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No Name Comix: St. Louisans start club to showcase local talent

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 13, 2013 - H.D. Reeves had a five-bedroom house and two brand new cars. He had his own Tub n’ Tile refinishing business. People used to call him the Tub Doctor.

Then the economy crashed.

Reeves and his family recently moved out of a trailer park. At age 35, after being in the workforce since he was 14, he reflected on his life. 

“I lost my business, ended up sellin’ everything and I realized at the end of the day all I had was my voice,” he said.

He is one of four local aspiring comedians who — families and day jobs notwithstanding — banded together to start St. Louis’ only official comedy club in late December. No Name Comix is squeezed into Cherokee Street, with several rows of Craigslist-acquired car-derived furniture for the audience to sit on.

The St. Louis area used to support five comedy clubs, but the Funny Bone in Maryland Heights was the only club to survive the recession. Underground clubs and bar mikes started cropping up, but a lot of comics were competing for very little stage time, said Ben Flug, one of the founders.

“Instead of the traditional comedy club model of bringing headliners that people know, who have TV credits and all that, we want to provide a platform for developing talent,” said Flug.

The group envisioned a sort of comedy farm system to showcase undiscovered talent in the St. Louis community and bridge the gap between raw talent and the next level of performance. So far, attendance at No Name Comix has fluctuated between sold-out shows and sets drawing fewer than 10 people.

A recent evening featured not only some good bits, but also a comic making jokes about his parents who were in the audience and another comic continuing his act even as he dodged flung ice chunks.

Featuring a mix of local and out-of-town comics, the shows run Friday-Saturday with an open mike night on Thursday, but the club is planning to expand to more weeknights.

“This delusion is for real,” Flug said.

Joining Cherokee Street

But first it was just a delusion. Flug was skeptical when Meagan Huth, the proprietor of HighSpektical Photography on Cherokee Street, suggested bringing a comedy club to Cherokee.

He recalled asking her if she had a million dollars stuffed in her pocket. But Huth filled him in on the do-it-yourself businesses that have proliferated on Cherokee street. Flug and the others decided to go for it.

According to Jason Deem, president of the Cherokee Street Business Association, the strip has traditionally been retail-based but lately has welcomed an array of diverse new businesses, including nightlife venues like No Name Comix. 

Flug, who runs the graveyard shift at a call center when he’s not working on behalf of the club, is excited to be a part of that community.

Now 28, he started doing stand-up two years ago. A fan since he was a kid, trying comedy for himself was on his bucket list. After his first time on stage his only thought was that he had to get back up there.

Now, he’s hooked.

“It’s one of the only media in life where you can say whatever ... you want and people just have to listen. There’s just something intoxicating about that.”

The comedian who isn’t funny

Marquise Moore had just bombed. Badly. He was auditioning for Def Comedy Jam at the House of Comedy in the late 2000s.

“I didn’t get a single laugh. I didn’t get a cough. I wish I had got booed. That would at least let me know they were listening,” remembered Moore, 28, another founder of No Name Comix.

He had hastily scribbled some material two hours before the show — as a rookie, no one had told him that people prepare for sets. After that he became known around town as The Comedian Who Isn’t Funny, he said, The Comedian Who Bombs.

His moniker stuck. But he kept working at it, kept pushing.

Moore returned to the House of Comedy a couple years later. In the meantime, he had become funny, he said.

“I’ve been a comic for five years, funny for three.”

Moore recalled wearing a long-sleeve white shirt with a blue collar — the set is still visceral in his mind. His first go-round he cared too much, he said. But that night he didn’t care at all — he had real-life problems to deal with.

“I went on stage with that swagger. I killed that night.”

A lot has changed since he was The Comedian Who Isn’t Funny. Reeves refers to him as a “beast,” perhaps the funniest of them all.

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

Breaking into standup comedy is a notorious grind — a landscape of dingy open mikes across which few people in the audience are paying attention. It’s common for an aspiring comedian to spend years honing his or her craft.

Sammy Obeid is an out-of-town comic coming in for an upcoming show. A self-described Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian-Italian-American born in Oakland, he is in the midst of 778 consecutive nights performing comedy. He’s done more than 2,000 shows during that stretch.

The founders of No Name Comix are honing their skills, but they know they have a long way to go.

“By and large there’s some type of insecurity or social anxiety or they’re very introverted people. For whatever reason, this is their therapy, their escape,” Flug said of people who do stand-up comedy.  

Stage fright lingers, even for Moore, who is full of bravado.

“That’s how I feel every time I’m on stage. I’m scared as shit. It don’t look like it but I’m scared as shit.“

Flug is aiming toward material with social commentary, but he’s nowhere near that yet, he said.

Reeves tanked horribly his first night, in 2010.

“But I was up there, and I was doin’ it.”

Jason Schwartzman is an intern with the Beacon.