face.”
And, apparently, she is not alone. “The word is getting out,” says Jackowski. “This is the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights.”