Comedy Étouffée brings LOL to the stage
Mikel Albagdadi is no stranger to performing comedy. By day he works for Apple and Ruffino’s Restaurant, but by night he follows his passion for making people laugh while also shining the spotlight on Baton Rouge’s comedic talent. He and his fellow comics tickle funny bones each week at Happy’s Irish Pub as part of Albagdadi’s comedy show “Comedy Étouffée.”
Albagdadi graduated last May from LSU where he started performing comedy during his sophomore year in his free time. It took off for him as his passion, and he spent time performing in New Orleans and Lafayette and anywhere else he could get stand-up time.
“I work for Apple and wait tables at Ruffino’s,” Albagdadi said. “I do both of those part-time so that I could do stand-up full time. I have a job offer up in New York I could take, but I just realized that I could take these jobs and after three months I would quit from not being happy…The funnier I am, the better I am.”
During a finance internship in New York, Albagdadi checked out the comedy scene there, and by going up on those stages he decided that comedy was something he wanted to pursue seriously. Albagdadi uses his own life as the source of his material, and as a member of The Leather Apron Theatre Company, he also mixes in improv skills into his act.
“I’m Middle Eastern, and I’ll talk about Middle Eastern things, I wait tables, and I’ll talk about waiting tables,” Albagdadi said. “I’ll just talk about anything that comes to my mind that I would like to address.”
As a comedian, Albagdadi wanted to see a standup comedy scene return to Baton Rouge, and he felt that “if people saw it they would love it.”
“There’s not much of a comedy scene here, so eventually I started doing my own show, and now I perform as often as possible,” Albagdadi said. “I would drive out to New Orleans because there was so little [here]…There was one place in Baton Rouge to get up and do time, and if I had class that night, I wouldn’t be able to make it. So, I had to drive to New Orleans every night or every other night just for three minutes of time, and it wears on you, and I was just like ‘Why don’t I start my own show?’”
“Comedy Étouffée”—hosted by Albagdadi—takes place every Thursday with signups starting at 8:30 p.m. The show was founded back in 2015 where Atomic Pop Shop hosted “Comedy Étouffée” each month. When the show had outgrown the performance space at Atomic Pop Shop, Albagdadi eventually found his way to Happy’s where the show has been performing weekly since last August. “Comedy Étouffée” quickly gained steam since remounting and is now a place where numerous comics take advantage of their five minutes of fame in Happy’s piano bar’s cozy atmosphere.
“You’ll come in and see something crazy,” Albagdadi said. “Most people come once, and then they want to come again.”
The format of “Comedy Etouffee” allows for local comics to hone their chops and branch out. During the show, Albagdadi introduces each comedian while providing material of his own. The first hour is provided as an open mic where people, ranging from amateurs to seasoned vets, can sign up. The comedians spend about five minutes on stage, tweaking old material or introducing new stuff. After the open mic, there is a featured comedian and a headliner.
“Every show there is a joke of the week,” Albagdadi said. “You just go, ‘Oh, I can’t believe he said that. That’s so funny.’”
At “Comedy Étouffée” you can see familiar funny faces such as Seth Hartley from Family Dinner improv troupe and O’Mar Finley from NO SHOW and aNother Show, or newer comedians such as Jeremiah Turner from The Station Bar.
Topics used for material range from sobriety, being robbed, the TV show “Twin Peaks,” using crack to get in shape and how you know if you have badass kids.
“If you are going out, and you need multiple babysitters, you know you got some badass kids,” said comedian Will Merrill, during a performance on Thursday, Jan. 4.
Along with seasoned local stand-ups, it’s not unusual to catch national comics at many of these weekly shows. Albagdadi’s been able to pull in comedians from Comedy Central, FOX, Vice and Showtime as headliners at Happy’s.
“They all come to New Orleans to do shows, and I talk to their people and let them know ‘Hey, we have a show here’ and that they can stop here for a night on their way to Houston or their next stop,” Albagdadi said. “Baton Rouge has great crowds. We’re a very accommodating scene; everyone is very supportive of each other. They’ll stop and say, ‘Oh, this was so much fun, I’ll send my buddy here,’ and it slowly spiraled, and people want to stop in Baton Rouge.”
According to Albagdadi, the comedy scene is starting to gain traction once more and is seeing a high number of different shows than it did six months ago.
“It’s a growing scene, and we’re so happy about it,” Albagdadi said. “It’s inevitable. Six months ago, it was barely anything, and now we have three shows that are full of comedians, and full of audience members…In another six months, we are gonna be bigger than we are now. We’re building and growing.”
“Comedy Étouffée” offers free admission, making it easy for locals to grab a few drinks and a lot of laughs as a change of pace in their evening entertainment.
“It’s packed all the time,” Albagdadi said. “We’ve had trouble with the amount of people in the room. It’s crazy how people come into that little room each week to watch stand up. I think it’s because…you can’t do the same four things in Baton Rouge over and over again. This is something fresh and fun. We do drink specials, sometimes we’ll do karaoke or have a guy play piano covers, and it creates such a fun atmosphere. You won’t want to leave.”
Photos by Sean Gasser