Around Town, Have More Than a Few Laughs

Kevin Anthony takes a shot at the mike at Riot Act Comedy Club, the new comedy spot below HR-57 on 14th Street NW.
Kevin Anthony takes a shot at the mike at Riot Act Comedy Club, the new comedy spot below HR-57 on 14th Street NW. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2007

It's nearing 11 p.m. on a Thursday, and Diana Saez is standing beneath a vine-covered ceiling at the Reef, doing her thing. It's kind of rough going for the stand-up comic: The Adams Morgan space is long and narrow, people keep walking past her to get to the bathroom and there's an obnoxious guy at the bar who has just come from an apparently boozy bar mitzvah and seems to have a great deal to say.

Anyway, she's funny.

So were the guys who stood up earlier that night in the basement of HR-57. And probably some of the others who were taking the mike at Topaz Bar on N Street NW. And the ones who come out to SoHo Tea & Coffee on Mondays, Cafe Nema on Tuesdays and Rendezvous on Wednesday.

The point is this: The D.C. Improv is great, but it's far from the only comedy spot in town.

"It's really pretty amazing to me that we have as many comics as we have," Saez says later. "And that we have as many shows as we have here. And all in all, it's a pretty phenomenal quality, but not a lot of people know about it."

Saez started performing about a year ago, after a friend invited her to watch the weekly open-mike session at Topaz one Thursday.

"I went, and it was a good show, but I was like, 'I could do this. Why am I not doing this?' "

Now she is doing it. Sometimes five nights a week, including at the Wednesday night show she co-hosts at Rendezvous in Adams Morgan. It could be seven if she wanted it to be, but that's an awful lot to ask of one fledgling comedian.

Luckily, there are a lot of them around.

Which is one of the reasons John Xereas has spent the past few months transforming the basement of HR-57, the 14th Street NW jazz club, into a comedy space. It's not fancy, but the brick walls are real and the saxophone strains floating down from above don't seem to detract much from the ambiance.

"There's a lot of local talent, there really is," says Xereas, who opened the doors to the Riot Act Comedy Club three weeks ago. The idea, he says, was to create "a place for local guys to go and work out their stuff -- and just to hang out and be able to riff."

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays will have booked shows with leading local and national comics, but Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be reserved for up-and-coming Washington comedians.

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