The scene

Johnny’s Cigar Bar is a hamlet just off Pearl for musicians, comedians, smokers and drinkers

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Susan France

It’s open mic comedy night at Johnny’s Cigar Bar. Have any four words ever simultaneously inspired so much giddy excitement and sheer terror as “open mic comedy night?” 

Here’s a joke: Is there anything more humorless than a crowd of amateur comedians watching other amateur comedians? The bad ones don’t get laughs because they stink, and the good ones only get chuckles because the comedians in the audience feel threatened. The jokes that hit hardest on open mic comedy night were the selfaware, anticomedy inside jokes that comedians have with each other about abrupt transitions, hackneyed premises and the failsafe truth that it’s easier to get people to laugh at you than to laugh with you.

Of course none of this is an indictment on Johnny’s, which aptly serves a unique and obviously vibrant section of the Boulder arts scene. Johnny’s also hosts live music and open mic musical nights throughout the week. In fact, it’s important to support a place like Johnny’s, which through good and bad performers, small and large crowds, has carved a niche underserved in Boulder County.

I started my open mic comedy night earlier in the evening with a glass of Laphroig 10 year. Johnny’s has a deep selection of single-malt whisky, bourbon, brandy and tequila, as well as a refreshingly cheap array of house cocktails (about $6) that include an old fashioned, variations on Tom Collins, martinis and more.

What are abundantly lacking at Johnny’s are viable food options. Of the three menu choices, only the pretzel, spinning individually wrapped in plastic in a rotisserie oven, is on hand, though a sign does suggest there are $1.50 ham and cheddar Hot Pockets available. The menu also says Cosmo’s pizza is delivered (though it wasn’t that night) and barbecue sliders are sometimes available. Maybe that’s all part of the joke.

But if the atmosphere is right at Johnny’s then the food shortage can certainly be forgiven. The look of the place is spot-on, with a big, beautiful wooden humidor offering a wall of cigar options welcoming you into the place. The bar is cut like a hockey stick and the chairs in the tabled area are all gold-beaded leather captain’s chairs. In the smoking lounge, there’s a card table, a flat-screen TV and a half dozen black leather recliners.

There’s also a general conviviality early in the evening that quite frankly I wished carried into open mic comedy night, but probably speaks to the greater charm and hospitality of Johnny’s. In fact the funniest joke of the night came from the outgoing bartender who when asked where he was going said, “Yeah, I’m actually leaving for vacation tonight. London.” Then, waiting a beat, dryly said, “No, I’m going to a video game tournament for adults in someone’s basement.” And another non-comic who, after drinking quite a few drinks (and repeating quite a few stories), just stepped up to the big grand piano in the corner when the comedy show was running late and played jazz out of nowhere like Vince Guaraldi. You can’t replicate the authenticity of those moves, nor can you disrespect the courage of the comic — of a sole performer in a dark room — even if that courage is often shrouded in dick jokes.

As the performers flushed in and out, and some came off stage to congratulations or polite silence, what was clear is that Johnny’s is the home of a scene. It won’t wow you with anything except maybe it’s topdown good humor, and it’s not quite the romantic place where you swirl a snifter of cognac and compare the smoke of your cigar under the one overhead light to the whirl of a long lost lover’s dress. But it is a place to get some fun and unique culture, and that’s good enough for me.