“Show of hands,” Chesney said, “How many of you have contemplated suicide?”
He giggled as he held his hand up in the front of the dingy bar.
“I know I did. But I remember staring down at that handful of pills, wanting to end it all, when suddenly I thought, ‘Wait! I can’t do this!”
The crowd was rapt with attention, waiting to hear the uplifting, religious thought that must have crossed his mind.
“I have work in the morning. And if I die, that’s a no-call no-show!”
The crowd burst into laughter.
It was the first joke from the first comedian at the “Blayrious” show at Phil’s Tavern on June 18th, and it set the tone for an evening of real stand-up. The type of stand up that can only happen in a dark bar with 50 people crammed into it. No stage, no spot light – just a microphone and a group of strangers eager to laugh.
The show was refreshing for me, having spent the past few weeks reviewing “celebrity” comics on the comparatively lavish stage of the Charlotte Comedy Zone. There, the division between audience and comic is palpable. They are elevated onto a large, well-lit stage, with the spotlight on them and a mural of the Charlotte skyline behind them. They do their routine – the same one they’ve done in every city for the past few months – and then they go to their hotels.
But the atmosphere at Phil’s made no real division between performer and audience. In fact, there were many local comedians in the audience – each asking each other the age old question “Hey, are you going up?”
The show was a well-structured performance featuring Chesney Goodson, Mikee Steinberg, Ryan Van Genderen, Chris Layton, and Todd Riley. The show was produced and hosted by the eponymous and gregarious Blayr Nias.
After Chesney’s hilarious set, Mikee Steinberg took to the mic and related his woes with women – mainly that they won’t stop playing with his fro. Poor ol’ Steinberg’s act consisted of many tales of his ladykilling adventures – that never seem to work out quite how he expected.
Ryan Van Genderen, after enduring a sweet yet awkward intro from the host (who happens to be his girlfriend), killed with his observations on such subjects as race, Wal-Marts, and 2Chainz’s strange burial requests (“Is that an African-American’s sarcophagus here in this gentlemen’s club??”).
For his set, Chris Layton decided to go without the microphone. It was an interesting choice that paid dividends. Not only did some of the side-conversations from random patrons stop, but also it brought the room together in a communal, almost primal fireside story telling kind of way. His jokes were hilarious, as always, but it was really this sense of comedy as one guy talking in front of a room full of strangers that really hit home for me.
Todd Riley rounded out the show with his hilarious observations about life. I had seen him open for Rob Schneider, but the more intimate setting really worked to his advantage.
Blayr did a wonderful job planning, producing and promoting and hosting this show. No matter where she performs, her beaming smile and warm attitude radiates throughout the room.
Blayr even planned a special food menu with items named after each comedian performing that night. An ingenious invention that surely raised sales of food that night – since each comic and their friends couldn’t help but “vote” with their mouths by ordering the burger of their favorite comedian.
The “Blayrious” show happens every other Wednesday at Phil’s Tavern on the corner of North Tryon and 5th street uptown. I highly encourage you to check out the next one if you’d like to understand what real comedy looks and feels like outside of the Comedy Zone.