One of the biggest laughs last Saturday
at the Boudoir Bar in Carroll Gardens may have come from Christian
Finnegan’s riff on one of comedy’s most sure-fire victims.
"If your favorite album is the new Michael Jackson," said Finnegan, a Massachusetts-born comedian who has performed on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, "that tells me - that you’re from Bulgaria."
The joke might seem old-hat because the King of Pop’s latest album was released two years ago and his popularity, in this writer’s estimation, took a slide in the late 1980s. But keeping in mind the young audience’s encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, the gag fit seamlessly with the rest of Finnegan’s routine, a potpourri of rants on the Hulk; the Blackout of 2003, comedy’s newest, and most pilfered, punch line; and Moby, the musician.
"If I’m in the middle of Cleveland, the whole music thing isn’t going to fly," said Finnegan, who may have forgotten that the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame is, in fact, located in Cleveland. "But generally the crowd [in Brooklyn], they’re perfect for me. They aren’t kids, but they aren’t old either. They’re well-read, mid-20s to 45. For me, those are the best audiences. They’ve got the same cultural frame of reference."
In addition to the Boudoir Bar’s "Brooklyn Brew-Ha-Ha" comedy showcases on Saturday nights, a handful of other pubs and restaurants are now hosting comedy nights, including Lillie’s in Red Hook and Williamsburg’s 107 Bar and Galapagos.
Indeed, if Jerry Seinfeld were a Brooklynite, he might be asking what the deal is with the growing interest in stand-up comedy that’s been bubbling to the surface since 2001.
Some club owners point to comedy’s changing face, as characterized by Galapagos’ two monthly vaudeville shows, the "AV Club" and the "Pie Hole Comedy Show," the former incorporating film and video, the latter songs and stories. Robert Elmes, director of Galapagos, at 70 North Sixth St., said that stand-up, in its current form at least, is dead.
"There’s some value deep down in the ground to be mined," said Elmes. "Basically, the traditional form of stand-up is beat. We’re trying to build something based on comedy, but slowly, very slowly."
Comedians, however, laud the younger audiences in Brooklyn, who often are N’sync (boy bands are another common punch line) with performers even when tourists visiting, say, Caroline’s in Times Square, may not be.
Harry Kaplan, a stand-up who lives in Cobble Hill, said risque material can be a burden in a Manhattan club filled with out-of-towners. His routine, for example, touches on coming out to his Jewish mother, a subject as likely to shock most Brooklynites as a Michael Jackson gag. Still, a crowd consisting of "nurses from New Jersey" at Stand-Up New York on the Upper West Side "looked at me in horror."
"In Brooklyn," said Kaplan, a Los Angeles native, "people who go to comedy clubs are young, they don’t live with their parents and they aren’t going to be shocked."
If some of the comics seem hostile toward Manhattan’s comedy circuit, most, including Kaplan, are quick to admit that it’s still the one borough that’s essential to breaking into the national spotlight.
Larry Getlen, who started the Brooklyn Brew-Ha-Ha in September 2001, said that despite a growing interest in Brooklyn, comedians still make the pilgrimage to Manhattan whenever they get the chance.
"When you talk about clubs in Brooklyn, you’re talking about a couple additional places to play," said Getlen, who auditioned Monday for a lineup spot at the Comic Strip on the Upper East Side. "The entertainment center is still Manhattan. Right now, as far as steady shows, there’s mine, but there isn’t enough to say there’s a scene. Could it happen? Sure, anything can."
While Getlen doesn’t sound enthusiastic about the prospect of a Brooklyn comedy scene, Andrew Richter (not Andy Richter formerly of "Late Night with Conan O’Brien") is willing to make the investment. Although he’s been organizing the "Big Show" at Snooky’s in Park Slope since June 2002, Richter said that he’s ready to bring his show to Downtown Brooklyn and eventually wants to open the neighborhood’s first comedy club.
"Brooklyn deserves it especially," he said. "Downtown Brooklyn has lacked serious live entertainment, and everybody still has to go to Manhattan for their entertainment."
Although his monthly show has been on hiatus since June 27, it will reconvene in Downtown Brooklyn in September, but as of press time the new venue could not be confirmed.
"We live in the most uncertain times in recent memory," said Richter. "We wonder if we’ll have jobs tomorrow, whether we will be here at all tomorrow. And stand-up comics have been the most pointed interpreters of our time."
Until Richter opens his Downtown club, however, Pips, the country’s oldest comedy club, continues to lure new talent. Fabled for its role in introducing comics like Andrew Dice Clay and Lenny Bruce as well as Adam Sandler, the Sheepshead Bay venue hosts comedy shows each Friday and Saturday.
"It’s seeing a resurgence, along with the rest of the waterfront," said Damion Sammarco, who with Joey Gay is in post-production of "The Owner Heckles," a documentary about the 40-year-old comedy club to be released next year.
Whether Brooklyn’s comedy nights can blossom into a full-grown scene remains to be seen. But until then, locals can bask in comedy tailor-made to their surroundings, an unlikely prospect at tourist-heavy clubs in Manhattan. Williamsburg, for one, was as much a whipping boy as Michael Jackson last Saturday at the Brew-Ha-Ha.
"I’m afraid to turn my back in Williamsburg for more than five hours at a time," said Amanda Melson who has lived in the neighborhood since 1998. "Because if I do, something else will get turned into a Thai restaurant. I’ll hurry home to pick up my dry cleaning - from Khao Sarn Palace."
If the trend continues, however, that very Thai restaurant might soon become a comedy club.
Boudoir Bar hosts "Brooklyn Brew-Ha-Ha"
every Saturday at 9:30 pm at 273 Smith St. at Sackett Street
in Carroll Gardens. Admission is $5. For more information, call
Galapagos hosts the "AV Club" every third Monday at 8 pm. Admission is $7. The "Pie Hole Comedy Show," takes place every third Thursday at 8 pm. Admission is $7. Galapagos is located at 70 North Sixth St. at Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg. For more information, call (718) 384-4586.
107 Bar hosts "Komedy Kebob" (107 North Sixth St., btwn Berry Street and Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg) every Friday at 8:30 pm. No cover charge. For more information, call (718) 302-3313.
Pips hosts comedy shows Fridays and Saturdays at 9:15 pm and 11:30 pm. Admission is $12 and there is a two-drink minimum. Pips is located at 2005 Emmons Ave. at Oceans Avenue in Sheepshead Bay. For more information, call (718) 646-9433.