‘So, a Wookie, a Droid and Capt. Kirk walk into a Bar …’
Comic Books and Comedy brings another dimension to Hi De Ho Comics
By Andy Vasoyan
Of all the things you might do at a comic book store, standing in front of the whole shop and asking, “What’s the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars?” is probably not one of them. In a store jammed with superhero and sci-fi iconography, those sound like fightin’ words.
At Hi De Ho Comics, however, that question gets a big laugh. It’s the first Thursday of the month, and a couple dozen people pack the store — some of them shaking their heads at the audacity of not knowing Captain Kirk from Luke Skywalker, most of them laughing.
The crowd is here for Comic Books and Comedy, one of the few remaining comedy-in-a-comic-shop shows and a safe space for comedians to ask these important questions. On the first Thursday of each month, for 21 months and counting, comedian and organizer Alex Kojfman has assembled funnymen (and women) from the L.A. comedy scene to perform in the city’s oldest comic shop for free.
“Word is getting around that this is a comedian-friendly space,” Kojfman says. “I know how hard it is to get stage time in the city, I’m currently living that experience, so I don’t make it difficult to get on stage.”
While stage time may be scarce in L.A., talent is not. Hi De Ho has hosted comedians from the ranks of “Last Comic Standing,” “Late Night with David Letterman,” and even National Public Radio quiz shows.
The stage has a typical stool and mic stand, but also a replica of Captain America’s iconic vibranium shield leaning on a corner, a big-box version of the classic Siegel and Shuster Superman comics, and compilation books for Batman, X-men and other crime-fighters.
Like the stage itself, Hi De Ho is a bit of a hybrid.
“We can’t just be a comic book store that sells comics,” said Moris Machuco, one of the owners. “We have to have a little bit of everything.” That stretches from merchandise like board games and T-shirts, to the events that Hi De Ho hosts.
“The store did an art show for a Latino art collective, and we had a launch party for ‘Terminal Lance,’ a graphic novel about the author’s time in Iraq that was on The New York Times Best Sellers list,” Machuco said. “We’re trying to hit different people from different backgrounds who may not necessarily come into a comic book store, or who may be underserved in Santa Monica.”
The crowd at Comic Books and Comedy is certainly a product of that effort, with perhaps a bit of extra incentive from its pay-what-want price. Sitting at the front and sprinkled throughout the crowd is a hodgepodge of diverse millennials, some with skateboards, one with an entire six-pack of Bud Light (the event is BYOB). Mixed in the center are some of Kojfman’s friends and relatives, and some middle-aged friends round out the crowd.
Jack Reck, 58, sips on a beer he brought from his car. The restaurant manager from Marina del Rey has been coming to the comedy shows for more than two years, and he has no intention of stopping.
“The show fits my schedule and it’s a great value,” he says, “Oh, and it’s pretty fun too.”
Reck’s favorite memory of the event is a bit of schadenfreude. “This one comic just bombed, absolutely none of her jokes landed,” he chuckles, “and at the time it was funny but very uncomfortable. Now, it’s just funny.”
That some of the sets don’t hit doesn’t bother Reck: “When you go to a comedy club and pay a cover, you expect a lot. Here, when a comedian is really connecting, it’s surprisingly good.”
Without many expectations, comics aren’t afraid of trying new material. Andy Hendrickson, a David Letterman and Craig Ferguson alum, admitted as much at the open of his set: “This joke needs work, but I’m going to tell it anyway.” When the joke itself meandered and petered out, Hendrickson waxed philosophical.
“Hmmm,” he said, slowly stroking his chin. “Yep. Looks like I f**ked that one up.”
Flubs and foul language aside (or perhaps included), the roughly hour and half show is “surprisingly good.” Alex Kojfman puts on his emcee hat and leads the show along. He’s the butt of frequent jibes from almost every comic he introduces, which get funnier as they keep happening, and showcase the advantages of a small audience and intimate setting.
“Is that the light? Alex is giving me the light to go,” Canadian comic Pat Burtscher says, voice full of mock sadness. “I think I have to go, but I don’t wanna, on account of this is the only time in my life I feel happy.”
Fortunately, it’s easy to feel happy with a free hour and a half of comedy. You might even find out the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars.
“Comic Books and Comedy” happens the first Thursday of each month (next one is Dec. 1) at Hi De Ho Comics, 1431 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. Admission is free, but a $5 donation is suggested. Call (310) 394-2820 to reach the store.