Comic timing

Local comedians are dedicated to Reno's open mic circuit

Comedian Mark Manning performed recently at Reno's 3rd Street Bar.

Comedian Mark Manning performed recently at Reno's 3rd Street Bar.

Photo/Eric Marks

When I heard the phrase, “It's like licking mayonnaise out of steel wool,” I knew the set was terrible. It was rough from the start, with all of the dick and blowjob jokes I've come to despise in my time frequenting the Reno comedy scene, but that right there put a nail in the coffin for me.

It was a cunnilingus joke with a hint of racism. Obviously, I was not among my people. The crowd, up to that point, had been fairly accepting of the comedian on stage, chuckling a little in acknowledgment, as if to say, “Yes, I have had a blowjob before and yes, they can sometimes get awkward.”

After the mayonnaise/steel wool comment, though, silence took over, punctuated only by the guffaws of a few tasteless patrons and the uncomfortable grumblings of people who did not appreciate the line crossed. The comedian on stage quickly recovered to end his set on some joke about blowjob sounds resembling sound effects from Mario Bros. and made a quick exit from the stage. He was cheered heartily by the audience—whether it was because they were glad to see him go or because they actually liked him, I am not in a position to say.

“Here, the crowds can be really tough some of the time, and that means local comedians are always really pushing to write something fresh and good,” said Charlie Woodman, a local comedian who frequents many of the open mic nights around town. “I don’t want to say it’s a hostile environment or anything—most local comedians or frequent audience members are really nice and supportive—but you aren’t going to get many pity laughs, and that keeps people working hard.”

Why are the local audiences around town tough on comedians?

“Reno audiences don’t know how to [react to] comedy,”says Matt Wiegand, a host of open mic nights around town. “They don’t know how to laugh when they are supposed to because oftentimes the group will all nod and agree with a joke instead of laugh, because nobody wants to stand out.”

Open minds, open mics

Wiegand organizes and hosts open mic nights weekly at Wildflower Village, 4395 W. Fourth St., and Great Basin Brewery, 846 Victorian Ave., in Sparks. And in general, it seems the audiences who gather at open mic nights in Reno are tough to get laughing. From 3rd Street Bar to The Waterfall, from Wildflower Village to Great Basin Brewery, comedians generally face an audience that doesn’t respond to every joke. This stoic nature though, is not exactly a bad thing for the performers around town.

One of my personal favorite venues for open mic comedy in Reno is the Golden Rose Café at Wildflower Village. The intimate setting makes the audience feel closer and more involved with the performers on stage. The comedians there will take a run at making everyday life comical while peppering the relatively wholesome subject matter with a healthy smattering of f-bombs. And every once in a while, a comic comes up who hits every joke, seeming to float through the set on the back of the laughter-filled room.

The atmosphere of the little café made me feel as if I was sitting in someone’s living room, workshopping with the comics. If a joke falls flat, the performer might just nod, smile and move on to another, with a few added profanities for transition’s sake. The candid responses provided by the crowd give the comedian immediate and direct feedback about every joke. Chances are, if it flopped the first time and went poorly the second time, there won’t be a repeat and the patrons of these shows can look forward to something new to shoot down.

Downtown, 3rd Street Bar has been running an open mic with growing success for the last several years. While the atmosphere isn’t quite as intimate, the camaraderie of the comedians takes center stage. The crowds are a bit more forgiving at 3rd Street Bar. They also seem to be more appreciative of jokes about genitalia and cunnilingus, even if I don’t appreciate those ones as much. Here, you can often hear laughs that drown out all other voices in the room as fellow comics rush to the aid of any peer who might be floundering on stage at the moment.

It’s a slow pay off, returning to these open mics weekly. At first, I felt I was getting a bunch of jokes for the least common denominator, but over time, I could see the confidence build on the regular performers’ faces as they honed their attempts into real comedy.

Patrick Shillito, the host at 3rd Street Bar says that this supportive environment, among the comedians at least, hasn’t always been the case.

“I think the Reno comedy scene has definitely changed for the better in the last few years, as there are more opportunities for dedicated individuals to not only nurture and be nurtured by a constructive, communicative environment, but also practice their craft,” he says.

Instead of fractional groups of comedians, working in small sections of the city to make comedy for themselves and each other, now they are more often joining forces, focusing on growing into their roles as comedians and putting efforts toward developing an environment in which comedy and comedians alike can thrive.

Aside from the numerous open mic nights that can be found around town, there are projects and showcases cropping up all over the place, the byproduct of the collaborative atmosphere in the smaller comedy venues around town.

Last month, several of the more active comedians in town put on the Erotic Fan Fiction Showcase: Cartoon Edition at The Waterfall at 134 W. Second St. It featured readings from erotic fan fiction penned by eight different comics. Because of the base developed at all of the different open mics around Reno, the turnout exceeded the expectations of the organizers.

Shillito has also been organizing monthly comedy showcases at the Knitting Factory that feature both local comedians and up and coming acts from out of town.

We may not want to sit through as many blowjob jokes as we do, but one thing we do have is a dedicated bunch of comedians who are working to put Reno on the comedy map, which is worth something.

“[Comedy] can be vulgar and stupid sometimes, but it can also be really heartwarming,” says local comedian Charlie Woodman.

As heartwarming as blowjobs can be.