Who’s laughing now, Jacksonville?

Spinnaker

Before the show started, I was feeling nervous. Not for myself, but for the coterie of stand-up comedians patiently waiting for their slot on stage at Lynch’s Pub to narrate arbitrary jokes in front of a bawdy, unforgiving crowd of drunkards.

“It takes a lot of balls to stand up in front of a Lynch’s crowd,” my photographer said to me at our table in the corner. “Which ones are our boys?”

I point out to him John Cronin, a UNF broadcasting junior and stand-up comedian. Josh Asencio, a UNF information technology junior, hadn’t arrived yet.

At first glance, Cronin looks like the skittish, soft-spoken type. I was quick to find out he is neither.

“We’ll be photographing you tonight,” I said to him after I introduced myself, “so don’t be nervous.”

He laughed and said confidently, “I know. I won’t.

When Asencio arrived, he made his way to our table and introduced himself. Although he was dressed like a 5th grader, he had the self-effacing presence of a Himalayan monk.

“Thanks for doing this for us, guys,” he said sincerely. “It means a lot.”

Cronin went up first. His act was sporadic and, for lack of a better word, funny — which was a relief.

In the beginning of Asencio’s act, you could tell he was giving it all he had, but you could also tell the audience wasn’t having it.

Luckily for Asencio, a seasoned stand-up, he knows how to handle a heckler.

Not before long, one heckler’s mother became part of Asencio’s next joke, which subsequently saved his act.

Afterward, I gathered the boys outside, sat them down and asked them why they do what they do. Why do they posses such determination to make us laugh?

The answer was simple for Cronin.

“Because I love it,” he said, as if it’s inherent to his nature.

Cronin is new to the comedy scene. In fact, he just started last summer, which surprised Asencio.

“Really?” Asencio said. “You’re f—— funny, dude.”

Cronin said he enjoys the rush of being on stage. Before stand-up, he performed theater at his high school and always thought of himself as “the awkward kid” who liked to goof off.

Cronin gathers his material from daily events.

“All I have to do, really, is live,” he said. “You see something in a funny way – it’s a joke.”

Asencio said he’s been hooked ever since he started performing at local comedy clubs in South Florida nearly five years ago.

“Stand-up comedy is an addiction,” he said, though it is difficult.

Asencio said he struggles with writing complete jokes. Punch lines are no problem, but premise? Forget about it.

“I have this bit I’m trying to do, right now,” he said. “It’s called the vagina dialogues: it’s two vagina’s talkin’ to each other – I don’t know how to tie that together.”

Asencio is realistic about pursuing a career in comedy.

Odds are it won’t happen for him, he said.

But Asencio wants to apply everything he has learned and experience from doing comedy in South Florida to Jacksonville.

Stand-up comedy is new in Jacksonville, he said, and not everyone appreciates it yet. But he remains confident the city will see a revolution in stand-up comedy.

Asencio said the architect behind it all is Mike Cane, a UNF alumnus, who got his start at a UNF open mic night four years ago.

“I run most of the open-mic venues around town,” Cane said.

Basically, Cane goes into bars he thinks will have an enthusiastic crowd and sells the idea of hosting an open-mic night.

He’s the ringleader of what is called “The Jacksonville Comic Collective,” which consists of all the up-and-coming comedians in Jacksonville.

So if you think you’re funny, he’s the one that will get you onstage.

On Sundays, Cane runs a “workshop” at his apartment where comedians can come and work on their craft.

“I wasn’t funny when I first started comedy,” he said. “But I practiced.”

Cane considers stand-up comedy a “live-performance art.”

It’s very pure, he said, and very different from any other form of live performance. It’s just you up on stage giving it all you’ve got and having people judge you, but the payoff is great, he said.

“There’s no better feeling than making 200 people forget about their lives and become utterly engrossed in what you’re saying.”

Those up for the challenge who want to find out more, join the Facebook page, The Jacksonville Comic Collective, e-mail Mike Cane at m[email protected], or check out some of the shows.

Sunday, Three Layers Coffee, 7 p.m.

Monday, Brewster’s Pub, 9 p.m.

Tuesday, Square One, 10 p.m., $3 unless you mention you’re with Jacksonville Comic Collective, 21+
Wednesday, Lynch’s, 8 p.m., 21+
Thursday, Tom and Betty’s, 9 p.m.