[This is part two of Jol Devitro’s “Laugh Opps” tour of comedy in the Fresno area. Read part one: Need a laugh? Here’s part one of your guide to comedy in the Fresno area]
Midway through this foggy month of January, in hopes of lifting my seasonally affected spirits with a hefty dose of comedy, I headed due east into the eminently strollable heart of Old Town Clovis, where I found a couple of comedians who were happy to help me get my laugh on.
Danny Minch and his self-professed best friend Dave Apkarian are a comedy duo on a mission to make the Fresno/Clovis area a great destination for nationally touring comics.
“Danny Minch saw me at an open mic and said, ‘We’re best friends now,’ and I said, ‘Okay,’” Apkarian recalls. “And here we are. He’s been my mentor and my friend.”
“I use that line on everybody, and it just happened to work on him,” Minch quips, adding that now “we’re like an old married couple. We started finishing each other’s sentences.”
“Just the Tips” showcases established and newer comics
Between them they host three nights of comedy every week, providing a stage not only for comics navigating the comedy-club desert between Sacramento and Los Angeles, but also for local aspiring comics, who Danny and Dave heartily encourage to sign up for the weeknight open-mic portion of the shows.
On Mondays at 7:30 p.m., Apkarian hosts Just the Tips at Grogg’s Irish Pub in Clovis (1225 N. Willow Ave. #180). On Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Minch hosts Just the Tips Tuesdays at DiCicco’s Italian Restaurant (408 Clovis Ave.). The open mic is a prominent feature of both shows, offering a unique opportunity for local comics and even first timers to share the stage with headlining comics. While admission to these events is free, attendees are encouraged to bring tip money, which is how these fearless promoters pay the headlining comedians they entice to our fair neck of the woods.
“Part of the reason why…Danny and I started doing these free Just the Tips shows is because we needed open mics in Fresno. There were no open mics in the Fresno/Clovis area,” Dave explains. “An open mic is a tough sell to a lot of establishments. And so it started with Grogg’s. We asked them, ‘Hey, can we run the open mic if we can get a crowd in here buying food, buying beer, and everything else?’ And so Danny has a million comedy connections, and…we started taking advantage of those to put together some pretty killer free shows.”
On Saturdays at DiCicco’s, Minch hosts Slice of Comedy, which each week features a visiting headlining comedian performing a full set. These are ticketed premium shows in a more traditional format, without the open mic element. They offer a chance to witness a seasoned pro in action. Bob Zany, Costaki Economopoulos, Darren Carter, Henry Phillips, Jen Murphy, Kabir Singh, Myles Weber, Patrick O’Sullivan, Quincy Johnson II, Sammy Obeid, and Samuel Comroe are some of the comics who have come to DiCicco’s fresh from appearances on TV and the national comedy festival circuit.
L.A. comics lining up to play Fresno
While Danny has been hosting the premium Saturday shows at DiCicco’s for nearly a year, “the free tips shows are what really caught us off guard,” Dave muses.
“What happened was, as soon as we started booking all the comedians, they went back to L.A. and told all the other ones, ‘you’ve gotta do Monday and Tuesday open mics in Fresno; they’re phenomenal shows,’” Danny explains. “We’re getting hit up nonstop by comedians right and left. And I mean legit, legit comedians—to do a tip-based show in Fresno. I mean, not saying anything bad about Fresno, but they have to drive four hours…not knowing how much money they’re being paid.”
“It’s nuts,” Dave chimes in. “The talent we’re getting into free shows. Because they’re fun shows. And really, it’s the audience that makes it fun.”
“The spine of the body of the show is the open mic-ers getting their turn,” Danny says.
“Right,” agrees Dave, “and having a crowd to do it in front of. ‘Cause if you’ve ever been to most comedy open mics, they’re terrible. I mean, it’s six other comedians that don’t laugh at anything. So these open mics are a lot of fun. We’ve gotten some great new talent out of the last few months.”
“We’re fortunate,” Danny says. “We’ve gotten a good crew of people that are sticking together and having a good time and really…taking it seriously. And I think that’s the good thing about the professional comedians going on before the open mic-ers, because first off, the bar is raised, and the expectation of the audience has been brought to a pinnacle, and so now all’s they have to do is ride that wave. And our crowds stay and watch an open mic for an hour after they watched 40 minutes of comedy.”
“And to be fair, the open mic isn’t all new people; it’s a lot of vets that are trying new stuff,” Dave offers. “And sometimes it’s vets just getting up there and running their five because it’s just fun to have a crowd. So it’s really kind of a mixed bag; it’s a roller coaster. The open mic is the funnest part of the show.”
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Danny elaborates. “We built something; they responded with, ‘Hey, this is fantastic.’ And the same comedians we have on the Saturday shows come out [on Mondays and Tuesdays] and do shorter sets; we don’t want to have them do full hour sets, because then it waters down our Saturday show. The only problem with that equation…is that when people leave this Tuesday show, they don’t know it was any different than any other premium show.”
“It’s true,” agrees Dave. “We’re our own worst enemies in that regard. Our shows are too good!”
Check them out for yourself! This Saturday night’s Slice of Comedy features headliner Samuel Comroe, whose observations on living with Tourette’s Syndrome have garnered him wins in both the Ricky Gervais Comedy Competition and The San Francisco Comedy Competition.
Dave Burger, aka “The Burger” will be featured at Just the Tips on Monday, Jan. 22, at Grogg’s, as well as at Jan. 23’s Just the Tips Tuesday show at DiCicco’s.