Cary isn't exactly a funny town. The Cary Theater welcomes visiting road comics for its monthly comedy nights, but that's about it. Still, Triangle funnyman "Mello" Mike Miller remains hopeful that a comedy scene can sprout there. In fact, he's working on sprouting it.
There are two reasons to head over to Mac's Tavern. First, they serve reasonably priced sliders, which can be cheeseburger, pork, fish or chicken. Trust me, get the fish. They fry up breaded fillets, toast the bread and give you this tangy tartar sauce on the side. That shit is delicious, son!
Also, every other Wednesday there is an open-mic comedy night (the next one is Sept. 16) on the tavern's spacious patio, where a dozen or more Triangle-based comics test out material for the crowd.
You might see local professionals such as Rusty Haynes, Joe Perrow or Ryan Higgins working on new jokes. You might see up-and-comers who spend most of their stage time dealing with personal issues. You might even see newbies who have never performed in front of an audience, and who crush it.
One recent night, a lady from Texas got onstage and visualized how she's constantly being screwed over by bending down and getting on all fours—or, as she called it, "presuming the position." (The crowd was in hysterics.)
This is all thanks to Miller, who has been hosting and overseeing the two-month-old comedy night at Mac's. Staffers felt that the lanky, laid-back Miller, a regular customer, needed to launch a regular open-mic at their spot.
"People have been asking for it for a long time," says Miller, 43, sipping a gin and tonic at a downtown Raleigh bar. "So I figured it was probably a good time to start it."
As a 13-year stand-up veteran, the Virginia-born Miller is one of the most respected comedians in the community. For nearly 25 years, the self-described "black hippie" made Cary his home, though he moved to Raleigh three months ago. He still has his day job at Bunkey's Car Wash in Cary. He also lived in Los Angeles for a year, hitting all the clubs there. But lack of funds and an ailing mother brought him back to the Triangle.
Nevertheless, he's managed to win over visiting big-name comedians when he's been called to open for them. Before his unfortunate car accident last year, Tracy Morgan was so impressed by Miller that he took him on the road to open for him and punch up some of Morgan's material.
"He liked my stuff," Miller remembers. "He wanted to buy a joke off of me. I thought he was playing, but he really did."
It looks like Morgan is ready to do comedy again (he will return to SNL as a host next month), and Miller wouldn't mind going along for the ride. "If he wants me back after he gets back on the road, I'll be happy to do it," he says. "If not, then I'm still doing my own thing."
Miller appears to enjoy his role as an elder statesman of the Triangle comedy scene and providing his favorite watering hole as a venue for fellow comics.
"I like the environment," he says of Mac's. "When I started, I used to do [Raleigh piano bar] Rum Runners, which was terrible for comedy. People would come in requesting songs because they're waiting on the dueling pianists. But I think places like that, places that make it hard for comedy, make the comic better."
Having tested their skills in less favorable comedy spots, comedians can really shine in a place like Mac's, with a host like Miller.
"I'm just glad [Mac's] is there for the guys to have something else to work on, to have another place," Miller says.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A stand-up fello"