All posts by ninagcomedian

Nina G was the only woman who stuttered in the stand-up comedy world when she started nine years ago. She co-produces the Comedians with Disabilities Act, a national touring comedy show featuring exclusively comedians with disabilities. She also produces the first compilation album to feature Disabled Comedy Only. Nina's brand of comedy reflects the experiences of many with disabilities. She tours the country as a conference keynote speaker including at a TEDx talk at San Jose State University. She lives in Oakland and performs all over the country and weekly in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her book Stutterer Interrupted: The Comedian Who Almost Didn't Happen debuted August 2019. Nina G bills herself as “The San Francisco Bay Area’s Only Female Stuttering Comedian.” On stage, she encounters the occasional heckler, but off stage she is often confronted with people’s comments toward her stuttering; listeners completing her sentences, inquiring, “Did you forget your name?” and giving unwanted advice like “slow down and breathe” are common. (As if she never thought about slowing down and breathing in her over thirty years of stuttering!) When Nina started comedy nearly ten years ago, she was the only woman in the world of stand-up who stuttered―not a surprise, since men outnumber women four to one amongst those who stutter and comedy is a male-dominated profession. Nina’s brand of comedy reflects the experience of many people with disabilities in that the problem with disability isn’t in the person with it but in a society that isn’t always accessible or inclusive. Reviews of Stutterer Interrupted: “An edgy, thought-provoking, and informative insider’s view of a frequently misunderstood disability.”―Kirkus Reviews “Whip-smart, bighearted, and laugh-out-loud funny. Stutterer Interrupted is a must-read for anyone who cares about building a more equitable and inclusive world.” ―Jonathan Mooney, author of Normal Sucks and Learning Outside the Lines “‘How can some pauses and a few extra syllables take control of a person’s life?’ Nina G tackles this question with a style that is both deliciously profane and skin-wide-open self-revealing. Stutterer Interrupted speaks to the successful lives we can build if we embrace our idiosyncrasies and help others do the same, rather than seeing ourselves as broken and needing repair. ―Barry Yeoman, freelance magazine and radio journalist

The Comedy Time Capsule: Documenting Comedy Through COVID-19

On Sunday March 15, 2020 Alameda County in California began to phase in a quarantine by ordering all bars and restaurants to close by 9:00 that night. LuckiIy was able to squeeze in one more show that was booked in the early evening at a brewery in Fremont. A little over one week earlier I purchased a journal where I was going to record and reflect on every set I would have in 2020 in an attempt to be more intentional about my comedy and focus on becoming better. A couple weeks earlier I had just celebrated my tenth year in stand up comedy and my memoir, Stutterer Interrupted: The Comedian Who Almost Didn’t Happen, came out in 2019. With this behind me my goal was to focus on comedy. On the cover of the pink journal that was embossed with “2020/2021” I wrote in a black bold sharpie “365 Reasons To Quit Comedy.” After a decade in comedy and as a life long fan of stand up, I know that every time you are on stage there is something that can happen in yourself or in the audience to make you want to flee. Most people would, but if you love comedy it is like you have the opposite of learned helplessness – you fail yet still persist and you don’t always know why.  My plan was to document each time I went up and every show I attended as an audience member.

My first entry in the book was Tuesday March 3 when I attended the album release for Larry “Bubbles” Brown at the Throckmorton in Mill Valley. That first week I would question why I hated certain open mics, how my new “long vagina” jokes worked with an all female audience and observed that I could make the audience call-and-respond to my new “gluten free communion joke.” All in all it was a successful week of comedy.  My Uncle Fred’s funeral was also that week as he had passed away in the hospital the week before surrounded by his family. The funeral was held at the church with family, friends and the Italian Catholic Federation all in attendance.  Although my dad was there, my mom wasn’t. She has all kinds of lung issues and was recently diagnosed with squamous lung cancer. Although she does not have many symptoms of cancer, we all thought it was better that she stay at home so that she didn’t catch this new sickness that was going around. Naturally after the service, we all left the church to celebrate his life at my aunt’s favorite restaurant. Who knew that Uncle Fred’s timing was so perfect. He was able to have his family at his bedside and full service (which he would have loved), something that might not have happened a week or two later.

