Over the past year, lifelong Baysider Stephen Pantelides has brought hundreds of comedians from all over New York to perform in his hometown.
Through his newly formed production company, The Yeah Brothers, Pantelides hosts weekly comedy shows at Brian Dempsey’s, a brick-lined bar on Bell Boulevard. And more recently, he has expanded his shows to other venues in Queens and Manhattan.
For years he was making music, and working a range of jobs around Bayside, but those close to him kept telling him he should give comedy a try. In 2016, he decided to wing it at an open mic comedy show at the Laughing Buddha, a comedy club on the Lower East Side.
The first joke he ever told on stage, and continues to use today, goes “My name is Stephen Peter Pantelides. Peter Pan is in the middle of my government name. I asked my mom, and she said, well that explains why your ass never grew up.”
“As cringy and corny as it sounds, it actually works for some magical reason,” said Pantelides in a sit-down interview with QNS. “And ever since then, I just fell in love with comedy.”
After that first set, two veteran comedians who saw potential took him under their wing and trained him for two months straight. He recounted standing up on stage in an empty room and being told to just talk in a stream of consciousness. That experience made him more comfortable on stage, polished up his delivery and taught him which punch lines work.
He went on to perform at various clubs around the city but felt unsatisfied and struggled to compete for the few paid gigs available. So he thought, “how cool would it be if I started doing shows in my hometown.”
Brian Dempsey’s was the first venue where he organized a show that brought a dozen other comedians to the bar on a Monday night, one of the slowest nights of the week for business.
The shows took off as soon as he started last April, bringing in close to a hundred locals looking for a laugh. Since them, he has not had any trouble finding eager comedians to take the stage, given years of building relationships in the comic community.
While he mostly promotes the shows on social media or on Eventbrite, sometimes he will go down to Staples and print out dozens of flyers to put up along Bell Boulevard, the old-fashioned way.
There are no official comedy clubs in Queens. But there are a slew of establishments to laugh at in Manhattan. Most of them charge a cover to get in, require a purchase of at least two drinks and don’t generally offer food. Pantelides wanted to set a new model for comedy shows by making the shows free, and keeping things lively long after the show ends.
Most of the dozen or so comedians who perform at his weekly shows don’t live in Queens. They will come from other boroughs, other states and, on one occasion, from Indonesia.
“None of them knew what the heck Bayside was,” said Pantelides, adding that it can be difficult to convince them to come out instead of sticking with the city venues.
And there have been nights where due to bad weather, or a lack of promotion on his part, no one showed up. It ended up being a night of comedians just performing to each other.
But Pantelides says that nights like those have value too. They give the comics a chance to test out their material before hitting the big stages in the city. It is also an opportunity to network and strengthen their community. Oftentimes, Pantelides says that the shows turn into a party, which is why he makes sure to always bring in a DJ.
He has been hosting the Monday shows consistently since last April. But recently, he has not stepped on the stage to perform. He is usually caught up in booking the talent, promoting the shows and making sure everything runs smoothly.
Since that first show in Bayside, he has also hosted shows at Deja Vu in Astoria and Alejandro’s Tapas Bar in Woodside, as well as other venues in Bayside. In December, he also organized his first Manhattan show at Room 52, a comedy club in Midtown. But he says Brian Dempsey’s will always be his favorite venue to bring comedians to.
“When I held that microphone in 2016. I had no idea I was going to have my own company, and bring over 300 comedians to seven locations in my life,” said Pantelides. “It feels really good that I did something from my hometown without expecting anything in return.”
He admits that most of the comedians he books are funnier than him. And he is proud to see them move onto bigger places after performing at his shows, while still being able to give less experienced comedians a platform.
When he does get on stage, he says that his jokes are 80% truth and 20% creativity, like many comedians who exaggerate their life experiences to get something out of the audience. His storytelling style does not shy away from the raunchy stuff, or jokes that many would say are not politically correct.
“People are so scared to laugh now. And everybody wants to be politically correct and try to cancel everybody,” said Pantelides. “The comedians that I work with, they’re not afraid. And that’s exactly what people want. We’re gonna have our fun, while being respectful as well.”
He compares going up on stage as a comedian to going to war, and winning the crowd over is a 10-minute battle. He says the key is knowing the crowd.
The later it is the raunchier he’ll get. The 5 p.m. crowd might hear some jokes about his family, but the 10 p.m. crowd will hear about his sexual escapades that sound too bizarre to have actually happened.
“This is a tough room. Baysiders don’t laugh at just anything. They’re gonna see what you got. They’re going to test you,” said Pantelides. “That’s another reason why comedians love coming here and testing their material out.”