“LATE NIGHT OPEN MIC” AT THE DRAMA BOOK SHOP

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One floor below the Drama Book Shop — across from the basement level office space that few customers ever get to see — is the Arthur Seelen Theatre, home of the shop’s resident children’s theatre company, the Story Pirates, plus author appearances, book signings, acting classes… and, for stand-up comics old and new, “Late Nite Open Mic”, hosted every Monday from 9 to 11 P.M. by writer/actor/comic Matt Alspaugh.
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The theatre — a “black box” in the truest sense of the term, with its black walls, black floor, and, yes, black vinyl seats (sixty of them, which is the theatre’s capacity) — has drawn its own share of snide remarks from the stand-ups that have performed there.  “Doesn’t this look like the kind of room where someone might get molested?” said one. (An unpleasant thought, to be sure, but… well… yes.) Another said that it reminded him of the kind of place where  “five or six sleazy politicians might get together and say, ‘Now, fellas — let’s get our stories straight about this girl, O.K.’?” (I can sort of see the merit behind that zinger, too.)
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The fact is, though, that it is a perfectly innocuous little room that just happens to be the site of one of the most popular and consistently entertaining open mics in New York… and has been ever since Alspaugh began hosting the event in February of 2010.
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A typical show, says Alspaugh, draws anywhere from half-a-dozen comics to as many as twenty or twenty-five.  Some nights, only a handful drop by; on others, a dozen or more comics will sign up, followed by another dozen or so that come trickling in after the show has begun.  (The comedy begins promptly at nine; Alspaugh, who likes to keep things moving, tries to wrap everything up no later than eleven.)
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The fee for performers is $5.00 for six minutes, and the audience is usually made up of other stand-ups waiting their turn; they’re an enthusiastic bunch, and it’s not unusual to hear the comics in attendance cheering on the talent at the mic with words of encouragement.  Occasionally, there are “civilians” in the house, too, folks who may have heard about the mic one way or another and simply decided to stop by for a few laughs.  (“Civilians” see the show for free.)  One poor woman, Alspaugh recalls, plunked herself down in a front row seat and found herself targeted, about halfway through the show, by a vulgar comic working a particularly dark shade of blue; to her credit — and everyone’s amazement — she just sat there, bravely, and took it.  According to Alspaugh, neither one — comic nor target — has ever, to this date, returned.
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These are not always professional comics — they’re usually young and inexperienced — so the results are often mixed.  Frequently, they’re testing out new material on an audience for the first time, possibly even telling stories and shaking the kinks out of jokes that they scribbled down on a restaurant napkin or a handy piece of scrap paper earlier that day.
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At a recent show, Alspaugh himself started things off with a funny story about what it was like to spend Thanksgiving dinner with his uncles (including his wine-loving Uncle Moe, who — when Matt started cheering for the Patriots in their holiday match-up against the Lions — had to remind his troublesome nephew that there was no cheering for the other team… not in HIS house, anyway.) Alspaugh, who does dead-on impersonations at the drop of a hat, was polished and funny, and provided a smooth lead-in to the talent that followed.
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Among the highlights: Kate Hendricks’ Prince William and Kate Middleton-inspired observation, “Sure, every woman wants to be a princess, but not every woman knows how to behave like royalty”…Gonzalo Cordova’s remark that “Comic book stores are home to the saddest nerds in the world” (he would know, he worked in one)…Chris Maxwell’s take on religion (“Jesus rode with TWELVE GUYS? That’s not a following — that’s a GANG!”) and on the fact that so many people still refuse to believe that Michael Jackson and — even worse — Elvis Presley are dead (“You don’t hear Jamaicans claiming that Bob Marley is still alive, do you?”)…Narinder Singh’s confusion over Black Friday (“It’s like we’re supposed to be SO grateful on Thanksgiving, and then, the VERY NEXT DAY, it’s: ‘Thank you, now I want more shit?”) …Kevin McGee’s reminder that “President Bush just wrote a book.  I WANT THAT TO SETTLE IN…”…Cooper Rego’s suggestion that Facebook ought to change its name to “Stalker.com”…and Ed Weathers’ so-funny-’cause it’s-true, “Why do so many people on the subway go for the seat in the corner? Because IT’S JUST LIKE BEING IN THE WOMB!”
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From start to finish, it was an enjoyable hour, highlighted by some fresh — and often laugh-out-loud funny — material.
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Whether your comic specialty is storytelling or observational humor… whether your onstage style is in-your-face, mellow and laid-back, or still evolving… or even if you’re not a comic at all, but just a fan of comics (especially up-and-coming ones) — you could do worse (a lot worse) than “Late Nite Open Mic” every Monday at the Drama Book Shop, 250 W. 40th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues.
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Check it out.
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COMEDY REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien