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Local Funnyman Tries, Again, to Bring Comedy Downtown
If a career in stand-up comedy gets you anything, its thick skin and tenacity, and Perry Kurtz has both. Though hes hell bent on bringing live comedy to the area, Kurtz is also the first to admit his Downtown track record leaves something to be desired.
The first comedy night he planned ran for a few months last year at Barbaras at the Brewery; but the gig ended when the wife of a comedian Kurtz had lined up didnt pay for her dinner. Kurtzs next venue was the Redwood Second Street Saloon, where patrons were not at all responsive. That crowd, Kurtz says, I mean, I dont know if theyve ever not been drunk.
But even the Redwood audience beat Kurtzs next outing. A resident of Spring Streets Premiere Towers, Kurtz held his third comedy night in a community room at his condo building. Four tenants turned out. How sad is that? People next door wouldnt walk down the hall! he says.
Last week, however, brought proof that perhaps there is a place for Kurtz downtown after all. He brought three comedians to Little Pedros Blue Bongo Café, and about 30 people showed up. Still, the comedian and the venue carry an inherent amount of cynicism. In the comedy calendar listings of the L.A. Weekly for example, the description read: Perry Kurtz hosts live comedy in Downtown L.A., for some reason, at Little Pedros.
The former cop bar is in the throes of a transition, and these days, the old clientele cops, bikers and East Side 20-and 30-somethings co-mingles with unlikely renovations. The walls inside have a new paint job, faux Moroccan orange. Promoters circle patrons inside, doling out postcards that announce upcoming DJs and piles of countertop fliers publicize other acts, ranging from theater readings to old time jazz chanteuses.
Kurtz came to the club after reading about it openings blues sessions on a website. He showed up with his guitar and did what he calls narrational improv blues, which involves verbal and musical riffing about what audience members are doing, while theyre doing it.
Little Pedros amalgam of customers was amused, says owner Mark Bava. When Kurtz asked to follow Wednesday nights longtime mariachi band with a comedy night, Bava agreed.
East of Alameda, its a different world says Bava. I dont want to beat the streets and hand out flyers. I want these guys to manage their own nights. So you get a real mishmash of stuff.
Kurtz, 53, has lived Downtown two years. His first paying comedy gig came in 1979, when he was the MC at San Franciscos only male strip show. By day, he sells mattresses, but on evenings and weekends, he does stand-up in a strange array of places. He has an annual gig at Alcoholics Anonymous South Bay Round Up in Torrance, and a regular Sunday night appearance at a youth hostel in Hollywood. He teaches a weekend comedy class for kids and picks up occasional work doing corporate seminars that teach employees how to use comedy in their workdays to communicate better and alleviate stress.
Shades of that mentor role surfaced last week. The three comedians he brought with him Judd Dunning, Lark Miller and Michael Batts were younger, and not as unflappable as Kurtz when it came to the loud bar crowd. Kurtz says its easy to get young talent to hit the stage with him because he gives them 20 minutes, a long time for new comedians. Plus, if they bomb in an environment this far from the Hollywood stand-up circuit, their reputations remain intact.
With suspenders and enormous spectacles, Kurtz looks like, well, a mattress salesman. He brags of a goofy strippers routine, developed during his San Francisco days that kills at Hollywoods Comedy Store. Andrew Dice Clay will not follow me. Robin Williams once asked if I could do it at the beginning of my act, because there was nothing he could do to follow it.
But mixed in with the cockiness is humility, like when he talks about the sporadic profanity in his stand-up. I try to offend people, but I cant. To them, Im just this little old guy.
Hell he back again this Wednesday, after the mariachi players pack up, with another collection of comedians in tow. Avuncular though he seems, Kurtz is on a mission.
Little Pedros Blue Bongo Bar is at 901 E. First St., Los Angeles, 213-687-3766 or bluebongobar.com. Kurtzs comedy night begins at 9:30pm.
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