Sundays at Sylk’s
By Nicole D. Miller
Cleveland once again knocked it out of the park by attracting Chicago native Sam Sylk. A true fan of the then-known “Indians” baseball team (now The Guardians), he reports that the city’s successful sports team is one of its many assets. After solidifying his spot at radio station Z 107.9, he hunkered down, digging deep roots into the small business and urban cuisine sectors. Several food-based establishments, such as Doc’s Fish and various Sam Sylk’s Chicken & Fish locations, can be enjoyed throughout the city, courtesy of Mr. Sylk. But it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020 that another opportunity for expansion arose. While many were reeling from job losses and financial setbacks, Sam spearheaded an endeavor that breathed life back into the city’s nightlife. His vision to merge a live audience with good music, good food, and lots of laughs skyrocketed sales at his newly opened lounge, Sylk’s.
“I call it the ‘Grown Folks Playground’,” says Sam when describing the ambiance of the smooth, cozy venue. “I wanted to create a place where grown folks could come and just be, you know, grown.”
One of the vital needs of any community is to find joy amid adversity. This is especially true in urban sectors where poverty, crime rates, and racism slaughter the underprivileged daily. The Bureau of Justice Statistics confirms this in the 2021 National Crime Victimization Survey. This survey reports the chilling increase in crime in urban areas compared to the unchanged rates in suburban ones. The need for laughter was even more dire, as mental health stats nosedived and depression stats bloomed during the pandemic. According to the CDC, in the first half of 2020, over 40% of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder associated with Covid-19. But knowing that laughter serves as a great buffer to grief, Sam implemented comedy shows as a tool for healing. It wasn’t long before he partnered with comedic giant Big Rich Greene, who produces and presents a seven times sold-out phenomenon at Sylk’s called “Funny Sundays.”
Unlike many shows that present more mainstream comics from other cities, “Funny Sundays” intentionally showcases local talent, thereby also putting money back into the pockets of northeast Ohioans.
“Cleveland has the makings of becoming a mecca for other artists and is on its way,” says Big Rich. He believes the city is busting at the seams with talent but needs more platforms to highlight it.
Sylk’s platform takes a whack at the outdated belief that one man’s gain is another man’s loss. Today, comedians like Big Rich share the stage of opportunity with up-and-coming artists. Tyrone Gaines, who headlined in January for “Funny Sundays,” is one such recipient of this generosity. Gaines adequately dominated a stage previously graced by heavy hitters Capone, Dominique, Kenny Howell, and Damon Williams, just to name a few.
“Sylk’s is the next Black Improv,” Gaines adamantly stated. “There’s no other comedy spot, with that level of notoriety, that exposes local artists to success.” Mr. Sylk confirms Gaine’s observation when divulging that Sylk’s has even served as a sort of “gateway entry” into Cleveland’s beloved improv scene.
So, what keeps the “Funny Sunday” show packed? In short, the comics do. Big Rich empowers performers to sell tickets and promote, and they bring the audience. Now that it’s been a consistent happening, the show has taken on a life of its own. One Sunday, a reported 25 walk-ins (vs pre-sold tickets) showed up looking for laughs.
“Sylk’s is a beacon for Black comedy,” Big Rich advises. That beacon starkly shone its light by producing income for the hardworking comics of Cleveland, all while inducing laughs from each attendee.
Sam accredits his ability to succeed, when the odds seem stacked against him, to his faith. When larger facilities couldn’t bring in revenue, he capitalized on the intimacy of his lounge, making him a key player in the comedy hub of Cleveland.
More laughs are in store at Sylk’s, 21300 Libby Rd in Maple Hts. “Funny Sundays” will run at least once a month indefinitely. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.
City Journal: https://www.city-journal.org/violent-crime-in-cities-on-the-rise#:~:text=In%202021%2C%20however%2C%20the%20violent,areas%2C%20per%201%2C000%20persons).
Photo Credit: Freddie Bryant