Photo by Kristy Locklin.

If Chris Copen didn’t laugh, he’d cry.

After spending a year working on Dad’s Basement, a collectibles shop and comedy theater in Dormont, irreconcilable differences forced the comedian to cut ties with his original partners, vacate the lower level of 1521 Potomac Ave., and take the show on the road.

The first-floor retail store, where brothers Jared and Jake Berlin buy and sell trading cards, autographed sports memorabilia, and other baubles, will remain open.

After finishing accessibility construction, the Berlins plan to open the downstairs venue this summer to host drag shows, beatboxing competitions, rap battles, indie bands, live readings and signings, and more.

“Anything that can be put on stage will be done at Dad’s Basement,” Jake Berlin says. “We are moving away from the idea of a ‘comedy theatre’ and focusing on all sorts of entertainment for a more inclusive experience. Of course, standup and improv and sketch will be part of our foundation and in the next few weeks we will be unveiling our partnerships with some of these performers.”

Meanwhile, Copen and his 10-member creative team, now known as Bottlerocket Comedy, have been rehearsing and making appearances at local open mic nights. Over the next few months, they’ll hold a series of pop-up shows until they can find a permanent home.

The first stop on the citywide Dad’s Divorce Tour will be on Thursday, Feb. 24, at The Government Center at 715 E. St. on the North Side. BOMB SQUAD: A Comedy Game Show will feature stand-up comedians attempting to defuse an explosive situation by making audience members laugh. Tickets to the BYOB event, which will also include improvisational and original comedy sketches, are $5 and available online. Attendees must provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test within 48 hours.

Copen says to keep an eye on Bottlerocket Comedy’s social media pages for updates on shows and the troupe’s future location. A Dormont resident, Copen is looking at other storefronts in and around the neighborhood to house the alternative comedy collective.

In the last year, the borough’s business district welcomed Moonlit Burgers, Bridal Maven, Arsenal Cider Tap House and Mike & Tony’s Gyros. Back Alley Brewing is slated to open in the former municipal building in 2022.

“I appreciate how much everyone embraced us and welcomed us and wanted it to happen,” he says. “The feeling is mutual.”

Copen, who founded Point Blank Comedy at Point Park University in 2016 and worked for several media outlets in Los Angeles before the pandemic, plans to channel his latest struggles into new material. Everything is fodder for the stage. His frustration is being reborn as a stand-up routine, online sketch, song or an experimental act.

He hopes his dream will be reborn without all the family drama.

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.