The week of March 8 (Sunday) I went to a few mics but there were warnings about holding events. Shows started to get cancelled.  Upon getting on stage I would bring wipes and wipe down the mic before doing my set. The Blue Lagoon in Santa Cruz had already thought of this and sanitized the mic between each comedian on March 12 when I performed. That week at the Punch Line in Sacramento, one of my favorite all time comedians, Emo Philips, was performing. Knowing that this might be my last chance to see live comedy that didn’t involve me, I traveled the 200 miles round trip to see what would be my last club show. I have been a fan of Emo since I was in middle school. The first fan letter I ever wrote was to him and I still have the autograph picture along with multiple phone camera photos from previous shows. That night in my journal I wrote a couple favorite jokes that he had including this one:

“Me and the other two comics are like the 3 Muskateers..because we prosecute French Prostitutes.”

I also remarked in the entry that Emo did not greet his fans as he normally did. He said that he could not because he is 64 and in that age group who had to be careful of the Corona virus. Although he added he wasn’t “heat wave old.” I stayed for both shows and messaged Emo on Twitter that I appreciated him coming and how funny he was.

Then the next day that was it. I did my set in front of 15 or so people at a brewery and then after less than 10 times on stage to enter in my journal I am forced to quit comedy. When I wrote this, it is May 23 and my journal that I vowed to write after every set is bare.

What has been happening since the quarantine….

Once the quarantine started I attempted to quickly regroup. My intention with the journal was to continue to improve myself as an artist of stand up comedy. Without a live audience I doubted that this could happen but I looked at other avenues. Since then I have done a few open mics and showcases online and started a “show and tell” style show with my co-host and friend Mean Dave. All of it made me wonder where comedy was going for myself and the United States. As I broadened my perspective, I saw that people from all over the world were all experiencing the same phenomenon…fear of disease and dealing with the isolation of a quarantine. I started doing research on how humor was changed after other pandemics but could not easily find research on the topic.

Stand up comedy is in its infancy when compared to other art forms (maybe even in it embryonic stages!). There are paintings on walls that date back before Christ but what about a person on a stage telling jokes as an art form? Some might say court jesters or vaudeville could be the origins, but as far as I am concerned stand up comedy didn’t start until the late 1950s/1960s with comedians like Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory. They changed how comedy was delivered and received. And since the birth of modern stand up comedy, we have not had a pandemic that impacted the general population. As a life long comedy nerd I saw a need (and an obsession) to document what was happening.

That is how I came up with the Comedy Time Capsule where I interview comedians about their experiences pre-COVID, during COVID and what changes they predict will happen. Collecting their oral histories has been fascinating for me. Some of the questions have included:

•Can you do stand up comedy on Zoom and other internet platforms?  Do you need a live audience?

•How do you know you are doing well if you are doing an online show?

•How will our profession and art form change once we are able to do live comedy in person again?

•Will the sensibilities of humor change because we are collectively facing more fears of sickeness, actual sickness, death and interruptions of the traditional grieving process (due to lack of death rituals)? Will our humor get darker?

•What has the impact of the quarantine been on creativity?

•For newbies, what is it like to have your first year of comedy hijacked by a pandemic?

As I have been interviewing comedians, their own personal histories come to the foreground and COVID and the quarantine seem to play a less significant role. Everyone has a story and the Comedy Time Capsule is capturing exactly this.

I am up to over 1000 minutes of interviews at the time I write this and plan to document this experience until I can go out night after night telling jokes at dive bars, comedy clubs, colleges and whoever else will have me. I long to get onto a stage. I miss being around smart, funny and often strange people who occupy the stand up comedy world. Until then I am grateful that they lend me their stories.

All interviews will be posted at http://www.ComedyTimeCapsule.com.  “Virtual Tips” are greatly appreciate to support the captioning and editing of videos on Venom: @NinaGcomedian (look for the Doggie Diner head)!

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Comedians Show ‘n Tell (May 7)

Join hosts Nina G and Mean Dave on Thursday, May 7 at 7:00pm/19:00 (PST) for Comedians Show ‘N Tell! Nina will be joined by Serena Gamboa, Jon Ott and Anthony who will show and tell about something they have in their house that is special to them. The panel will then ask them questions about their item. SUPER FUN WAY TO SPEND A THURSDAY NIGHT!
https://us04web.zoom.us/j/6288449545
Warning Adults Content and Language!!!

