A Comedy Special (Hold the Ham ‘n Cheez)

Covert operations: Elsie’s Subs co-proprietor Chris Covert (pictured in his night job as stand-up comic) brings the latest in his ongoing series Comedy Night Live series to The Dublin House on Friday, August 26.

Maybe you like your humor DRY, and your subs WET — maybe vice versa. Either way, he’s got you covered.

Most days of the week, Chris Covert presides over one of the most beloved institutions within the Red Bank state of mind — Elsie’s Subs, the 52 year old Monmouth Street landmark that’s been owned by his wife Tish for over 20 of those years.

As the steward of a brand about which native Red Bankers tend to get territorial (it’s not uncommon for returnees at holiday time to grab an Elsie’s special immediately after coming in from the airport — and to order a no oil/vinegar “dry” sub for the flight back home), Covert loves nothing more than to keep serving a loyal clientele that consists of “99 percent repeat customers; the best kind there is.”

That said, the honorable earl of sandwich has been known to have his other pursuits and fancies — not the least of which is an artistic bent that’s manifested itself in a series of quirky mosaic portraits, as well as a cutting-edge flair for custom carved Halloween pumpkins.

As if he weren’t in danger of slicing himself too thin already, this Caravaggio of the capicola has an altogether separate, nocturnal calling — as a practitioner of the art of stand-up comedy, and ringmaster of a regular series of Comedy Open Mic events at the equally iconic Dublin House. It’s to the second floor of The Dub that Covert returns this Friday, August 26, for the latest in a monthly menu of Comedy Night Live events.

Justin Flanagan and headliner Kevin Israel are among the spotlighted standups at this week’s Comedy Feature Night, upside The Dub.

A tremendous fan of live comedy and an enthusiastic follower of its masters — from old-school nightclubbers like Bob Newhart (“so much funnier by himself than on a sitcom”) to current superstars like Lewis Black (“I drew a picture of him before his sold-out Basie show, and I got to talk with him on his bus and watch the show with my wife from two chairs in the stage wings”), Covert’s stand-up career began somewhat inauspiciously back in the “Comedy Explosion” days of the 1990s, on the stage of the short-lived (and long-gone) Red Bank comedy club The Laughing Bean.

Picking things up again in the new century, a comedy training class with veteran funnyman Joe Matarese led to a “graduation” set at New Brunswick’s Stress Factory  in 2009 — whereupon the aspiring performer discovered, much to his chagrin, that paid and/or open mic opportunities for comics were by that point few to nonexistent in the Jersey Shore area.

The solution, as is so often the case, was to become his own booking guy, create his own series of comedy showcase events, and get together with a suitably sized venue in which the series could find friendly harbor — in this case the ever-popular public house on Monmouth where, Covert asserts, “I paid for half the renovations they did, with all the drinking I’ve done there over the years.”

“Actually, I have to stay sober — it’s my equipment,” laughs Covert, who “built the stage, bought the P.A., made it happen.”

Originally slotted for Thursday nights, Covert’s Jersey Jokers Open Mic events gained sufficient momentum to make the leap to the first and third Friday of each month — with the newly minted impresario becoming quickly inundated with requests for stage time by hundreds of ha-ha hopefuls.

“Most of the people who perform in the Open Mics are really good but, let’s face it, some of them suck,” Covert states. “I wanted to create  a different sort of event, for the better comics that I wanted to give a shot to.”

The result was the introduction of Comedy Night Live, the latest edition of which takes place this Friday night from 8:30pm. Featured on the dance card are Garden State guffaw-makers Justin Flanagan (Sayreville), Matt Jenkins (Ewing) and John Gilbreath (an active duty Navy man stationed at Earle) — and headlining the program is Kevin Israel, by day a staffer in the Red Bank office of State Senator Jennifer Beck.

“I saw (Israel) at a couple of the Open Mics, and he cracked me up,” says Covert, who acts as emcee for the evening — and whose own comedy comfort zone trends unabashedly toward the “dirty” side of the aisle (although he’s quick to express the opinion that Bob Saget “really overdoes it with the fuck this, fuck that”).

The burgeoning interest in Covert’s operation (hot-topic standup Liz Russo drove into Red Bank from Easton, PA to do a bit o’ Dub) has led as well to the emergence of the first annual Jersey Shore ComedyFest — an interconnected round of laugh events that unfolds in the nights following Labor Day weekend.

Produced by Craig Mahoney (the man behind a well-received standup series at Jack’s Rib & Ale House in Long Branch), the Fest sets sail at the Dublin House on Wednesday, September 7, and continues through September 10 at venues in Red Bank, Long Branch (Jack’s, Charley’s), Asbury Park (Aqua, Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel) and possibly Belmar. Promised marquee names include Matarese as well as the standup spouses Rich Vos and Bonnie McFarlane (both vets of TV’s Last Comic Standing), and updates should soon be appearing right here.

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