Three Minutes 

That's all the time would-be comics have to snatch success from the jaws of humiliation at Kimball's East.

Way back when, there was a saying about everyone getting his or her fifteen minutes of fame -- but that was long before sound bites, microchips, and reality TV. Now, with droves of wannabes clamoring for their spot in the Idiots' Hall of Fame, the best we can hope for is three minutes or so (unless you're a leggy hotel heiress with a stack of home porn), which by today's standards should be plenty of time to sort the hysterical from the horrid. At least, that's enough time for Kimball's East booker Carla Clayy and her comedian cohort Tony Sparks, who've masterminded tonight's (Wednesday, December 8) "ode to an idol" send-up of amateur funny folks -- Kimball's East's first-ever quasicomedy competition, "Three Minutes to Fame."

Inspired by the dozens of fledgling comedians without any real experience who've pestered Clayy about taking the stage, the nightclub is offering locals their big shot to prove they have the comedic chops to be added to the Wednesday night rotation alongside practiced heavyweights like Cinderella and Donald Lacey. Will these greenhorns crack under all the pressure? Chances are there'll be equal parts sidesplitting laughter and pin-dropping silence.

It's all just the beginning of the arduous journey up the slippery ladder of success that Sparks -- longtime local comic and Kimball's host -- describes as "a lot of work." He adds matter-of-factly: "As a comic, you have to create everything for yourself -- the writing, the costume, the PR." It's an art form and a business, one that Sparks likens in terms of difficulty to becoming a professional ball player. The odds are definitely no laughing matter. However, if you "go out and do as many rooms as possible and really work on your material," as funny lady Clayy advises, there's no reason you can't parlay your natural talent into a full-time career, or at least a night job.

So what is funny and what's off limits? Sparks cautions prospective stand-ups that if they want their careers to take off, they've "gotta stay away from the flat-out dirty stuff." However, if there's one steadfast rule in the world of comedy it has to be the omission of propriety. Translation: Anything goes. 'Cause if we all wanted to see a straitlaced Homer in a suit spewing tales of decency and virtue, we'd go to a real-estate seminar or a church picnic. Not to say there's no room for another Jon Stewart, bless his smug, all-knowing, please-help-us-laugh-through-another-four-years soul. Cleverness and wit have their charm, just as infantile humor does. The bottom line is that whether these contestants do deadpan sarcasm as well as Ellen, ADD like Robin Williams, or tell it like it is with a side of uh-huh la Chris Rock, there's nothing quite as pure in entertainment as standing alone on a stage under blaring lights, with sweaty palms and nothing but your naked words, attempting to make someone else smile.

Good luck to all the participants tonight at Kimball's East, 6005 Shellmound, at the Emeryville Public Market. Show begins promptly at 8:30, and the cost of admission is $10. Kimballs.com

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