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Cantina Hoping Comedians Can Shtick It Out

The San Fernando Valley must be a funny place--plenty of comedians have used it in their material. (“I’m going to the Valley,” one joke says, “better get my shots.”)

Nevertheless, the Valley hasn’t been particularly hospitable to comedy. The Improv and the Comedy Store have closed branches here in recent years, and a host of nightclubs and restaurants seem to drop comedy nights as soon as they start them.

But the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas is bucking the trend. The nightclub and eatery will inaugurate its Cantina Comedy Club on Saturday, with an eye toward expanding it to other nights if the crowds are encouraging.

“I don’t want to denigrate anybody else’s efforts, but I don’t think anyone has done it right,” Marc Weingarten, producer of the Cantina shows, said of comedy’s spotty record in the Valley.

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“A lot of the performers at other clubs have been amateurs,” said Weingarten, a former co-owner of the Ice House in Pasadena and producer of several “Super Bowl of Comedy” concerts. “We’re going to have nothing but top professionals. These people are at a point in their careers where they can jump from obscurity to notoriety. They’re as good as anyone who’s a household name.”

Saturday’s shows will feature Jaz Kaner and John McDonnell. Both have several television credits. Unlike typical comedy clubs, which have several comics who do 10- to 20-minute sets, the Sagebrush Cantina comedians each will do half an hour or more. They get equal billing.

The club will offer two shows. The dinner show starts with a buffet at 6 p.m. Dishes will be cleared at 7:45 and the first comic goes on at 8. Cost is $25. The late show starts at 10 p.m. and costs $5 with a two-drink minimum.

The comedy will be presented in a tent that is erected outdoors in the rear of the Cantina during the winter. The tent is heated and Cantina officials assure customers that it is comfortable. Nonetheless, it already has been the butt of jokes.

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“Fourteen years in show business and I’m working inside a Hefty bag,” comedian Steve Bluestein cracked in a November trial run for the comedy operation.

Ron Rubenstein, the Cantina’s marketing director, said the 250-person tent was about three-quarters full during the November trial period.

“We had it on Friday nights then,” he said. “I think we lost people who had worked all day and were tired or didn’t want to fight heavy traffic. We feel we’ll be assured of a full house on Saturdays.”

The comedy night is in part a response to a decline in regular Cantina business, Rubenstein said. He blamed a slumping economy.

“Everybody is feeling it,” he said. “We certainly are.”

In coming weeks the comedy lineup will include: Jan. 19, Becky Blaney and Blake Clark; Jan. 26, Carl Woolfson and Greg Travis; Feb. 2, Gerry Bednob and Bobby Kelton; Feb. 9, Mark Schiff and Peter Gaulke. Local disc jockeys will host the shows. Beau Rials of KLSX-FM, himself a comedian, will handle the first three.

The Cantina Comedy Club at Sagebrush Cantina, 23527 Calabasas Road, Calabasas; dinner show begins at 8 p.m., includes a 6 p.m. buffet and costs $25; late show is 10 p.m. and costs $5 with a two-drink minimum. This week, Jaz Kaner and John McDonnell. Call (818) 888-6062.


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