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Comedians with Disabilities Show ‘n Tell

Join hosts Nina G and Mean Dave on Thursday, April 30 at 7:00pm/19:00 (PST) for Comedians Show ‘N Tell! Nina will be joined by Michael Beers, Coral Best, Jade Theriault and Mike Bucci who will show and tell about something they have in their house that is special to them. The panel will then ask them questions about their item. SUPER FUN WAY TO SPEND A THURSDAY NIGHT!
https://us04web.zoom.us/j/6288449545
Warning Adults Content and Language!!!

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Stuttering Show ‘n Tell to Benefit AIS!

Join Nina G on Thursday, April 23 at 5:00pm/17:00 (PST) for Comedians Show ‘N Tell! Nina will be joined by Kristel Kubart, Marc Winski, and Gina Davis and special co-host, comedian, Mean Dave who will show and tell about something they have in their house that is special to them. The panel and guests will then ask them questions about their item.  Come hang out with us!
You must register for the show at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMscO2tpz8iEteQ5g7kqBWPN8eB3ZxC7-9V

During the Show and Tell the audience will have an opportunity to donate to the American Institute for Stuttering to raise money for online speech therapy.

From the AIS website:

AIS was founded in 1998 by Catherine Otto Montgomery, a talented and much-loved speech-language-pathologist who worked with people who stutter for over 30 years. Aware of the great need for universally affordable treatment options, specialized professional training, and increased public education about stuttering, Catherine transformed her private practice into a non-profit center dedicated to meeting these needs.

As a therapist, Catherine promoted the use of integrated treatment protocols that address both the overt symptoms of stuttering as well as the underlying emotional and cognitive components. She developed an intensive therapy program that addressed stuttering holistically, recognizing the complex nature of the disorder.

Early on, AIS became a powerful voice in Washington, calling for an increase in government support for stuttering research. AIS was instrumental in successfully persuading Congress to introduce groundbreaking legislation, and a State of the Science Conference on Stuttering followed. As a result, the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders launched targeted research initiative on stuttering.

AIS remains dedicated to carrying on the legacy of its founder, striving everyday to help people who stutter to “Speak Freely, and Live Fearlessly.”

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Comedians Show ‘n Tell on April 16, 2020

Join Nina G on Thursday, April 16 at 7:00pm/19:00 (PST) for Comedians Show ‘N Tell! Nina will be joined by Alyssa Westerlund (Clusterfest-San Francisco), Inoch Ino (Oakland Storytelling Show), and Iris Benson (DNA’s Comedy Lab-Santa Cruz) and special co-host Mean Dave (San Francisco, Punch Line)who will show and tell about something they have in their house that is special to them. The panel and guests will then ask them questions about their item.
https://us04web.zoom.us/j/6288449545
Warning Adults Content and Language!!!

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Comedians Show ‘N Tell with Nina G

Join Nina G on Thursday, April 9 at 7:00pm/19:00 (PST) for Comedians Show ‘N Tell! Nina will be joined by Chris Storin, Rudy Ortiz, Sean McKenzie and special co-host Mean Dave
who will show and tell about something they have in their house that is special to them. The panel and guests will then ask them questions about their item.
Warning Adults Content and Language!!!

It is going to be so fun!

Log onto to Zoom at: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/6288449545

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Nina G Connects with Comedians! Live Zoom 3/26 at 7pm (PST)

Link: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/6288449545

In her inaugural debut, Nina G spends time with comedian Michael Beers from Missoula, Montana and Mean Dave from Union City, California. Join the Zoom link for an intimate and funny hour of comedy where talk about everything from growing up with a disability, 12 step recovery and pop culture. The Zoom link is open to all who would like to join. Just keep in mind it is 7pm Pacific Standard Time. Set your watches accordingly!

