One of the goals in moving from Brentwood, TN to Santa Monica, CA was broadening the opportunity for entertainment that was available to us. We live right down the road from a fantastic comedy venue, the West Side Comedy Theater. It’s a spectacular venue in a weird little alley behind the 3rd Street Promenade. In particular, I’ve been going to see a show every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month, the Unpopular Opinion show put on by the talented duo of Adam Tod Brown and Ben Blanchard. This show has always made me laugh, but it turns out getting a predictable audience on a Tuesday night is *hard*.
I’ve been at the show where it was completely sold out and the bar was packed. I’ve been at the show where there were six people in the audience. We were outnumbered by comedians. I’ve met friends who are steadfast supporters of live comedy, and I’ve made friendships with some of the performers. But more than anything I’ve been entertained, for the bargain basement price of $5, with no drink minimum. I’ve seen fantastic comics representing almost every way to be a comic at this theater.
Tonight, however, was a special treat. Tonight, the audience, was spectacularly weird. Somehow, through some bizarre confluence of events, tonight the audience was almost entirely random disconnected tourists. Some from Sweden, some from Brussels, one from Perth, and me… a Spaniard raised in the deep south. Tonight, the audience took in the jokes, and smiled, and enjoyed it, but was fabulously fantastically weird. The comics all had to dig deep and find new ways to ply their craft. Nothing worked as it should, and yet it came together into a beautiful 1.5 hours of comedy.
I watched Ryan Clauson and Julian McCullough perform fantastic, winning sets. Jokes that should have killed. But jokes that required a cultural context. I laughed at jokes ranging from relatable guy stuff all the way to steroids. These were great jokes, but the kind of jokes that need an audience who has shared even an iota of the American experience. Tonight was simply not going to be that kind of night.
I saw Beth Stelling win over the audience through absolute force of character, and with a superb well oiled delivery. She owned the audience, and transported all of us to her Ohio shirted reality. I saw Emily Maya Mills playfully lead the audience and keep us on our toes, taking us from her San Francisco roots to her garden pioneer aesthetic. Annie Lederman called me out for my terrible tattoos… relics of an era where I thought I could buy a personality, and she was hilarious and yet gentle. She could have crushed me when should found out I didn’t remember what the Chinese characters stood for, instead she made it light and airy and funny and kind. These were funny, masterful performances, which through force of performance took this foreign audience into their own reality, and make them laugh.
And then there was Damon Wayans. For the second time in my life, I had the fortune of sitting front row to Damon Wayans playing a small room. Mr. Wayans is clearly at another level in the mastery of his craft. He joked effortlessly about topics ranging from airline accidents to slavery and racism in front of this all european, all weird, 100% not right audience… and he succeeded in connecting with them. From my vantage point, it was a fabulous thing to watch.
The show closed, and I was privileged that the cozy, intimate nature of the venue was kind to me. I had the genuine pleasure, as a fan, of meeting and conversing with some of the comics themselves. I got to tell them the story of how I met my beautiful wife, I got to tell them how much I appreciate their comedy, and I got to shake their hands. This was a big awesome deal to me.
It must take a different kind of person to be a comedian. To walk into a room full of random european hostel residents, a dude from perth, a redneck spaniard, and decide “even though we don’t know each other, get ready ’cause you’re going to laugh.” I don’t understand it, but I appreciate it. Here’s what I don’t understand though… I got all of this tonight, and have gotten it on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month for the last year (along with my buddy @siouxhavens) and yet there were empty seats in the audience, not one, not two, but like half. Maybe not half, but close. Residents of Santa Monica, I was home by 10:30 pm! It was 5 dollars and a 3 dollar uber ride. LA, I hope some day I am unable to go to this show because it’s sold out, because y’all are missing out.