By Ombretta Di Dio
Locals host monthly South Park comedy
At 8:30 p.m. on the evening of July 25, locals lined up along Fern Street outside The Whistle Stop Bar. Inside, regulars sipped on their drinks at the counter. Some were already sitting in the foldable chairs that the staff placed in rows across a small stage in the main room. The lights were dim, softening the atmosphere with shades of red, which complement the bright orange painting of a train coming straight at the audience from the wall behind the stage.
Meanwhile, stand-up comedians Myles Magallanes and Daniel Delgado, both raised in Mira Mesa, chatted with fellow comic Jordan Coburn outside the venue. Coburn, a Normal Heights resident, sat on a stool next to the door and welcomed attendees, collecting $5 in exchange for a night of laughter.
“This is the best show in San Diego,” a man told Coburn before stepping inside. “We come every month.”
Riff City Comedy — a collective of comics and marketers that curate and host local performances — took over The Whistle Stop Bar in May 2017. Since then, the show brought together national headliners and local talent at the popular South Park hang-out on the last Wednesday of every month, drawing enthusiastic crowds to the bar each time.
Magallanes, Delgado and Beau Hufford are the minds behind the event. Magallanes and Delgado met in middle school and haven’t parted ways since. During the years, the friends nourished their common passion of comedy, which flourished into the desire of stepping on stage.
Now, performing is something they never fail to do after dusk — around comedy clubs and bars in town, during open mics, or at shows — which eventually blossomed into an idea of producing their own show. But it wasn’t until they met Beau Hufford that the concept of setting up a regular comedy show in Uptown became a reality.
“Beau [Hufford] is the one who helped us translate what we had in mind into something,” Magallanes said. “He’s a very alpha person, and Daniel and I respond to that. He’ll get us in line in a way that we cannot ourselves.”
Hufford lives in Normal Heights, owns an art company and is a branding expert. He ran into the two young comedians while they were all working on local TV talk show “Tonight in San Diego,” and their ambitions and aspirations were quickly shared.
When Hufford saw the duo tell jokes, he knew something bigger was going to happen, and decided to pitch The Whistle Stop as an idea for a show.
“I met with Sam Chammas, the owner of Whistle Stop, and he told me they had tried comedy before, but they didn’t really like it,” Hufford said. “He said, ‘Don’t expect people to show up,’ but I knew we were gonna pack the house that first month.”
And the first time The Whistle Stop took a chance on the creative trio, comedian and actor Erik Griffin (known for his work in “Workaholics” and “Blunt Talks”) headlined, delivering an exhilarating performance to a captivated audience. By the end of the night, Delgado said everyone left with a smile.
Now the shows sell an average of 200 tickets every month. According to the creators of the show, local comics, and the bar staff, several elements play into Riff City’s success.
“The venue is so nonconventional,” said Coburn, who performed for Riff City last year. “It’s so colorful, and in a local neighborhood. It has a different, unique vibe.”
Coburn said Magallanes and Delgado know how to mix-and-match local comics and out-of-town talent, with the ability to get names that “established comedy clubs in San Diego don’t even get.”
According to Coburn, that’s how they earned respect in the comedy community, and why many local performers want to be part of the event.
“They just see talent,” Hufford added, referencing the two friends. “And they just are brave enough to contact these people [comedians] and get them to come down. They are relentless.”
Previous performers include headliners Brody Stevens, Jon Dore, Debra DiGiovanni, Jay Larson and Byron Bowers, as well as local comedians Dustin Nickerson, Zoltan Kaszas, Cameron Frost, Stephen J. Gaines and Tatiana Cwiklinski.
Back to July’s show — Craig Oliver, main booker for the venue and bartender, stood at the sound booth 20 minutes after the crowds poured in. Oliver has been at The Whistle Stop for eight years. He noted consistency is key in assuring a stand-up show does well at the bar. In the past, comedians who ran stand-up comedy gigs often “found themselves too busy” to make sure the quality of the acts would always be top-notch. This hasn’t happened with Riff City, confirmed by the high turnout.
Ten minutes later, Delgado is pacing around the room. Both he and Magallanes are about to warm up the antsy crowd with a sketch that they wrote a few hours earlier. “We work well under pressure,” Delgado said.
Delgado, who calls North Park home, confesses his nerves are always all over the place the night of the show.
“I think it’s aged me prematurely,” he jokes. “Every month, I feel like ‘This is it. This is the month it’s going to be awful.’”
So far, however, so good. Folks are cheering. Comedians are ready. And just like that, it’s show time.
South Parkers can catch Riff City every last Wednesday of the month at The Whistle Stop Bar, located at 2236 Fern St. The next show is at 8 p.m. on Aug. 29; tickets are $5 at the door. Visit bit.ly/Riff-City or whistlestopbar.com for details.
—Ombretta Di Dio is a story producer at NBC 7 and a stand-up comedian from Italy. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.