POSSIBLE ADULT CONTENT AND LANGUAGE

Michael Beers is a comedian and Disability advocate living in Missoula, Montana. Michael is a favorite headliner and keynote speaker for conferences and colleges across the country. He won the Norman G. Brooks comedy competition at the Hollywood Improv in 2005 and was the winner of the 2003 Brickwall amateur comedy competition in Spokane, WA. With his roots in activism and storytelling, Michael seamlessly weaves his perspective into stand-up comedy to educate audiences about diversity and disability.

Mean Dave is a comedian from the San Francisco Bay Area with a rock and roll style for any occasion or function. With a wild, intelligent approach to material about modern day life, Mean Dave has performed regularly at the San Francisco & Sacramento Punch Line, Cobb’s Comedy Club, and Rooster T. Feathers in Sunnyvale. As someone in active 12-step recovery, Dave helps audiences to break the stigma of drug and alcohol addiction. Through his work in The Comedians with Disabilities Act, he teaches audiences how being in recovery qualifies him for the ADA while also continuing to be an ally to the greater Disability community.18118787_10212488702237560_7355787328751610753_n

Something to Consider on International Stuttering Awareness Day…

It’s that time of year again! That’s right, October 22nd is International Stuttering Awareness Day! As a person who stutters, 10/22 represents something very near and dear to my heart. In my career as an author, comedian, and educator, spreading awareness is the common theme that drives all my work. But what does “awareness” really mean? Most people are “aware” of stuttering: they know what it is; they know that it exists. But beyond that? How stuttering affects our lives, how it affects the way we interact with other people—the really important stuff—those things rarely enter into the mainstream discussion. So, in honor of International Stuttering Awareness Day, I thought I’d make a quick list of things I think we should all be aware of. I encourage other people who stutter to add to this list in the comments, sharing some of your experiences. I certainly don’t speak for all of us!

1. Beware Completing People’s Sentences

The name of my new book (shameless plug) is Stutterer Interrupted. Why did I pick that title? Yeah, it’s a reference to the Wynona Ryder thing, but, more importantly, it’s a reference to the fact that we are always being interrupted! It typically goes something like this:

ME:
“I would like p-p-p–”

OTHER PERSON:
“Pumpernickel? Pizza? Pasta?”

Like the picture says, “I stutter! You’re gonna have to wait for all my brilliant ideas.” Having someone guess my next word makes things uncomfortable, which makes it harder for me to communicate. Plus, their guesses are almost always wrong! Things will go smoother if the listener just waits for the person stuttering to complete their thought. We love attentive listeners!

2. Beware Unwanted Advice (on Stuttering)

Unless I’m asking for it—or better yet, paying for it—I don’t want any tips on how to “improve” my speech. I’ve gotten unsolicited recommendations for “miracle cures” that range from homeopathic remedies to sexual acts to divine interventions. And let’s not forget that timeless classic, “just slow down and breathe.” Usually, the advice-giver’s credentials consist of “my third cousin once-removed stutters… or wait, was it Tourette’s?” Occasionally, they turn out to be an actual medical practitioner or speech therapist, but that doesn’t make it any less inappropriate. There is a time and place. And that time and place is probably not at a wedding where the person who stutters is supposed to be having fun!

3. We Don’t Need to Be Fixed

That’s right! It is up to every individual to decide how they want to speak. Some people may choose to engage in therapy to manage their stuttering. Others may not. It’s a personal choice. I personally don’t feel the need to be fluent (i.e., able to speak without stuttering). My speech patterns are a part of who I am, resulting from a difference in my brain (or neurodiversity, as many of us call it). There are many types of people, which means many types of communicating.  A person who stutters can communicate with the same clarity and effectiveness as anyone else. We just happen to have a less common way of doing it. Which brings me to my next point…

4. We Are Part of the One Percent (Not That One, the Other One)!

People who stutter make up only 1% of the adult population. Incredibly, only one fourth of that one percent are women! That’s why I refer to myself and my stuttering sisters as unicorns… because we are rare and elusive things of beauty! There are downsides to being a mythical creature though. Since we account for such a small part of the population, we don’t get a lot of representation in mainstream culture. You have to scour the ends of the Earth just to find a good stuttering role model on TV. If a person who stutters does appear in popular media, they are usually depicted in a gimmicky way that isn’t really empowering. That lady on Oprah who “cured” her stutter by wearing headphones for five minutes? Sorry, that doesn’t really do it for me. Growing up in the 1980s, the closest thing I had to a role model was a cartoon pig who didn’t wear pants. Yeah, I wish that was a joke. One of the best ways to spread awareness is through honest representation in the media… so let’s have more of that, eh?

