Mark McDermott

Comedy Night at Pancho’s: Six years of jokes told beneath a dead shark

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Danno Carter presiding over Comedy Night at Pancho’s. Photo by Captain Mitch Cohen

by Mark McDermott

Danno Carter isn’t given to nostalgia, much less to a sense of larger perspective. But even Carter must admit he’s come a long ways since he founded Comedy Night at Pancho’s Restaurant six years ago.

He was a young pup back then, more than occasionally homeless, perfecting his couch surfing skills, comedic craft, and knowledge of local bars. In the last year, those three strands of his life together reached an apex: he’s found the perfect couch.

“I’m happily settled in with a lawyer girlfriend, which is really cool,” Carter said. “She has a great dog. Life is good. And I have Pancho’s to thank for it all.”

The weekly Monday night comedy show at Pancho’s Restaurant, which is hosted by Carter, has become a South Bay institution. It’s certainly the best entertainment value in the region: it’s free, and regularly some of the really up-and-coming comedians in the industry, many who have resumes that include Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Comedy Central and (in the case of Allie Wong and Dwayne Perkins) even their own Netflix specials. Monday night is a quiet night in LA and comedians need stage time, particularly if it comes in the presence of a dead shark; Carter, a comedian’s comedian, connects the dots. The fish-themed decor of the bar at Panchos, he said, is part of the attraction.

“They designed that room to be a fun place to be,” Carter said.

It’s also an unusual room for comedians in the degree to which the audience is a part of the show.

“Every single week Pancho’s has a side plot going on, more than most shows,” Carter said. “Comedians love performing there, but they really love the drama.”

“The highlight for me was one time when we had to kick out a drunk girl heckling and she was flicking me off as she walked out and fell down the stairs. That was amazing.”

Carter’s love life — or attempts thereof — has become a part of the Pancho’s show. When he finally won a date with the lawyer, who he’d had a crush on for more than a decade, the Pancho’s crew helped out.

“Everyone was like, ‘You are going to blow it, no way is it going to work out,’” he said. “So the bartender, Kat, kept a special tip jar for me…We raised $140 for me. I had to spend it all on one date.”

His date, naturally, was a pub crawl throughout the South Bay. He went to each spot beforehand and left a bouquet of flowers. As the couple visited each bar, Carter told the bartender to give his date anything she wanted but make sure it was “the Tiffany Special.” A bouquet would then appear.

“I don’t know where to go from here,” Carter said. “What am I going to do now?”

Love life taken care of, couch secured, Carter realized he’d also made it to a professional plateau a little while back when he encountered a couple in the middle of a loud, curse-filled fight on a Hermosa Beach street. The guy, just after slamming a car door and telling his girlfriend he’d just f’ing walk, noticed Carter on the sidewalk.

“Oh great,” he said. “Now this guy is going to talk about us at Pancho’s.”

“It’s the highlight of my career,” Cartner said. “…I’m just known as the Pancho’s guy wherever I go. And it’s fun. I think local fame is better than global fame.”

The Sixth Anniversary Comedy Night at Pancho’s (3615 Highland Ave.) starts at 9 p.m. March 18.

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