Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Excerpt 03

(Excerpt #3 of "It Seemed Funny at the Time"--Rough Draft)

After a few months we knew LA better than the natives as we crisscrossed the LA basin nightly, sometimes hitting multiple stages in a night armed with notebooks and tape recorders. The comics were like locusts descending en mass on new venues and eating as much stage time as possible, and buying nothing. Some places banned comics from the open mic because their sheer number and obnoxiousness.

The Mad Hatter’s Sunday night open mic was emceed by Steve Isaacs, or “Spooky” as he was known at the time. He was a great host; friendly, open, and gracious with the performers. More comics found out about this padded room and soon out numbered the shiny-faced kids. There was a growing dissonance between the eager youth and the jaded hacks. I offered to start a comedy night on Tuesdays to relieve the pressure on the performance artists, singer songwriters, poets, and others natives of the house.

This was an opportunity to gain bouku stage time. I didn’t work on my routine as emcee, but learned to be the grease between the wheels, to keep a flow, to pick up the room after a bombed out performance, or give a newcomer a chance to ride the wake of the killer set before. As a house emcee I was one of the few comics still allowed at the open mic night.

Spooky was eventually “discovered” and landed a MTV VJ gig and moved to New York. I handed the comedy night to another comic and took over Spooky’s position as the Open mic emcee. The Mad Hatter Open mic was a hot bed of underground talent. Performers took the stage to perform for performance sake. It was a stark contrast to most of the other open mics that were so infested with celebrity wannabes.

One particular evening stands out in my memory. A young guy from Oklahoma, barefoot and bearded and living out of his car, came in to play. He sat down on the stage and pulled the guitar up to his chest and tilted his head to the neck. He looked like he was embracing a lover, and sounded like it as well. The people fell silent, the espresso machine stopped, and a moment happened. We were stunned by non-verbal eloquence. Unpretentious melifluosity wove us all into a shared experience. A tear rolled down my cheek and it shocked me. It was the first time I’d cried in the face of undeniable beauty.

The Mad Hatter was my favorite gig of the week. It seemed “other,” and yet the people seemed familiar. I was training for the factory, but slumming with the circus. I felt camaraderie with the crew of comedians that I ran with, a team spirit evoked by our common goal of stardom. But the affinity I felt for this cornucopia of free expression was compelling. The Mad Hatter was a labor of love more that a business, and love wasn’t paying the rent. Soon, economics crushed the fragile oasis, and the Hatter closed.

Mad Dogs brother Dan was a bartender at Des Regan’s Irish Pub in Burbank. We drank there occasionally and became friendly with the owner. I asked to start a comedy night and Des said yes. I put the word out to the crew and invited my favorites. Instead of the usual tack of having a time to sign up, I chose to have the comics call me during the week for a spot. Then I made the set list, mixing the comedians like a DJ mixes songs.

The Des Regans “Cheap Comedy Night” started off rough. Tuesday night was dart league night. One side of the bar was the stage area, in the middle towards the back was a horseshoe bar and on the other side was the dart league. The first night the stage audience was all comedians, and they were out numbered by disinterested bar flies and the boisterous league. Being an Irish bar, the regulars had their own well-oiled routine going on at the bar already. The comedy show was background noise even though we had the microphone. We all new each others sets, inside and out, so the room provided an opportunity to lose the act and play the room, or get played by the room. My Diplomatic skills were thoroughly tested. I had thrown a party and the guests weren’t mixing well.

The bar crew turned on their stools to watch the escalating scene between sharp wits and sharp objects. The night as a whole became a dramatic comedy performance. For many performers, the jokes floated on a turbulent inner life of anger and insecurity. Laughter started coming from very weird places, as laughing-at and laughing-with blurred together. I was emceeing a spectacle, and I earned my beer that night. And every Tuesday after.

As the weeks progressed some people started coming to the bar to actually watch the show. Word got out and the locust swarm of stage hogs descended on the place and I became facilitator of a three-ring circus. Good times, good times.

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