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.
This is very little. This effort is minimal, insufficient, anemic. I will not be at a bbq today, not out of some romantic gesture to take the day seriously, but because my failure to RSVP has left me to my own devices.
I don’t want to sound like a Country Music Award nominee, but I want to remember the brave men and women who have served. And the men in my family, who served, and taught me how to be a man, despite my sometimes falling short of their example.
My late Father George, my late Uncle Lou, my Uncle Tom, and my stud Uncle Emil still trucking in his 90’s. Thanks is not enough. Never forgotten.
This is a clip, with me, from a series, Policeman vs. Fireman, done by my buddy Bryan Erwin, he’s a great comic and has 25 million views to his credit. I’m just trying to piggy-back a little.
Here it is.
This is a brief and rare moment of self-promotion, as if a website dedicated to oneself isn’t a constant self-promoted item. The Laugh Button is a cool site that follows comedy and tries to help comics. Thanks a million guys. More promoting will surely follow. Here’s the link:
I like tennis. I played tennis. I started late and had a couple of communal lessons, but I was tall and liked to come to the net and got pretty good. I also had no head for the game. When you hear someone tell you how much of a mental game tennis is, you shouldn’t roll your eyes – they’re right.
Tennis is not a game to play angry, which is the only way I knew how to play it. I hit balls over the fence to get my rage out. I threw my racket and cursed the Gods with every mishit. I had to run extra laps before every practice, as a fine for every F-bomb, or racket bounce.
I didn’t continue to play because I started doing the plays at school. I’m still performing, but haven’t picked up a racket in a long time.
Many years ago I needed a job in the late summer and got hired at the US Open, or hired by the food vendors. I was going to bartend at a high-end restaurant, but couldn’t make the orientation, so I was relegated to a food stand that sold sandwiches, pretzels, and beer. I was pre-miserable about it before it started.
My anticipated misery was well-founded. It was two weeks of sixteen hour days, with a crew of crazy people, constant theft, and a crowd of people dressed in tennis gear to watch people play tennis. People wear jerseys to other sporting events, but to wear tennis gear to watch, is like wearing cleats to Yankee Stadium. You’re not gonna get in the game.
There are, of course, some class issues when it comes to tennis. It is a high class game, both to play it and to attend its premier events. I was working with local kids from the rougher parts of Queens, some concession stand lifers, and a lot of off-duty firefighters.
The tournament is a great event if you don’t spend it spraying water on pretzels and dipping them in salt. The scope and size of it is something to behold and the ultimate champion has to go through the brackets and conquer one opponent after another. I want to go back as a fan.
In the middle of the event, having lost track of time and my desire to do a good job, two women approached the counter and ordered sodas. I noticed a necklace on one of the women, which had a pendant in the shape of Nantucket Island, where I vacationed as a child. I mentioned her necklace to which she replied, to her companion, “How did he … Oh, that’s right, some of them are working here for college.” I was already out of college and should have been flattered that she thought I looked like a current student, but I was offended that she couldn’t believe a soda jerk at the Open would know Nantucket, or its geographic likeness. The way she called us “some of them” also tuned my fork. “I used to go there as a kid,” I said to the back of her head. OK we rented when we went to Nantucket, and I hadn’t been since I was 13, but I had vivid memories, and affection for the place. I was angry and tired and worrying about my life.
Our concession stand was deteriorating with every day. People quit. New people arrived. Our manager was fired for not being able to control the shortfalls of the registers and the inventory. I was battling new managers. Telling them that I brought limited competency, but certain work ethic. It was miserable.
To many employees the last days of clean-up were voluntary. Managers were almost begging people to come back the last day. I didn’t want to go. I talked to my Dad and he said I should honor my commitment. I tried to argue that only a dupe would show up, to be one of the understaffed, to do all the work, for a group of rotten burned out management creeps.
I went. Because some of us show up and do what we signed up to do.
Families all have their stuff. You’ve heard that before, right? I’ve heard it and usually agree, but until a particular day, a few years back, I really didn’t have an incident to point to. Yes, all families have dynamics and tensions, but in mine they are largely unsaid, and in the face of other stories I’ve heard, we seem to be on a harmonious scale.
As the youngest by many years, I didn’t have the day-to-day sibling tensions or rivalries most kids did. I also tried to be on my best behavior because I wanted more time with my brothers and sister. I didn’t want to squander quality time with petty beefs that, truthfully, would need some manufacturing.
Life has it’s way of doling out wisdom and woe, knowledge and blind sides, and eventually we all catch up to each other as we get older.
Cut to: Christmas 2009, Portland, Oregon. The city was halted by the worst snow storm in 50 years, and my entire family was meeting at my brother’s house, as the storm clamped down the city and its roads. Portland knows precipitation, but not this kind. The city seemed to take a hands-off approach or they simply hadn’t had to deal with that kind of weather. Either way, it took some doing to get there and for my folks it was tough with my dad’s mobility being low, by this point. We made it, and my brother’s home was lovely, warm, and big enough for us to enjoy our holiday together, under one roof.
The close quarters may have started to take their toll, when in a silly fit of rage I confronted my brother for playfully spraying me with two different cologne samples using more mist than one would use when applying bug spray. We sat there watching a basketball game and I couldn’t shake the cloying stench of competing colognes laid on so thick, I felt transported to a whorehouse in the Wild West. I was staying at a hotel and had no change of clothes, and as the meaningless Christmas Day game warbled on, I started to let my brother know my discomfort was starting to make me angry.
My brother mentioned his legendary resolve when it came to escalating practical joke feuds. Not having grown up with the rough-housing associated with siblings of a close age I didn’t take well to personal boundaries being crossed. For some reason the word escalate seemed to cue my escalating rage, and I let loose a tirade, in third person, speaking as if I was given the chance to confront a loved ones killer in a courtroom. My brother and everyone in the room felt the atoms shift and it was parried with a thrust from my brother that ended with an expletive and a door slam (either figurative or literal, I’m not sure).
My other brother had a t-shirt for me to borrow, which may not have fit, and I stewed in my juices as I’m sure my brother did in another part of the house. We were snowed-in, to some degree, (not like Minnesota snowed-in, but, close), so walking out of the house and taking a couple of laps was not at our disposal. My cologne culprit brother was also in a walking boot, at the time, so I’m sure he felt the lack of mobility more acutely.
We made our peace in the kitchen a few hours later. It’s laughable today, and I should be glad to be in a family where this event is on the list of low-lights. I do wish it never occurred, but if you eavesdrop, to any degree, and hear the kinds of things families have done to each other, it makes you laugh, but I swear, if he comes at me with a spray bottle, I’m gonna have something for him.
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