“If I were to build the perfect comedian, it would be Jerry Seinfeld crossed with Dave Chappelle,” says local comedian Mal Hall. “My comedy is observational. I wouldn’t do anything onstage that I think my mom wouldn’t talk to me after seeing it.”
On Thursday, November 20, Hall will host the 5 Dollar Comedy Show at the Bitter End downtown.
“As far as comedy clubs go, the San Diego scene is really bleak,” says Hall. “There are three places: The open mike at Lestat’s, the Comedy Store in La Jolla, and the Comedy Palace in Kearny Mesa. There’s no comedy club downtown.”
Because of the scarcity of places to perform, Robert Lariviere, a comedian and emcee at the Comedy Store, says, “There is intense competition to get on this stage. We had 38 people call in to try and get the 15 three-minute spots that were available for Sunday.”
No matter how hard even a veteran comedian works on material, to bomb is inevitable.
“The first time you really bomb, it’s like the worst feeling ever, because you’re telling jokes and there are no laughs, so all you have to keep you company is the crazy thoughts going on in your head, like, ‘Why the hell am I up here — I’m so stupid, I suck so bad. But at the same time you’re still speaking.”
The first time Hall bombed was at Lestat’s in Normal Heights, where the open mike tends to be populated by musicians and poets. “It was a Monday, and it was packed — everyone was there for some reason,” says Hall. “I go onstage and I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be awesome. Look at all those people.’”
Each performer is allowed ten minutes onstage at Lestat’s, a length of time considered extraordinary for beginning comedians — most open mikes are under five minutes.
“That’s why Lestat’s is one of the most popular open-mikes,” says Hall. “That’s a lot of time to work on material. One of the reasons I love that open mike is because those people aren’t there for the comedy, and they’re sober. So if you get up there and make people laugh, those jokes will definitely work in the club.”
Hall had previously performed at the venue and was feeling confident on that crowded Monday night. “I thought I was definitely going to get laughs, and for ten minutes, zero. Not a giggle. I told a joke and literally heard a chair creaking in the back of the room. Ten minutes probably felt like an hour for those people.”
“I would break comedians down into three groups,” says Lariviere. “First, there are comedians who are focused on their comedy career — whatever they do on stage is to reach a goal of eventually getting to Hollywood, becoming a touring comedian, or getting on TV.” He counts himself and Hall in this category.
“The second group is what we call ‘Bill Hicks disciples’ — they’re just kind of artsy and angry. If you’re not a really good comic, and you don’t have great jokes, you fall into that. They come up to me all the time and say, ‘Forget about what this crowd thinks, I’m going to get up there and do what I want to do,’ or, ‘This crowd just doesn’t get me.’”
Lariviere adds, “Bill Hicks was very insulting to the audience, but he was actually pretty funny. Now it’s the crutch of every comedian who’s not very funny to be, like, ‘I don’t care [about the audience].’”
The third group, Lariviere says, “Are people who are never going to make it anywhere. They’re just attention-starved, crazy people.”
During one open-mike night at the Comedy Store, says Lariviere, “There’s one woman who went to Vons, bought a sack of potatoes, took it on stage, mumbled some stuff, said something about her ex-husband, and then put the sack on the floor and mashed the potatoes with a hammer.” Another amateur comedian used his entire set to vacuum the stage without saying a word.
Lariviere recalls, “The same guy went up another time and said, ‘I wonder which is the funniest element?’” Then, in the most monotone voice, he recited the periodic elements from memory. It was amazing. It took people four minutes to get it, and they start giggling. It was clever and interesting, but the point is to make people laugh, and people weren’t laughing.”
5 Dollar Comedy Show
Thursday, November 20
The Bitter End
770 Fifth Avenue
Info: 619-338-9300 or www.malhall.com