Charm City...I think I finally get why Baltimore is called that. Because quirky and offbeat and imaginative and creative is totally what I find charming. That's what I was lucky enough to witness and take part in last Thursday night at Zodiac Comedy Night hosted by Andy Abelow (AKA SHOWBIZ!).
Behold "The City That Reads" at night!
photo courtesy of Flickr and ktylerconk
I managed to get myself there despite some navigational difficulties (got lost twice, note it!) and it was pouring rain, which is a great combo with giant potholes, let me tell you. But making it there was well worth the trip! For my next trick, I will tell you why.
First of all, the show takes place in a shuttered restaurant that is now an art space for everything from plays and lecture series to music events and comedy variety nights (Full schedule heah!).
The decor is kitschy in the best way with wizards ominously pointing and holding crystal balls; lamps encrusted with zodiac symbols; the requisite creepy clown; and a fully stocked bar. Plus they share food service with the bar next door, and such delicacies as vegan crab cakes were offered. In many ways, it struck me as a sister venue to D.C.'s very own Palace of Wonders.
This wizard is a good, but not great, approximation of the one in the restaurant.
photo courtesy of Flickr and Memekiller
As I sat there waiting and chowing down on a scrumptious burrito, they played a variety of old-school TV tunes over the sound system including, among others, the themes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Saved by the Bell, Doogie Howser, and The Munsters. I felt as though I was in TV Land, and someone was about to read my palm.
The show itself was one of the most inventive things things I've seen in some time. First of all, there were lots of artsy-looking people there who meandered in and sat about chatting and generally looking quite interesting. So audience! Yay! Whee! They were quite attentive too. Though some people chatted in the back, most had their listening caps on and appreciative goggles turned up to medium-high blast.
Showbiz was a magnificent host with old-school one-liner charm. He would tag joke bits by saying "Showbiz!" and he was dressed the part of a showboat entertainer. He also had an offstage guest voice called Bonus Michael who occasionally bantered with him. It was crazy fun.
The first act up was actually a movie-making group called Sike Trike whose representative Chris Freeland presented three hilarious video shorts.
As per the group's own description, they don't do any pre-production or post-production; all of their movies are shot in-camera-edit only, which lends to their real-time quality.
The first movie was about a bachelorette party starring a male dancer group called "The Dudez." The second one was a movie about time travel and movie-making called "The Future Movie." The last ones was about opening a hostel for hobos. I was eliciting stares with my cackling, but I didn't really care.
Up next was comic Brian Nicholson. He was thoughtful and deliberate, which I found pretty refreshing. I am ever more enthusiastic about stream-of-consciousness comedy the more I watch it. His set reminded me a bit of Janeane Garofalo, and I dug it.
Following that was a duo called Lunchtime Phone Sex. The group was composed of a guy and a girl telling candid stories about past sexual experiences. The girl's delivery was perfect, and the guy and she had great onstage banter. I would highly recommend this act, but I could find no online presence for them whatsoever, which makes them altogether more intriguing.
Then comic Will Carey went up. He told some genius thoughts and then some longer bits with nice dramatic act outs. His delivery was also quite the charmer.
Intermission! This in itself was a revelation to me. A free show with an intermission?! But what if everyone leaves?! Ummm, guess what? The majority of people stayed! A couple people left because it was nearing midnight, but most people bought drinks. I don't know how it happened except that I witnessed it.
Next up was Sherrywood Forest (AKA Kevin Sherry). He presented a vast collection of self-made puppets including a bear-head character who told jokes involving bear puns; a one-eyed monster who spouted random facts and threw paper shrapnel; and some fun stories involving rats and God and everything else you could imagine in an enjoyable fever dream.
Who doesn't love a puppet?! This is just a random zombie sock puppet I found on the Internet.
photo courtesy of Flickr and Erin!
I discovered Sherry is also the co-designer of his own amazing line of apparel! I went ahead and bought a shirt because I am trying to be a responsible consumer.
Then while the Sherrywood set was deconstructing and the last act was setting up, Showbiz played the guitar and sang about getting punched in the face. Heeho; I didn't even care that it was midnight!
Actually, during this time, the light also fell over and went out. So there was darkness for some time, but the show went on!
Then I went up in quasi-pitch-blackness and started my set, fittingly past midnight. I had quite some fun despite being somewhat out of it and not entirely uncertain which jokes would work and which wouldn't. I tried doing my more absurd material, and luckily, the audience was on board. Hooray!
In fact, the lights even came back on during a very appropriate point in one of my jokes. I couldn't ask for more fateful timing. The audience was super giving and nice to me, an out-of-towner! I couldn't have asked for more.
The last act of the night was called, A Whale Walked Into a Bar (AKA Kit Macci and her friend whose name I don't know). Their act consisted of one girl playing a musical saw, and the other one dressed in a whale costume making a whole menagerie of whale-like sounds using a variety of bottles and a conch shell. Their set simulated a conversation between a whale and a bartender, or so I interpreted, perhaps wrongly.
A whale of a tail!
photo courtesy of Flickr and Strange Ones
And that was the show! An entirely joyful way to spend a Thursday night, I can assure you. I even got to meet the booker for the Zodiac, a friendly chap named Adam.
I wish D.C. had the equivalent of something equally funky, and we come close, but we're not quite there yet (feel free to correct me politely on this!).
So, not to sound like a broken record (which isn't actually broken at all, but rather a syncopated new hit single of dance pop that relies on repetitive beats) but you guys, underground arts scene in Baltimore? As the kids and city officials now say, Get in on it!
(P.S. My favorite line from the unbelievably amazing article linked above is, "'Get in on what?' asked Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, after repeating [the new slogan] aloud three times."
A close second would be this quote: "Some will like it, and for others it will be an acquired taste," [Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke] said. "It's an appeal to a young, hip generation, or something like that, I'm assuming."
And for a respectable third place: "'I've seen some dumb ones in the past, but this is the dumbest,' said former Mayor/former Gov./Comptroller William Donald Schaefer through his spokesman.")