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Burbank gets in on comedic act

CITY HALL — Life in downtown Burbank is about to get a whole lot funnier.

The City Council has approved a business-assistance loan for Flappers Comedy Club to take over a vacant restaurant at Magnolia Boulevard and First Street. Councilman David Gordon was the lone dissenter.

The $190,000 loan agreement with the Burbank Redevelopment Agency would transform the defunct Romano's Macaroni Grill into a 1920s-style room with two stages, a restaurant and full bar. Owners Barbara Holliday and Dave Reinitz, who for nearly a decade have produced comedy shows at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, have tentatively set Labor Day for their grand opening.

Several factors go into determining if a business proposal is ripe to land an assistance loan, including job creation, revenue generation, benefits to the community and strength of the proposal, said Mary Hamzoian, the city's economic development manager.

With the city rooted in the media and entertainment industries, Flappers would complement existing businesses by adding another rung to that ladder, officials said.

Mayor Anja Reinke last week praised the owners for putting their assets on the line. She then joined her colleagues in embracing the company's strong sense of community.

"I hope you laugh all the way to the bank," she said. "And not to bankruptcy."

Flappers entered into a four-year sublease with Brinker Restaurant Corp. and is in negotiations to pursue a 10-year lease with Burbank Entertainment Village, officials said. Their monthly lease of nearly $16,500 after the first five months was expected to shoot up to between $21,000 and $27,000 at the end of the four-year sublease.

Flappers has projected sales of $1.9 million in gross revenue after three years, Hamzoian said. Officials determined that Flappers had the resources to secure the proposed loan after Holliday presented $240,000 in liquid assets, including $190,000 earmarked as the equity contribution and $50,000 as possible collateral for the agency loan.

"I think it's an exciting proposal, but we're in the business of making sure that we're investing taxpayer money appropriately in things that we know are going to work," Councilman Dave Golonski said. "There's perhaps more risk in this than what we would traditionally be involved with, but I think the enthusiasm of the people behind it, the enthusiasm of the people that came down here tonight supporting them, the economic times, this would absolutely be a great use."

Among its investors is Chuck Cusumano, perhaps the city's largest developer. The pair have worked with Pepsi, Comic Relief and Comedy Central, and Holliday helped launch the career of the "Last Comic Standing" Season 4 winner Josh Blue, she said.

"Comedy is really about community and not only among comics," Holliday said. "But comedy is about addressing issues and problems and bringing them to light in a way that everyone can laugh at, whether you agree or disagree with what a comedian is saying."

At times, the discussion bordered on a stage show as comics addressing the council lobbed jokes ("This is turning out to be the best open mic in town") and performed "Stupid Human Tricks." Michael Rayner, a comedian and expert juggler once featured in the "Late Show" segment, unpacked a pink umbrella and proceeded to spin a cheeseburger on its top.

Joel Bryant, an actor and comedian, said he's taken the stage at maximum security prisons and in some of the darkest holes in Los Angeles.

"My wife and I have been blessed to perform with and for Barbara Holliday and Dave Reinitz for over 14 years, and they never run one of those quote-unquote 'tough rooms,'" Bryant said. "Quite the opposite: They bring an infectious energy and palpable positivity to every show they run."

Lance Whinery, a television writer for the CBS show "Rules of Engagement," said the owners had spent years building trust with talent.

Trusting them with the proposal, he said, made economic sense.

"Now, if you want to see comedy, you're really going to big shows, the Comedy Store, Laugh Factory, the Improv, and that's all in Hollywood," Whinery said. "No one really has the opportunity to come down here and do these great shows in Burbank."

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