Cressandra Thibodeuaux

Strange Stages
By Cressandra Thibodeaux
Publication: Back Stage West
Date: Thursday, March 27 2003

 

A lot of comedians believe stage time is stage time, no matter where you perform. And in Los Angeles that could mean performing standup anywhere from a laundromat to a dog park.

Kevin Seccia, a handsome comedian in his early 20s who has appeared on The Late Late Show  With Craig Kilborn, enjoys performing at a variety of unusual places but admits Lucy's Laundrymart in Silverlake would have to be the strangest. "It's a great place to work out new material," Kevin explained. "And once you accept the fact there will be rumbling and murmuring from the washers and dryers and that 95 percent of the people in this laundromat aren't listening, it's fine. It is what it is."

All Washed Up! at Lucy's Laundrymart has been going on every Wednesday for the past two years. The host, Christy Murphy, a talented comedian from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., books nine comedians a week. The show lasts around an hour and a half, and, as Murphy explained, "It's a great place to multitask. You can perform and wash laundry at the same time."

All Washed Up! originated three years ago at Launderland on Santa Monica. It lasted nine months, until the place was sold; then the producers found a laundromat on Franklin until the landlord kicked them out. But now Murphy is certain they've found a home for good: The landlords enjoy the show and won't be selling the place anytime soon.

On a recent evening, next to a washing machine stood Nosmo King, a comedian in his late 30s, waiting for his turn to perform his five-minute set. Suddenly the washing machine shook violently like a child laughing; it made a gurgling sound and then stopped. A small puddle appeared on the floor. The machine couldn't help itself. Murphy called out, "Nosmo King." He sauntered up to the stage—the 10-foot area in front of the bathroom door—and began his set.

The laundromat was full of young Hispanic couples busy doing their laundry and watching their children—a good crowd. About 15 people were sprinkled in the audience area—some comedians and some friends—sitting in yellow plastic chairs. The large laundromat also comes complete with a Starbucks, Subway, and check-cashing kiosk.

King was born in Iowa and raised in Hawaii. He moved to L.A. 14 years ago. "I have performed at this laundromat since it started, three years ago," King said. "I used to live in the neighborhood." He has performed at bookstores and coffeehouses, and, he observed, "At least in the laundromat beverages do not heckle me. At a coffeehouse you'll be winding up for your punch line and somebody orders a cappuccino which hisses or an ice mocha which grinds. And you sort of have to take a deep breath and get back to it once the beverage is finished." King started out in a sketch troupe and eventually got into standup. He's performed at "regular" clubs. But he admitted there's something perversely satisfying about performing in a laundromat. "A good set is a good set no matter where you have it," he expounded. "But here it's really a challenge to keep your concentration up. This is kind of the extreme sport of comedy."

 

Dogged Out

Henrietta, an attractive female comedian, explained she became friends with Murphy about six months ago. Henrietta thinks the Laundrymart is a great place to work out new material. "I'm writing a one-woman show, Surviving Survivors," she said. "And Christy Murphy and everyone here at the Laundrymart has been extremely supportive."

"All Washed Up! has been at Lucy's for over a hundred shows," Murphy noted. "We've had birthday shows, an all-musical show, and on Valentine's Day we had a 'Love at the Laundromat' show. We did speed dating between the comics and the people doing their laundry. Jeremy Kramer was host that night, picking names out of a laundry bag. I was matched with Twisty the Clown. He's a regular who likes making animal balloons for the comedians. Anyway, he was my valentine."

A surprisingly wide variety of comics performed that evening. Kevin Seccia and Howard Kramerworked on their material for the Kilborn show, while the Starbucks guy performed for the first time in his life. Patton Oswalt from The King of Queens performed 10 minutes, and then Eli the Subway guy stood up, said who his favorite comedian was for the evening and who he thinks sucks, and then he started railing on them.

Murphy said the Laundrymart is not the most unusual place she's performed: "I've been doing comedy for eight years, and once I performed in front of a train on an outdoor basketball court. So when you were onstage on the court, the train passed behind you."

Maria Bamford, who has performed her standup three times on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, has also performed at Lucy's Laundrymart. She said Lucy's is a great place to work out new material but admits the most unusual place she has performed comedy is at the Runyon Canyon Dog Park.

"It only lasted five weeks," Bamford confessed. "We'd hike to the top of Runyon Canyon, signing up on the way. There was no microphone, just a curled-up piece of paper as a megaphone. It had never been done before—comedians performing in a dog park—but then a few weeks into it, it got a little strange when we started just sitting in a circle talking about our emotional states. Our biggest audience was when three people stopped by while walking their dogs."

