Finally, Jackson is no joke when it comes to comedy

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There’s no weightlifting in the traditional sense in “The Workout Room” at Hal & Mal’s on Tuesday nights. Just bring your original material and work out the kinks before a live audience that is only interested in improving their coordination of gestures and production of sound simultaneously, otherwise known as laughter. And for the $15 cover charge, you get a three-hour show (8-11 p.m.) which includes a featured artist, such as Tonya Boyd Cannon of The Voice fame. 

On March 26, 2024, this writer made her maiden run to “The Workout Room” to see what all the street buzz is about comedian extraordinaire Rita Brent, and what she has going on at the popular night spot on Commerce Street in downtown Jackson, Mississippi.

“The Workout Room” is the brainchild of Brent, who serves as the host for a local and statewide lineup of musicians, poets, spoken word artists, actors, and, of course, comedians. Everyone gets a turn to present their original material which is the only criteria, and the audience gives its feedback with cue cards that read “Worked It Out” for great job, or “Keep Working” that is self explanatory. No heckling is allowed, much like Planet Fitness – “The Judgement Free Zone”. Everyone gets a roaring round of applause always as they leave the stage. 

Each participant signs up as they enter the door and is given 5, 10, and even 15 minutes on stage to “Work It Out.”  Brent offers encouragement, and on occasion interjects improvisational banter to help some of the artists move the comedy along at a pace that enhances their performance. The improvisation really gets the audience engaged with boisterous laughter and demonstrates the professional capacity and stage presence that Brent possesses as the host. She doesn’t shy away from making the exchange with the artists’ audience an inclusive experience, frequently allowing aspects of her personal life to be used in the banter. She even utilizes self-deprecation strategically to bring on laughs that are reminiscent of the old Johnny Carson Show.

Songstress Tonya Boyd Cannon, a Jackson native and Tougaloo College graduate, had no problem filling the joint with admirers. She reeled the packed house in with her vocal prowess and dropped in familiar tunes that immediately captivated the audience, prompting them to join in. 

Being the flexible artist she is, Cannon got in on the improvisation with a few jokes of her own that were tied to the songs that the crowd yelled out that they wanted her to sing that included several different genres, making the audience feel as though they were a part of the show. As time went on, Cannon put a few dance moves on display inviting members of the audience to join her on the dance floor. 

The audience felt so appreciative of Cannon’s performance they started a spontaneous old time church pass-the-hat collection of funds to let her know just how much they enjoyed her coming to Jackson and punctuating the caliber of talent that Rita Brent commands of the musical guest in “The Workout Room”. The word is out about “The Workout Room” with people like Tamaro White coming from as far away as Washington, DC looking to see how we do it in the Sipp. Don’t be surprised if “The Workout Room” is picked up by some network very soon!

“I want Mississippi comedians and other talented artists to have a space where they can workout their material while honing their skills early on in their careers,” says Brent. “Mississippians have cornered the entertainment market in music and literature, but “The Workout Room” provides comedians like me an avenue to exhibit their work in front of a live nonjudgmental audience to give them the building blocks for bigger stages and astute audiences that are looking for real down-home entertainment that Mississippi can produce if given the opportunity and place to ‘Work It Out.’”

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Finally, Jackson is no joke when it comes to comedy

By Brinda Fuller Willis
April 8, 2024