Modern Kicks Comedy is back. A comedy showcase presented by Accidental Comedy and hosted by Jimmie Graham, Modern Kicks made its return on Friday the 23rd after a short hiatus and a change of venue. The show will continue weekly Wednesday nights, now at the upgraded location of the newly opened Winchester Music Tavern on Madison in Lakewood.
Formerly the Bevy in Birdtown and before that the much celebrated Winchester Music Hall, the new Winchester Music Tavern offers a great selection of drinks and food in its bar up front, and a large stage area in the back. The local comedy scene is often relegated to performing in spaces more akin to back rooms or dingy basements (a joke Jimmie would often make about their last location), but the stage at the Winchester is anything but. The Modern Kicks show now has the advantages of a full service audio setup and a fantastic lighting arrangement that creates a true comedy club vibe, even if the Winchester’s primary focus is music. The in-house technician was quick on sound and lighting cues from the comics, putting an end to the days of watching these comics fuss with their own portable PAs up on a stage with a static lighting setup. Like I said: upgrade. But with that upgrade also comes a much larger space, which can be daunting when it comes to packing a room, however Jimmie and company had no problem on this front, either. The space was full, and the seating arrangement kept things close-quarters and communal. Lots of young people and lots of couples. While I certainly recognized a lot of local comics in the crowd, this definitely wasn’t one of those comics-only shows for standup acts to workshop their new bits among their fellow craftsmen. This was a crowd of non-comics looking to have a good time on a Friday night and they got one.
Jimmie Graham took the stage to kick off the show, describing himself as the halfway image between a human and a raccoon on an Animorphs paperback cover. He ran the show with a current of playful jeering—at the other comics, at the bartender whom he went to prom with, and at himself. Most of the comics are Jimmie’s friends, or at least partners in humorist crime, and the teasing insults could skirt a little nasty, but Jimmie never let anyone have it harder than him. It created an energy not unlike a close group of friends—the kind that knows exactly how far is too far and how to take a good jab right up until that point. It invited the crowd to be a part of that camaraderie and share in that vulnerability. It got people laughing.
Tim Cornett took the stage after Jimmie’s intro, bringing a disheveled boisterousness and getting in and out with a refined, tight set. After that, a surprise visit came from the Alan Cox Show’s Bill Squire, bringing with him his brand of self-deprecation and getting a big reaction from the crowd. Then Jimmie’s good friend and regular Modern Kicks performer Mike Strenk dropped in and almost made me spit my beer out when he described himself as looking like he looks up “How to make your own toothpaste” online. John Bruton followed up and took the playful jeering a shade nastier. Just when I thought he might have taken it too far with a sexist joke or two in a crowd that may have skewed a female majority, he was able to read the crowd and pull it back in his favor while still dangerously flirting with that line. His banter with his front row haggler felt like it mirrored his relationship with the entire female portion of the crowd, and it stayed rocky throughout his set, but his ability to read and respond to the crowd was not to be overlooked. Mary Santora reinvigorated any of the disenchanted with a spectacular window of schadenfreude into a life of aborted wedding plans and sisterly vindictiveness. Mary’s onstage persona is that of a trainwreck heroine that is easy to laugh with and root for simultaneously. Her “5 vs. 8” bit of comparing reactions to people on different ends of the 10 point scale is a genius formula that will be a blast to witness in various incarnations and iterations in sets to come.
Then it was local legend Hot Carl’s turn to take the stage and he did so with a reaction from the crowd worthy of such a status. As the start of the show neared, a whole section of folding chairs had to be added to the floor to accommodate the growing number of attendants and it appeared like this additional seating was populated entirely by fans who came specifically for Hot Carl. If you haven’t seen him DJing or running karaoke around Lakewood before, Hot Carl embraces his too-old-and-too-fat-to-still-be-living-with-his-mom lifestyle with an inviting joviality. He talks about shitting his pants, posts on Facebook every time he gets laid, and tags all of his jokes by calling out “Hot Carl.” It’s a fun ride to hop along for, but some of the more hilarious moments of his set came from the blunt honesty with which Hot Carl owned his more unrefined elements, such as the loud, laughing way that he botched some of his set-ups, or his transitions that consisted of flatly announcing “Joke number two.”
Mike Polk Jr. headlined the show and by this point I could feel the audience starting to get rowdier as the alcohol began to take hold. Polk knows the scene and he knows how to play things with a hyper-local focus, which works well for a Modern Kicks show. Much of his act involved a slideshow through Polk’s adventures on Cleveland Craigslist which got people howling with laughter, almost to the point of driving the more drunk portions of the crowd off the rails. He finished up with a staged reenactment of a poorly received karaoke performance of George Michaels’ “Careless Whisper” in a deep south Nascar bar. It was a strong note to go out on.
This was a strong display for the return of Modern Kicks comedy. The show will continue from here every Wednesday night at the Winchester Music Tavern. If you hate laughing, you shouldn’t go.