Thursday, January 14, 2010

In my Grandmother's Basement.

The nipples are lonely. I can see that.

They are attached to no other decipherable body part. They do not appear to be mounted to breasts. They float waywardly on vicious strokes of brown, orange and yellow as if they have been thrown into an angry ocean. Each one is without a counterpart; they are cyclopic nipples. The one to the left, by the door, may be attached to a torso. In the corner of the frame there appears to be a bellybutton. But I can't be sure.

I do not understand contemporary art. Each of the paintings at the Tangine is of a single nipple, over a backdrop of merging colors. I'm sure there is some theme at work here, some demonstration of considerable talent. But to me, they're just nipples.

The Tangine is an Indian restaurant on Ninth Avenue, mere steps from the Port Authority Bus Terminal and a place that sells slices of pizza for 99 cents. It is here, in their decrepit basement, amateur comedy is thrown forth. The walk to the Tangine is jarring. It's only a few blocks from Times Square, certainly the most garish section of New York; a neon testament to excess. Once you leave the permeating glow and head west however, the streets turn dank and gritty, the light dissipating. This is the section of Manhattan known as Hell's Kitchen. Across the street from the Port Authority two lines form, one for admittance to a soup kitchen and another for a homeless shelter. The vagabonds cluster, protecting themselves from the cold. Hell's Kitchen isn't as bad as it once was (according to Wikipedia) and like many other parts of the city it is being rapidly gentrified. But walking down these streets, you would never guess it. The juxtaposition between Hell's Kitchen and mid-town is astounding. It's crazy to think that here, while hundreds wait for a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee, thousands are a few blocks away, paying $11 for a beer.

The first time I went to the Tangine was over a month ago and I was certain I was in the wrong room. It wasn't your typical comedy haunt. The Tangine is tiny, and adorned in a way that befits an Indian restaurant. In addition to the aforementioned nipple art, there are low-hanging lamps which do a pitiful job of illuminating the room. Most of the chairs are couches or ottomans, all red and orange, all ornate. There is a tiny bar up front. It’s just the type of bar I have come to hate, filled only with decorative bottles of liquor and drinks that glow. Here, it’s impossible to get a Miller High Life or Coors Light, but there is a wide selection of exotic, foreign beers which will undoubtedly taste awful and require financial aid. Tending bar was a trendy and sheik looking woman with a sign above her that read: Stop Bitching, Start a Revolution. I can only assume they mean stop bitching about the prices.

Round the corner of the bar are the stairs and the passageway to the Your Grandparent’s Basement open mic. The title is apropos; the room is quite literally a poorly furnished basement. Several old leather couches scatter about. Crude Christmas decorations -shabby lights and plastic streamers- hang on the walls. The microphone is at the front of the room, yards away from the crowd. I’ve done this mic twice and although I enjoyed it both times, I didn’t do so great at either of them.

The host is an amicable chap, goes by the name of Calvin. Calvin was good enough to refer me to his temp agency, which has since set me up with the only steady work I’ve had in months. Just another juicy tidbit for Gregory Quinn Trivia Purists. The first time I did Calvin’s show, the comics were heckled by a stray cat who managed to get stuck in the walls of the Tangine basement. It howled the whole night, and just about every comedian made reference to it, though none of us did anything to help the poor feline. We just riffed on it, as its screams and meows filled the silence of our failed jokes.

Last week at the Basement was more of the same. I started off strong but finished with a dud, which of course is not the proper way to structure your set, but they way I always do it anyway. I try to rectify it. If one joke kills at the beginning of a set on a regular basis, I’ll move it to the end and try it as a closer. But the second I do this, the joke ceases to be funny. It must have something to do with my delivery. Perhaps I am fuller of zeal at the beginning of my set, and it compensates for weaker material. All things to work on my friends.

I helped myself to 99-cent pizza after I left the Tangine. Hard to resist such a deal. The joint was hopping, clearly much of the clientele were the same patrons of the soup kitchens and shelters, their one slice of cheese pizza the reward for an entire day’s haul of cans.

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