Starting this weekend, live comedy is coming back to the Santa Clarita Valley.
Technically, there’s been virtual laughs with Zoom, and even a drive-thru event for the Bella Vida Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.
And despite appreciative audiences — the Senior Center event even gave participants cowbells so they could show their appreciation for the jokes without honking — things haven’t quite been the same.
However, J.R.’s Comedy Club, which is now being hosted by Mimi’s Cafe on Magic Mountain Parkway, is bringing back the laughs starting this weekend and every Saturday.
For the first return, due to a number of factors, including the talent and, likely, a little pent-up demand for comedy due to the quarantine there will be two shows the first night, with the first starting at 7 p.m.
Randy Lubas, who’s hosted well-known names in comedy for years throughout Southern California with J.R.’s, hopes that the interest can sustain the growth and he’ll be able to add a regular Friday show and have two every Saturday.
The scene inside the restaurant allows for an intimate setting, and Lubas’ years of working in comedy allow for his SCV location to see some of the biggest names in comedy, and continues to be a space where comedians can hone their craft and locals can enjoy laughs they’d normally have to travel to a Hollywood comedy club to find.
From Pittsburgh to the SCV
Randy Lubas said J.R.’s was launched with help from his wife, Diana, who hosted the show and took the stage a few times, as well, and her brother Emil, who often would help with everything else, from ticket sales to show production.
The current SCV venue at Mimi’s harkens back to his early days in comedy in that it provides a closeness that really allows the performer and the audience to connect, he said.
“It’s so reminiscent of the rooms I started in back East, little rooms in New York and Pittsburgh, where you’re right next to the audience,” Lubas said,
Lubas started in small clubs in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh, and eventually, when Pittsburgh opened a comedy club, he became one of the house acts/emcees for events. One of his more enjoyable undertakings was the Ventura Comedy Festival, which he hosted for nine years.
‘Talking to the crowd’
Lubas recently finished a series of shows in Las Vegas at a spot known as the Delirious Comedy Club, and the experience reminded him of how much he missed live comedy, he said.
You truly learn to appreciate something after it’s been taken from you, he added.
“One of the things that I rely on is talking to the crowd and getting to know them by name and, obviously, you can’t do that very well when they’re in their cars,” Lubas said, discussing the challenges of socially distanced and virtual performances. “Obviously, what we crave is the laughter,” Lubas said, “and comedy taking people on a journey through what you say — and then, what you don’t say, and that’s the real beauty of stand-up comedy is, is where you pause and take the silence to allow the audience to tie two thoughts together, and then allow the light bulb to go off, so that then they explode with the punchline.”
Lubas, who’s also taught comedy, describes building that connection and timing with the audience as the really special part of the craft for him, as “where that quiet space in between is just as important as the words,” he said, noting it’s not really something you can replicate yet online.
“Whenever you can’t hear the laughter, or really even see the people right and that’s, that was the kind of strange part about trying to do virtual shows, as well,” he noted.
A place to perform
For both the veteran comedians and the burgeoning careers that Lubas has shared the stage with over the years, chances to perform and work on their timing are critical opportunities.
Comedian Jeff Frame has toured through the Midwest, South and East Coast after starting with local performances in the SCV, and is looking forward to a return to his old stomping grounds during a July 3 show at J.R.’s.
Now that venues and shows are safely opening back up, he’s been eager to perform again. The opportunities for doing so had been few and far between, which, he said, was part of the inspiration for when he had accepted a recent performance date in Show Low, Arizona, a 9.5-hour drive from SoCal to Navajo County.
A return to J.R.’s is not just an opportunity to save on his commute, it’s a return to what he referred to as his “comedy college,” as he jokes that he talked Lubas into letting him emcee the Saturday night shows there from 2012-16.
Without that experience — which included his hosting and sharing of the stage with some of his favorite comedians, like Emo Philips and Elayne Boosler — he doesn’t know if he’d be able to perform the hourlong shows he’s now capable of doing. At local spots like Mimi’s, for example, some of the audience might have seen last week’s show, which always pushed Frame to work on new material, he shared.
Now, it’s a spot where he can perform some of his latest material, which will be what Bobby Collins plans to do there Saturday, June 19.
If you go
More information on the upcoming shows, including dates, times and headliners, is available at comedyinvalencia.com. J.R.’s Comedy Club is being hosted inside Mimi’s Cafe, at 24201 Magic Mountain Parkway, Santa Clarita.