Tuesday night ended an era and a comedy room that stood for 20 years. That no industry covered the event was fitting, partly the point, and sad, or funny, depending on how you choose to look at it. I choose to look at it as fitting, funny and inspiring.
The turn-out was immense. standing-room only, Vance Sanders is the Cal Ripken of running an open mic, a sports reference he won’t get, but we were there for him. Robert Yasumura took over when Vance got sick and they ran it together for 7 years, and we were there for him too.
Mostly, we were there for ourselves. We don’t get much ceremony in this thing we do, and we wanted to be there to see it one last time. We went to grumble about parking, the indignity of being carded and stamped, because after all this is a UCLA bar, and to congregate on the patios and awkwardly say we love you. That’s what it was for me. It didn’t dawn on me that they had been calling it “The Open Mic of Love” for a while, maybe since the beginning. Love being ironic because it has been known as a tough room forever.
Tuesday July 23, 2013 was a day for love. A day for a true-ragtag group to come and bask in a shared accomplishment. If you were in that room, you were part of it. If you were in the other rooms you were part of it. The way Vance and Robert navigated the impossible task of who would say what was done to perfection. All of wishing we could get up there, but understanding.
For me, for a short while in the early to mid 2000’s that room was my deadline for new material. It was the way for me to feel like I wasn’t dying on the vine, in this city. A place to make friends and to have your stomach lurch when you found out about all the shit that was going on in the business, all the shit that had to be done. A place to sit and watch, good, bad, and ugly comedy.
Stand-up comedy is an individual sport, and that being the case, many comics are self-involved, lonely messes of humanity. We are vulnerable and raw and endeavor to turn pain into joy, in a business that prefers us to stay away, while the few lucky ones are plucked and shot into the stratosphere.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t a comic. I was an actor with a resume filled with plays that a few thousand people saw. My brother made me promise I would go to an open mic and to commit to the date I would do so. I didn’t go to the Brew Co. I went to the HaHa Cafe where I had to pay 5 bucks to do 5 minutes while the sun was still out. It went well, which is a disaster, because all the years of building up a phobia washed away, and I said to myself, “I can do this.” Which takes me to where we are today.
The Brew Co. was not the kind of place for me, on paper. It was a cliquey, nerdy, den of alternative comics who would have shut me down if they knew my main stream desires. Desires, I’m sure we all craved. I kept going, I worked on stuff, I think I was beginning to be accepted. I found a voice, a little neurotic, a little cocky, a lot wordy. I got feedback. I won an award.
That’s right, this open mic had an annual awards show called the Scoomies, it’s an acronym that few know, that Vance came up with. The categories were, Best Joke, Most-Improved, Best Melt-Down, you know, that kind of stuff. In ’04 I won the Scoomie for Coolest comic. My acceptance speech was this: “It’s great to win Coolest Comic in a room full of people, I would have thrown against lockers, in High School.” That was my schtick at the time, playing up that I didn’t belong, but partly relishing in my inner nerdiness. I’ve kept it and I’ve had to explain it a couple of times, which usually ended with me saying, “It’s hard to explain, you wouldn’t get it.”
People ask me when I have shows and when they asked about the last Brew Co. I said it wouldn’t be entertaining to an outsider. I think I was right, but being there and seeing the outpouring of love and affection and faces from the past and present, I think an outsider might have gleaned something special was going on. But, then again, those college fucks just wanted us to get the fuck out of the room so Karaoke could start. So, I guess I was right, you just wouldn’t understand.
Long live the Brew Co. Long live your Dreams. I miss you guys already.