Just for laughs

So you've seen every movie imaginable, you're still living down your last bar disaster, and at this point the waitress at the local restaurant can recite your order backwards in her sleep.

You may think this leaves you with limited options for a night out in Baltimore, but little did you know, hundreds of people are literally vying for the chance to entertain you almost every single night of the week. They want you to laugh, they want you to enjoy yourself, and they don't care if you get drunk and act like an idiot ... it's just more material for their act.

The comedy scene in Baltimore offers an entertaining alternative to just another day spent struggling through life.

"Life is usually full of misery and disappointment," said comedian and 98 Rock DJ Mickey Cucchiella. "Comedy, if it's done properly, is the acknowledgment of all of that, but being able to laugh at it."

Live stand-up acts can be seen all over Baltimore, in comedy clubs or other performance venues that host open-mike nights and shows.

Magooby's Joke HouseFormerly Tracy's Comedy Club, Magooby's Joke House is in the basement of the Bowman Restaurant on Harford Road in northeast Baltimore County and hosts national headliners every weekend, including comedians from "The Late Show with David Letterman," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and Comedy Central.

Magooby's combines an enjoyable night of dinner and comedy. With the Bowman right above, club-goers can get a good meal and then wander downstairs to catch a show. Most of the shows are fairly inexpensive, although there is a two-drink minimum. One of the venue's biggest draws is it offers free parking, so you don't have to worry about downtown traffic.

The Baltimore Comedy FactoryThe Baltimore Comedy Factory, located at the corner of Light and Lombard streets in downtown Baltimore, is a favorite among many local comedians.

"When we took it over, we tried to make it a room that was just great for comedians," said former owner Mickey Cucchiella.

They've succeeded, according to Chip Franklin, a comedian and former owner of a string of comedy clubs.

"That club is more intimate than some of the other clubs," said Franklin, who is also a talk radio host on WBAL and started off doing comedy with the likes of Eddie Murphy, Bill Maher, Ray Romano and Kevin James.

The Comedy Factory manages to stay intimate, even with huge crowds of people from every walk of life packing the show room every weekend. Comedy lovers can enjoy a pre-show meal downstairs at Burke's restaurant, or proceed upstairs to the show room where they'll find endless rows of narrow tables and servers bustling through nonexistent open spaces with teetering trays of drinks. With seats crammed into every corner on busy nights, there never seems to be a shortage of laughter rumbling through the room.

Chip Cucchiella, Mickey's brother and the current owner of the Baltimore Comedy Factory, says that everyone seems to be leaving with smiles on their faces.

"We don't always have the [comedians] everyone knows," Chip Cucchiella said, "but you're never going to leave here having a bad time."

The large club offers shows Thursday through Saturday, and the typical cost of a ticket is $17.

In addition to these comedy clubs, many other venues host open-mike nights and occasional performances. Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Wanda Sykes, Ron White and many more have performed at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in recent years.

"With the Hippodrome, the Lyric, and Recher Theater [also] doing comedy shows now, things have turned around a lot," said local comedian Larry (Larry XL) Nichols.

Nichols first started doing stand-up in 2001 and has performed at many Baltimore venues, including the Baltimore Comedy Factory and the now-closed Baltimore Improv.

Many performers also seek out alternative venues.

"I work a lot of churches, corporate events and clean events," said comedian Joe Recca. "I'm one of a few comedians who work clean, and a lot of churches have comedy."

Recca was inspired to do comedy after seeing Dick Gregory do a show at his college years ago. He went on to perform with comedy stars such as Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Tommy Davidson. He also wrote for DL Hughley.

The SceneThe comedy scene has indeed received a boost from what appears to be an increasing interest in the Baltimore area. At a recent Saturday night show at the Baltimore Comedy Factory, there wasn't a bare spot of carpet to stand on.

"It is always packed," affirmed Larry XL. "They always have a fun crowd there."

Local comedian John "Spider" Lutz also said he is pleased to see the increasing interest in Baltimore.

"It's been an ongoing thing, like a snowball effect. People are picking it up," Lutz said.

Commonly known as Baltimore's original biker comedian, Lutz began doing comedy in 1999. He was supposed to be the emcee for an event, but when everyone except the headliner canceled, he was forced to stretch 15 minutes of material into an hour, thus launching his comedy career.

