The Crackhouse Comedy Club (Crackhouse) was home to local stand-up comedians like Dr. Jason Leong, Joanne Kam, Hannah Azlan and Kavin Jay. It has also hosted international comics that provide Malaysians with access to this entertainment scene.
The club’s livelihood was based on ticket sales for live shows for 7 years, which accounted for 80% of its revenue. The other 20% came from their bar snacks and drinks to complement the on-site performances.
“During the lockdown, the entire revenue channel was wiped out,” Rizal Van Geyzel, co-founder of the club, told Vulcan Post. To stay afloat in the midst of the MCO 3.0, they have started selling pizzas for delivery and take-away from their club.
Pivoting online was difficult
Comedians who have performed at the Crackhouse / Photo Credit: Crackhouse Comedy Club
Rizal is no stranger to stand-up comedy himself. As a full-time performer, he opened Crackhouse in 2014 as a practice stage for aspiring local comedians to help them improve their skills. It would also help increase the local community that values such acts.
He said that during the first and second MCOs, the team tried many ways to stay afloat and experimented with selling tickets to live shows through Zoom. “But most of the time people preferred to wait until they could come to a live physical show,” explained Rizal.
Not to mention that few comedians were open to the idea of performing online because the technical equipment was too expensive.
The team then diversified by running a training course called “An Introduction to Stand-up Comedy” with 8 participants per cohort on Zoom. It included lessons on personality creation, comedy writing, performing, and disaster risk reduction, and was overseen by Crackhouse’s own comics.
Dictionary time: Disaster risk reduction is about preparing for the worst, whether it’s technical problems with the sound system or heckling (interruptions from the crowd).
Rizal Van Geyzel, co-founder of the Crackhouse Comedy Club.
Participants who joined didn’t necessarily want to become stand-up comedians. It was just about learning the ropes to become better communicators and presenters in their respective fields.
Switch to F&B
Through the MCOs, Crackhouse did not make any income from grocery deliveries as they mainly sold snacks such as hot dogs, nachos, chips, sandwiches, and beverages. It just didn’t have a one-of-a-kind offering worth a customer’s money.
“People came to Crackhouse for the comedy, not the food,” he said.
But badly hit by the club’s drop in sales, Rizal turned to another passion: his love of pizzas, especially crispy, thin crusts.
Rizal then spent 3 months researching and developing the pizzas to make them special for Crackhouse. He learned how to make the pizza crust from scratch along with the necessary sauces, toppings, etc.
With fresh ingredients, he doesn’t take shortcuts with anything that makes pizza. “Apart from the cheese, we don’t have a cow. That’s why we buy imported, high-quality mozzarella cheese, ”joked Rizal.
With the finished products one morning at 4 a.m., Rizal designed the club’s new menu with cheeky puns for the names of the pizza.
“The ‘I have beef!’ Pizza should be called “Frisky Brisket” because it’s so good it’ll make you horny. We thought that was going too far, and pizza should also be family-friendly, ”enthuses the comedian. The pizzas can cost between RM15-RM30, depending on the topping.
Other cheeky names for the pizzas are “Mary had a big one” (left) and “Ayam what I am” (right) / Photo credit: Crackhouse Comedy Club
The pizzas were also brought to market at a perfect time; Live events were allowed to resume in March 2021. It gave Crackhouse a short window to market its menu to a restaurant audience, not to mention shows again.
Rizal reported that customer responses were positive and helped the club draw the attention of regulars and new customers to its offers. Guests also provided invaluable feedback that helped them tweak the recipes for improvement.
Back in lockdown
Pizza deliveries also come with entertainment / Photo credit: Crackhouse Comedy Club
After the complete lockdown of MCO 3.0, Crackhouse was now equipped with pizza deliveries as a source of income. But the money was still running out of their pockets.
With the team using a professional pizza oven, the club’s utility bills skyrocketed. They also experimented with many different packaging options as they needed one that would not damage the planet or the pizzas during delivery.
“Once you add the labor costs, delivery partner handling fees, and everything else required to run our business, there were some orders where we only made RM 1 per cake,” Rizal admitted.
However, he is grateful that pizzas aren’t one-time purchases for Malaysians and has seen customers buy multiple pizzas several times a month. Higher margins were also achieved on side dishes and drinks to compensate for the low pizza margins.
The first time we received a repeat Grab order from a customer was our defining moment in selling these pizzas. We knew the comics and fans who are loyal to us would give it a try, but the hardest part is getting them to come back and that only works if we have a really great product.
Rizal Van Geyzel, co-founder of the Crackhouse Comedy Club
Every pizza order from Crackhouse comes with a QR code that contains comedy clips from previous headliners. The pizzas also come with warm-up instructions printed on the box’s seal.
The comedian added that when dinner and live shows are allowed again they will be fully stocked and ready to serve their pizzas at the club. “You could even say that we’re desperate because cutting supply partners is really hurting our profit margins,” he said.
“We’ll continue to take care of our food and make sure it serves our live shows. We just want surprisingly good food for a comedy club instead of surprisingly good comedy for a pizzeria! “
- Find out more about the Crackhouse Comedy Club here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups we’ve written here.
Photo credit: Rizal Van Geyzel, co-founder of the Crackhouse Comedy Club