Funny Business

Once upon a time Houston was a hot spot for comedy clubs. Now it's anybody's guess on who'll turn out on any given night

Twice during the Houston Rockets playoffs, the television behind the stage at the Laff Stop was tuned to the game as comedians competed for the crowd's attention. Prelli says he would have had the television turned off if he'd known. He says he doesn't go because "I don't want to make the young guys nervous." Along with not being around as much as Babbit, Prelli also canned the Black and Blue shows. Oddo says locals would always try to convince him not to, but "he wouldn't budge."

In the initial stages of reporting for this article, there was no mention of the resurrection of anything like the Black and Blue shows, and the only other weeknight the Stop was open was Tuesdays, for karaoke. Just before publication, however, Prelli told the Houston Press that he was interested in starting up Showcase shows again.

Sean Rouse says Prelli just shouldn't be running a comedy club.

Mo Amer's stay out on the road paid off; he attracted the interest of Dave Chappelle.
Daniel Kramer
Mo Amer's stay out on the road paid off; he attracted the interest of Dave Chappelle.
Jokes that don't make it with the crowd are shredded onstage.
Daniel Kramer
Jokes that don't make it with the crowd are shredded onstage.

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"He should be running a prison rodeo," Rouse says. "He adopted the golden African baby. He walked into a fucking gold mine, is what he did, and then he fucked it up."

Rouse got his start during the days of Babbit and is now a national act touring the country with the likes of Dave Attell and Doug Stanhope. He says his connections to Babbit and his tendency to voice his disgust with Prelli got him banned from performing at the Laff Stop.

"I hate going back there now because it's my home club and then when I go back, I can't work it and I just go there and I just get drunk and pissed off and bitter, and then it always turns into a bad night," Rouse says. "He has no interest. It depresses me. It sucks."

Several comics speak highly of Babbit. Comedian Sarah Tollemache, who started doing open mikes back in 1998, credits Babbit with encouraging her as she started out. Babbit had a reputation for always being at the Laff Stop. "I feel very fortunate that I started when I did as far as Babbit being there and having that system, because he would watch the open mike, he would watch most of them and you knew he was watching, so it mattered," says local comedian Mike MacRae, who has appeared on David Letterman.

But like Prelli, the legendary Babbit has his share of detractors as well.

MacRae says Babbit was also looking for his own opportunities. "Mark had his personal motivations as well; I mean he wanted to manage [comedians]. It's not like it was completely an altruism, but it was still a fun environment," he says.

The Babbit era wasn't great for everyone, especially if you weren't a favorite like Rouse or MacRae.

"I respected [Babbit] as a businessman," says Rodney Yarbrough, a.k.a. Little Brough. Yarbrough says Babbit never booked him and it wasn't until he won Houston's Funniest Person in 2005 that he started performing at the Laff Stop, when Prelli was there.

"Some people have different views of Mark, and it matters if he helped you or if he didn't," says Mo Amer, who was featured in the Press's story "So, Did You Hear the One About the Funny Muslim?"[By Michael Serazio, April 15, 2004]. Amer has gone on to tour internationally and will be featured in Allah Made Me Funny, an upcoming Kings of Comedy-style movie produced by Dave Chappelle.

Amer says his choice to stay out on the road kept him out of Babbit's eye and therefore off the Laff Stop's stage. "[Babbit] took me off of a Black and Blue Show and canceled me, and he goes, 'well, you weren't here on Monday night.' I said, 'Mark, I was working; I was in Oklahoma working shit gigs trying to get on the road,' and he told me, 'I want you here on Monday nights.'" Amer says that after that he didn't get gigs at the Laff Stop until Prelli took over and he's not alone.

Amer says that to be successful, comedians have to take matters into their own hands. He moved to Comedy Showcase and is grateful for the help owner Danny Martinez gave him to help him improve his comedy. (Amer even married Martinez's daughter.)

But Amer says as helpful as Martinez was, in the end it was his own decisions that helped him succeed.

"It comes down to your pen, your work ethic and how often you want to work. You make a choice of how much you want to work," says Amer.

"If you find yourself lost in the woods, fuck it, build a house. 'Well, I was lost, but now I live here. I have severely improved my predicament!'" -- Mitch Hedberg

***

This kid has been up onstage at Walter's on Washington for at least 20 minutes and the only people laughing are his friends sitting in front of the stage. The audience knows they are his friends because every joke he tells is prefaced by his pointing to one of them and saying, "Hey, do you remember that time you..."

None of the local comics know who he is and his name is really not important. He will be forever known to local comedians as "that jackass who got on stage at the Todd Barry show."

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