WEST PALM BEACH – Gary Owen bounded from the Palm Beach Improv stage, Semisonic’s “Closing Time” blared from the sound system, and the 300-or-so comedy fans in attendance dispersed into the quiet City Place night.
Just like that, one of South Florida’s most iconic comedy venues ceased to exist.
“Emotions are beyond control,” Improv co-owner and general manager Rene Harte said. “I told my mom this morning, it’s almost like a death for me, or a breakup.”
Palm Beach County’s comedy Mecca for more than two decades, the Palm Beach Improv hosted the final show in its downtown West Palm Beach CityPlace location on Sunday night.
Construction on a new high rise that will taking the place of the northern part of CityPlace is ready to commence.
Standing in the Improv’s lobby during the show, comedian and former Improv employee Jay Guy felt “Overwhelming sadness. There’s a lot of history here.”
Harte learned about a month-and-a-half ago that Sunday would likely be the last show, but waited to make a formal announcement until all staffers could be informed.
Word of the imminent closing started circulating among the comedy community late last week.
“Definitely going to muss this place,” comedian Eric Rosenblum said. “It’s our home club. It’s just the greatest. It’s comedy.”
With neighbors Copper Blues, Blue Martini and the movie theater having already closed for business, the Improv became the last business standing.
“Leaving here, it was so quiet this weekend. It was almost like, Oh, this is really over,” Owen said.
Owen first performed at the Palm Beach Improv nearly 20 years ago. He extended the final performance with an audience Q&A session.
“It was almost like, I didn’t want to leave,” Owen said.
Many in the audience lingered in the Improv long after the show ended. Local comedians reminisced about past performances and took the stage for one last photo. Staff members jumped on stage to autograph the background walls.
“It’s bittersweet,” comedian Jen Hellman said. “It’s nostalgic for us to be here. A lot of us got started here. It’s been exhilarating. It’s been humbling being a part of the Palm Beach Improv but, again, it’s really exciting because it’s not over.”
The Palm Beach Improv is moving to western Palm Beach County, near the intersection of Southern Blvd. and 441. But that location won’t be ready until 2025.
In the meantime, Harte is searching for a temporary location to bridge the gap. She’s identified two potential stopgaps – one in West Palm Beach, the other in North Palm. But those locations won’t be available for three to six months.
Improv officials are working to either reschedule upcoming shows, or to place those scheduled comedians in either the Dania or Miami Improvs.
Following the show, comedians gathered at nearby restaurant El Camino. Harte joined them. But before heading home, many returned to the empty Improv for one last memory.
“The stories,” Harte said. “If this room could talk, it would be crazy.”