The laughs came to a standstill last month with the news that comedy institution Rhino Room and its adjoining venues Howling Owl and Urban Cow Studio will be forced to close their doors.

The Frome Street premises that houses the three spaces is slated for demolition in May next year to make way for a 36-storey apartment complex – set to be the tallest building in Adelaide. An outpouring of memories has flooded social media – celebrating the history of the iconic purple building.

A crowd-funding campaign will launch during Adelaide Fringe to support the team in acquiring a new space. “The building may go, but the Rhino will be saved,” says Adelaide Comedy promoter Craig Egan.

Rhino was established in 1998 as an offshoot to Urban Cow Studio to provide a platform for emerging performing artists in the same way Urban Cow provides a space for emerging visual artists.

It started with a modest two gigs a week and Justin Hamilton at the reigns before Egan took over in 2002. “It’s really a state treasure,” Egan says. “It’s the place where people hash out their ideas and have the freedom to just talk about whatever – so many ideas have germinated on the Rhino Room stage and been tweaked and turned out and eventually gone out onto the gala room stage. It’s such an important space for artists to be artists and create great work.”

It’s a history you can feel in the walls. Some of the country’s biggest names such as Frank Woodley, Fiona O’Loughlin, Rove McManus, Wil Anderson and honorary Aussie Arj Barker have passed through the doors. You can hear the pride in Egan’s voice, when he name checks some of Rhino’s local successes. “People like Demi Lardner and Amos Gill grew up on the scene and have gone on to do incredible things in comedy and radio. Even Hannah Gadsby spent a year or two on the Adelaide Comedy scene, and used it to hone and develop her comedy voice,” he says.

For 2015 RAW State Finalist Nick Huntley, it all started at an open mic. “I was pretty bad, I had no idea what I was doing. But I kept going and I guess something just clicks.” He credits Rhino’s supportive atmosphere. “It’s a great confidence boost; you learn in the deep end.”

The impact of Adelaide Comedy is clear from the outpouring of support, a continuous full house and the regulars that attend week after week. There’s more to it than just a good time though. According to Egan, “It gives our local people a voice, which is really, really important.” With the ABC and community television being defunded, taken off air or moved to bigger cities, open mics are one of few platforms to give Adelaidians a voice. “The comedy work, regardless of race, sex, or anything else, lets anybody have a voice. The only pre-req is that it needs to be funny.”

Mick Krieg, owner and operator of the three venues, is sad to see the building go, but he’s looking to the future. “Adelaide is losing one of its first ever buildings on the city square, it was built in the 1850s – and it’s such a beautiful and well-maintained space.” Despite the demolition, Krieg stresses that this is not the end. “It’s definitely not a closure, if anything it’s an opportunity for us to move to a bigger space. The challenge we have now is to maintain the diversity of what we’ve always done here – but I’m excited about what the future holds.”