Every Monday night, on a tiny basement stage in Belltown, The Magic Hat gives comedians a place to tell jokes and audience members a chance to tell personal stories — and, at the end, people tell secrets in the dark.
Seattle is saturated with comedy shows, from open-mic nights to touring acts who parachute into small bars and big theaters for a night or two. But The Magic Hat is an oddball in the city’s comedy family — a weekly performance on a subterranean Belltown stage that is part comedy show and part confessional booth. It begins with singing and ends with secrets told in the dark.
If you walk down the stairs of the Rendezvous bar around 7 p.m. on any Monday evening, the people hanging out below will greet you in song: “Welcome to The Magic Hat!” Clap, clap. “Welcome to The Magic Hat!” Clap, clap. Then they’ll keep chatting and drinking, waiting for the show to begin.
Every week at The Magic Hat, a few preselected comedians perform short sets, and audience members who want to tell a story put their names in the titular hat, to be drawn randomly — usually by host Emmett Montgomery, whose red beard is so long it looks like he borrowed it from an Old Testament prophet. Once Montgomery has read out the name, he typically turns to the audience with a sincere expression and says: “Please open your hearts.”
The Magic Hat
7 p.m. on Mondays, The Grotto at Rendezvous, 2322 2nd Ave., Seattle; $5 (206-441-5823 or therendezvous.rocks).
At the end of each show, somebody turns off the lights for the “Secret Party,” where people sit in the dark and tell secrets that nobody in the room is allowed to repeat.
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The evening tends to oscillate between funny and sad. At one recent Magic Hat, a regular audience member with a blonde Mohawk who went by the name Roe started her story by tearing up and rubbing her eyes before talking about a break-in at her apartment. “I felt so violated,” she said. Then she recovered and wryly went on about trying to find all her drug stashes before the police showed up, and realizing that the burglars stopped ransacking her apartment when they got to the room where she kept her pet snakes.
Levi Manis, a thin young man who looked like a heavy-metal Jesus, spent his stage time deadpanning maudlin one-liners: “My mind is similar to a Quiznos — it’s toasted and nobody cares about it … I try to live like I was born — by accident and behind Arby’s … My reverse psychologist told me I should be myself.”
Later, the lights went down and the secrets came out.
Montgomery, who founded The Magic Hat in 2014, described it as “controlled chaos” that’s “less like a show and more like a cult.”
Montgomery grew up in Utah, in a large Mormon family, and said choosing Mondays wasn’t an accident. Mormons, he explained, “have this thing called ‘family home evening’ on Monday where families get together, sing songs, talk about their lives — it starts your secular week, when you’re still living off the fumes of Sunday.”
The Magic Hat has generated its own sense of community, with a steady group of regulars who all know to burst into song when someone walks down the Rendezvous stairs. And they confess to each other — Montgomery didn’t know one of his close friends and co-organizers, Josh Chambers, was getting a divorce until he mentioned it on the Magic Hat stage.
The secret party, Montgomery said, is especially revealing. One time, a quiet newcomer sitting in a corner waited until the lights went out and then confessed to a crime. Because he confessed during the secret party, Montgomery wouldn’t say what it was. “It wasn’t as alarming as the big ones (crimes),” he said. “But it was alarming enough that I thought: ‘I don’t want anyone I know to date this person.’ ”
Even though Seattle is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Montgomery said, The Magic Hat wouldn’t work if the town weren’t “still weirdoville.”
The Magic Hat, he concluded, is “just making a salad with the local produce.”