The Vintage Bar & Lounge in Wantagh, the site of weekly open mics hosted by comedian, writer and improv teacher D.B. Frick, is a dim and unapologetically honest comedy venue. George Carlin, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor were all known to light up a room, but at the Vintage on Sept. 25, eighteen young and old Long Island comics were just hoping that the lights in this room worked.
Actually, last week only half of them did. A bartender mixed cocktails and cracked open brews with the help of vintage neon beer signs hung in the windows, and scattered phone flashlights. The microphone gave out with two comics yet to perform, and there were no audience members who weren’t performing. These circumstances, however, seemed to discourage no one. Open mic regulars piled in to the barely lit bar, and used it as raw material for the only thing they were focused on: getting a laugh.
“You get these people here that are hungry,” said Donna Moran, a comedy veteran who took a 22-year break to raise her daughter. “When I first started, even at open mics you’d have a full audience. Now it’s usually just other comics. But once you get up on that stage, no matter how many people in the audience, if you hear those laughs, it’s the highest high there is. And it can also be the lowest low.”
Long Islanders from all different backgrounds took the stage and worked on sharpening their craft. “You know you’re on to something when you can go up there and make [other comedians] laugh,” said Richard Einhorn. Indeed, these kinds of rooms aren’t the finish line. They aren’t even the starting line. They are the practice fields for comedy lovers and aspiring and veteran performers. One such performer is Frick, who has been running the show for the past 14 weeks.
Originally from Long Island, Frick attended Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, where he was a member of an improvisation group. He went on to study at Adelphi University, where he continued his improv career with a group called Actual Size, before earning a Masters in Fine Arts in English/Film at London Metropolitan University in 1999. After returning to the U.S., Frick was offered a position as a writing intern for Conan O’Brien. “I wrote a Year 2000 joke and an Al Gore Jar Jar Binks joke,” Frick said. “I didn’t stay with Conan after the internship, so I started to dive into stand-up.”
Frick, whose comedy influences included Johnny Carson, David Letterman and the Monty Python troupe, went on to write TV scripts and to act, stage-manage and teach in theater, including a seven-year stint at UCLA. When he came back home to New York, he saw a culture of budding comedians who hadn’t yet found their voices, so he organized a platform to help them.
Host Jeff Bosy opened last week’s open mic with a tight five minutes of material before introducing the first comedian of the night, Devin Bramble. Bramble, a boisterous and, most important, funny presence, took the stage and whimsically acknowledged the less than optimum conditions and the fact that a member of the press had come to the show before diving into his planned bits.
Comic after comic offered six- to seven-minute sets for no one but their colleagues, in the hope of sharpening their routines before venturing in front of larger crowds.
The lineup was varied, and reflected Long Island’s diverse population. The camaraderie in the room was almost palpable, as if they had all known each other for years, despite obvious gaps in age. Twenty-five-year-olds and 66-year-olds mingled over beers in the shadows that all but swallowed one end of the bar. One comic brought her dog. The common love was comedy.
After the last few comics finished their sets without even a microphone, the group rose in near unison, guzzled the last of their drinks and funneled out into the parking lot. Notebooks were scratched with adjustments for the following Wednesday, and, after a few half-smoked cigarettes, the crowd began to disperse. Their workshop was done.
Frick continues to host open mic events every Wednesday at Vintage Bar and Lounge, at 3037-3039 Merrick Road in Wantagh, and welcomes comics of all ages and backgrounds. “I don’t think anything brings people together quite like it,” he said. “It brings like-minded people together, and just people that love comedy.”
For more information, contact the venue at (516) 221-0583, or Frick via Twitter, @DBfrick.