Previously: Today's episode marks the end of Greg Estrada's stint as the subject of this feature. On July 31, we will introduce Magazine readers to Jallon Brown, the 31-year-old principal of a fledgling public charter middle school in Annapolis. To catch up on previous episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.

Episode 15

The emcee reads from a note card: "Our next comic has been doing stand-up for only three years, but he's already a major star -- in Pakistan."

With that cue, Greg Estrada bounds on the stage. The spotlight shines in his face. He squeezes the microphone in one hand, and with the other he sets down his cheat sheet on the nearby stool, in case he forgets the order of his jokes. Then he opens his routine with a comic's customary shout-out.

"How you doing tonight?"

Dead silence. No one claps, hoots or returns his greeting. Of course not: No one is in the audience.

Tonight's comedy show doesn't start for a few hours, yet Greg has already been here, at Topaz Bar in Dupont Circle, for a long time. He always comes early to set up for the weekly open-mike nights he produces. But four hours in advance? This is extraordinary, even for him.

Normally Greg is just the show organizer, but tonight he's also one of 10 performers. It's been more than a year since he did a stand-up routine as Curt Shackelford, his comedy pseudonym, and he is wet-your-pants nervous. "I need a quaalude," he says. "That's what I need, a sedative."

Soon he steps down from the stage and says he is finished rehearsing. "If you do it again and again, you lose the edge." But a few minutes later, he is sitting alone in one corner with his cheat sheet, mouthing his jokes and practicing his choreographed hand gestures.

As showtime approaches, the other comedians trickle into the room, and Greg tells them that he's performing tonight. "I myself am doing a set," he says to one comic. "Can anybody say 'train wreck'?"

Everyone seems to be enjoying Greg's discomfort. "I've been coming to these open mikes for four months," one comic says. "And he's always been too much of a wussy" to perform. As Greg is about to take the stage, someone grabs his arm and gives him some last-minute advice: "Don't bomb."

At first, it seems like he might, opening with this joke: "I started a company two months ago called standupcomedytogo.com. People tell me that' s too long. So I changed it to: standup-comedytogodotcomyeahiknowitistoolongbut- standupdotcom-wasalreadytaken-andstanduptogosoundslikeyou-areabouttogoforawalk.com." He garbles the delivery, and the audience of about 30 people gives only sympathetic chuckles.

But he bounces back with this one: "I'm dating a single mom with an 8-year-old boy . . . and they're from Wheaton. I don't know if you've been to Wheaton lately, but it's gone Spanish. They call it Wheatino." Now, the audience laughs for real. Soon he tells a joke about patio furniture made in Vietnam: not many laughs. Next a gross-out joke about kids peeing in the pool: The audience howls.

After five minutes, Greg hops off the stage. He's not thrilled with his performance.

"It went just okay," he says. "Stuff I thought would work well fell flat." But he's not discouraged. In fact, he's already planning for next week. The comic in him is back.

-- Tyler Currie