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Chris Cyr Is Trying to Make It as a Comedian in St. Louis — or At Least Make You Laugh 

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click to enlarge A comedian prepares. Chris Cyr, backstage at Helium, readies for his set. - PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO
  • A comedian prepares. Chris Cyr, backstage at Helium, readies for his set.



The new heavy-hitter in town, Helium Comedy Club, is part of a chain of five clubs from Portland to Philadelphia. Since opening earlier this year, it's brought in name comics, including the upcoming Gilbert Gottfried and Josh Wolf. Attached to a restaurant and lounge on the lower-level of the Galleria, the room's built for comedy shows.

Along with touring acts, the Galleria also runs a few local showcases, often built on themes. There's nothing tricky about a show called "Dirty": It's made to be dirty. As in durrrrty. Comics of all races, genders and ages are invited to bring their dirtiest material to this paying gig. (Admittedly, the attempt to open up gender fell short, with only the shining Amy Milton on the female ledger.) The audience, as you might guess, buys into the program and wants it as durrrrty as possible, too.

Cyr brings his dirty act, sure, as do another dozen comics. The night starts off slow, though, and the first few acts play to a pretty cold crowd.

Most performers are given a short four minutes to win over the audience. Brian McDowell is among the few granted a couple extra and he centers his six minutes on a hilarious riff about dating single moms. Long, lanky, wearing a suit and emphasizing a somewhat awkward vibe onstage, McDowell is seemingly able to flip a night that had been heading the wrong way. If not roaring with laughter, the audience is at least entertained and chuckling.

"I would love to say the dazzling brilliance of my jokes is what turned them," McDowell says later, "but my low self-esteem won't let me. It's more about connecting with the audience early, so they will accept what you put in front of them. I can tell within 30 seconds of being on stage whether or not I am going have a good set. It's all the energy that you bring on stage and the confidence in what you're going to say.

"I was a little worried about that audience, because there were some funny comics that they didn't like that much. I was very relieved and slightly surprised that they seemed to dig me."

It's a tough night for Cyr, and once his set at Helium is finished, it's not over yet. Instead of lingering after the show in the neighboring lounge to accept his $20 payout and commiserate or celebrate, he's headed to Maplewood with at least half the comics who performed in Brentwood.

There, at the Crow's Nest, Cyr and co-host JC Sibala preside over Wild Card Wednesday. It's a standup show, an open mic with a twist: At the last minute, the comics pull an oversized card and have to do whatever is suggested; one, for example, has to drink every time the comic does; comics can also win extra time, or be forced to go clean or do crowd work.

Cyr, before or after a set, is generally unflappable. Often carrying a notebook and sipping at a Jameson, he's especially in his element when hosting a show, laughing at other comics, greeting newcomers and chatting up friends. If he's ever nervous, it must happen on the way to the gig.

On this evening, Cyr is back to some of his material from the earlier Dirty show. On stage, he's not much different from his day-to-day self. He's invariably dressed in blue Levis and a black shirt. There's a light sing-song quality to his delivery.

It's a curious experience to hear the exact same jokes time and again, only at different venues. For Cyr, it is what it is. "If you follow a comic from open mic to open mic, you're hearing what they're working on right now," he says.

Recently, he was panhandled at a gas station. Bingo. His set now includes the encounter — including the panhandler's weirdly specific request for 62 cents.

"I do observational stuff," he says. "If I get panhandled at the gas station, I get five more minutes of material."



There are nights when comedy is just going to work, sometimes for the simple fact that people are in the room to take in, yes, comedy. On this Friday night, Cyr is slotted into a twenty-minute gig, in the sweet spot between emcee Brandon Judd's ten-minute opening salvo and headliner Kurt Braunohler's hour-long headliner. About 60 gather inside this simply-appointed rock & roll room and, to their credit, they're properly in the mood. True for Judd, for his buddy Cyr and for the traveling Braunohler.

"A big part of the crowd being so receptive is that it's a full comedy show. The crowd is primed to see comedy," Judd notes. "They know they're going to see people tell jokes the whole time and they're ready to laugh.

"It's easier with a larger crowd because psychology works to get people to laugh more readily and more often when a larger group of people are laughing. I feel I can play around more with material and go off on tangents with a larger crowd because if something is kinda funny, there's a bigger response than if something was kinda funny with a group of ten or two people, which I've had before."

Cyr's set, like Judd's, just seems to work this evening. Jokes that Cyr used in other contexts over the week to tepid or flat responses get over on this room. Tonight, they're unabashedly laughing out loud. "Comedy is subjective," Judd notes. "Chris is very funny and he's worked at his material, revised it and rewritten it to get the best response. I saw Chris at his first open mic and he's come a long way. His experiences are relatable and the crowd can identify with them easily. Even if he's talking about something unique to him, he can get a crowd on board and make them understood his feelings in that situation."

Rollicking laughter is in the air tonight. As Braunohler approaches his closer, he launches into a minutes-long routine in the voice of a beaver, humble-bragging about his tail. Audience members are visibly rocking in their chairs, wiping away tears, cracking up without a trace of self-consciousness.

Braunohler kills it, and for the warm-up comedians, Judd and Cyr, it feels like their victory, too. It's hard to imagine any place in St. Louis being happier at that second in time.

To see a moment like this, the highest of highs, gives you a sense of why comics risk the lowest of lows. Sometimes, those linger in the distance; other times, they're your very next show.

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