Main Street Comedy Cafe: I Came to Laugh
By Anthony Buccino
Comedy is like Chinese food. They both come in short bursts and are best consumed while they’re hot. The next day when you try to retell the jokes from a comedy act, it’s just not the same.
Where does a rock critic from the 70s find laughs today? Anyone could go into the city for a laugh. Between the tolls and the parking, it’s cheaper to hire your own comedian to come to the house. My wife spotted a newspaper ad and suggested I try a new place opening in Hackensack.
I am an anachronism in my own time. My wife says I am getting old. She points to the fact that I listen to talk radio all day. Just because I am interested in monetary matters and current affairs, does that mean I am getting old?
I thought about it. I am too old for MTV. I have to agree with her on that point. I don’t know most of the groups that sing, or the songs they sing. In fact, comedy specials are about the only TV shows I ever make time to watch. But there’s nothing like being there when it comes to comedy.
The Main Street Comedy Cafe opened for comedy in mid-July. They scheduled acts for Friday and Saturday nights and their ad promised a sandwich menu and plenty of free parking. It’s easy to find in downtown Hackensack.
Chris Rush was the headliner for their grand opening. Rush is not a household name, even if he does look like Mr Clean. Pass the shaved head and the bushy eyebrows and the similarity ends.
I had a Rush record somewhere, and I could still remember most of the lines. I dug out my copy of “First Rush” and listened to it in anticipation of a great show. I headed to Hackensack for laughs.
Rush’s record was in my stacks with several Firesign Theatre hits, National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner, and George Carlin’s “Indian sergeant” stuff. I couldn’t resist listening to a few of them as the grand opening grew closer. As a result, I was saying strange things like, “Close B, Close Mode on Deputy Dan,” and “Alligator pair, croc-igator pair, that’s why he’s so mean.”
Finally opening night came and I could see and hear people who do this for a living. Just because my six year old daughter says I’m the silliest daddy in the world, I am not insane enough to try to convince a group of strangers. Let someone else shake the spears and sling the arrows of an unlaughing crowd.
Everything in the place was new: the tables, tablecloths, carpet, paint and wallpaper, and brick face. Only the photos on the wall were old. The crowd was new, the waiters and waitresses were new.
Everyone had opening night jitters in the full house. One waitress spilled a drink and a waiter quickly cleaned it up. Another waitress spilled a tray of glasses. The glasses they served were warm for a while. And a fellow wearing a starched white wedding shirt and black tie said there would be a lot of free drinks if he acts didn’t show up.
No one in the crowd knew when the acts were supposed to start, so he was worrying for nothing (except he turned out to be the owner, Jonathan Katz.)
Special guest Joey Vega was charged to christen the club with humor. It was a tough job but someone had to do it. No one in the audience knew what to expect, but Vega worked hard to break the ice. He did all the hard work, then the next act came on. Vega returned later to chat with the audience after the second act. I felt good for him. The crowd appreciated the job he had done.
Donald McEnery, the second comedian on the bill toyed with a life being called Donald Duck, the people who work at motor vehicle registration, pump toothpaste and having to solve an algebra problem to get a paycheck.
Like George Carlin who admittedly learned a lot from Lenny Bruce, Vega and McEnery take the Carlin influence and more and go beyond the poor penmanship marks in parochial school to a higher (or lower) form of comedy. I’d like to see them both again, but not in a dark alley.
Chris Rush slipped into the club during one of the other acts. He sat at a table across from me. Even the waiter didn’t know who he was, and tried to bill him for his colas.
Rush was responsible for two memorable Lampoon features, “Sick jokes of the 70s” and “More sick jokes of the 70s.” Most of the waiters weren’t even in their teens in Rush’s heyday. In addition to “First Rush” which was released in 1973, he recorded “Beaming In” a few years ago. You really have to look around to find it, if you know what I mean.
Rush remained stone faced throughout the other acts. On stage, he admitted that he really didn’t want to be here, but the more the audience laughed, he said, the better he felt. Laughter has a way of doing that.
Rush’s act consisted of mostly new stuff with some of his old material sprinkled in for the veterans. He talked about Ollie, the Bakkers, and personally being on an airplane during near miss. The latter led him to discuss insomnia.
His voice doesn’t fit his face. I couldn’t believe that the voice I recognized came from that body. Someone said Rush was intelligent, with a high I.Q. or a Ph. D. That matters as little as whether I think his voice goes with his face. What matters is that he can still make us all laugh at ourselves (and the world around us) like little children.
Comedy is like Chinese food. They both come in short bursts and are best consumed while they’re hot. The next day when you try to retell the jokes from a comedy act, it’s just not the same. In fact, people will think you are quite strange.
In spite of that reaction, you find yourself reminded of jokes for the whole week following the act. Simple things can amuse you. Things like a road construction worker - eating doughnuts for $20/hour; or seeing a Hyundai - how small can a little car get!; a BMW from Fort Lee - with Perrier in the radiator.
It’s all because someone pointed out something about them that is worth remembering and laughing about. Comedy is one of life’s simple pleasures, and laughter is one of its most important treasures.
I came to laugh. I did. The grand opening of Main Street Comedy Cafe was a success. This is going to be a regular feature of the club and I plan to catch more acts there. Who knows, the Chris Rush of tomorrow may be there next weekend.
First published in Bloomfield Life on August 13, 1987
Adapted from A Father's Place - An Eclectic Collection
Photos by Anthony Buccino.
© 1987 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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