There’s not much of a standup comedy scene in the Coachella Valley—but The Hood Bar and Pizza and aspiring local comedian Jacob Cantu are hoping to change that.
Cantu has often made people laugh during the Wednesday-night open-mic at The Hood—and management has taken notice. As a result, Cantu is now organizing a standup comedy night at The Hood every other Sunday.
“I always had it in the back of my mind to do it, but I just didn’t have the balls to do it,” Cantu said during a recent interview. “My grandpa died in 2015, and I was taking care of him. He had Alzheimer’s, and I took care of him for about five years. I was depressed, and my therapist told me, ‘You know, you’re funny here when you tell me about sad stuff; you should try standup comedy.’ I told my wife about it, and my wife found an ad for an open-mic—and I just did it. I sucked, but I got hooked and got a couple of laughs.”
He’s now been performing for almost three years. At a recent open-mic night, he told a humorous tale about a woman in yoga pants chiding him and ruining his day because he was purchasing Doritos.
“I still don’t know how to be myself when I’m onstage yet,” Cantu said. “That bit at open-mic with the Doritos was probably the most comfortable I’ve felt onstage ever. I’ve consciously been trying to do stuff like that.”
Cantu has long had standup comedy aspirations, and said he was inspired by greats including George Carlin and—before his, uh, recent troubles—Bill Cosby.
“I had Bill Cosby’s Himself on tape, and I just watched it over and over and over again,” Cantu said. “When George Carlin was putting out an HBO special every year, I was living in Mexico. My dad made sure he had DirecTV as soon as it came out and that we had HBO. I watched any special that would come on—stuff like Chris Rock when he did Bring the Pain, and Dave Chappelle. It was before the internet.
“I did a class with this guy who had the only standup open-mic (in the valley) at Caliente Tropics. I knew it was a hustle, but I supported him, because I didn’t want them to stop the open-mic. I paid him $50. It wasn’t like I was being told anything I didn’t know already. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one thing I learned from them is to go up there and be yourself. The jokes come later. The first part is learning how to be yourself onstage.”
Cantu said The Hood’s open-mic night has been a great place to learn.
“The Hood is a tough room, especially on Wednesday,” he said. “People want to go see music, and the thing about music at a bar is that music is in the background. When you (perform) standup, you have to get people’s attention. I’m not a dirty comic; I don’t cuss, and I walk on the borderline talking about death a lot. It’s hard for me to get a bar’s attention on a Wednesday night—but it’s also made me better. I let them listen to themselves be assholes. If you’re quiet for a second, the talking of the people watching you will shut everyone up, and I’ve learned to do that at The Hood, which has been a good thing.
“One of my main motivators is having a regular comedy show there. I also want to have a comedy open-mic somewhere so people can try it. It’s going to be raw; it’s going to be a little rough, and there are going to be people who are funny—or who think they are funny. But at least you know what you’re getting into, and that’s how you get better.”
Cantu said putting together the first show, which took place June 10, was personally challenging.
“Driving over here to meet you, I was worried, because I thought I was going to get ambushed or something. That’s what makes you a standup comedian,” he said. “Nigel (Dettelbach, the promoter/booker at The Hood) is used to dealing with confident people. He’s used to dealing with people with self-esteem. Nigel wasn’t so sure, and it came together on the fly. I put together the show real quick, and comedians came down from Los Angeles.
“There’s no comedy scene here, and when I started doing this, I had nowhere to go. I’m 35, and I know where I am in life. I’m not going to be on television. The highlight of my life would be to run a show here in the Coachella Valley and get paid for it—or getting a famous person who thinks I’m funny to write jokes for them. Why not here? Standup gives you an outlet. You can’t play an instrument, but you can talk on a microphone.”
On top of the shows at The Hood, Cantu is working with Plan B Live Entertainment and Cocktails in Thousand Palms on a local-comedy night.
“My wife is pretty mad at me, because I’m dedicating a lot of time to this, but I think it’s important,” Cantu said. “Someone has to start this, and I know there are other standups in the valley, but it takes a lot of work to put shows together. … (It would be nice) if I had someone to help me, because I don’t want to get divorced anytime soon.”