An alcohol-free comedy club started by Mormon brothers in Provo, Utah, is changing the way comedians get and give laughs. Dry Bar Comedy, the brainchild of Director Isaac Halasima and entrepreneurs Neal and Jeff Harmon, has delivered safe-for-work jokes to almost 2 billion viewers over the internet since 2017.
The Harmons started Dry Bar to meet a demand for clean comedy—the kind of laugh-out-loud jokes you can share on social media without making your mother-in-law blush.
“Netflix—a huge portion of their viewing is standup comedy,” Jeff Harmon said. “But almost none of it is brand-safe,” meaning content that major advertisers will support. He and his brother set up in an out-of-business bar with a stage in Provo and started recruiting family-friendly comedians to film specials there. Eventually, they found that comics would clean up their acts for the opportunity to share them with Dry Bar’s audience.
“Most of the comedians are not normally brand-safe,” Jeff said. “They do a brand-safe show specifically for us.”
Dry Bar now has a library of more than 150 comedy specials it distributes on Amazon, Facebook, SiriusXM, Spotify, YouTube, the Dry Bar Comedy App, and VidAngel—the video filtering service the Harmons started in 2015. When a multimillion-dollar copyright lawsuit forced VidAngel to temporarily stop filtering movies and TV shows in 2016, the Harmons got serious about producing comedy specials. Using VidAngel’s technology, they collected data on the kind of jokes viewers did and didn’t want to see. They shared the information with comedians so they could tailor their sets to the tastes of Dry Bar’s audience.
In comedy, “clean” is often synonymous with “corny,” but the top comics on Dry Bar are relatable and mostly groan-free. One popular Dry Bar alumnus, Leanne Morgan, points out the hilarity of some of parenthood’s most undignified moments without giving up her motherly tenderness. Another, Kellen Erskine, jokes about the mundaneness of life like a lighthearted Jerry Seinfeld. But viewers should be aware that “clean” does not mean “Christian.” Comedians still sometimes mock other people for being different, make light of sin, and use innuendos that would be uncomfortable to explain to children.
Since it debuted on the revamped VidAngel platform in 2017, Dry Bar has soared. Clips of its specials have gone viral on Facebook, where many people don’t know about the comedy platform’s affiliation with VidAngel. In August 2018, one Reddit user asked, “What is this Dry Bar Comedy, and why is it suddenly everywhere on Facebook? … I’m seeing these high production value clips from this page with millions of followers but I had never heard of it until last month.”
Comedian Tony Deyo shared in the Reddit thread about his experience recording a special in Provo: “It was a great experience, the people I worked with were fantastic, and I’m really happy with the exposure that has come from it.”
I asked the Harmon brothers this week how they felt about Dry Bar’s success. They said it took longer than they thought it would.
Really? Two years seems fast to go from just getting started to leading the online market for comedy.
“We’re impatient people,” Jeff Harmon said.
The Harmons’ drive resembles that of Elon Musk, another notoriously antsy entrepreneur. In 2017, Musk once promised to send tourists to the moon in a year. He’s still working on that one, but along the way, his SpaceX company invented a new kind of reusable rocket that has changed the standards for delivering cargo to space.
Like Musk, the Harmons are industry disruptors. Their real vision is bigger than a comedy platform or even filtering. They want to return control of content to families and, in doing so, build an audience that no major advertiser can resist.
“The market is bigger when you listen to your audience this way,” Neal Harmon said. “We are changing the media landscape.”