Chris Cyr is an accountant by trade. But lately, he's been spending more time writing ad and marketing copy. And he's been dedicating his off-hours to performing live comedy around St. Louis, regularly night-crawling through three, four, five sets a week in clubs across town. With luck and hard work, he hopes to replace his many jobs with just one: stand-up comedian.
Cyr turned 40 last week, making him ten years older than the typical St. Louis comedian — and twenty years older than the youngest performers in the scene. His life plan shifted hard three years ago, when he went to an open mic, signed up and caught the performance bug. Fueled by Jameson (a.k.a. "comedy juice"), he's now been battle-testing his sets with the tenacity of someone building a career.
The freelance writing gigs he's been taking on of late are part of a bigger transition. As Cyr says, "I've always enjoyed writing, so this makes sense. I have a few accounting clients, with an ultimate goal of getting away from that entirely. I guess I should clarify that I really hated accounting, but it took me a long time to realize it."
His wife of eighteen years, Veronica Rivera-Cyr, has been supportive. He's a night owl; she's not. But they resolved any potential tension on their different lifestyles a long time ago.
When he first started doing open mics, he was out every night of the week. Now he's being more strategic. He says, "I have a couple nights a week at home. She understands that it's something I'm trying to make a job. We don't have kids. That's probably the only reason it works."
We followed Cyr through a week in the trenches, one in which he performed six times over five nights and, on one of his rare nights off, even got to enjoy a set by Louis CK at the Funny Bone, a nice karmic reward for, arguably, St. Louis' nicest comic.
Not cleanest; nicest. He's plenty dirty, plenty funny and plenty humble about where he's at and where he wants to go.
He tries hard not to be that guy; you know, the avuncular old-timer. "Everyone knows you're older than them," he says. "You don't want to keep drawing that out. You don't feel that much older, until you hang out and party with them. Then you feel it."
MONDAY AUGUST 1
On the first night of a marathon week for Cyr, he's at the Heavy Anchor for the first of two consecutive nights. Tonight is an open mic called Comedy Shipwreck; tomorrow, he'll be back as part of the "Decraplon," a game show experience that's one of many comedy events that have sprung up inside this funky, two-room venue on Gravois. Run by Jodie and Joshua Timbrook, the club has changed its programming a lot over five years. It's still mostly a music venue, but its movie nights, trivia games and early-week punk rock have mostly been replaced by a wide range of comedy.
"If it was strictly a music venue, it would get really monotonous," Jodie Timbrook says. The rotation "keeps me entertained and it keeps our customers entertained."
Unlike other "bar mics," where customers may be there for reasons other than comedy, the Anchor's performance space separates those who want to imbibe in laughter from those who don't. On Mondays, comic Chad Wallace has taken on emcee duties for Comedy Shipwreck; other nights and concepts are constantly being pitched to Timbrook.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 local comics mix-and-match sets in St. Louis these days. The best-paying are the dedicated comedy rooms at Funny Bone, Hey Guys and Helium, but a growing roster of venues in town, including the Heavy Anchor, Foam, Fitz's and Shameless Grounds, also host nights of comedy. The list is ever-changing, as some come (Purple Martin) and some go (Melt). And it's more often the comics, not the clubs, that make events happen, as they seek out new rooms, audiences and time-on-mic.
"I have had to say 'no' to some people," Timbrook says. "Obviously, we're a bar, a business, and we need to sell drinks. That's how we make rent and pay bills. For any comedy event, the bottom line is that it has to be mutually beneficial. And if it's an off-night and someone's got an idea, by all means, go back there and do it and we'll see."
For this edition of Shipwreck, about 45 people are in the audience. Most are themselves comics. In five-minute sets, they take the stage, run through their material and then introduce the next act. Eventually, most comics do their bit, then move to the other side of the wall, kibitzing in the main bar room.
On this evening, before holing up on the bar side, Cyr incorporates a few of the bits he's working on into his full set. As usual, the jokes are largely based on personal experiences, rather than on absurdities, and come in small, themed bursts.
These days, he's being regularly booked into support slots at places like Helium and Funny Bone, slots that pay. Open mics like this still serve a valuable purpose: "You want to have material you know like the back of your hand, you want to show proficiency in your material. Here, you can try something new, the brand new stuff, see if people get into it and see what works."
Like a lot of open mic shows, the performer demographic tonight is white, male and clustered from late-twenties to mid-thirties. That's something Cyr says is being addressed.
"Gender-wise, it's still very male-dominated," he says. "Even though there's diversity, racially, you don't always see that on shows. You'll see a show and it's three white dudes, or three black comics. People are trying to fix that; even the clubs are. I know a lot of people are consciously trying to make events that mix up race and gender on stage, and that works for the audience as well. I try to bring in comics from out of town, or that no one's heard of, just to diversify points of view. And racial and gender diversity makes it even better."
On this night, though, it's a bit of a boys club and the dick jokes are flying. Later in the week, they'll really go airborne.