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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 "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," says Brandon Judd of Cyr. - PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO
  • PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO
  • "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," says Brandon Judd of Cyr.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 7

NICK'S PUB

You wouldn't think the meanest human beings in the world would all find themselves inside the same bar in Dogtown on a random Sunday night. But you'd be wrong, as three different groups of friends recently gathered at Nick's Pub with what had to have been a secret psychic agreement forged among complete strangers to torture the on-stage comedians.

And Cyr is not just a performer. He's also a co-host, filling in with Sibala for the usual emcee Kenny Kinds even as a middle-aged couple, a birthday party of ten and a random crew of five all take turns at basic, merciless heckling.

Even before the gig, Sibala, now five years deep into his career, is positive the big table in back is going to get stupid; Cyr, ever the optimist, is less sure. He'll find out soon enough.

Cyr warms up to passive-aggression. He starts with a joke that killed a few nights ago. "My mom was fourteen when she had me, and my dad was seventeen. My grandma says that I love the miracle that brought you here. And I alway reply: 'Grandma, that's a really statutory miracle.'" Silence.

"The president of Comedy City asked me to tell that joke again," he says, and this time, there is laughter — a bit.

"That told me that the room was going to be a weird crowd," he says later. "They listened and chuckled, but wouldn't actually laugh."

He actually fares better than opener Rocco Hogan — by now the audience drops the "passive" and opts for pure "aggressive," badly knocking the young comic off his plan; in what is at least his third set of the week, Hogan takes it on the chin. Next up, the frenetic Ella Fritts winds up arguing with the nearest table of hecklers; Sibala, from his seat, has to threaten one patron after he vows to kill Fritts if she isn't done in two minutes. So that happens.

The gregarious Justin Luke follows a short, crowd-calming set from Sibala, but Luke is so aggravated by the heckling that his last words are aimed directly at a guest: "Your mother should've aborted you." That couldn't have been Luke's planned closer, but the night has taken him to what feels like the edge of madness.

At times, during the worst of the heckling, Sibala and Cyr can do little more than exchange knowing glances, sipping at their Jamesons and hoping for a change in luck.

The Nick's gig is one of the tougher "bar mics" in town, as a big portion of the audience isn't there to specifically catch comedy, Kinds notes.

"You try to keep them engaged," he says. "Fatigue can set in, once you get about ten comics into a night. So you use music, effects, anything you can to try to make it an event."

Still, he adds, "it's a real nice room, it's really intimate." Completely sealed, Nick's comedy space is a patio in name only, a classification that allows relief from the city's smoking ban. It's also a quirky room: A life-sized Captain Morgan now blocks the mini-backstage area and the microphone can (and does) get affected by the radio frequencies of passing trains. Luke, already suffering the nightmare of heckling, has his mic completely spazz during this set as the locomotive rumbles past, adding to the mania of his five minutes in Satan's kitchen.

A few folks shine despite the obstacles. Swimming against the evening's tide, Ben Johnson has his moments, as does Stryker Spurlock. And Milly Naeger is a true beacon, riffing in a fast-paced, surrealistic style. If her material requires a bit more thought than the room wants to offer, it's a case of pearls cast before swine, really.

It happens, Cyr figures, and those who live through it are better for the experience. They'll last beyond the three-months-and-out syndrome that many open mic warriors suffer — even if, as survivors, they'll carry scars.

"There's a confrontational part of our culture," Cyr figures. "We're loving this idea of having something in our back pocket, which we're just dying to say. It's the live-action version of an internet comment."

MONDAY, AUGUST 15

STARBUCKS

When Cyr watches a comic bomb, he views the scene with the detachment of a scientist. He feels something for that person on stage; hell, he's been there and knows the feeling. But he's watching, always watching, how one comic can turn it all around, while another falls deeper, ever deeper, into the pit.

"From a sitting-in-the-audience perspective," Cyr says, "I don't know if the word is schadenfreude, but there's something about watching someone fall apart on the stage. You know it's not physically going to hurt. They could have an anxiety attack about it later, or they might cry at breakfast. But at that moment, they have to deal with it. It can be very entertaining to watch. Bombing has helped me become a better person. Learning to fail at something is really important."

When he's writing, Cyr generally lingers over iced coffees at the South Kingshighway Starbucks; heck, he takes meetings there. Relaxed and tapping at his heavily stickered laptop, Cyr seems content with the pace of how his new could-be-a-career is going. He knows that the last week's epic run of shows won't be unusual going forward; in a few days, he and another comic, Eric Brown, at heading to a contest in Peoria; there's an episode of his Impolite Comedy show at Crack Fox to promote; a weekend run as a feature at Helium is almost booked; and he's always hitting the bar mics.

On some nights, like his most recent open mic at the Crow's Nest, when comic after comic plays to little laughter, perfecting the same riffs for weeks on end, you might wonder why anyone would do it, why they'd put themselves in a position that many people find terrifying.

Cyr knows.

It's not the chance for financial gain. "If you're getting into this for the money," he says, "it's just like starting a band: don't."

Instead, it's the euphoria of making people laugh, the sheer joy of holding the audience in your hand and making them react.

"Someone might give you a deeper philosophical answer to all that, but when you make it flow and it's funny and they like it, it's definitely lovely for the narcissism that every performer has on some level."

The moment when your jokes work, he says, makes you feel "great. It just makes you ... feel ... great. Especially because I don't like crowds; I detest being in a crowded place. But I also like attention.

"To me, being on stage, I'm making myself the center of attention on my own terms. Plus you've made people laugh, providing them an involuntary response. Physically, viscerally, it just feels great."

Editor's note: A previous version of this story contained the wrong last name for one of the comics interviewed. He is Brian McDowell, not McDonald. Also, the coffee shop hosting open mics is Shameless Grounds, not Foundation Grounds. We regret both errors.

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