Thursday, February 25, 2010

Luna's Cafe, Comedy, My Sex Appeal and Remote &*%$-Blocking

Not long after I got started with the comedy thing, my friend RQ (not to be confused with my friend "AT" that I talk about so much.  Totally different letters, people) said that I ought to check out the comedy night at Luna's Cafe right down by her place...which is the midtown area of Sacramento.  I gave them a call, and the owner (Art Luna) helpfully told me that local comedy godfather Keith Lowell Jensen (he didn't actually use the godfather part in our conversation) runs their comedy night (Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM), and gave me Keith's number.  I called Keith (who was very friendly and forthcoming despite the fact I was calling him in the middle of his day job.  I haven't had one in so long I tend to forget others still do), who let me know the deal.

The deal is, it's not a traditional open mic night kind of thing at Luna's.  And this is a good thing, for the crowd.  While there's a great appeal (and sometimes darkly sick enjoyment) to seeing someone getting on stage for the first time, it's also nice to know that when you go to a comedy show, you're going to get actual seasoned, practiced comics.  He invited me to come on down and check the place out, and how they do things, and we'd talk about it.  Cool.

So my comedy buddy Vladimir (a.k.a. Fist Officer Vladimir.  That's not a typo) and I went down a couple Wednesdays back and scoped the place.  What a great room!  It's a really small, intimate environment, with a small stage surrounded by tables.  I noted right away that it's going to be a logistical challenge to get me and my chair up on that stage, but it's perfectly doable if we just show up a little early and set things up right.  Turns out that particular Wednesday Keith was out of town, so Vlado and I just kicked back and enjoyed the show.  And enjoyed it a lot!  Got to see some comedians I'd already either seen before or been on stage with before (like Chazz Hawkins, Steve Ferris and John Ross), and got to see some awesome new folks that I became instant fans of.

I decided I'd head back down the following Wednesday, since I was going to be downtown anyway doing my first photo shoot with the amazing Cynthia E. Jones and her magic lens.  So I had my first time as a model (I immediately started demanding things and throwing my cell phone at people), and then we went out for some dinner and drinks.  Time went too fast, and soon I had to rush over to make it by 8:00 PM at Luna's, because 1) it's a small place that I can't wheel around in too well, so I wanted to be able to get an accessible table before they filled up, and 2) I had people meeting me there.  I'd told RQ I was going to be there, and since she's in the neighborhood, she wanted to drop by and hang...both to see me and to see Keith, whom it turns out she used to work with.  Also, I had told AT (not to be confused with RQ, because his initials have a vowel in them) I'd be there, and he wanted to check it out as well...and called during the day to let me know he'd be bringing our pal Chris with him.  So I didn't just need a little space for me...I needed a table for four.

I got there and got lucky enough to find an open table just inside the door.  Keith was there, came over and introduced himself, and we talked a little about what places I'd performed at, etc, and he went ahead set me up with seven minutes on stage in a couple of weeks (that'll be next Wednesday, the 3rd).  Very cool.

Things were getting started, and my peeps were nowhere in sight.  I was starting to get a little edgy.  A text from RQ let me know she was on the way, so no problem there, but what about AT and Chris?  Just as I was sitting there thinking about this, a female voice behind me asked, just over my shoulder, if the seat next to me was taken.  On instinct, I apologetically said that yes, I was expecting a couple of people.  And then I saw her.  Blonde.  Very cute.  Ever have one of those moments when after so many moments of suspecting you might be a moron, you realize that you actually ARE one?  Yeah.  It was like that.  So she went ahead and moved on, and asked another guy a couple of tables away if HIS extra seat was open.  This guy was not a moron.  And proved it.

Forgive the indelicacy, but you know how you know that you've been friends with a couple of guys for a really, really long time?  When they can cock-block you without even being in the same BUILDING.

So, yes, I was ready to be VERY resentful if they didn't bother showing up after I'd turned down one of those "Oh, how did we first meet?  It was so funny...I couldn't find a place to sit so I just asked him if the seat next to him was taken, and now we have four children and a beautiful split-level home in Folsom!" moments that just NEVER happen to me.  My luck on Southwest flights is enough to prove that never happens to me.  I don't think I've ever had anyone sit down next to me who wasn't either 375 pounds (and a dude) or older than Betty White.  And yet, that had just happened.  Why was today different, I wondered?

Right at that moment, there was a guy walking past, heading for the counter at the other end of the cafe.  I happened to look up as he happened to look back.  Our eyes met, and he gave me a look, and he smiled.  I was confused a bit.  Did I know him?  Was he a comedian I'd met at another place and just wasn't recognizing?  Because it was kind of a long look, which seemed odd if we'd never met each other...

