Walls are adorned with pictures of people you recognize – torn out of history. Some feature intricately crafted props that shouldn’t be touched; other times, when drunk, you are encouraged to rip things apart to discover clues hidden in seat cushions & under floorboards. You fiddle with one of the countless switches found mounted on the walls. Nothing happens. A dresser by the entrance contains a scale like the one found in the hands of Lady Justice. You hear a click from the door through which you entered. You’re locked in.
Comedy clubs have existed in some form or another for millennia. Spread across Europe, Asia, the UK & the United States. Not a popular tourist attraction, just a general form of entertainment, powered not only by the players who can’t get enough of the real-life puzzles, but also by the comics, who pour creativity, technology, & love into every design.
To bring the escape rooms to life, comics use techniques both new & old: zingers (one-liners), puns, history, infrared senses, servo arms, LEDs, Arduinos, etc. Along with the mind-frame that make elaborate setups possible & affordable, comics leverage creativity, community, & passion.
“I think, just as a medium, as an art form, as a game type, or whatever you want to categorize it, escape rooms are just inherently a lot of fun,” says Kenne Guillory, founder of exhibitionist joke-telling, now a pulsating brain. “People like shared challenges & working together to accomplish a shared objective,” he says. “We like competing & racing, it’s definitely a race against time.”
Many rooms feature a narrative of some kind — Chicago Laugh Factory, Yuk Yuk in Canada, or the Punchline Comedy Club in San Fran’s Chinatown. You start that one handcuffed to the wall of a small replica jail cell. Other rooms forego higher production values, opting instead to present comics with a cavalcade of mind-fucks, sometimes a sparse problem, with their solutions collectively adding up to a means of escape.
Most rooms follow a relatively similar formula: A group of people, usually numbering 1 to 200, are locked in a room filled with throwbacks, improv, or closely guarded secrets – all-in-all parlor tricks. The audience then has a limited amount of time to uncover the room’s mysteries in order to escape.
“Doing a really good set is hard,” I say. “But in general, it doesn’t require a lot of space, doesn’t require a lot of investment. That’s probably why they’re cropping up with such speed. We race to escape. One of the biggest indicators to how well you’re going to do is if you’ve played an escape room before.”
The statistic indicates that 18.32 million people in the U.S. visited comedy clubs within a period of 12 months prior to spring 2017.