Casey Jay

Having lived in downtown San Jose for four years, I am well acquainted with the Improv Comedy Club, located on 2nd Street between Santa Clara and San Fernando.  The Improv has hosted numerous big-time stand-up acts like Jerry Seinfeld, Gilbert Gottfried, and Ray Romano, and is always a great place to share a night of laughter with loved ones.  But Friday night, April 10 was my first experience getting acquainted with the comedians who make it all possible.  What exactly are the people who make us laugh like behind closed doors?  Well, basically they just make you laugh even more.  Easter weekend’s performers included opener Mo Mandel, feature Rene Garcia, and headliner Johnny Sanchez.  With a total of 35 years comedic experience between them, they had a lot to share with me about their hilarious line of work, what they love about San Jose, and even a few fashion rules they have learned.

Garcia dined on a salad and wine, telling me that he had given up meat and soda for Lent
Rene Garcia

I arrived at the Improv between the first and second shows of the evening, and I really didn’t know what to expect as I waited in the stars’ break room in the upper level of the building.  I was worried about my first interview with members of the entertainment industry, an industry more associated with temperamental figures than most.  But as the comedians entered, my nerves were settled instantly by their friendly, welcoming dispositions.  I met Rene Garcia first, followed by Mo Mandel a few minutes later.  During their break, the performers relaxed to a variety of songs playing from Garcia’s laptop.  Garcia dined on a salad and wine, telling me that he had given up meat and soda for Lent.  Mandel also refueled with a salad, but joked that he was going to wash his down with a soda right in front of Garcia.  Sanchez arrived after the two had finished their meals, and, after politely introducing himself to me, turned to his co-stars and asked what it was with people and their cell phones these days.  The three of them then went into a brief discussion on how sad they are to see audience members sending text messages throughout a show, or even wearing Blue-tooth headsets.  Their disappointment with this kind of behavior stems from how it interferes with what they all agreed on to be their favorite part of the job.

“If I had to pinpoint one thing, it’s making people laugh, putting a smile on their face,” Garcia explained.  “It’s enough for me, for 20, 30, 45 minutes, to let them forget their problems,” he said.  Sanchez described how people used to leave everything behind when they went out for a night of comedy.  “People need to escape,” he said.  Sanchez said he enjoys being able to help people leave behind their stress, but that they should remember to leave their technology behind too.  He agreed with Garcia that hearing audiences laugh is “the best feeling in the world.”  Besides the high he gets from laughter, Mandel had a few other favorite perks of the job to contribute.  “Not having a boss, and having to have sex with so many beautiful women,” he shared.

I have fond memories of San Jose, when I come back here it feels like home .. Johnny Sanchez

The trio also shared with me some of their most memorable experiences throughout their careers.  Sanchez has been a cast member of the sketch comedy show Mad TV for the last two seasons, which he described as “a big circus and so much fun.”  He gave me the details on one of his most recent characters, an old Jewish man receiving a lifetime achievement award for porn, and remarked “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this!”  Sanchez’s time on Mad TV, unfortunately ending soon as the show is going off the air after 14 years, also holds deeper value.  “There’s just something about pulling up to a lot in Hollywood, with your parking spot and dressing room, that makes you say, ‘I made it,’” Sanchez explained.  His work on the film “Happy Feet” also stands out as a favorite.  “Elijah Wood was fabulous, and Robin Williams,” Sanchez said.
Mandel said that while all the traveling he and his colleagues endure can be exhausting, it has led to some of his career highlights.  He has performed internationally in England and also in Canada for the famous Montreal Comedy Festival.  He will also never forget opening for Jimmy Fallon twice, and his “coolest show ever” with “Dave Chapelle, Robin Williams, and Most Def.”

I love feeling scared walking by Toons after shows
Mo Mandel

Garcia has also traveled outside the U.S. for shows of a different nature.  He has been to Korea, and was recently returned from a trip to Kosovo, where he performed for troops.  “To perform for the troops is amazing,” Garcia said.  “These young guys have such a good time and they’re so happy to see you.”  He also shared a lesson with me he learned from his work abroad.  “People have stereotypes that Asian people can’t drive,” Garcia said, “it’s so true.”
So how does San Jose compare for these well-traveled comics?  “There is so much beauty here,” Garcia said.  “The women are gorgeous, the scenery is unbelievable.  I’m from Texas, which is mostly flat,” Garcia explained.  “We’ve got cows, bugs, tornados, so I just love it here.”  Mandel, originally from Boonville, CA, about four hours north of San Jose, said “it’s always fun to come back here.”  His favorite thing about visiting the area?  “I love feeling scared walking by Toons after shows,” he joked about a nightclub down the block from the Improv.  Sanchez actually lived in San Jose until age six, when his family moved to the Visalia area.  “I have fond memories of San Jose, when I come back here it feels like home,” he said.

I love the economy being screwed because you can get good deals
Mo Mandel

Each comedian also had some unique fashion advice and favorites to share with style-savvy Bay Area readers.  Mandel said he goes to Armani for jackets and H & M for button-down shirts.  He also had an optimistic view of our nation’s current financial state.  “I love the economy being screwed because you can get good deals,” Mandel explained.  He also had a few fashion faux-pas to share, including “guys wearing ‘Tap Out’ shirts.  It’s really lame.  And I don’t like Ed Hardy.  It’s like the bright red convertible of clothing,” Mandel said.  Sanchez described his on-stage look as “pretty casual.”  He also explained to me that he wears T-shirts instead of long sleeves now because “I’ve had a lot of people tell me I have nice arms,” he admitted with a laugh.  Garcia told me that he goes with slightly more professional attire.  “I like to dress nice because I’m there to perform.  It’s like an interview,” Garcia explained, “I want to look presentable.”

To find out even more about these funny, friendly, and fashionable comedians, visit Mo Mandel’s weekly blog, where he said fans can “get more of my slanted view of the universe,” at  www.momandel.com, and check him out at the Punchline in San Francisco from April 22-25.  Also keep up with Rene Garcia at www.renegarciacomedy.com, and Johnny Sanchez at www.johnnysanchezlive.com.


Fotos Kevy Kevv

Casey Jay


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