A couple of minutes later, I saw him sit down with his friend.  Oh, my apologies...I forgot to put "friend" in quotes.  I have always had really, really crappy gaydar.

So, woah, woah...  Not only had I just had a really attractive young blonde try to join me at my table, but then I immediately got a flirty look from this guy?  Not only did I inspire the gay hit-on, but did so with a guy who was there with his significant other?  I was the catalyst for potential gay infidelity?!  Dude, was I on my game that night or WHAT?  Where did this mysterious sex appeal suddenly emerge from?  What triggered this amazing new power in me?  I can only assume it was the photo shoot.  Apparently, posing for photos and sexying it up for the camera really stokes up a "check me" vibe in you.  Who'da thought?

Eventually AT and Chris did show up (and it's a good thing, too, you tardy bastards), as did RQ, and we all reclined at our completely unromantic table and had an amazing time.  Awesome locals (like the hilarious Mikhail Chernyavsky), and a double-header headliner of San Francisco's Candy Churilla and PAINfully funny George Lopez staff writer Kelly Pryce.  Kelly was working with the audience big-time.  One of the ones she talked to was the blonde.  Who, I found out through Kelly's questioning, was completely single.  Rrrrrrrr.  I actually considered abusing my new-found magnetic powers and catching her outside, apologizing for the turn-away and handing her a ticket to my March 1st performance at Tommy T's, but as the show ended, I found myself blocked in by exiting folks, and she was outside and gone before I left.  Fair enough.  I wouldn't have felt right taking my mac daddy gifts for granted like that, anyway.  They're here to serve and benefit humanity, not my own personal whims.

So tonight I was back out again, solo this time, to enjoy the Luna's room.  Another great night.  Chazz Hawkins was back, Steve Ferris was back, an awesome dude named Khulani Malone that I just did Po' Boyz with on Monday night showed, Nick Pettigrew (who I saw and loved on my first night at Luna's) did his bit and shared a table with me, and I got to see some great new folks, like David Shuber (sp?), Marcella Arguello, and the night's headliner, the VERY up-and-coming, all-over-Cali Sammy Obeid.  And Keith even got up and did a set.  Good stuff!  And I feel bad because I'm TOTALLY blanking on the name of the guy who hosted, who I've not only talked to twice but have now seen on stage twice.  He was awesome tonight.  Great guy.  Clearly could use a more memorable name, but...

Oh, and of course, the blonde showed up again.  This time with a date.  I went outside after the show was over to talk with folks, and I lit up a mini-stogie, trying to position myself where the wind was blowing the smoke AWAY instead of RIGHT AT people, because not everyone likes the smell of cigar smoke.

Guess who DOES like it?

The blonde walked out the door, immediately stepped up to me, smiled, and said, "Mmmm, I LOVE the smell of cigars."

(Insert drawn-out, grumbled expletive and head-shake from me here).

I had time to say, "You have no idea how much I love hearing those words from a woman..." before her date stepped up behind her and said, "Okay, let's go."  And they did.

I sense this story's not over.  Mark my words.

The moral of this whole drawn-out story is this - if you haven't checked out Comedy Night at Luna's, you're denying yourself a fantastic comedic experience.  Keith and all his special friends are there every Wednesday night at 8:00 PM, and after three visits, I can confidently guarantee you a great time.  And if you decide to try it out next Wednesday, 3/3, I have it on pretty good authority that there's going to be a guy in a wheelchair there.  On stage.  Telling jokes.  About wheelchairs.

But if you do show up?  Please...don't hit on me.  Frankly, it's just getting kind of old...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hella Comedy Monday! Tommy T's Plus Po' Boyz! BAM!

Rockin' night of Sacramento comedy, boys n girls.  Let me tell you 'bout it.

First, the competition continued at Tommy T's as group #2 had their night to shine in the Open Mic Finals.  I had told you before there were supposed to be six of them.  Well, due to some of kind of issues, there only ended up being four.  This part kind of sucks for the comics, because three comics advance each night...which is all fine and good unless you're that ONE comedian out of four that doesn't.  Hmmm.

I hit the competition solo tonight to check it out, and took my regular table (yes, I've been there enough that they actually ask me if I want my regular table).  I hooked up with one of last week's competitors, the amazingly funny Aaron Shine, who missed advancing to round 2 by Olympic-level closeness on the voting (not to start any talk, but I heard someone in the crowd gesture toward him and tell someone else, "That's that guy that should have won last week") and who I didn't realize was hosting tonight.  Awesome cool.  And he did a fine job of keeping the crowd pumped.  And it was a BIG crowd.

