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True humor fanatics shun yucky mega-clubs (at least occasionally) in favor of cheaper, more edgy stand-up comedy. Dank, miniature venues—bar back rooms, lounges, and rock clubs—offer up the dirty goods. In the vein of the innovative Industry Room (most recently housed in the Actor's Playground), there's now yet another option for the laugh-hungry. Neither club nor bar, swanky 99-seat theater space Ars Nova (opened this month) has initiated "Automatic Vaudeville," a weekly Tuesday night of comedy, with actual seats, no drink minimum, and comics who aren't predictable or trite!

Even the philosophy behind the production is unorthodox, since respected comics get to create their own lineup, exposing young up-and-comers to a mix of industry folks and downtown types. "We invite comics to reflect their own sensibility," say producers Jon Steingart and Jenny Wiener. On opening night, first lady of alternative comedy Ms. Janeane Garofalo stepped up to bat, hosting a self-crafted event in her casual manner that included local legends, L.A. imports, and that dude from the Lower East Side's Freakatorium.

Her first pick, three-man band Muckafurgason, opened with the pleasing ditty "You Ain't a Man (Until You've Had a Man)," which was funny because they were a rockin' boyband, but like . . . gay. After a couple of high-energy musical romps, her highness JG eventually stepped onstage in a big black hoody to an air thick with anticipation. She followed some struggling with the mic ("after 17 years in comedy . . . !") with a silly deconstruction of Charlie's Angels and a sarcastically empathetic psychological probe of Dubya Bush.

Then came the flurry of JG-approved talent. Comic Andy Blitz (writer for Conan) slowed time itself with his belabored drawl, contemplating everything from vomit-proof rugs to Nobu to yelling at pigs. Jackie Hoffman, of Kissing Jessica Stein, opened her set in character, as an Afghan woman comic in a chador ("Last night I was getting stoned . . . to death" and "If I had a boss, he'd be such an asshole"). She quickly discarded the guise and segued into tough-luck audition stories, closing with a song about how annoying other people's children are. Can't argue there. Soft-spoken but confident and seethingly sarcastic Todd Barry took potshots at the venue's westerly location ("I've lived here all my life and I didn't even know there was an Eleventh Avenue!"), complained about the hipster waitstaff ("When you're done dancing, could you refill my water glass?"), and put a virtual slap-down on the loft-bed demographic. The new Rosie O'Donnell, Ms. Caroline Rhea, was on, riffing with makeup artist pal Kevyn Aucoin (who was seated in the audience), bitching about Hollywood, and harassing our photographer ("I don't have any makeup on!"). Don't tell her she looks like Delta Burke; she doesn't like that.

There was other, weirder stuff: Slovin and Allen's fictional monologue, Johnny Fox's sneering sword-swallowing, and comic Bonnie McFarlane, who said one thing most New Yorkers would relate to: "Sometimes I wish I had a drug addiction. It would explain why I have nothing." Luckily, after this show, though $15 lighter, audiences should feel much richer than when they entered. And I think you know what I mean.


On Tuesday, March 26, geek genius David Cross joins Garofalo, Hoffman, and friends. The following installment tentatively features Triumph the Insult Comic Dog of Conan O'Brien fame.

 
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