Main Street Comedy Café: Comedy Tonight
By Anthony Buccino
(Adam) Leslie moves into his airline acronyms. “Delta, Don’t Ever Leave The Airport. PANAM, Pick ANother Airline Mister.” This leads into his assault on flight attendants. “Don’t ever call them stewardesses. They get real insulted. All they are really are waitresses with a death wish.”
Friday night is date night. At Main St. Comedy Cafe in Hackensack, you get in before nine; it’s ten bucks each, plus a few drinks and maybe a light snack, catch the acts, and you’re on your way home by eleven.
The club’s owner, Jonathan Katz, has come a long way from opening night almost two years ago when he paced around worrying, about “a lot of free drinks tonight if the acts don’t show up.” The acts did show up. The night was a success. And there hasn’t been a weekend without laughs since Katz brought live comedy to town.
Decorated in nouveau Bergen County garage sale style, on the walls hang artifacts such as the photo of the bulldog peeking through a wooden picket gate, and the tin red, white and blue striped barber’s chevron hiding the lighting wires. Laid out in boxcar style, the cafe is long and narrow. It takes up the space of two small stores. The deli is attached through a passageway at the rear. Guarding the deli is a traffic light, a bus stop sign and street signs for Bank St., Poningo St. and, of course, Comedy Blvd.
The club is a deli/bar during the day catering to Hackensack’s hordes of attorneys working in county courthouse down the street. Both usually close at four p.m.
Here, the drinks are called the Comic Cooler, the Dirty Joke, the Rib Tickler, and the Stand Up Comic/Joker. Regular drinks are available. Anyone drinking Corona with lime is asking to be a comic’s target before the night is finished.
For a long time I was the club’s house photographer shooting b/w’s of the comedians for Jon’s walls. Then the walls were full.
Dave Feinman, a rotund emcee, holds up a Lite Beer and says, “I drink Lite Beer. Sure, you’re all saying, ‘why bother, Dave?’ Well, if I drink one beer, it’s one third less calories. Two beers, two thirds less. If I drink a six-pack, I’m losing weight.”
Adam Leslie, a headliner who’s been at the club four times does a send-up of the Wizard of Oz. He also toys around with brand name acronyms. “BMW means Break My Windows, or backwards, it’s Wanted Mercedes Benz. Ford backwards is Driver Returns On Foot. Or how about Fiat, Foolish Italian Attempting Transportation. That’s right, or Fix It Again Tony.”
Leslie moves into his airline acronyms. “Delta, Don’t Ever Leave The Airport. PANAM, Pick ANother Airline Mister.” This leads into his assault on flight attendants. “Don’t ever call them stewardesses. They get real insulted. All they are really are waitresses with a death wish.”
On Wednesday nights, comics arrive for Open Mike Night. Up to a dozen comics and would-be comics write their names on Main St. Deli cards and drop them into the fishbowl to be selected for a five minute shot on the carpeted sheet of plywood passing for a stage. Behind the stage, tacked to the wall is a 10x8-foot black curtain. It’s the butt of many jokes.
Wednesday night is not date night. It’s ladies night: the ladies get in free. They come in groups, but are outnumbered by the guys. There are three restrooms. Two individual rooms for the gals and one room for the guys. The more liquids are consumed, the longer the lines get. The crowds are interested in each other and the booze. The comics take a back seat. They must talk over the din. If the comic is good, he’ll win the audience over; if the comic is lousy, at least he’s paying his dues.
Tall lean Brian McFadden won the crowd over. For the New Year’s Eve bash, he was billed as the Kinetic Bergen Record. The Palisades Park native so impressed the host comedian Joe De Lion, that De Lion took him on tour. Now, it’s the Brian McFadden Open Mike Night.
Main St. hosts two shows, at nine and eleven-thirty on Friday and Saturday. Every week the acts change, but it’s the same comics for all four shows on the weekend. Some times, McFadden will drop in for the second act after his gig at another club.
Main St. does a half-hour turn around between shows. Guests pay, then get out. Some guests think it stinks, they want to hang out and keep drinking all night. They want to meet the comedians who walked around anonymously before they performed. The comics chill in the deli half. The waitresses clear tables and the bartender restocks clean glasses and cold beer, all in a half-hour.
Bill, the former doorman used to tell customers as they left that two waitresses didn’t show up. Most clients sympathized. Of course, Bill had made it up. Another night, one comic said it was one of the waitress’ birthday. She made out very well on tips. It wasn’t her birthday, it was a joke. Katz never had a clue. And then it was too late to do anything about it.
The later shows are pretty much the same as the earlier show. Sometimes they’re better. Usually the crowds are smaller, but not always. Earlier this year Katz opened the club to 19 and older, so the crowds have grown a little younger.
Katz understands the business better now. He knows the headliners who will show up ten minutes before they go on. As long as the emcee and the feature comics are on time, Katz doesn’t worry.
Four years ago Katz sold his shoe store and bought the deli next door. Two years ago, he opened the comedy cafe. The crowds turnover, we see new faces all the time. During the summer, the club is not crowded. Most people who would otherwise be in the audience head down the shore. Katz keeps up steady shows. It’s important to be here for the people who aren’t on vacation, he says.
Katz wants to take over an adjacent storefront and completely remodel the club. He wants to move the bar, relocate the stage, put in new bathrooms and most of all, increase capacity past 130. With a larger crowd, Katz says he can bring in bigger name comics, and in due course, make more money.
Will downtown Hackensack be ready for more comedy? Downtown usually closes at sundown. If it weren’t for the club at night, there’d be nobody downtown at all. At least that frees up all the parking spaces for Katz’ customers. The town better get ready because Katz is going places in Hackensack, and it won’t ever be the same.
First published in Bloomfield Life, circa 1989
Adapted from A Father's Place - An Eclectic Collection
Photos by Anthony Buccino.
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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