5. There Is a Stamily Out There

Because people who stutter are few and far between, it’s an extra-special kind of awesome when we run into each other out there in the world. Sometimes it’s almost like finding long lost family, or “Stamily” as many of us call it. Growing up, I always felt like I was alone. I never knew there was such thing as a stuttering community. When I finally discovered that community, it changed the trajectory of my entire life. I was no longer alone. I suddenly had role models. I realized I could do anything, even be a stand-up comedian. I just wish someone had made me aware of it sooner… so you better believe I’m going to talk about it for Stuttering Awareness Day! There are so many amazing organizations around the world that support and bring together people who stutter: The National Stuttering Association (US), The British Stammering Association, The Indian Stammering Association, just to name a few. The International Stuttering Association even hosts an online conference in October, in honor of International Stuttering Awareness Day (check it out HERE). Many organizations also hold conferences and conventions that you can attend in person. I am not exaggerating when I say that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without these conferences. To be surrounded by nothing but Stamily for five days is simply mind-blowing—there’s no other way to describe it.

For a partial list of stuttering/stammering organizations all over the world, please find it HERE.

For T-shirts that say “I stutter! You are going to have to wait for all my brilliant ideas!” at: https://arkansas-tees.com/products/nina-g-stutterer-interrupted-brilliant-ideas-t-shirt

Thank you for reading this! And for celebrating International Stuttering Awareness Day! ❤

Photo and ballonery by Michael James Schneider

The Brainwash Years (A Lot of Love)

April 1, 2019 would have been the 20th anniversary of the Brainwash’s Thursday night open mic.  It was a mainstay in Bay Area Comedy until the Cafe, Laundromat and performance space closed for good.  In my upcoming book Stutterer Interrupted: The Comedian Who Almost Didn’t Happen I have a whole chapter dedicated to the Brainwash and what it meant to me.  This blog is dedicated to the Brainwash and an excerpt from that chapter.  

The Brainwash Years (A Lot of Love)

Comparing the Brainwash Café and Laundromat open mic to a church might sound like a bit of a leap, but it’s a short leap. Both serve as communal spaces. Actually, the Brainwash served as three communal spaces: laundromat, café, and open mic. The holy trinity! You had washing machines in one room and a café/performance space in the other. You could get a beer and watch stand-up while waiting for your clothes to dry. A genius business model if there ever was one. Throughout the day the drifters/yuppies/techies/druggies/hippies/rockers/skaters would come to eat, read, work on their laptops, hog the single-stall bathrooms, loiter, drink the free water, and do a million other things I probably don’t want to know about. In a city increasingly shaped by economic barriers, the Brainwash offered the rarest example of a complete cross-section. You could sit at a table with techies pitching start-ups to your left and skater bros scoring drugs to your right. Around three o’clock, the early-bird comedians would start rolling in. You could tell them apart from the ordinary patrons (civilians) if you knew what clues to look for. They carried notebooks. They rarely bought anything. They always crowded around the same two tables outside, passing around a joint and running jokes by each other. Between five and six, they would start lining up at the back door to get a good spot on the sign-up sheet.

The Brainwash had a mic going two or three nights a week, but Thursday was the big one—the Sunday service, if you will. Thursday nights were hosted by Tony Sparks, AKA the Godfather of San Francisco Comedy. He was the pastor of this degenerate church, leading the crowd through another evening mass. I had seen Tony on a show in Oakland fifteen years before I ever called myself a comedian, so I knew his legend long before I signed up for my first set at the Brainwash.

If it was your first time signing up, Tony would tell you to put a star next to your name. When it was your turn to perform, Tony would scream at the top of his lungs:

TONY:

Hey good humans! Your next comedian is new to the room, so what do we give them?!

AUDIENCE: 

A lot of love!

TONY: 

Say it louder!

AUDIENCE: 

A LOT OF LOVE!!!

