Ask anybody at Run It Up Reno why it is so special and you’ll likely get a twist on the same answer: this is a family.
Some of these folks have been coming to the Peppermill Casino since the very first gathering in October 2015. The rest fell in somewhere along the way, many drawn by the unique environment. They take their poker seriously, of course, but the players are sometimes even more excited about the social events than they are by the chance to win some money, making it feel at times more like a summer camp than a tournament series. After all this time, they know each other.
According to stand-up comic and European Poker Tour commentator Joe Stapleton, that family feeling is exactly why an open-mic comedy night is a perfect fit here.
“Like everything else that Run It Up does, this is way more of a bonding exercise than a comedy thing,” he said. “Nobody’s really coming here expecting to have a great show, but they are expecting to have a really neat experience with friends and family. You know, when you go to camp and you do bonding exercises, a lot of them are kind of embarrassing — you sort of bare your soul a little bit and it brings people together.”
Last night’s installment of Stand-Up Open Mic Night at Run It Up Reno was the third so far, and like everything else here it was bigger and better than the previous versions. By the end of the two-hour show, 115 people had found their way to the Sorrento Room, a ballroom that transformed into a makeshift comedy club for the night. They stuck around as close to a third of those in attendance gave stand-up comedy a try.
Stapleton warmed up the crowd and gave them a crucial piece of advice that comic Bobby Lee shared with him the first time he tried stand-up: if you take the microphone out of its stand, move the stand off to another part of the stage.
Then he handed the night over to the comics. Past Survivor champ Tyson Apostol was up first, sharing a behind-the-scenes story about one of the more difficult moments of getting on the show.
From there it was a parade of every kind of person you’ll find at Run It Up Reno. Poker pros, streamers, YouTube stars, dealers, Run It Up staff, and even a couple of local Reno comics took the stage — and there was no telling what was going to come out of their mouths once they were on the stage.
There was plenty of topical humor throughout the night — Mike Postle jokes in particular were popular — but probably less than you would expect from a crowd of poker players.
Around half of those taking the stage were trying comedy for the first time, and half of the rest had only ever performed at one of the past Run It Up Reno open mics. Some, like first-timer Kevin Carter of Baltimore, came in with prepared jokes. “I felt like if I was going to do this, I wanted to be really prepared as much as I could be for the first time,” he told me before the show. Others did the equivalent of walking a tightrope without a net and winged it through their entire set.
For Ryan Ivey of San Diego, it was all about getting up in a friendly environment to try something new. “I’m trying to lighten up, and trying to be more open,” he said. “I’ve had some messed up things happen in my life and this lets me make light of it. So this is just me trying to find my outlet.”
Carter and Ivey both said that the experience of being on the stage was fun but nerve-wracking.
“Me and my buddy were in the hot sauna in the hotel’s gym earlier — it felt a lot like that,” said Ivey. “Like, ‘This is happening — and then ‘OH GOD, THIS IS HAPPENING!’ When I came back to my seat I looked at my buddy and he was all sweaty. I was like, ‘Were you nervous for me?'”
“It was a little bit of a gray-out at first. I had my material more or less memorized, but there’s a big difference between sitting in your bedroom talking quietly and trying to time it versus ‘Oh my god, there’s two winners of Survivor in the crowd,'” said Carter, who found himself losing track of time on stage.
“Time’s a funny thing. I saw Joe waving his phone and I thought, ‘Okay, I need to wrap this up.’ It’s a weird phenomenon. Even with as much as you can plan for it. I totally didn’t do half of what I planned on doing up there. But I figured, just go with it — nobody else in the crowd knows what I was going to do.”
After two hours the party moved upstairs for a cash game hangout session, where Run It Up social media manager Jesse Fullen effused about both the attendance — which had increased once again for the third installment — and the quality of the show.
“It blows my mind that we had so many people,” he said. “This is our most successful comedy night so far. I felt like this open mic night was different than any other one you can experience in your city or town. These poker players are like a family. Imagine your cousin gets up, or a good friend — someone you want to see succeed — even if it’s not the funniest, you’re still going to laugh. It was great. No one bombed and everyone had the experience of having someone laugh at their jokes.”
At the cash game hangout Fullen presented two trophies, one for Best Female Comic and the other for Best Male Comic. “We really wanted a first-timer to win,” he said. “Someone who would feel honored by receiving it.”
Cynthia McRae of Albuquerque took the first trophy for a story about playing in her first RIU event and being seated with a full roster of poker stars.
“When it came to the females, we had some great poker pros up there — Marle Cordeiro got up, and Ebony Kenney — we even had some RIU staffers,” said Fullen. “Cynthia told a fun story that had some jokes and great one-liners that just killed. There was one point where she was telling the story very quietly and then just hit with this one-liner that was very aggressive and the whole room was shocked and laughing so hard because you don’t expect that from a first-timer.”
McRae doesn’t usually play poker, instead coming here to visit with her poker-playing sister Deb, who lives across the country. “I’m quite the storyteller and I do like to make people laugh,” she said.
“It took my husband a while to figure it out. He’d say why are you so silly, why do you act like that? It’s like, dude, I’m going for the laugh! And this story was incredible and it was true, and I thought, I have to share it.”
Kevin Carter took the other trophy. “He got up there and he was just fantastic,” said Fullen. “He told great jokes immediately, he had laughs within 10 seconds, and he killed it the whole 5 minutes. I knew immediately he was probably going to be the male winner.”
Carter was genuinely shocked by his win. “I had no idea how to do stand-up comedy and I won a trophy,” he said.
“I don’t know if that says more about me or the other people, but I really appreciate it! It’s surreal. I mainly just did it because I thought this will be a nice welcoming environment, and if I bomb, whatever, nobody will care too much. But apparently I didn’t! It was really fun.”
The Run It Up Reno IX comedy night wasn’t just a good time — it also planted a seed for at least a few of the participants. McRae paused when I asked if she might try stand-up again sometime. “You know, I just might,” she said. “I could see me up there again.”
Ivey, too, was interested in following up on his experience. “There are a lot of open mic opportunities in San Diego, so I think I’m going to see how I do with some of those,” he said. “Who knows? It might turn into something.”
Whether or not any of these people get on another stage again, this was a night to remember for everyone in attendance.
“I do encourage people to try open mic comedy at least once in their lives,” said Stapleton. “There’s no other feeling like having that mic in your hand and getting a laugh from strangers.”
Even when those strangers are family.
This is the first of a stand-up comedy double feature on the blog today. Keep the laughs going with a look at our second feature about the Guinness record-shattering Broken Record Show standup show in Nashville, Tennessee.