Crackhouse Comedy Club (Crackhouse) has been home to local stand-up comedians including Dr. Jason Leong, Joanne Kam, Hannah Azlan, and Kavin Jay. It has also housed international comics, giving Malaysians a way to access this entertainment scene.
For 7 years, the club’s livelihood was based on its ticket sales for live shows, which amounted to 80% of its revenue. The other 20% came from their bar snacks and drinks to complement the performances at the venue.
“During the lockdown, the entire revenue channel was wiped out,” Rizal Van Geyzel, the club’s co-founder, told Vulcan Post. So to stay afloat amidst MCO 3.0, they’ve begun selling pizzas for deliveries and takeaways from their club.
Pivoting online was tough
Rizal is no stranger to stand-up comedy himself. Being a full-time performer, he opened Crackhouse in 2014 as a practice stage for up-and-coming local comedians to help them hone their skills. It would also help grow the local community that appreciated such acts.
He shared that during the first and second MCOs, the team tried many ways to stay afloat, and experimented with selling tickets for live shows via Zoom. “But people mostly preferred to wait until they could come to a physical live show,” Rizal explained.
Not to mention, few comedians were open to the idea of performing online as technical equipment for it was too costly.
The team then diversified by running a training course called “An Introduction To Stand-up Comedy” with 8 participants per cohort on Zoom. It covered lessons about persona creation, comedy writing, performing, and disaster mitigation, and was mentored by Crackhouse’s own comics.
Dictionary time: Disaster mitigation is about preparing for the worst, be it technical issues with the sound system or hecklers (interruptions from the crowd).
Rizal Van Geyzel, co-founder of Crackhouse Comedy Club.
Participants who joined didn’t necessarily want to become stand-up comedians. It was merely to learn the ropes of becoming better communicators and presenters in their respective fields.
Pivoting to F&B
Over the MCOs, Crackhouse didn’t make an income through food deliveries as they mostly sold snacks like hot dogs, nachos, chips, sandwiches, and drinks. It just didn’t have a unique enough proposition that was worth a customer’s money.
“People came to Crackhouse for the comedy, not the food,” he stated.
But being badly affected by the club’s drop in revenue, Rizal turned to another passion: his love for pizzas, especially crispy, thin crusted ones.
Rizal then spent 3 months on the R&D for the pizzas to make them special to Crackhouse. He learnt how to make the pizza’s base from scratch, along with the necessary sauces, toppings, etc.
Using fresh ingredients, he takes no shortcuts with anything that goes into the pizzas. “Except for the cheese, we don’t own a cow. For that we purchase imported, quality, mozzarella cheese,” Rizal joked.
Now with completed products, Rizal conceptualised the club’s new menu one morning at 4AM, using cheeky wordplay for the pizza’s names.
“The ‘I got beef!’ pizza was supposed to be named ‘Frisky brisket’ because it’s so good, it’ll make you horny. We thought that’s taking it too far, plus pizza is supposed to be family-friendly,” enthused the comedian. The pizzas can cost between RM15-RM30, depending on the toppings.
The pizzas were launched at a perfect time too; in March 2021, live events were allowed to resume. It gave Crackhouse a short window to market its menu to a dine-in crowd, not to mention run shows again.
Rizal reported that responses from customers were positive and helped the club create awareness about their offerings amongst regulars and new customers. Diners also provided invaluable feedback which helped them tweak the recipes for improvement.
Back in lockdown
Upon MCO 3.0’s full lockdown, Crackhouse was now armed with pizza deliveries as a revenue stream. But money was still going out of their pockets.
Since the team uses a professional pizza oven, electricity bills at the club skyrocketed. They also experimented with many different packaging options as they needed one that wouldn’t damage the planet or the pizzas during deliveries.
“Once you’ve added on staff costs, delivery partner processing fees, and everything else necessary to run our business, there are some orders where we were making as little as RM1 per pie,” Rizal admitted.
However, he’s thankful that pizzas aren’t one-off purchases to Malaysians and has seen customers buy multiple pizzas, several times a month. Higher margins have also been put on side orders and drinks to help compensate for the low pizza margins.
The first time we got a repeat Grab order from a customer was our defining moment for selling these pizzas. We knew that the comics and fans who are loyal to us would try it once, but the hardest part is getting them to come back, and that can only be done if we offer a genuinely great product.
Rizal Van Geyzel, co-founder of Crackhouse Comedy Club
Every pizza order from Crackhouse comes with a QR code containing comedy clips provided by past headliners. The pizzas also come with reheating instructions printed on the box’s seal.
The comedian added that whenever dine-ins and live shows are allowed again, they’re fully equipped and ready to serve their pizzas at the club. “One might even say that we are desperate because the cut from delivery partners are really hurting our profit margins,” he shared.
“We will always continue to care about our food and will make sure that it is in service of our live shows. We just want to have surprisingly good food for a comedy club, rather than surprisingly good comedy for a pizzeria!”
- You can learn more about Crackhouse Comedy Club here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Rizal Van Geyzel, co-founder of Crackhouse Comedy Club