The basement at Arcade Comedy Theater. Photo by Brian Conway.

When you’re a comedy outfit moving into a former adult theater, the jokes write themselves.

“We joke that we’re going to provide a different type of happy ending here,” laughs Creative Director Abby Fudor.

This weekend, Arcade Comedy Theater celebrated the grand opening of its new location at the intersection of Smithfield Street and Liberty Avenue, fitting well into Liberty’s transformation from a seedy Downtown outpost decades ago to a flourishing cultural hotbed.

Founded in 2013 by Fudor and three others, Arcade’s new location at 943 Liberty is one block down from their old location at 811 Liberty, but a world away in terms of amenities: There are twice as many stages and four times as many classroom spaces, to say nothing of the second-floor lounge overlooking Downtown (complete with requisite classic arcade cabinets like Centipede and Popeye.)

Arcade Comedy Theater’s new home at 943 Liberty Avenue Downtown. Photo by Brian Conway.
Arcade Comedy Theater’s new home at 943 Liberty Avenue Downtown. Photo by Brian Conway.

The new space, designed by Desmone Architects and renovated by Guardian Construction, is owned by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, who also paid for the buildout. Arcade Comedy has signed a five-year lease to operate out of the space.

“It is the mission of the Cultural Trust to cultivate a vibrant Cultural District where arts organizations such as Arcade Comedy can thrive,” Trust spokesperson Dale Dorlin wrote in an email.

The second-floor theater, which hosted a local comic showcase Friday night as part of a weekend-long opening celebration, is about the same size and configuration as Arcade’s old space, with a capacity of around 75 people.

Downstairs, the main theater can hold about 100 — a critical number to reach when trying to book touring comics.

Pittsburgh comedian Ian McIntosh performs opening night at Arcade Comedy Theater. Photo by Brian Conway.

Arcade Comedy has been a nonprofit theater since its inception, and they are relatively unique in that almost all of their funding comes from earned income, be it ticket sales or improv classes.

“Our challenge over the next few years,” says Fudor, “is communicating to funding organizations that comedy is an art form, and we are as much a part of the artistic tapestry of Pittsburgh as ballet, or [University of Pittsburgh’s theater production] Our Town, or the amazing things Bricolage is doing.

“In other cities, a lot of time the improv is a means to sell the drinks,” she continues. “Our goal is, no, we don’t want you to come see a comic or improv show just as something to do while you drink. We want you to see the art form of it.”

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.