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
The regulars — men, dudes, guys — all well into their (plastic) cups, outnumber the small crowd arriving just before 9 on this Tuesday night to see standup comedy at Big Fish. Big Fish is a neighborhood dive without the neighborhood. It’s a working-class swilling joint on a stretch of San Fernando Road that in the dark, even when crisscrossed by the teeming 134 and 5 freeways, still qualifies as where-the-hell-are-we? Only an illuminated Levitz warehouse sign a couple of blocks down gives any sign of commerce.
Whoever thought it would be a great idea to make the bar’s theme nautical, tacking up dead fish here and there, when the nearest body of water is the depressing, boatless so-called L.A. River, must have had a sick sense of humor. It’s a far cry from anything Jimmy Buffett ever sang about, and the type of irony-free bar that hipsters love to overtake and ruin for the regulars. But the newcomers may have finally met their match with Big Fish.
Sitting alone at a table is Michelle Biloon. As is her habit, she’s arrived a good half-hour before her performance, jotting down material for a show she’ll do later this evening at Upright Citizens Brigade. She nurses a $2.75 Miller Lite.
“Hey, you’re writing down stuff — what’s that all about?” says one of a group of rowdy dart players, snooping over her shoulder. An older patron, accustomed to the weekly infiltrators, shares a joke with Biloon that involves a baby chick, an egg and a blowjob. Biloon politely responds with a smile and fake chuckle.
After an introduction by Doug Pound and Denver Smith, the hosts of Big Fish’s weekly D & D’s Joke Center, Biloon takes the microphone. It’s obvious from the loud hoots and chatter from the preoccupied dart players that she’ll have to compete for attention tonight.
There’s no “How’s everybody doing tonight?” when Biloon takes the stage. She is a meat-and-potatoes–style comic — not cutesy or quirky like Maria Bamford or Rita Rudner. She doesn’t have a wacky persona like Judy Tenuta. As with Janeane Garofalo, to whom she is often compared, or Jerry Seinfeld, Biloon gets onstage because she has jokes she needs to tell.
All across this city, on any given night, in dives like Big Fish, coffeehouses, the backrooms of Middle Eastern restaurants, and two-drink-minimum laugh barns where customers sip $7 Coronas, there is a never-ending parade of people brave enough to stand before a microphone, some with unfolded notepaper in hand, doing everything they can to make us laugh.
Biloon is one of these comedy soldiers, though perhaps blessed with more confidence than others clawing their way up the bottom rungs of the comedy ladder. “I know I’m funny,” she will say in more than one conversation. At 30 — she looks much younger — she’s still primed to pay whatever dues it takes. If she were a character on a sitcom, she’d be the deadpan gal who’s too smart for the room, who points out the inanity of everyday occurrences. For example:
“I like cop TV shows. One of my favorite phrases from these types of shows is when there is a crime scene in a crowd and a cop gets on the megaphone and he says, ‘Okay, everybody, party’s over.’ Ninety percent of the time, there was never a party. It’s always a homicide or a suicide. A party? That was a party? A man just jumped out of a building and died — that was a party? Well, fuck it; if that was a party, I have a bathtub and a toaster. Everybody come over to my place.”
She takes the mike at Big Fish and forges into her well-honed set, digging in as if we’ve all met before and have some catching up to do. She comes across relaxed, as though she’s been doing this all her life.
“Hi, I’m the next comedian. My name is Michelle Biloon. Biloon is my real name. It’s not a stage name. It’s not my comedy name. I didn’t choose it. I was buying a bus ticket at the Greyhound station, and the Greyhound lady looked down at my ticket and said, ‘Biloon? I bet you got teased a lot as kid.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you work at a Greyhound station. I bet you got teased a lot this morning.’ And then I punched her in the face. And then I threw a fake fish at her head, which was fucking handy, since the Greyhound station was in Big Fish.”
It’s a joke she’s opened with countless times — minus the bit about the fake fish. It’s not terribly funny and doesn’t get a big laugh, but it leads well into her set, a stream of well-timed ministories about her lesbian twin sister, cop shows and the word Hezbollah.
“Granted, ‘Hezbollah’ the group is an evil, terrorist state. However, ‘Hezbollah’ the word . . . is pretty effing fantastic. It’s a great word with the z and the b. What Busby Berkeley was to choreography, Hezbollah is to world terrorism. I don’t know if that analogy really says anything, but it is fun to say. Hezbollah sounds like an old-timey word for bullshit. Hogwash, malarkey and Hezbollah. Oh, you say the sun rotates around the Earth? HEZBOLLAH!”