Ronn Perea started a roaming comedy club in Albuquerque when no one knew what one was.
It was December 1984. Perea was in the dinner theater business at the time, putting on events on the bottom floor of the Hilton Hotel. But when a competing business, the Wool Warehouse, popped up Downtown, “I worried they’d blow me out of the water,” he says. “I wondered what kind of show I could put on. There was a new kind of entertainment that was hot in New York, L.A. and Chicago. People would get up in front of a microphone with one spotlight and tell jokes. They called it a comedy club.”
The Duke City Comedy Club, a traveling show, was born. A month after starting the event, Perea says there was a line to get in. Within two months, that line had curved its way around the block. “It was so well-received, all shows were packed,” he says. “In less than a year, we had shows booked in different venues around town seven nights a week.”
By the late ’80s, other local producers had caught on to the trend and Perea found himself wondering, again, what he could do that would set his business apart. He decided to go on the road. The Duke City Comedy Club became the Route 66 Comedy Club. He and a rotating band of comedians traveled from coast to coast and then around the world—Thailand, Australia (Perea lived in Sydney for a year), Barcelona and even in a submarine 100 feet beneath the Indian Ocean. Along the way, different professional comedians would join him—such as Brad Garrett, best known as the brother on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
The Duke City Comedy Club, a traveling club, was born. A month after starting the event, Perea says there was a line to get in. Within two months, that line had curved its way around the block.
But in the late ’90s, after being on the road for nearly a decade, Perea was tired. “If you’re traveling every week for a paycheck, you turn into a gypsy,” he says. “I like to make roots.” By the time he was ready to settle back in Albuquerque, casinos were dominating local entertainment, drowning out smaller venues, he says. And so in the calm following the storm of his travels, he wrote his first book, Smiles, Giggles & Laughs, a memoir about his life on the road. He has since written three more books, including a work of historical fiction and another novel, The Email Tango. “I know what I’ll be doing in my gray-haired years is writing books,” he says.
Perea’s seen Albuquerque’s comedy culture change drastically in the last three decades; he witnessed its fierce explosion and has since seen it fizzle. “It was a generational thing,” he says. “The people who started the patronage, they’re 25 years older now. This is not the current generation’s source of entertainment.”
But Perea says Albuquerque’s scene has started to grow again. He’s now the executive producer for the Albuquerque Civic Light Opera musical theater organization, and in the midst of that gig and his literary prolificacy, he continues to put on comedy shows.
This Saturday, April 2, Perea’s producing and hosting the April Fools’ Comedy Concert at the Embassy Suites. It’s a reunion show of sorts, since one of the headliners, Mark Knope, was one of the Duke City Comedy Club’s All-star comics before he moved to Detroit and went pro. Also on the bill is Nathanial Augustine, a local who Perea is convinced will be the next big thing. “He has youth, he has energy, he wants to make it work, he’s a multitalented individual,” Perea says. “It’s what you need to succeed.”