The name is misleading. The Riot Act Comedy Theater is not a place for riotous, risky stand-ups and definitely not the type of theater that will ever be a registered landmark. It hosts comedic acts, so at least it got the middle part right.

The new haunt’s debut to the media last night was kind of—but predictably—tame. The first comic to go on was Big Al Goodwin, who didn’t push any boundaries, but who did bitch about Virginia drivers and offer a creepy Eddie Vedder impression. Meanwhile, the staff was running out of wine goblets as the crowds flooded the open bar, while many of the Penn Quarter bros who landed on the guest list seemed more focused on the ESPN-tuned plasmas showing the Yankees -Angels game. And as waiters bearing Trader Joe’s appetizers made rare passes through the two-story club, some people reached out for a fistful of potstickers instead of just one. Douche move, or good strategy? Point is: The opening night at Riot Act was pretty hectic, so it was difficult to judge what the club will mean to Washington and its comedy scene. Our pros and cons, which hopefully will be funnier than Big Al’s riff on the annual snowfall in his native Wisconsin.

CON

  • The place is quite sterile, maybe alarmingly so. It could be the raw newness of the space, but the crisp, undecorated white walls and car-dealership carpeting seem designed to be kept clean.

PRO

  • At least it’s not full of bobblehead-style animation or tacky neon signs. There’s aren’t any rules demanding comedy clubs have to look like T.G.I. Friday’s ugly cousin. And the carpet, if kept clean, will prevent anyone walking in heels from disturbing a set.

CON

  • Actually, if Riot Act reminds one of anything, it’s of a hotel bar. A Crowne Plaza by the airport might have more charm. Nothing about the subterranean theater says “D.C. comedy club”; you’d have to peer out the plate-glass windows of the ground-floor bar to remember you’re in Washington.

PRO

  • Hotel bars can be great. They’re not shrines to local teams, you never know who you’re going to meet, and more than likely, someone is using the company’s expense account so drinks are never too expensive. And since when has being in Washington ever been great for comedy?

CON

  • Like a hotel bar or function room, the performance space is cavernous. The 20-foot ceilings and sprawling floor offer none of the intimacy of a crowded, grimy comedy club. The stage is tiny, and from the more recessed corners of the room, hardly visible. The plan must be to turn the mics up to 11, because sound doesn’t travel well in there.

PRO

  • The size of the space allows it to be used for multiple types of events. Sure, it’s not ideal for stand up, but if the crowd is attentive, which most are, it’ll be fine. A tiny stages means a tighter act. Most stand-ups can stand behind a podium and be fine. Yes, Riot’s stage is more of a dais and the ceilings are high and there isn’t candlelight, but there’s also opportunity for sketch and improv classes, which Riot will be offering.

CON

  • And it ain’t cheap, but that’s how it goes with comedy clubs. Pay the evening’s admission price—say, $17 to see Nick DiPaolo on Oct. 6, and you’re still obligated to order two items from the menu. “What’s the plural of hummus” the menu asks. Well, spend a night at Riot Act and you can find out. Maybe you just want to go to an open mic? That’ll still set you back $10 just to get in the door to see the rawest material.

PRO

  • Things cost money. Don’t you want to say you’ve been the first person in the history of D.C. comedy to pay for an open mic? That’s something!

CON

  • For $100, you can become a Riot Act VIP. It’s not clear what that membership includes, other than a T-shirt to remind you that you dropped a Franklin just to get on a mailing list.

PRO

  • T-shirts are very expensive, especially those with a single screened logo, so the $100 is sort of a bargain. Also, you will feel very important and very special.

CON

PRO

  • Based on experience at comedy shows and talking to comedy club owners and managers, 70 to 80 percent of comedy club crowds are there just to laugh, not see a specific performer. Therefore, offering nameless comics isn’t necesarrily a bad thing. It creates more jobs for stand-ups. They’ll be working rooms that would have had to sit through team-building exercises, so if anything, this a public service for office dwellers.

CONCLUSION

Riot Act Comedy Theater will be good for D.C. and a wash for D.C. comedy. Sure, some great D.C. stand-ups like Jeff Mauer and Jimmy Merrit will be opening for slightly bigger, touring comics, but neither of these guys have any problems opening for slightly bigger, touring comics at the Improv or Arlington Drafthouse. The theater’s location is tailor-made for tourists. Just because it has stand-up doesn’t mean it has to be ground-breaking. Riot Act will do just fine bringing in the acts that aren’t big enough for the Improv and not hip enough for the Drafthouse. It’ll be interesting to see if the space slowly transitions into a corporate retreat space or is able to sustain itself as a comedy club that nobody really asked for.

Also, the timing could not have been better/more inappropriate for Riot Act Comedy Theater to open. Once again, Riot Act is a comedy club, and not a Pearl Jam album nor what’s been going on all week in the U.K.