Fifteen minutes into Thursday night’s comedy show at Mother Mary’s Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria and the joke tally looks like this: Two knocks on Fresno (one obvious, one clever-ish); one reference to The Fresno Bee (not directed at yours truly) and oddly, just one mention of the fact we’re all crammed into the back of an Italian restaurant in Clovis.
If there’s an elephant in the room, it’s the fact that the room couldn’t fit an elephant, even a baby one. It barely fits the 40 or so people in the soldout crowd, much less the waitresses, who mouth “excuse me” as they weave through the tables carrying pizza and beer, plates of pasta and garlic knots. The knots are to die for, apparently.
The stage is just a couple of wooden crates and there is no front row, unless you count the first set of tables. There is a red curtain, microphone stand, stage lights. And some pretty funny comedians.
This is not a dedicated comedy club, but it’s as close as we’ve got in the Valley.
“It’s a legitimate show,” says Danny Minch, who started hosting monthly stand-up shows at Mother Mary’s five years ago.
As a business endeavor, comedy is kind of hit or miss in Fresno, Minch says. With no dedicated comedy clubs, there’s a lack of constistancy. The promoters who book comedy tend to outgrow venues, or run into problems with the owners.
Minch has been there. He’s been booking stand-up around town for almost 10 years and wasn’t certain his shows at Mother Mary’s would last as long as they have, or be as popular. The first few years were tough. If 20 people attended, it was a good turnout.
“Len, the owner, loved comedy so much, he kept doing the shows,” Minch says.
It’s starting to pay off – if the show I attended is any indication.
Minch started hosting these weekly Thursday night showcases in 2014. In January, he added another Friday night show, where there are no free seats and people stand in the rear of the room.
“We’re fortunate,” Minch says. “On Thursdays there are comics heading into or out of Los Angeles or San Francisco.”
They’re happy to stop through Fresno and will play for basically gas money, he says.
The featured comics are mid-level, working stand-up comedians, people who make their money driving from city to city to play rooms like this one. Minch rattles off a list of comics he’s booked and it’s long and full of names even hardcore comedy fans probably don’t know. Of course, that doesn’t mean much. The struggling comics are often the funniest because they’re working the hardest, he says.
“They’ve got that hunger.”
He’s not talking about Keith Carey specifically, but as an example, he works well. The Los Angeles comedian has been doing stand-up professionally for the past two years. He’s no headliner yet, but he’s opened for headliners like Dave Chappelle and Aziz Ansari. He’s gearing up to record his first album next month.
“I’m not a name comic,” says Carey, who plays gigs where he gets them, including a lot of dive bars. “It’s the road, and road work is hard.”
At Mother Mary’s, things are less hard.
Sure, the pay isn’t great. Featured comics get a split of the $5 cover charge on Thursdays and Fridays. But Minch usually offers them a place to crash for the night, which is an unusual thing for a comedy promoter to do. His place has become known among some touring comics as Danny and Jenn’s Breakfast B&B (Jenn is a fellow comic and Minch’s fiancé).
Yes, Minch makes breakfast for the comics.
He also understands good comedy and books accordingly. More to the point, he brings in crowds that actually want to watch comedians work. These are smart crowds, who are willing to indulge comedians, Carey say.
“They’ll go to weird, dark strange places with me,” he says.
It’s a blessing when you get a good crowd, Carey says. And he gets a good crowd every time he plays Mother Mary’s, which is why he comes back and will keep coming as long and as often as Minch will have him. He would play the room for free, though he likes to keep that quiet since he likes getting paid. He’s also careful about who he tells about Mother Mary’s. Word about good gigs travels quickly and Minch’s gigs are good, Carey says.
“He runs a perfect show.”
Mama’s Back Door Comedy Show
- 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays
- Mother Mary’s, 1345 N. Willow Ave., Clovis
- Tickets: $5
- 559-299-4242, Mother Mary’s on Facebook
- Other comedy night: Mondays at Grogg’s Irish Pub in Clovis; first Fridays at Teazer in downtown Fresno
Other comedy nights in the Valley
- 8:30 p.m. Mondays
- Grogg’s Irish Pub, 1225 N. Willow Ave., Suite 180, in Clovis
Comedy at Teazer
- 7 p.m., first Fridays
- Teazer, 2405 Capitol St. in downtown Fresno