The main entrance was still locked and I didn’t notice the man standing in the shadowy corner of the vestibule behind me until just that moment.

“Hello” he replies, pulling the skull cap tighter, dragging it to his brow line.

It’s just the two of us and my mental discomfort is at an all time high. He doesn’t appear to be a vagrant in his leather jacket and motorcycle boots but his shady behavior just moments before gave cause to pause before getting out of my car. He had walked down, crouched purposefully (a few minutes at a time) in the dimness between all three over flowing dumpsters in the parking lot behind the Star Community Bar. What he was doing back there wasn’t clear, but it certainly set off my “creepy” alarm. I waited until he trekked back up the hill, out of sight, before finally hitting the pavement. Still, after all that careful avoidance, there we stood…. face to face… alone… in awkward silence.

“So…” I plod on carefully “You here for the open mic comedy?”

His glare is intense to put it mildly. “Uh …yeah. I need a laugh.”

My eyes shoot to movement beyond the glass. The bartender is setting up so I figure if nothing else, I can pound on the door for help.

“Hey…..didn’t I see you down by the dumpsters a few minutes ago?”

“I dunno….maybe”. The glare grows darker as do my suspicions of his intent.

“Yeah…I’m pretty sure it was you because I sat there watching for a while and thought to myself “Hey this guy looks kinda sketchy” so I was a bit nervous about getting out of my car.”

I hope he’ll laugh and give some sort of reasonable explanation. On the contrary, now he seems super pissed.

“Well maybe I was looking for half empty mouthwash bottles so I could drink whatever was left.”

Yep, just a typical Monday night in Lil Five Points.

What seals it is when seconds later, a man comes running out of the liquor store across the street, throws his bag down on the sidewalk, bends over and shrieks wildly at the top of his lungs. He picks up the bag only to continue the cycle oh….about every few steps, concluding with an ear shattering scream right into the face of a sleeping pan handler. The bum barely moves and I begin to wonder if the crazy yeller is Lil Five’s version of a cuckoo clock, letting us all know it was nearly 9 P.M. What I know with great certainty is that for a writer, this area is GOLD.

Coincidence or not, the Star Bar’s doorman emerges shortly after this spectacle, not to open, just to cross the street and purchase the biggest cigar I’ve ever seen anyone smoke in real life. Seriously, it looks like a Louisville Slugger as he stuffs the beastly thing in his mouth, firing it up as he carefully traverses Moreland Avenue, returning inside to his post.

A couple more minutes pass and it seems my consigliere has finally grown weary of the wait, shuffling on to find another Listerine bottle (I suppose) when the sullen, brutish doorman politely invites me and another new arrival in.

I’d been taking a Stand up comedy class for about the last month or so and was told by my instructors that the Star Bar’s open mic/messed up karaoke night was an absolute must. A free show that’s been running eight years strong, it’s not just some place where amateurs go to see if they got the juice to get up in front of a room full of strangers. Nah, there are plenty of local “working” comedians who come here every Monday just to sharpen their skills, try out new material, hang out with their peers and enjoy an audience who “listens”. An audience, who as one comedian told me, “gets it.”

Acquiring a spot is coveted and you must call a dude named Rotknee not a second before 5:01 PM the Friday before. If you call at 4:59, you don’t make the cut and if you call after 5:15, all the spots will be filled. He’ll call back if you made it and from what I’ve been told, he doesn’t play favorites. My instructors encouraged all of us to attempt some stage time before our graduation show and said the crowd at the Star Bar is very decent. I still figured I’d come watch first just to see what I would be in for. I’d put together what I felt was a solid 9 minutes or so of material but am still skittish when it comes to performing it outside of class.

The show doesn’t start till 9 thirty and I’m the only one at the bar for a while, chilling, drinking in the atmosphere. The Star Bar is the exact literal definition of a “dive”. Smoky, weathered and filled with seating that appears to have sent out distress signals twenty years ago yet….they continue to be ignored. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel cooler just for showing up. Like because it’s lived such an amazing life, it rubs off a little while you keep time there.  On most nights, tons of Indie and Rockabilly bands find a welcome home within it’s walls.  On this one, the music plays in a musty post punk growl and I suspect if a “Ke$ha” song comes on, someone will be fired. On the wall, a wolf howls ominously into a dark canvas, his six shooters blaze rigidly in the air ensuring that no one should tangle with him. At least, not while they’re sober. The waitress could easily win a Traci Lords look-alike contest and the bartender’s muttonchops stiffen when asked dumb questions.

I continue to take in the sights when the burly doorman strides over asking the barkeeper for a cranberry juice on light ice. My mouth wants so badly to ask “What are ya on your period or sumthin?” like I’m in the “Departed” but my brain says “Do it, and you’ll get what that guy got for askin’ and worse.” I listen to my brain.

The tables fill and all of the comedians (amateur and professional) form a line in front of the bar to find out from the M.C. what their order of appearance will be that night. You could be #1 or #20 but you MUST show up by nine o’clock to find out. Most of the comics are male, under thirty and appear to be extremely serious about this “assigning of the numbers” situation. From what we’ve learned so far in class, you never want to go on behind someone who bombs as that requires some serious digging out on your part. I assume a lot of these guys are making sure whoever’s in front of them doesn’t usually suck.

The show starts and the first two comics are pretty lame which boosts my confidence tremendously. However, the third brings everyone back to life when he says “Don’t worry folks, in case you were wondering, this IS a comedy show.” His fellow comics in line laugh boisterously at his bashing of their brethren while the crowd perks up, taking notice as does one VERY drunk heckler. This is the nightmare situation, the one that terrifies me more than anything else when it comes to doing stand up comedy.

She’s trailer trash through and through and most of her comments are nonsensical. Our comic does battle with her easily, he’s a bit rough but mostly keeps it above boards. His set is strong, she can’t detour it and he closes with big laughs. Our next comic proves to be much less tolerant of her ramblings. While quite funny, his barbs are ruthless and go straight for the gut. Eventually, the doorman escorts her out. That’s a great thing about Star Bar’s open mic. They let that kind of business go on till it’s not funny anymore and abruptly put a cork in it. This also should ease someone’s mind who’s considering giving it a shot, or at least it eased mine.

The laughs are up and down throughout the night. The UP’s are certainly worth the price of admission and the DOWN’s aren’t bad enough to make a person focus on them. All in all, if I didn’t have to work on Tuesday mornings, I’d probably be at the Star Bar every Monday night.  No doubt, if you’re looking for something fun, hip and cheap to do that will kick off the week with good vibes, hit up the coolest joint in Lil Five.

Incidentally, I messed up and called right at 5 O’clock last Friday…..I didn’t get a call back. Next time I’ll try for three minutes after.