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THE MIXER

Sometimes, they'll even make you laugh

March 22, 2007|Jonah Flicker | Special to The Times

THE words "comedy club" conjure up images of intros to "Seinfeld" episodes, Robin Williams in a frenzied lather at Comic Relief or Sunset Strip joints like the Laugh Factory. There are comedy alternatives in Los Angeles, however, and if you're willing to venture off the beaten path for your laughter fix, you may be richly (and sometimes bizarrely) rewarded.

Take Big Fish, which lies in the industrial wasteland of western Glendale, close to the railroad tracks skirting San Fernando Road. The bar is a fishing expedition-themed dive with cheap beer, stuffed fish adorning the walls and nights devoted to karaoke and "live jams." Tuesday nights, though, are the home of D + D's Joke Machine, an offbeat and sometimes cringe-inducing alt-comedy night.

The weekly event began last August, the creation of comedians Denver Smith and Douggpound (nee Doug Lussenhop), who is also often host of the show. It regularly draws a mix of aspiring amateurs, more seasoned performers and sad-sack miscreants in search of catharsis. "I always think there must be a mental health clinic around the corner," muses Smith. "There are some sketchy, dark people who come in."

Erratic talent is part of the Joke Machine's charm, although that's not necessarily to Smith's liking. "I always wish it was like Carnegie Hall, a dark theater with people all dressed up," he says. "But it's not. We're fighting against this whole weird Glendale element." Smith and Douggpound book the event, although it's sometimes mistakenly listed as an open-mike. Comedians are provided with a chance to test out new material, and many come armed with notebooks and even jokes written on the palms of their hands.

Two recent nights provided opposite examples of how D + D's Joke Machine can play out. One Tuesday found four people listening to the droll wit of comedian Bennie Arthur, the silence occasionally punctuated by the shrill whistle of a passing train. The following week saw a relatively large and enthusiastic crowd enjoying Matt Braunger's truly hilarious set, which included a bit about lifting weights to the music of the Smiths.

The "weird Glendale element" Smith describes is enhanced by Big Fish's bartender, Cheazer, who provides color commentary during the performances and acts as a de facto id to the proceedings. "It's a very enjoyable night. It's a bonus if [the comedians] are funny," he quips. Of course, Cheazer sees other reasons to attend as well: "It's inexpensive to get drunk and stupid."

D + D's works, not in spite of, but because of, its unpredictability. Although groans and silence may at times outnumber laughs, the stream-of-consciousness rants and uniquely funny jokes make it distinctive. Even without the passing trains.

weekend@latimes.com

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Big Fish

What: D + D's Joke Machine comedy nights

Where: 5230 San Fernando Road, Glendale

When: Comedy on Tuesdays; bar open daily 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Price: No cover. Drinks: draft beer, $2.75; bottled beer, $4; well drinks, $4

Info: (818) 244-6442

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