See, during this first round, each competitor gets a stack of 50 tickets they can give to others to come support them.  Considering that audience voting is what decides if you move on or not, getting as many people behind you as possible is the no-brainer move.  Some comics don't make the most of this opportunity.  Others...well, others are Boogee.

Boogee made full use of those tickets and helped pack the place.  Ironically, Boogee doesn't really NEED the crowd in his corner, because he's one of those comics that can get ANY crowd in his corner.  Lots of folks from Team Boogee filled the joint and made the whole thing more fun for everyone.  So you had Boogee as one of the four, and he drew the first slot.  He was followed by the man known only as The Nasty Polack. Joey Gonzalez hit the mic next, and Delfino Reyna hit it last.  And as an added bonus (and to fill some time, since we were a couple comics short), we got a visit from the very hilarious Carlos Rodriguez, who I'm a really big fan of.

Then Lou came up on stage and brought the hopeful foursome with him, and the voting began.  Sadly, as I said, one did have to go, and it ended up being the Nasty Polack (perhaps just a bit too nasty for this crowd?  Or perhaps too Polish?).  So with killer sets that earned them the right, Boogee, Joey and Delfino won the night and will be returning for the semi-finals.  Excellent work, gentlemen.  Way to own it.

This, of course, now means there's only one group left for round 1 - and that's next Monday night, March 1st, and that's MY group, people!  So do puh-LEEZE make your way to Rancho next week and help a brother out with this - and enjoy what's sure to be another amazing crop of up-n-comin' Sacramento funny people (I don't have the list, so I don't even know who they are yet!).

After this, I decided, like some other people I was there with, to head on up the hill to Po' Boyz in Folsom to catch the open mic night there.  This choice was made even easier by the fact that fewer comics meant an early end to the Tommy T's night, and the Po' Boyz open mic doesn't start until around 9:00 PM.  I pulled in there about 9:20, and they hadn't even gotten started yet and were still setting up.  Sweet.  So I talked to that room's always-gracious host, Cheryl the Soccer Mom, and got myself on the list.  There were 10 comics on it ahead of me, but hey...I had nowhere else to be.  One of the joys of unemployment.

Kicked it on the patio and hung out with some of the regulars, like Willie Mac, Shane Murphy, Deshawn Robertson and Ellis Rodriguez, among others.  Oh, and Brian Diamond, a guy I haven't seen in a while who gave me some really great advice back when I was just getting started at this.  I sensed right off that it was a good crowd inside.  Po' Boyz is always a fun room to play, but this time there was an extra helping of people, and these people were all wound the good way.  These weren't just drunks looking to be amused or to heckle.  These were people that really came to see comedy, and were very into it - and that's a surprisingly rare thing at a comedy show (go figure).

I followed Ellis and did my five minutes, taking the chance to work on the new material going into my 10-minute set for next week (so if you were there tonight, and plan to be there at Tommy T's next Monday, just pretend you didn't hear it), and I really liked how it went.  It's good to hear one of your new things really slay...there's that "Oh, thank God" moment, when you now know that it wasn't just funny in your own head.  Everybody was doing great in that room.  Part of it was the crowd, but everybody was just really on their game and having a good time.  Willie Mac particularly nailed his stuff tonight.  Chazz Hawkins did his usual bringing down o' the house.  Anthony Thomas got it done in a bow tie, no less!  Jason Armenio killed, as ever, in his brilliantly low-key style.  Matthew Byrd was all Matthew Byrd, and that's all he ever needs to be.  But Sean Peabody really started something special.  There was a table with a couple of girls who just kept talking through everybody's routines.  I didn't really notice that so much during my set, except when I heard somebody else do a big "shush" in that direction.  Well, Sean was getting pissed prior to going on, and decided to have fun with them.  And he did.  Most of his routine was just messing with this one girl, and it was one of those just perfect moments, because she was into it, and kept giving back at him, and in doing so just gave him more ammo.  Everyone loved it.  And then most comics that went on after him had to bring her into things, too.  Great stuff.