TONY: 

That’s right! Everyone, I want you to lose your fucking minds for [insert frightened newcomer’s name here]!!!

On that cue, the gathered assortment of comedians, Google worker bees, and confused laundry patrons would erupt into applause—the loudest your average open mic performer would probably ever hear. The crowd’s enthusiasm would then gently diminish as they watched the first-time performer fumble through their badly-written material and realize that wow, this is actually hard! After five underwhelming minutes, Tony would get back on stage and act like he had just seen the greatest talent in the history of stand-up (then forget about them two seconds later and bring up the next act). Just like that, another congregant had been baptized into the church of SF comedy by Tony Sparks.

Just like church, the Brainwash had its own set of rituals and practices, which went something like this:

  • Don’t run the light
  • Bring your own pen when you sign up
  • Women sign up first
  • If you are not a woman, get there early
  • Don’t run the light
  • Expect a contact buzz when entering on the café side
  • Don’t come in late and expect Tony to put you up, unless you’ve been on TV
  • Expect comedians who have been on TV to show up late and jump ahead of you on the list
  • If you’re running the light, get the fuck off stage!

These were the customs we all observed. No matter how important you thought you were. No matter what was going on in your life. No matter your education or status. None of that mattered at the Brainwash. All that mattered was being funny and not running the light. 

The majority of my comedian friends are people I met at the Brainwash: my friend Heather, who first caught my attention with her bit about feeling guilty for going on a luxury cruise; my friend O.J., who documented the San Francisco comedy scene on his blog, Courting Comedy; my friend Jesse, who impressed everyone with his unusual brain; and, of course, Mean Dave.

The Brainwash was a place where you discovered friends. It was also a place where you discovered who wasn’t your friend. Unlike church, stand-up allows people with beef to openly rip on each other, on and off the stage. Sometimes a little teasing would dispel the tension. Other times it poured gas on the fire.

As I became more comfortable and established at the Brainwash, I no longer felt compelled to explain my stuttering at the beginning of every set. People knew who I was; I could jump right into my observations about something unrelated to disability and not worry about them fixating on my speech. I came to realize that open mics are for the comedians and not the audience. It’s our time to experiment, workshop ideas, and socialize. Sometimes we only have three minutes to try out all our new material—you think I’m going to waste two of those minutes on a generic disclaimer? It eventually got to the point where new comedians would come up to me and ask, “Have you ever thought about mentioning stuttering in your act?” Nope . . . never thought of that. Thanks for the tip! 

… (something about how I first met my husband at the Brainwash)…

On November 5th, 2016, Ethan and I were married at the Madonna Inn. My bridesmaids were my closest friends: Gina, Heather, Jody, and Mean Dave. Even though they are all talented writers, they elected Dave to give the bridesmaid speech. 

“I hate weddings,” he began, raising his glass to toast. “If you told me when I started stand-up comedy at the Brainwash that in six years I’d be a bridesmaid in a wedding, saying the wedding toast to two aspiring comedians from that very same open mic… I would have quit comedy right then and there.” 

The Brainwash wove our lives together in ways none of us could have predicted.

You might have noticed that I keep referring to the Brainwash in the past tense. Sadly, it was forced to shut down in December, 2017—another casualty of the changing culture and economics of San Francisco. The end came suddenly and without warning. One day some comedians showed up for the open mic and found locked doors instead. There was a letter from the owner taped to the window, listing the reasons that are always listed when another San Francisco landmark vanishes overnight. Bay Area comedians collectively lost their shit. Their brain pathways were wired to go to the Brainwash on Thursdays! Like Skinner rats pushing the disconnected food button they sulked in front of the empty building out of pure habit and faith. Others ranted and raged through social media, which is kind of ironic, seeing how the Brainwash was killed by dot-com-fueled development. The rest of us grieved quietly.

The Brainwash was our church. It was our community and home. The building might be demolished or converted into an upscale condo, but the things that happened there can never unhappen. Memories were made and lives were changed. Countless friendships exist because of the Brainwash. The careers of famous and unfamous comedians exist because of the Brainwash. This book exists because of the Brainwash.

Not bad for an open mic in a laundromat.

 

 

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Photo from the Brainwash Facebook page