Paging Dr. Hardy Harhar

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.

I wish I'd had the intestinal fortitude of Adrian Mesa and his fellow Cubans, whom he proclaimed "Kings of Fried Carbs." Stick a cigar in Mesa's mouth and the guy would look like a kinder, blinder, paunchier Fidel Castro in Castro's younger years. His set ranged from the observational (Doritos are like "tiny stained-glass pieces from the church of Satan") to the racial (Indian gangstas on low-rider elephants) to the musical (like a Latino Adam Sandler). With 45 minutes of fun-without-offense comedy, no wonder the 29-year-old doesn't need a day job.

After the show, when our Lynyrd Skynyrd-singing host began to flex his musical muscles by singing some Motown, I approached Mesa and his girlfriend, Kristin.

Her biggest complaint? "I feel really not funny all the time," she said, shaking her head slowly in defeat.

"So it's all comedy, all the time, huh?" I asked Mesa. "Is there any room in your life for tragedy?"

"I went to Flamingo Gardens recently and almost twisted my ankle looking at flowers," he told me. "How sad is that?"

Like a scene from Euripides, my friend.

I asked for his help with my joke. He got as far as "A nightlife columnist goes into a bar, and the bartender says, 'Sorry, we don't serve nightlife columnists here'" when an older guy interrupted with a comment I didn't catch.

"There's always a guy like that at every show," Mesa explained after the guy headed toward the pool tables. "A drunkle who always tells you the most racist jokes."

" 'Drunkle'?" I repeated, savoring his mashup of drunk and uncle.

He nodded. "Yup. Some people are naturally talented; others are enhanced."

So use that natural talent to finish my joke, Jefe.

"And the nightlife reporter is lonely and depressed and goes home."

I was beginning to pick up a theme; no matter what state the reporter was in, people kept sending her home.

I decided to buy a vowel and get a clue. But that didn't mean I'd quit. I finished my joke — with a little inspiration from the pros:

Night Rider walks into a cannibal bar, sits down, and picks up a menu.

The bartender shakes his head. "We don't serve your kind here."

"Oh, why not?" the reporter asks.

"Our chef is French," the bartender explains. "He is very discriminating."

Discrimination: now that's a spicy story for a journalist. "Please, tell me more," she encourages her host as she eyes a daily special on the menu that she doesn't recognize. "Naliste?" she wonders silently.

"Off the record?"

The reporter nods.

"Well, actually, we do serve your kind," the bartender says in a low voice. "And I can tell — you think that you smell a story. But that's because Chef Bonmort is preparing his special soup du jour... naliste."

Now, with my 47 seconds of material, I'm sure I'll be making the rounds at an open mic near you.

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Marya Summers