Recently on The Late Show With David Letterman, comedian Zach Galifianakis of Late World With Zach played his answering-machine recording of Murphy saying, "So, Zach, you're booked for next week's All Washed Up! show at Lucy's Laundrymart. See you there, Christy Murphy." Murphy added, "Although Zach has yet to perform at the Laundrymart, he is one of the Laundrymart's most loyal fans."

 

Dating Material

After the Laundrymart show a few people went down the street to perform in a bedroom-style setting at the Pig 'N Whistle on Hollywood Boulevard. "It's in the very back room of the bar," Murphy explained. "The audience lies down on mattresses as you perform at their feet." Stage time is stage time.

Across town at the Conga Room, JDate, an Internet dating service, held its Valentine's Day Party, which attracted more than 500 people. The entertainment was the lovely Rosenblum Twins: Stacy and Shari. The Rosenblums performed at All Washed Up! when it was on Santa Monica Boulevard; both agree it was a great place to try out new material. Downstairs in Conga's dressing room Shari and Stacy prepared for their comedy act. The twins began doing comedy in New York City after performing their Off-Broadway play, Seeing Double.

"We enjoy getting the chance to perform in unusual places, because stage time is stage time. And we use any chance we get to work on our routines and work out the glitches." At 10 p.m. the Rosenblums were called up; the crowd quit dancing and gathered around the stage. The Rosenblums ran onstage like rock stars and performed a 20-minute set. They asked people in the crowd where they found their mates before JDate. A man shouted, "In strip clubs!" The crowd laughed. Shari turned to a frail redhead and asked her the same question. "I'm pathetic, I didn't date anyone, that's why I joined JDate." The crowd nodded sympathetically. The moment became pensive. Recognizing this, the Rosenblums pumped up the energy and seamlessly got back to their comedy routine.

"We've performed comedy on a 120-foot yacht named Mercedes in Catalina," Shari said. "And Mort's Deli in the Pacific Palisades," Stacy added. "Oh, and a senior citizen center in New York City." The Rosenblums agreed that performing in unusual places is extremely rewarding.

 

Ramada In

Rachel Ariff, a talented comedian who hosts her own show at the Ramada Inn in Hollywood, believes any comedians who have performed in a laundromat are worth their weight in salt. She had a great time performing at Murphy's birthday party at the Laundrymart. "I've performed in numerous unusual places besides Lucy's Laundrymart. I've performed at a strip club and at an angry lesbian bar. At the lesbian bar they had us literally in the middle of the bar; people were walking past us to order drinks. That was a character-building experience and a complete waste of time." Ariff has also performed at a youth hostel in Manhattan.

"In New York, there was a cool room called Surf Reality and another called Collective Unconscious. They were on the Lower East Side," Ariff recalled. "These places collected characters, homeless people, women from the sex industry doing interpretive dances with knives in their underwear. And several mentally ill people also performed." She described it as being very colorful with lots of drugs. "The smoke was so thick in the hallway," she remembered. "There was a rumor that there was a crack den in the attic, and the place always stunk of rotten refrigerated food." Ariff moved to L.A. three years ago and within that time has noticed a growing number of unusual places for comedians to perform. One of them is now her very own show, which she hosts and performs on Sunday nights in the lounge at the Ramada Inn.

The Ramada Inn location works well for her because it's a real lounge, noted Ariff, with "cheesy Ramada furniture." Ariff remembered the first time she walked into the place: "There was a bartender and a ghostly man on the piano. Besides them, the place was empty. When I walked in, they both turned and stared at me. I asked if I could play something on the piano, and the pianist said, 'Sure, go ahead.' And so I played my 'Internet Porn Polka.'" And then Ariff asked if she could have her own show.

"Last Sunday we had a milestone," she said. "Several guests from the hotel stayed for the entire show. It's not a grab-your-dick-and-balls kind of show, but it is my show with my point of view, which can be a little twisted. And sure, some of my songs are about porn, having babies indiscriminately or being smacked around."

Ariff recently performed her song "That Guy's Gonna End Up Smackin' You Around" at Borders Bookstore on La Cienega Boulevard, another unusual place to perform comedy. After her performance two women approached her and told her they worked in a battered women's shelter. They told her they loved the song and wished she could play at the shelter because so many women there would find the song funny. Ariff admitted she was relieved she hadn't offended them. "Most people would assume the opposite, that you have to be really politically correct. But coming from someone who's been there, these women could smell the authenticity," she said.

Ariff has also performed at Filth, a boutique in Silverlake. She sat in the store window, wearing only pasties, and played her piano. The place was packed with gay men and a few lesbians. Ariff played for an hour, but soon it started to get out of control, she reported. Some of the men yelled, "Let's see some nipple! Show us your nipples!" They began to chant, and cheer wildly. Ariff, trying to calm the crowd, broke into "The Rose." As she recalled, fists were thrust into the air, a few lighters flickered, and as though signaled by cue cards the crowd began to sing together.


