Comedy Night at Paradise Club has remedy for blues

By Lynn Rogers

It’s been a bad week: three exams, two papers, you got dumped, the rent is due and you caught a cold. You’re convinced you’ll never laugh again.

Take heart and head to the Paradise Club, 1212 W. Lincoln Highway, for a night full of chuckles, giggles and guffaws. Every Wednesday night is Comedy Night at the bar (yes, you must be 21), featuring three acts by talented comedians.

“It’s definitely a good outlet,” said lounge supervisor Jim Parker. “There is a very light atmosphere_it’s a matter of coming in for a good time.”

Parker said the Paradise Club started Comedy Night at the beginning of the semester and it has caught on well with audiences. The show begins around 9 p.m. and patrons must pay a $4 cover charge. There are three acts_two co-headliners and an Emcee, usually an up-and-coming comedian.

According to Parker, the club’s headliners have appeared on cable comedy specials, late-night television talk shows and have opened for well-known comedians. He said they choose performers through different comedy agencies that send out photos and resumes. “They aren’t small-time comedians,” he added.

Emcee Dan Flatly begins the show tonight, jumping on the small stage and peering out into the crowd. There are about 50 people in the audience, spread out over the bar in tables and booths, casually sipping drinks.

Flatly is a lively performer, with his vibrant, close-cropped red hair, white t-shirt, grey sportcoat, jeans and freckles. He interacts with the crowd and peppers his monologue with obscenities, leading the audience to break out into peals of laughter.

Flatly hails from the South Side of Chicago and travels all over the Midwest with his act. In a post-performance interview, the 26-year-old said he has a strong theater background, and has studied improvisation with the famed Second City troupe.

Flatly said he was always the class clown in his school years and remains a “partying” person. “I’ve been thrown through several walls and bars have thrown me out,” he confides.

Are those days over? “Not really,” he says with a smile, adding, “It’s funny because a lot of the bars I’m banned from I have to go back and perform at.”

Flatly says he prepares his material using some techniques and processes. “It’s like a formal paper in many ways. There’s an opening statement, body, and closing statement that refers back to the opening one,” he explains. “But you put a twist in it. In a lot of cases you exaggerate the truth…some people say the best comedy just imitates.”

Rob Benton is the first headliner, sauntering on stage in khaki chinos, a bright red sweater and a buttoned-up white shirt. The dark-haired performer puffs on a cigarette from time to time_”I love to smoke,” he says.

Benton, who has opened for Gabe “Mr. Kotter” Kaplan and Jeffery Osbourne, also interacts with the audience. One hilarious sequence was his tales of childhood: “We tried to sell cotton candy_we took pink insulation and put it on a stick.”

After the performance, Benton relates he has other hobbies besides comedy_namely golf. “It’s a fun game,” he says, adding, “And it kills four to five hours a day.” His best score? An 87. “The golf god smiled on me that day.”

Benton is from Minneapolis, where he began his comedy career about five years ago. Although his goals for the future include working on a sitcom or soap opera (“You have to shoot a lot and keep up-to-date.”), he enjoys his current comedy stint.

“This is a great job. It’s fun and I like to have fun,” he explains. “For God’s sake, have fun while you’re here. You could get hit by a bus or have a piano dropped on your head tomorrow.

Jokes aren’t hard to write,” he continues. “It’s from night to night making it work.”

Texan Riley Barber is the second headliner, a tall, muscular 31-year-old dressed in a bright blue shirt and jeans. He is enthusiastic and boisterous, and generates a steady stream of laughs.

His show is the longest_45 minutes_and Barber often switches gears. Whenever he wears his blue baseball hat, he erupts into a loud, chain-smoking character with a Texas twang and swagger.

His funniest lines concern football, his father and illegal drugs. An imitation of playwright Tennessee Williams doing a play-by-play of a NBA basketball game leaves the audience roaring.

Barber, who was one of the “Outlaw Comics” with Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks, plays a lot of clubs across the country. This week alone he has traveled to Nebraska, Moline and DeKalb, and will go to Houston and Washington D.C. next. Throughout the interview, he throws in jokes and amusing anecdotes.

Barber, who is finishing up his sixth year as a full-time comedian, said his style is always evolving. Like his baseball-capped alter ego, he has had his share of wild times. “I probably would have been in jail if I wasn’t in comedy,” he said.

Barber says he “loves” comedy and his ultimate goal is to do a television show. But for now, like most comedians, he is having fun. “I like working with people,” he says. “I’m just a people person.”