Laughing down the home stretch

It's home-stretch time at Magooby's Joke House, as the Baltimore area's most exhausted comics prepare for the last few hours of their 81-hour comedy marathon.

"Things have all worked out," comic Jim Meyer said Thursday afternoon, just minutes after finishing his sixth set, which gave him a total of about three hours onstage since the marathon started Monday afternoon. "There's been a little bit of luck and a little bit of divine intervention. … It's been a crazy thing, just kind of losing track of things, losing sleep. But it's been interesting to see."

As expected, the toughest part of the marathon, which is being staged by Magooby's owner Andrew Unger, is ensuring the audience never dips below 10 — one of the requirements if the comedy club is to earn a spot in Guinness World Records. The 2 p.m. crowd Thursday numbered about 20, which has been par for the course, Unger said. Attendance has been highest at night and even into early morning, when full houses have been the norm. But the hours immediately before and after breakfast have proven a tough sell.

"It's gotten so that, at 3 or 4 in the morning, some of the comedians have been performing for as few as 10 or 12 people," Unger said backstage, admitting he's a little sleepy himself, having stayed awake for all but six of the previous 70 hours. "Sometimes, it's like they're performing for an audience of sleep-deprived zombies."

Sleep-deprived, but game. For the most part, Thursday's afternoon audience maintained a steady buzz of laughter — nothing uproarious, and at times unsettlingly quiet. But the funniest stuff — like when Rickey Shackleford did celebrities reading their own versions of Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham," or when Meyer referred to the marathon as the "Bataan death comedy march" — got the laughs it deserved.

"That was actually the toughest crowd I've had yet," said Meyer, who was a last-minute substitution for a comic who failed to show up. "There's a little life in the crowd, but they would all just shut up at the same time. At first, you had a lot of people who were here for the comedy. Now you've got people who are here just to break the record."

In all, Unger rounded up about 80 different comics to crack wise from the Magooby's stage beginning at 2:30 p.m. Monday. Most have been performing for about 30 minutes at a time, and many have returned for multiple sets (the Guinness folks say that's OK, as long as their appearances are at least four hours apart). If Magooby's can keep the laughs coming until 11:30 p.m. Thursday night, when 98-Rock's Mickey Cucchiella is scheduled to take the stage, they'll break the record of 80 straight hours set in December at Los Angeles' The Laugh Factory.

"I think it's great for Baltimore comedy, to go get something that is owned by the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles," said comedian Brain Kerns, who squeezed-in a Thursday afternoon set between flying back from L.A. Tuesday and shooting a film in Virginia Thursday night. As for the crowd, "I really had to win them over. The guy before me, he really crashed and burned, it was pretty horrible. But it worked out."

The Thursday afternoon audience seemed divided between comics waiting to take the stage (and eager to support those already up there), a few hard-core marathon veterans (including one heavy drinker who said he'd been there some 12 hours) and a handful of lunch-time visitors, curious about seeing history in the making.

"We wanted to be part of history, I guess," said Lynn Chan, who paused outside the club's front door to pose for a picture alongside her co-worker, Sean Stephens. "It's been really good, but we've got to get back to work."

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