March 4, 2013

Behind the Bar with Coleman Brice: By Maggie Ednie

Coleman Brice
On Wednesday nights in Chicago, local comics gather at Logan Square’s Cole’s bar to sign up, wait, wait and wait just to try out four minutes of material.

Cole’s Open Mic has become a huge staple in the local scene, and along with that comes owner Coleman “Cole” Brice. While many bar owners stay in the background, seemingly uninterested in exactly what event is bringing business to their bars; Cole can be found tending bar, cleaning and actually taking an interest in the talent coming through his establishment.

I met up with Cole before working hours to record his view of the Chicago scene and thoughts on the slew of comedians who patronize his bar week after week. After offering me a beer, water or whiskey (in that order), he adds, “By the way, Ryan Walker sucks Lane Pieschel’s dick (those are local comedians FYI). It’s all over the men’s room.”

Cole, 30, opened his bar two years ago with plans to run as a music venue on the weekends. The desire for a weekday event is what brought the Wednesday night comedy open mic to fruition with the help of comedian Cameron Esposito.

Maggie Ednie: Cameron always introduces you as her very good friend, Coleman Brice. Have you guys known each other for a long time?

Coleman Brice: I happened to know Cameron a little bit through a mutual friend of ours and I had seen her perform at the Lincoln Lodge once or twice. I didn’t even know she was, like, a star. She was just the only comic I knew. So I called her up and said, “Let’s do something,” and I was originally thinking of doing weekly showcases and she said, “No, that’s the wrong plan. You should do an open mic and take it from there.” Then she added on Adam (Burke) which was really nice because he brings in a different crowd.

ME: You know a lot of the comics by name.

CB: I get their credit cards, you know. I ran the list for two years, almost. Especially the regulars who are a little older, I’ll know their names. I probably know about 30 or 40 comics names. But then there’s a whole new crowd the last, maybe, three months. It’s kind of weird. A lot of the old comics don’t come here, and there’s a lot of new comics.

ME: When you found out you had the number one open mic in the city (Timeout Chicago Magazine), what was your reaction?

CB: It’s just very cool, you know. How can you react to that? It’s just really cool and I love it. I definitely didn’t expect anything like that. It was a great surprise.

ME: You get a lot of the same people every week. A lot of comics don’t have a lot of money and they can really nickle and dime. Do you ever see one of us and think, “Oh no. This guy again?”

CB: There’s a couple. I mean. I don’t care if I don’t sell anything to somebody. I understand what you’re here for. I don’t care if you don’t tip. Wait, don’t write that (laughs). By the way, all of my tips go to (bartender) Travis. But there are a couple people who don’t buy anything, don’t tip and are also rude. But at this point it’s kind of a joke. It’s like, you’ve been coming here for two years, you never buy anything and you’re STILL rude to me (laughs).

ME: Everyone sees you all the time, and you don’t just bartend. You’re out there picking up glasses, bottles and cans. Is that just because you’re kind of skeleton staffed as a result of being a new bar or did you always want to be a real hands-on, present owner?

CB: It’s a combination of both. It’s definitely cheaper to do it yourself than hire somebody else. But this is also my dream and my life’s work and life’s savings. It goes a lot more smoothly when I’m here. I want to be here and when I’m here I want to be doing something. I don’t want to just be here, like, staring at people. So it works out on both accounts.

ME: Also when you’re out there picking up after us, I usually bring my glass up to the bar, but...

CB: You’re a great customer. But you pay for your beer, you have the right to leave it wherever you want. That’s part of the deal. That’s why you pay extra to be here.

ME: You get to catch us performing and sometimes you actually sit down and watch. Have you watched people progress?

CB: Definitely. It’s kind of funny because a lot of people have been coming here for a long time and I would never actually see their set, so it’s sometimes nice to see them. You know, the only one that pops out in my mind is Jessie Braddish because I happened to catch her very first set, and then saw her, like, six months later and she was way funnier. Which I thought was very cool. Usually I don’t catch somebody’s very first set and then see them as a more accomplished comedian. Sometimes it’s just a matter of whether I catch someone’s “A” material or just their weird fuck around material or how drunk they are. You know, I really don’t get to see as much comedy as I’d like.

MB: Is there anyone you like to try and stop for?
CB: (Grins) I like to try and stop for everyone.

Crowd @ Cole's
MB: Are you a comedy fan?

CB: I am now. I was not when I opened the bar. I remember watching that Seinfeld movie (Comedian, 2002) in college and thinking it was the worst movie ever. I was like, “This movie is boring. There’s no jokes in it.” Now it’s really cool. I’m really into it. I see everyone’s personalities and their (finger quotes) techniques and all that shit.

MG: You get to see us working.

CB: Exactly.

ME:Do you ever get out to see the shows in the city?

CB: You know, I’ve been wanting to check out that one at the Beat Kitchen (Chicago Underground Comedy) on Tuesdays because Tuesdays are my day off, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

ME: Who are the drunkest comedians? You can say me if you think so.

CB: I wouldn’t say you. Not usually--but just last night--Nate Simmons. He got here at, like, six o’clock and was here until we closed and someone was trying to teach him how to ride a bicycle. A lot of those CYSK (Comedians You Should Know) guys come in late and are pretty drunk, but I guess they just had their show. Not always. But sometimes. They have a good time at their show. Comedy night is my favorite night because everybody is so polite. They know how to behave in bars. You know, that Trey Mowder was the drunkest guy I ever saw (laughs).

ME: And you know what we all drink. What’s my drink?

CB: Whiskey and diet. No fruit. Shot of Jameson.

Cole’s open mic is every Wednesday night, 2338 N. Milwaukee. Sign up at 8:30pm (or 6:00pm, depending on how early you want to go up). Show starts at 9:30pm.

Maggie Ednie