And the perfect ending to the night was the surprise drop-in by comedian Mike E. Winfield to try out some new stuff.  Mike's a NorCal guy, but really jumping up in the national comedy scene.  He's been on Comedy Central, Showtime, Last Comic Standing and Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen.  He's insanely funny.  He got up there with his notebook and just started trying out untested jokes, and it was amazing.  The crowd was totally into it and playing back at him.  The crowd, in fact, was not letting him leave, and kept wanting more.  Keep in mind this is after damn near three hours of comedy when most crowds fizzle out and just want to go home.  Not this crowd, baby.  I didn't even time how long he was on, but it kept going for some time, and it was just really organic and connected, just this perfect magical little moment of comic-to-crowd.  Mike's played a lot of crowds, and you could tell he was being very sincere when, near the end of his set, he talked about this being one of the best ones he's every had.  I was glad I was there to experience that.  As I said, perfect end to a near-perfect comedy night.  Got to meet Mike after.  Swell guy.

And I really appreciated the crowd, myself, for all the post-show handshakes and "great stuff" smiles and even a couple of hugs.  That always fuels you to keep going on, that's for sure.  How much do you think it would cost, you think, to hire a particular crowd and have them follow you to all your performances?  Let me do some math and get back to you on that.

Said my good-byes to the gang and headed home.  Not a bad way to spend a Monday night in Sac-Town if I do say so myself.  Sacramento comedy kicks ass.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tommy T's Open Mic Finals - Round 1, Group 2 - Tonight!

Ooh, but it's a big Monday night in Sacramento comedy!  At Tommy T's in Rancho Cordova, tonight (2/22), the battle for the big prize continues!  The Open Mic Finals are underway!

This competition brings together past winners of individual open mic nights to go head-to-head in elimination competition.  Last Monday night it all got rolling, with the first five comics (Jason Tate, Willie Mac, Aaron Shine, Ty Anderson and Jennifer Rutherford) hitting the stage to do their best 10-minute sets and hand their fates over to audience voting.  Willie, Ty and Jennifer pulled it out, so those three are advancing to the semifinals in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, groups two and three need to go up and face a little comedic natural selection.

Group two is another tough one, bringing together local favorites Delfino Reyes, Joey Gonzales, Boogee, Raj Dutta, Mike Sinclair and The Nasty Polack.  They each get their 10 to make it happen.  With this group, it's anybody's guess.  Should be a hell of a showdown.

I, for one, will be there (I'm in group three the week after!  Gotta know who I may face in the next round!), cheering these dudes on and soaking up their comic funk as always.  If you're in Rancho with nothing to do on a Monday, pop in and enjoy the show!

My first video

There's a link over on the right to my YouTube video page, and I'll keep adding any new performance videos as they become available.  Thought I'd go ahead and post my first open mic video here, just to get this page started right:

(Sorry the sound's not a little better. Got to crank it a bit).

Welcome TO it!

Thanks for finding your way here!  This would be the current web home of me - that's Michael O'Connell - a guy who does comedy around Sacramento.  I hope you Googled me to get here.  There's nothing I enjoy more than a good Googling.  Well...except for maybe getting Binged...

A little bit about me.  I'd always kind of thought about trying comedy, at least once in my life.  In fact, an item on my bucket list was "Do a comedy open mic and find out if you suck or not".  I've always felt that everyone should try a 5-minute set on stage just to say they've nutted up enough to it, even once.  I shared this thought at one point with my old friend Vladimir (no, seriously, his name's Vladimir), and a couple of months later, he called me back (after several shots of Vodka and the transmission of vital state secrets to his handlers) and said, "Screw it...let's do it."  I said okay.  So we both put some material together and headed over to open mic night at Tommy T's Comedy & Dinner Theater in Rancho Cordova, CA.  So I got to take something off my bucket list.  But as an added bonus, I won the contest that night.  And I came to realize that I really, really dig doing comedy, and now wonder what took me so long to start.

My comedy mostly centers on wheelchair living, as I have Muscular Dystrophy and have been a chair jockey for many years.  If you think there's nothing funny about disability, I invite you to let me change your mind.  The things, situations and people I deal with day in and day out are a constant source of amusement for me, and now I'm here to share it all with you, you lucky, lucky dogs.

If you're in the Sacramento area, please feel free keep checking this site, or my Facebook page (see the link on the right), for info on where I'll be performing next.  Would love to see you there, and would love to be your gateway into the world of Sac comedy, 'cause there are a bunch of funny, funny people working the mics in this town, and you'd better see some of them now so you can say you caught their act before they left this pop stand behind.  Check 'em out at places like Tommy T's.  Laughs Unlimited.  Punch Line.  Luna's Cafe.  Cafe Nostra.  Po' Boyz.  Stick with me and I'll be your guide to some of these joints.

Thanks again for dropping in, and I hope you'll do so regular-like.