RED BANK: CLEAN COMEDY ON A BLUE RIVER

LAST COMIC STANDING semifinalist Erin Jackson, top, headlines Red Bank’s first-ever Comedy in the Park event, while (L-R) Tim Belford, emcee Chris Covert and Matt Perkins set the stage for the free show Wednesday night.

By TOM CHESEK

Like somewhat more ornery (and somewhat less romantic) cousins to the vampires of legend, stand-up comics are true creatures of the night — or, more to the point, creatures of the nightclub. Which is why, day or night, it’s unusual to find them doing their thing in the Great Outdoors, breathing in the fresh atmosphere, swatting away junebugs and skeeters like so many Chuckle Hut hecklers.

On Wednesday night, however, Red Bank Parks and Rec offers up something that few if any have attempted here in the season of beach chairs and blanket bleachers: an open-air Comedy in the Park event that lets loose its crack-up Krakens in the pleasant waterfront setting of Riverside Gardens Park.

As “free-range” as it is free of charge, the 8 pm program is headlined by Erin Jackson, a season six semifinalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and a frequent sighting on Comedy Central, BET and TV Guide Channel. The daughter of Washington, DC will be joined on the bill by a contingent of Jersey Jokers — among them a familiar figure who’s fast becoming an impresario in local laugh-maker circles.

Subs commander, pumpkin Picasso and “Red Bank’s resident comic” Chris Covert brings his ringmaster skills back to the great indoors with an an Open Mic at the Dublin House on August 2 and an August 8 show at The Downtown. 

Speaking over brews at the Dublin House, the haunted and ever-happening House on Monmouth Street where he books a series of Friday night stand-up showcases (and where he plays ringmaster to a monthly Thursday Open Mic Comedy event), Chris Covert points with pride to the fact that “we’ve been rockin’ it lately… Fridays here have been stellar; I’ve been turning people away.”

Covert — who redbankgreen readers have met in his capacity as a custom-carver of Halloween pumpkins and as the honorable Earl of Sandwich at Elsie’s Subs — has carved out an entirely different career for himself in recent years, as the man who’s almost single-handedly made stand-up comedy a “thing” once again in downtown Red Bank. So, when Parks & Rec director Memone Crystian went looking for someone to help assemble a supporting lineup for the previously booked Jackson, the man in the backwards baseball cap was the go-to choice to spearhead the Covert operation.

Taking it to his formidable Little Black Book of comic contacts, Covert (who will emcee the evening at the outdoor venue that’s hosted everything from family films, big bands and acoustic Americana to tango lessons, Zumba and Shakespeare) called upon a couple of Garden State guys who wowed the crowds at past Jersey Jokers shows: Ewing Township’s Matt Jenkins, and Tim Belford, a familiar face to customers of Little Silver’s Healthfair who Covert observes “has been doing comedy for years. He dropped out, and he’s back in again.”

Together with Jackson, the comics will confront the special challenges of playing to an outdoor, all-welcome, family-friendly clientele — not the least of which is the fact that “people are going to this show knowing that it’s clean. To be clean AND funny is something new.”

“I hate Matt Jenkins, because he’s clean and he’s freakin’ hilarious,” says Covert, who’s been known to work the “blue” side of the room — and whose impending Wednesday night gig has sent him scrambling for squeaky-clean material. “He’s got the gift. He really does.”

Add to that the additional challenges of maintaining a non-paying crowd’s attention in the midst of downtown Red Bank’s sights and sounds, and you’ve got a tall order for a group of homegrown performers who are “not getting paid. We’re doing it almost as an exercise, and if it works out we could see it becoming a regular thing for next season.”

“I love what I do, and I live for that one great night, that one magic time when everything just clicks,” says Covert, who’s spent a portion of his shows distributing beer-company promotional towels rolled up in the shape of certain bodily parts. “Bam, bam, bam, left, right, uppercut. It makes it all worthwhile.”

The Chris Covert-hosted Comedy Open Mic returns to the “friendly room” at the Dublin House this Thursday for a card that commences at 8 pm. Then, on August 8, the Downtown is the scene for a special Wednesday night Jersey Jokers show that stars Joe DeVito, whose many TV appearances include Chelsea Lately, Craig Ferguson, Fox News Red Eye and Season Five of Last Comic Standing. Covert masters the ceremonies for a 9 pm program that further features John Asher and Gary Glass — then takes it back upside the Dub on August 17, for a Friday fracas — about which more details to follow.

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