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The One About a Guy Walking into a Bar

Story by Tyler Barton (Read author interview) March 21, 2016

Art by Derek Riley

The One about the Garage Cellar

There are three wounded party balloons on the oil-spotted concrete and a twilight-bluish circle center stage. Red Christmas lights wrap the bar. A yellow legal pad fills with names. Busted Civic headlights hang above the top shelf, over the sign that reads: music ^ upstairs. Hamir bumps T-Swift through an iPhone dock. The donation jar stays empty—every Monday night might be the last.

The One about Mondays

Our old stand-by, comedy night, open-mic, two-dollar domestics, three-dollar wells, pancakes for a buck. But you bring your own syrup. Hamir’s the bartender and it’s always his birthday. Man’s built like a family-size box of Pops. His smile is the grill of a Jeep and if you make him laugh you walk on water. Back in ‘01, he was fired upstairs for his long black beard, so he sued, and they let him tend a bar in the basement’s empty chop-shop. Now beards are in—he shaves. And abstains from going onstage. Though a shotgun lies below the bottom shelf, he’s no PC police and could care less if your premise is he’s a terrorist. Hamir’s laissez-faire. Just three rules: keep it to five, no holocaust bits, and stick the fuck around.

The One about Regulars

Doug hosts with class, giving even newbs a few warm words—the very talented, the hilarious, the next Hedberg. Fat Jamal does three minutes in his mother’s voice. Clark open carries, draws out recycled punchlines. Crowned, Regina wields a wand. Late and parking the company truck crooked in a handicap space, Elisa hurries straight from her therapist’s with new material. Antonio goes deadpan. Jamison, his dreads so Medusa, used to curse too much, but now you almost have to miss it. Some talk too quiet, some too quick. Some not at all…so the community from their barstools will hoot and clap until your joke comes back. There’s no rule that says you have to laugh. Once, Rayne ate pancakes onstage—that’s it, for five minutes—and it killed. Bombed sets are sometimes punctuated with a popped balloon. Applause like one gunshot.

The One about Exhaustion

Deep in the setlist, 10:45—with work in the morning or at midnight, a spouse at home, baby crying—people bail, circle up outside to smoke, then go. Like clockwork, the little audience shrinks. Hamir gives the finger as they leave. Newcomers never reappear. Voices go unheard. Faces, unseen. Like this week’s new face, hidden by a Batman mask. Black boots, utility belt. A prop comic. Our twelve eyes roll. Pissed, Regina boos.

The One about Prop Comics

They’re territorial. But who isn’t? The guy keeps adjusting his cape, then surprises us with Jew jokes. Hamir throws a bottle hard at the trash.

The One about How It Ended

The silent room smells of maple bacon syrup. The blue stage light flickers off and on. Then just off. We hold our flashlight-phones up together like the bad comic’s playing a ballad. He stutters, nervous, so we clap for his memory. His eyes fall to his holster. The popgun is not a prop—it’s a Glock. But Clark split long before, and Hamir, humming, flips the griddle. Batman draws fast and fires. The injured outnumber the dead, again.

The One about Loneliness

It’s our well of material. It’s always the motive. We drop jokes in the well—nickels in a jar. Since his surgery, Hamir goes last each Monday. But now everyone stays, and regardless, laughs.

About the Author

Tyler Barton is the fiction editor of Third Point Press and an MFA candidate at Minnesota State University. His published stories can be found HERE. Follow him @goftyler.

About the Artist

Derek Riley lives and draws in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. More of his illustrations can be seen at cargocollective.com/driley.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-One

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