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Whiskey Bend

The first round fired...

By Chris ZPublished 11 months ago Updated 11 months ago 3 min read
"The Whiskey’s dignified aesthetics belied its undignified clientele."

Whiskey Bend

Some 16 years ago, I dropped by Burbank’s Whiskey Bend for their weekly open mic night. LA’s soul-crushing open mic scene is the first gauntlet starry-eyed standups must traverse.

I planned to premiere 5 new minutes. There’s only so much preshow prep that performers, be they singers or joke slingers, can make. At some point, a piece must be served to a live audience, who will either spit, swallow, or, best case scenario, suck it up and ask for seconds.

The neighborhood was neither blighted nor crime ridden. The bar’s exterior was tidy, its interior clean and commodious. The Whiskey’s dignified aesthetics belied its undignified clientele.

Barflies conversed in dirges and lamentations. Pool tables separated the bar from the stage. Comics rarely strayed far enough outside the performance space’s natural borders to commingle with regulars.

Two Latinos in their mid to late 20s caught my eye. They were neither open micers nor bar regulars, judging by their dress and demeanor. The smaller of the two busied himself shooting pool solo, the larger by stomping around and swearing, full volume, apropos of nothing. I signed my name to the open mic manifest and settled in for a long wait.

Shortly thereafter, a heated exchange ruptured the otherwise prosaic dive bar din. The Loud Latino stood toe-to-toe with an Irish tough who trumped him in all 3 dimensions. While I couldn’t make out specific words, the Irishman’s ire spoke to a longstanding unsettled score. The Spaniard’s size disadvantage prompted him to proselytize pacifism, but the paddy turned a deaf ear. The bartender wedged herself between the 20-something enfants terrible. Her efforts stalled the brawl, but failed to squelch the toxic masculinity enflaming it.

Meanwhile, camouflaged by the commotion, Big Latino’s Beta stealthily palmed a pool ball. Casual as a suburbanite fetching the day's mail, he strolled up behind Beantown and pistol-whipped him like his friend’s life depended on it, which it probably did. The bar staff immediately issued Latinx Lenny and Squiggy lifetime bans, effective immediately.

The moment Irish came to, bar staff ordered him out. He complied, but only after peeling off his plain white T and stanching his ragged head wound’s outflow. Peak drama having been reached, staff closed the bar hours ahead of schedule.

Patrons dutifully plodded toward the exit. I broke from the migration to void my bladder. By the time I’d peed, washed up, and worked my way toward the exit, Irish had caught up to his quarry in the parking lot. He pulled a knife. They pulled a gun.

A clown car’s worth of comics reentered the bar like a high school football team storming homefield, shouting that a “shot” had just been “fired!” I sidestepped the stampede sans a second to spare. Their “safety in numbers” confederacy quickly fractured into a “save yourself” diaspora. One grown-ass man balled himself up behind a flowerpot half his height and width. Blessedly, the first round fired was also the last.

Long after the bad guys had absconded, the COPS showed themselves. The comics had since convened in the parking lot to recap the main event and embellish their proximity to it. One at a time, they recounted what they’d witnessed to the responding officers. What followed was high irony: Comedic hopefuls who’d labored for silence one hour earlier earned belly laughs playing it straight. One officer asked a tall, dark-haired comic, “Did they happen to say where they were headed?” “They said they were bound for Tijuana,” DHC sheepishly replied, “to fuck brown bitches for 50 bucks.” That officer’s partner queried a separate open micer: “Where were you when the shot was fired?” Said open micer pointed into the distance and answered in earnest: “See those bushes down the block?”


About the Creator

Chris Z

My opinion column garnered more reader responses than any other contributor in the paper's 40-year run. As a stand-up comic, I performed in 16 countries & 26 states. I've written 2 one-man shows, umpteen poems, songs, essays & chronologies.

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