On a spare stage upstairs at Hamilton’s Bar and Grill (233 2nd Street NW), a young woman looks down at the deck of file cards she’s holding and begins her routine. There’s a smattering of laughter. She’s obviously nervous but determined to keep going. Suddenly she finds her stride, and with the next joke the audience bursts into loud laughter and applause.
This trial by fire takes place each Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the upper portion of the restaurant that was converted into a small performance space for aspiring and veteran comedians alike. It features the only open mic for comedy on Capitol Hill.
Capitol Hill Comedy
DC residents Mark Mensh, Laura Lyster-Mensh and Angel Morla (who goes by the stage name Angel Penn) created Capitol Hill Comedy, an organization that produces comedy shows, including the show and open mic at Hamilton’s enigmatically called “Spaghetti on the Beach,” a reference to Morla’s Dominican culture.
“We had this weird tradition where we would bring a big giant thing of pasta to the beach,” Morla said laughing. “Most people say you’re not supposed to eat before swimming, but we carb load before swimming.”
Mensch and Morla started their work together on “Spaghetti on the Beach” via Zoom during the pandemic and have since transitioned to an in-person format.
Morla is a DC based comic well known for being the loudest laugh at every show and as a big supporter of comedy. He has now grabbed the mic to host and produce shows in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. He has performed at several comedy shows including the DC Improv and Spaghetti on the Beach and he has opened for Todd Glass’s show.
Mensh is a DC native who recently returned to the District after living in Virginia for several years. He has taken his comedic acts to the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Theater, and just about every bar and bowling alley in the area. Mensh referred to the DC comedy scene as “one of the best in the country,” but emphasized the lack of stand up comedy and open mics in the neighborhood which is why the team chose the Hill to open Capitol Hill Comedy.
Lyster-Mensh is an author and podcaster who, with Morla, hosts a podcast entitled “Comic Widows”, a spin off of football widows, that features the audience perspective. She also does much of the “behind the scenes” work for Comedy on the Hill including marketing and social media work for the organization.
Whether you’re ready to step into the spotlight upstairs at Hamilton’s or you’re just looking for a fun night out with friends, Capitol Hill Comedy is sure to deliver a unique experience for all.
In addition to appearances by Mensch, Morla and other seasoned comedians, the intimate space features an open mic for anyone to try out their newest material. Mensch described the open mic as a welcoming space for newcomers to try out their material in front of a live audience without the need for connections or experience in comedy.
“A lot of other mics, they all have a pre-signup,” Mensh said. “We have some spots that are pre-sign up, but we keep the bulk of them available for people to just show up and go, which is exciting.”
If you’re not quite ready to take the stage as a performer, the audience may be the place for you.
“I love it when there are non-comics there,” Lyster-Mensch said. “I have been inviting neighbors to come sit at my table and the audience experience is fun, because you’re surrounded by people who, at the beginning of the evening look fairly nervous and scared, and then when they’re done, they become (part of) the audience, too.”
Lyster-Mensch’s podcast “Comedic Widows” also focuses on the role of the audience. In the show, aimed at understanding comedy from a different frame of reference, she talks to family and audience members of comedians about their experiences listening to comedy routines and living with comics.
A Multifaceted Space
Mench said the space offers something fun for everyone regardless of their level of familiarity with comedy or stand up. Speaking about the space, he said, “It’s a kindergarten because new comics go up there and they’re learning stuff for the first time. It is a gym because we have veteran comics who come in, we have people who come in to test out and work out new material, and then a playground because it’s fun. It’s just a fun place to be.”
Morla said that Spaghetti on the Beach provides a space for newcomers and veteran comedians alike to get feedback from a supportive audience.
“Stand up is the only art form that you have to practice in front of people,” Morla said. “Everything else you could practice at home by yourself. Even magic, you would just stand in front of a mirror, but with stand up practicing at home means nothing until another person hears the joke and reacts.”
The sign-up sheet for the open mic opens at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday. There is no cost to participate or watch the comedy show—the restaurant simply enforces a one item minimum from the bar.
Wherever you are on the comedic experience scale, or if you’re just someone who just enjoys listening to comedy, Hamilton’s is a fun and exciting place for people of all abilities to come together for Tuesday nights filled with laughter.
Sarah Payne is a general assignment reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at email@example.com.