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.
"People are looking for a place to get their stuff out there, to work on their craft," Xereas says.
Greg Godbout over at the Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse found much the same thing.
Last fall Godbout and his co-owners at the Drafthouse decided to host a local comedy challenge, just to mix things up a bit. Suddenly 100 comedians had signed up, wanting to perform. They narrowed the field to 40 and held an eight-week competition to decide a winner.
"I couldn't believe the talent of the local comedians. I don't know if I had expectations, but I was surprised at how talented they were," Godbout recalled. And more impressive, from a business standpoint, was the audience. "People were coming, and they were coming back night after night."
The experiment proved so successful, Godbout and company decided to keep going. They formed a promotions firm, Comedy Nonsense, began hosting twice-monthly showcases for local comedians at the Drafthouse and then started booking national acts.
The shows at the Drafthouse aren't quite free (tickets to the local showcases run about $8, and for national acts they range from $18 to $25), but there are plenty of chances to catch a few laughs without paying.
Two of the four weekly shows that Curt Shackelford organizes, for instance. On Wednesday nights, he runs the room at Dr. Dremo's Taphouse in Arlington, and on Thursdays, he's at Topaz. Both free, both open mikes and both itching for audiences.
It's a crapshoot, of course. Some nights you might find two straight hours of hilarity, and on others it's sure to be awkward silences interspersed with resounding thuds.
Still, Saez says you should go.
"You've got something . . . here that isn't TV, it isn't just getting drinks or coffee, that's really engaging and is unique to this area," she insists. "And we're game. We want it to be thriving."
Here are just a few of the local spots to catch stand-up comedy around town:
ARLINGTON CINEMA 'N' DRAFTHOUSE 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington. 703-486-2345. Local comic showcases, every other Thursday, $8. Monthly headliner shows, $18 to $25. For full schedule, visithttp://www.arlingtondrafthouse.com.
CAFE JAPONE 2032 P St. NW. 202-223-1573. Free open-mike shows Tuesdays at 8:30.http://www.iansalmon.com/Japone.htm.
CAFE NEMA 1334 U St. NW. 202-667-3215. E-mailFunniGirlComedy@gmail.com. Free open-mike shows Tuesdays at 8:30.
RIOT ACT COMEDY CLUB 1610 14th St. NW. 202-625-6229.http://www.riotactcomedy.com. Open-mike nights Tuesdays and local comics Wednesdays, $10 to $15; headliner shows Thursday-Saturday, $15 to $17.
THE REEF 2446 18th St. NW. 202-518-3800. Free open-mike shows Thursdays at 9.
RENDEZVOUS 2226 18th St. NW. 202-462-4444. Efirstname.lastname@example.org.Free open-mike shows Wednesdays at 8.
SOHO TEA & COFFEE 2150 P St. NW. 202-463-7646. Eemail@example.com. Free open-mike shows Mondays at 9.