CONCORD -- It's like a plot in the movies: Girl from the Midwest comes to California to chase her dreams of making it big on stage.
Yes, Kathy McCarty did come from a theater background, but when she moved west it wasn't because she got a part in TV sitcom -- it was for love.
But she found so much more. While McCarty and the object of her affection stayed friends, she soon embraced a new love -- stand-up comedy -- one she first fell for back in Chicago. While she may not have gotten her "dream job" immediately, McCarty worked as a bartender at Vinnie's (formerly Hobie's) in downtown Concord. It was a job, she said, that prepared her for the comedic life.
"I came from a very sheltered background," said McCarty. "But bartending helped my comedy writing a lot because I talked to real people. The best way to get a message across is to make people laugh."
Years later, McCarty is back at Vinnie's Bar & Grill, this time producing once-a-month stand-up comedy shows featuring Bay Area comics. Amid other comedy shows that have sprung up at nearby businesses such as Tower Grill and E.J. Phair Brewing Co., McCarty said she hopes to bolster the comedy scene in downtown Concord even more.
While the performers hail from the Bay Area, some have been former students of hers from College Park High School in Pleasant Hill, where she taught drama. The comics have performed across the Bay Area at venues such as Cobb's and Tommy T's.
"They are all really enthusiastic, very strong young performers and very, very funny," said McCarty, who now teaches in the drama department at Contra Costa College.
During her time at College Park, McCarty taught stand-up in class.
"I knew comedy, for me, had been the best confidence booster in my life," said the Concord resident.
She said she understands how, for some, it's not easy to stand in front of an audience and speak into a microphone.
"But what I saw was miraculous," McCarty said. "People who were shy -- it was awesome to see them gain confidence."
Some people have a natural talent for making people laugh, she said.
Arthur Ballesteros, one of McCarty's former College Park students, remembers doing stand-up comedy in high school.
"Humor came naturally to me, being the class clown," he said. "I remember hearing people say, 'Arthur can't stop entertaining the class,' since kindergarten."
While he focused on performing hip-hop and acting for awhile, Ballesteros said performing on stage, whether it's music or theater helped him transition back to stand-up, where he's been making the rounds at various comedy clubs.
"A lot of it is very personal," Ballesteros said of his comedic themes.
He's also been hosting a show through FCC Free Radio San Francisco. Ballesteros, a Pittsburg resident, said he's always considered McCarty to be a mentor and glad she's still helping others make their comedic dreams come true.
Thanks to her, Concord may someday be a destination for comedy, he said.
"It's cool to see San Francisco comedians coming out to Concord and bringing a wave of talent that wouldn't otherwise be available," he said.
Matt Rath of Pleasant Hill said he's enjoyed comedy since childhood. As best man at his brother's wedding, Rath said his humorous speech amused guests.
"I loved making people laugh," Rath said. "People thought I should do stand-up."
Rath, who's a member of various improv companies, said comedy isn't just a hobby -- he plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue a comedic career, whether it's performing or writing, or both.
He believes that stand-up is a certain skill that needs to be practiced continuously. While Vinnie's isn't a comedy club, it's a great place for a comic to become even better at comedy.
"You've got to read the crowd," Rath said. "No one can teach you how to be funny. I'm a comedy nerd. Professional comedians will tell you, 'Perform as much as you can until it's second nature."
WHAT: Stand-up comedy at Vinnie's
WHEN: Oct. 14, Nov. 11, Dec. 9, after Monday Night Football
WHERE: Vinnie's Bar and Grill, 2045 Mt. Diablo St., Concord