"It was a little hard at first because not too many places were holding open mikes, but as people are getting more interested in comedy, it's grown," Lutz said.

Mickey Cucchiella agrees that the interest is definitely growing.

"A lot of the really big cities have good scenes, but for the size of Baltimore in the marketplace, it has a tremendous comedy scene," he said.

Cucchiella is certainly no stranger to the comedy world, having started his stand-up career in Baltimore at the age of 16 by sneaking into an open-mike night at the Baltimore Comedy Factory.

He went on to own that same comedy club, which has now been passed to his brother, Chip. He also supports the scene in his role as a host of the popular 98 Rock radio program, "The Mickey and Amelia Show."

"98 Rock is great about supporting local comedy," said local comedian Chris White, who has also played a significant role in sustaining the comedy scene with his Web site, Dcstandup.com.

"It started in 2003 as a (selfish) effort to gather info on the various open mikes in D.C. and Baltimore," White said. "Since then, it has grown to become a kind of information clearinghouse and de facto home page for D.C. and Baltimore comics."

Many aspiring area comedians refer to the site for information.

"Dcstandup.com is a great resource," said local comedian Justin Schlegel. "There are plenty of open mikes, and a lot of places with open mikes will invite you back if you're good."

Schlegel moved to Baltimore in 2000 to become a radio DJ, hoping that would open doors for him in the comedy world. However, he soon stumbled into an open-mike night at Frazier's on the Avenue in Hampden and things just started from there. Schlegel has since opened for Mickey Cucchiella at the Hippodrome and worked with Bob Saget.

Forming contacts can really help further the career of a comedian in the Baltimore area. Networking among comedians and comedy clubs leads to more opportunities for everyone. After all, friends don't let friends fail at comedy.

Local comedian Doug Powell originally got into comedy to avoid getting a real job. Unfortunately, he soon found that comedy was more strenuous than any other job could have been. However, networking and support from other comedians was very helpful.

"You just do open mikes, you meet people and they help you out," he said.

"It's a big networking thing," added Larry XL. "Baltimore comics are really supportive. Every step of the way, you have people helping you to tweak your act or telling you about some new club that opened up somewhere."

Chip Cucchiella said he is confident that many of the comedians currently making waves in the local Baltimore scene will go on to stardom.

"There are a lot of people here now that you're definitely going to hear about later," said Cucchiella.

Local comedian Timmy Hall said he is pleased to see the Baltimore comedy scene starting to get the recognition it deserves.

"People are finally catching on and realizing that Baltimore has some good talent as far as comedians," he said. "I'm most proud that Baltimore's come such a long way."

Hall's connection with Baltimore goes even deeper. Hecklers beware -- he is not only a comedian, but also a Baltimore City police officer. Hall is best known for his onstage role as the Punk Ass Police, dispelling the myth that cops have no sense of humor.

The AudienceWith so many comedians thriving in the Baltimore area, it might seem as though the audiences are going a little too easy on them. Surely this many comedians can't be this good. Maybe the audiences just don't want to hurt the tender egos of the rising comedy stars. After all, Baltimore is known for its gentle spirit and tender heart. Oh wait ...

"If you don't come at them, they'll eat you alive," said Schlegel. "If you can do comedy in Baltimore, you can do it anywhere."

"You'd better get good fast," agrees comedian Joe Robinson, who was the runner-up in the 2005 Funniest Person in Baltimore competition. "It's a challenging area. They like to yell, they like to talk, and they like a lot of interaction."

According to Chris White, Baltimore comedy audiences tend to be a little more blue-collar, and they smell fear a lot better than D.C. audiences.

"You have to be confident in what you're doing to succeed in Baltimore. Otherwise, you get beaten down," he said.

Surprisingly, most comedians enjoy these Baltimore audiences. Many comedians love the open attitude and spirit of the Baltimore crowd.

"Most people that I perform for are people who are working class who need to unwind," said Lutz. "When you tell them a bit of stuff they can relate to, they are a real receptive audience."

In a time when the world seems all too serious, it would appear that Baltimore is more than ready to cut loose and enjoy a night of laughter.

Luci Mazzullo contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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    THE CLUBS: > Comedy Factory > Magooby's Joke House THE COMICS: > Mickey Cucchiella > Joe Recca > Chris White > Larry XL > Timmy Hall > Joe Robinson > Justin Schlegel > John "Spider" Lutz > Chip Franklin

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