EL PASO — Amidst a drab beige desert of lame punch line jokes, a group of subterranean wise-cracking comedians are reclaiming funny in the name of El Chuco.
Since 2005, the El Paso Underground Comedy Group (EPUCG) has gradually risen from the darkest cantina crevices to routinely packing weeknights in local hotspots in a town that would otherwise be devoid of many serious local jokesters.
“It’s definitely grown,” said EPUCG founding member Jerry, “El Malkreado” Karnes, “when we first started I couldn’t get four people to come out and watch a show. Now I love the fact that [we] can bring in about 20-30 people to a bar and make them laugh.”
EPUCG frequents local watering holes such as: Bordercity Ale House, Coconuts Bar and Grill, Players Billiards and Smokey’s Bar and Restaurant.
The troupe of six entertainers has been brewing a unique melting pot of styles that spring from the vast different cultural influences that make up El Paso.
“I’d call it Chucano comedy,” Karnes said, “you grow up Hispanic, more than likely you grow up poor, your taught to struggle, to fight and to work. That’s what I’m trying to do every time I take the stage.”
While Hispanic humor is a now a national comedy staple with comedians such as George Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, and El Pasoan Gabriel Iglesias, the difficulties of becoming an established comedian in a border area are still very real.
“There is a lot more guys in El Paso actually trying to become paid and professional comedians then there has been in some time,” said Bart Reed, owner of the El Paso Comic Strip, “They play bars and local venues to get stage-time that they can’t get at professional clubs yet.”
Danny Galvan, a recent addition to the EPUCG said connecting to audiences as a rising comedian has its setbacks.
“[El Paso] crowds can definitely be challenging. Since we perform at bars and not comic clubs, not everyone is there for you,” said Galvan, “They see a comic up on stage and they are ready to shred them up. It can be a wolf’s den so to speak.”
Galvan said that winning over his tough crowds is one of his greatest accomplishments as a comedian.
“You could crash and burn, or you can ride it out, and when you do it is the best feeling,” Galvan said.
Omar Tarango comedian for EPUCG said that performing at bars is like being on training grounds for young comics trying to earn their chops.
“A comedian needs to learn how to deal with an audience who talks back or heckle you,” Tarango said, “You can’t exactly knock them since your in their territory, but your going to have to respond with something funny. This is when you gain the respect of the crowd.”
Tarango said another way of being a successful comedic presence is in hitting upon the universal problems that many of societies’ groups share.
“[Of ] the things [Hispanics] go though, its amazing how other ethnic groups will relate and go through the same things,” Tarango said. “When a comedian can touch on those core issues [of society] everyone benefits.”
Tarango said the ability to creatively express himself and cathartically release his pain is his main reason for devoting his life to the stage.
“Every comic that shares a painful experience only shares it when he has come to a point where he himself can laugh about it,” Tarango said, “It’s almost like a healing process, the more you hear people laugh and empathize with your experience.”
The El Paso Underground Comedy Group performs at 10:00 p.m. every Thursday at Coconuts Bar and Grill.