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Seven Minutes of Fame


Nasmo King says by way of a punch line, "Which is scarier to you, a big pot of hairy fondue or a cleanshaven Bigfoot?"

He is finishing off a story in which various elusive characters are finally traced to a fondue restaurant on Ventura Boulevard.

The scene is the Tuesday night comedy open mike at Petterson's Frish Rost, a coffee shop (er, make that coffee house) on an undistinguished stretch of Venice Boulevard somewhere in Culver City.

Vance Bean has been running the show on Tuesdays since February, and the venue has gained a reputation among comedians and audiences as one of the best open mikes in town.

"It draws an actual audience, rather that just other comedians, who tend to be a hard room," says Bean.

Each performer is held to a strict seven minutes, with things wrapping up about 11 p.m. Between sets, Bean reads selections from "The Gentle Conqueror," the official Fabio newsletter.

The decor is standard post-Starbuck's, kind of cozy cool, if not exactly hip, with warm pink walls, black Formica tables and a large blackboard to display the coffee menu.

As for the questionable Culver City Matisse on the walls, the best that can be said is that more than one comic was able to use it onstage.

There might not be any beatniks on duty, but this appears to be the hot place among members of the Culver City Police Department. Most of the evening, there seems to be a squad car parked in the red zone out front and an officer or two at the counter ordering a cappuccino to go.

On election night, almost everyone does politics. Don Friesen's take on negative campaign slogans has Kathleen Brown torturing children in her basement, while "Pete Wilson used to be a woman. What's more, he was an illegal immigrant."

The best political humor came from the popular Gary Brussell, introduced as "the priest of the acid-washed jeans." ("I love them because they are never going to come back.")

Brussell creates a scenario in which Abe Lincoln and Clara Barton frolic on a water bed in a Motel 6. And you thought historical humor was dead.

Diversity keeps things lively. Carol Margraf does an impersonation of Bette Davis as a baby. Tracy Berna tells the best ferret jokes in town.

Don Agronsky, a frequent participant, sees open-mike comedy as a good way of practicing the actor's craft.

"What's the point in going to the (American) Academy of Dramatic Arts and studying Shakespeare and Chekhov, then going out and doing a Molson commercial? At least here you can say things that are real."

Where: Petterson's Frish Rost, 10019 Venice Blvd., Culver City. (310) 839-3359.

When: Comedy open mike every Tuesday. Sign-ups at 7 p.m. for 7:30 show.

Cost: A small coffee of the day is 95 cents. Cappuccino starts at $2.15; cafe au lait, at $1.65. Muffins and desserts also available.

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