Paging Dr. Hardy Harhar

Professional help on the hunt for laughs

Drink has been called a tonic, laughter the best medicine. But they're not covered by insurance. Between admission fees and drink prices, good health through bar comedy can get pricey. Not so at Buzz's Bar.

The no-frills, neighborhood joint in Sunrise just kicked off its free Thursday-night comedy showcase. It's paying the comedians pretty well — $150 and dinner per feature — and the club's getting some decent talent. With a two-drink minimum and two-for-one martini specials, for 20 bucks, you'll be more than restored; you'll practically be reincarnated.

It recently occurred to me that every Night Rider adventure is basically a joke waiting to happen: A nightlife columnist walks into a bar... and that's as far as I ever get. Time for professional help, so off to Buzz's I went.

I was joined by Robbio, the creative force behind the Improv Export Company, which performs bimonthly comedy shows at the Mental Ward bar in Fort Lauderdale. He knew tonight's feature, Adrian Mesa. The Hollywood comic is a local hero, having won the 2003 Las Vegas Laugh Across America competition in the Best Latino Comic category as well as other distinctions.

Tough act to follow. Good thing open mic always kicked things off. "You signing up?" I asked Robbio as we walked across the parking lot.

He shook his head no. "Improv is considered the lowest form of comedy. The lowest form of theater, actually."

Bottom feeders in our respective professions, we walked into the bar. Why was there a dude onstage playing guitar and singing "Sweet Home Alabama"? It wasn't comedy, although I had always found it funny that anyone would prefer the Bible belt to the exquisite appendage beneath it.

Like a genie emerging from one of the many bottles, the bartender appeared, cloud of smoke provided by the bar's smoker-friendly policy: "What can I get you?"

Quicker than I could say "A moratorium on the hick anthem, a cold beer, and some comedy," the song concluded, a beer arrived, and the guy next to me tried to humor me.

"What are you? Irish?" he asked.

I shook my head and smiled politely at this middle-aged man with a "#1 Dad" necklace. I guess he decided that I was giving him nonverbal communication rather than a brushoff, so he slid his hand along my wrist, as if the freckles on my fair skin were genetic code. "Italian? Jewish?" he tried.

I gave him my best deadpan. "African-American."

It took the guy a few seconds to realize I was joking. When Super Dad followed with an off-color joke, I was more certain than ever that I wouldn't find what I was looking for here. I tried another regular. Aaron Levy wasn't a standup kind of guy either, but he did have a better sense of personal space. According to him, he was perfectly happy being funny from his barstool, redefining sitcom. "I'm funny here. I'm not funny there," the 36-year-old said, nodding toward the stage. "I need people to talk to to make me funny."

Prove it, amigo. I fed him my joke's opening line.

"No, she doesn't walk. A nightlife columnist staggers into a bar," he said. "She orders a cab."

Clearly, I needed to quit looking to rank amateurs for help. A specialist is what this Night Rider needed. The open-mic would be the perfect tool.

First up, Johnny Angel. His best recommendation was a bit comparing drinking O'Doul's to performing cunnilingus on a blow-up doll: all the work and none of the payoff.

Next, Mr. Excitement. Metamucil body shots? I wasn't enthused.

The confrontational misogynist/defensive gum-chewing redneck? I could pretty much glean from his act how his version of the joke would go: "A nightlife columnist with big tits walks into a bar. She's supposedly 'working,' but you know, a single babe in a bar's really looking for action — that notepad's just for show. So, she orders a drink and realizes she forgot her cigarettes. Me? I'm a gum-chewer. So I'm like, 'Hey, baby, smoke this! Afterwards, I'll give you a piece of Dentyne. And your breath won't smell like shit.' "

Or maybe I give him too much credit.

Hansen Sinclair showed potential. In a deck otherwise loaded with jokers, his was the race card. The black comic explained he'd moved from crime-ridden Miami to Plantation, where "at least people will keep an eye on me." He also had a bit about refusing to enjoy a rope swing because the pastime was too similar to lynching.

When Robbio's name was called, I figured it was a prank. "They made me sign up," he explained over his shoulder as he bee-lined to the stage. I wondered about the Sharpie marker he'd taken up with him. Maybe he was aiming for an indelible impression?

Exactly: He drew a handlebar mustache on his lip and assumed a character that was part Latin lover, part Hannibal Lecter as he launched a love-making how-to. "Slowly — like a waterfall stopped by superheroes' powers — caress her slowly," he exhorted, absurd similes being one of the Puerto Rican funny guy's skills. By the time he began describing the football-sized fold of his lover's neck ("caress it slowly, like it was signed by the Miami Dolphins"), the young woman behind me was wiping tears from her eyes. He lost the crowd, I think, when ear-nibbling escalated to cartilage-chewing and ended in deep-frying and feasting on the carcass for a week's worth of lunches. Suddenly, my seasoned fries weren't quite as appetizing.

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