It was late into a local comedy showcase at the Improv Comedy Club last year, and the crowd was getting restless. The night had been good, mostly, but after a couple of lifeless sets, people in the audience were ready to pack it up and hit the door — that or grab a pitchfork and storm the stage, unruly-mob-style. But just as the tension was about to blow, Cuban-American comedian Adrian Mesa took the mic. With a swagger afforded by a combination of confidence and booze, Mesa launched into an aggressive set of jokes that, like some airborne pathogen, spread a cloud of funny around the room so thick that everyone in the audience had no choice but to start cracking up. He sang faux American Idol-style tunes about rotting garbage, he shot boundary-crossing jabs at Miami's Cuban population, and he mined material from his personal resemblance to Super Mario (complete with billowy mustache, lovable paunch, and Grandpa-esque flat cap). And after his set was over, people's asses were not only glued to their seats; they were screaming for an encore. It's not easy pulling a 180 on a room like that, but Mesa did it.

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