Get Hammered

Downtown at the Mayan Theater, comedians perform with Mexican wrestlers and Velvet Hammer burlesque dancers at the Lucha Va Voom show. Twins Barbara and Vera Duffy have been performing as the French Maids, a comic relief portion of the Velvet Hammer show, for two years. The twins wrestled at the first La Lucha Va Voom show. They trained with one of the wrestlers for an entire afternoon. "He spoke only Spanish," Barbara explained. "Which we don't speak," Vera added. Besides performing at a Mexican wrestling ring, they've performed with the Velvet Hammer girls at celebrity florist Eric Buterbaugh's birthday party, with Sarah, Duchess of York, in attendance. Both sisters enjoy the excitement of performing in unusual places.

Blaine Capatch is one of the comedian hosts of La Lucha Va Voom. TV host of Beat the Geeks and writer for Mad TV, he performs comedy between the wrestlers and the burlesque dancers. Backstage he admitted he's performed comedy in numerous unusual places across America. Once he performed dressed as a train conductor at the Baltimore Railroad Museum. He also opened for the Ramones at Hammer Jacks. He performed comedy at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, wearing a tie in 100-degree heat. He's also performed at wet T-shirt contests, as well as at the American Legion Women's Auxiliary in Landsdown, Md., where he swears they hated him. "I followed a prayer," Blaine explained. "And they hated me." He admitted he enjoys performing in unusual places: "You don't get sick of it; you never know what's gonna happen. A show like this makes you realize what is gonna work and what really doesn't work. If you start doing a bit in a room like this, where they're here to see Mexican wrestlers and burlesque dancers, they don't want to hear, 'Hey, flying's crazy! What's up with airlines?'"

Veteran comedian James P. Connolly, who has been described by industry professionals as a "young Steve Martin with a healthy dose of Ted Baxter," has experienced some discomfort in performing in unusual places. When someone saw him at a comedy show and said, "I want you to perform at my friend's wedding, it's on a boat," Connolly agreed. But when Connolly got there, he was the only person besides the serving staff that nobody recognized. Hired to give a funny toast, he tacked on his 15-minute routine. "After I was done," Connolly recalled, "I was trapped at this guy's wedding. Everybody knows you as the comedian. It was really uncomfortable."

Another time Connolly was hired by a corporate CEO, who included him in a morning meeting and introduced Connolly as the new vp of Human Resources. It was at 8 a.m., and he was paid to do 20 minutes. "So at first nobody knows what's going on," Connolly recalled. "And one of the heads of the company was getting angry, saying, 'Who hired this guy, and why wasn't I notified?' Eventually though, everyone got that it was a comedy routine."

 

Most Unusual

Back at Lucy's Laundrymart, Murphy admitted sometimes things at Lucy's don't always run smoothly. "Once a homeless guy OD'd in the audience, and the ambulance came during the show. I remember Gary Lucy was performing when they were carrying the man out on a stretcher. It was an awkward moment, another another comedian saying, 'Gary, technically you walked that guy.' But for what little discomfort you feel, it's the excitement of the unknowns that make a show."

On another occasion someone came to the Laundrymart carrying a rabbit in a brown paper bag, wanting to sell it, to give it a home. One of the comedians auctioned off the rabbit. "Oh, and one more," said Murphy. "Two comics have done their sets inside the dryers, which the landlords have asked nicely for us not to do." Now that's an unusual place within an unusual place to do comedy.

Here are some other unusual places where comedians I interviewed have performed: adult birthday parties or cocktail parties, aquariums, board meetings, bus tours, car showrooms, cattle auction rings, conferences/business sessions, cruises, factory floors, helipads, hospitality booths or VIP tents, office Christmas parties, product launches and promotions, racetracks, restaurants (going table to table), schools and family theatres, shopping malls, shop windows, ski chalets, sports clubs, stadiums, subways, theatre foyers at intermission, tennis courts, trade shows, tropical resort beaches, warehouses, and zoos. Which clearly proves that all the world is indeed a stage—at least when you're an up-and-coming comic. BSW

 

Lucha Va Voom happens two times a year at the Mayan Night Club, 1038 S. Hill St., Downtown L.A. Rita D'Albert books it; the next one is July 31. (213) 746-4287.

Discotown at the 1160 Bar & Lounge at the Ramada Inn, Hollywood. 1160 N. Vermont at Lexington. $3 cover. Rachel Arieff, www.RachelArieff.com, (323) 666-9950.

Lucy's Laundrymart, 2134 Sunset Blvd., Silverlake. Christy Murphy hosts All Washed Up!, "all-temperature standup comedy while you wash," at Lucy's Laundrymart, 2134 Sunset Blvd., Silverlake; every Wed., 8 p.m.; free. (818) 908-3478.

The Conga Room, 5364 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-1696.