By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
After obsessing for weeks on TV coverage of EliÁn González, West Hollywood X-rated and documentary filmmaker Phil Tarley made a pilgrimage to Miami to see where America’s favorite castaway was held during much of the brutal custody tug of war that followed his rescue at sea. Outside the surprisingly tiny stucco house, Tarley found a treasure-trove of folk art attesting to the passions that brought thousands of weeping, chanting strangers together in what the filmmaker calls a modern-day cult of the Divine Child.
“Every day, throngs of believers had come, waiting for a visitation from El Elián,” Tarley wrote in an account of his travels. “He was the one, rescued by the Virgin and sent by God. For as sure as Christ will rise, Castro will fall — and Cuba will be theirs again.”
The painting above shows the little Cuban refugee afloat in a tire held up by dolphins; both his mother, Elizabeth, who died in their desperate ocean crossing, and the Holy Virgin gaze from the canvas at the child. Tarley’s other finds included a broken and bloodied doll (that’s Elián) pegged to a cross; a bearded man in a noose with his tongue sticking out of his mouth (Fidel); and numerous photographs of Donato, the condo-cleaner-turned-“fisherman” who rescued Elián, and whom Tarley calls the “Kato Kaelin” of the Elián affair.
Although the TV cameras are gone (as is Elián, who was forcibly reunited by federal agents with his father), the veneration continues. New shrines pop up each week as fresh pilgrims stream in to pay their respects, Tarley said.
“I can see Elián being sainted,” he added.
“And what has happened to his little puppy, and to the rabbit? Will they also be for sale on eBay, along with the other Elián memorabilia?” Tarley wrote in his travel diary. “Elián, I miss you . . . Please, send us a sign.”COFFEE-SHOP COMEDY CIRCUIT
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Brody Stevens coos to an attractive blond. “You do now,” he says, then looks defiantly at the 30-plus crowd on hand for the one-year anniversary of the Last Laughs Before the 101comedy showcase. “I get chicks people!” he screams.
Moments later, Conan Kilborn saunters up to the makeshift podium at the back of the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop on Franklin Avenue and begins to stew over the pending birth of his child. “My wife is pregnant, and we have decided not to find out the sex,” he states matter-of-factly, then shrugs. “I didn’t find out till I was 13. Why deprive the kid of that type of insecurity?”
Swaggering up next is a sure-footed, blond surfer-looking dude named Greg Behrendt, who raves about his lack of confidence and his secret longings for Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. “They are so good, when I eat them I laugh.” Wayne Federman hates car-pool lanes. “The car-pool lane is immoral because it discriminates against the lonely,” he says. The Sklar Bros., who are identical twins, rehash their recent road trip and favorite bumper sticker: “Fat People Are Harder To Kidnap.”
The night is waning when a clean-cut, bespectacled comedian named Bob Oschack comes on. Noticing a video camera taping his every move, Oschack pulls his striped golf shirt out of his pants and looks sheepishly at the audience, then to his cut abs. “Entertain yourselves, people,” he says, admiring his biceps. As odors of ketchup, eggs and salsa waft over the tables, the small crowd still remaining in the coffee shop cheers.
Though the talent is sometimes more Foster Brooks than Chris Rock, Last Laughs Before the 101has become one of the top showcases in L.A. for standup comedy (the name comes from the coffee shop’s location, just before the Franklin Avenue onramp to the 101 Hollywood Freeway). As venues such as the Comedy Store and Laugh Factory restrict themselves more and more to established talent, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and even laundromats by default are becoming the training grounds for the next generation of Jim Carreys and Ellen DeGenereses.
“The future of comedy is at these coffee shops,” says Oschack, whose credits include the Oprah Winfrey and Martin Short shows. “There is a generation of performers who are cutting their teeth in smaller rooms, and they will one day be on TV. Before, if you wanted to see topnotch talent you would go to the Comedy Store.” But now, it’s the Coffee Shop, O’Brien’s Irish Pub in Santa Monica, the Gypsy Cafe in Westwood and Sonoma Blue coffeehouse in Studio City.
The competition is hardly cutthroat. Oschack says he and his fellow comedians move in a group from gig to gig together, cheering each other on. Sometimes, they spend a whole night standing around a club, waiting in vain for a last-minute hole to open up in late-night lineups.