Out, Out, Brief Butt

Janis Reid

Jerry the bartender is holding the smallest coffin I've ever seen. Cradled in the hands of this gum-chewing, bouncer-sized fellow with a gold pinky ring, the black wooden casket looks even sadder than a full-size one. Like that of a beloved pet. And maybe it is, sort of. Jerry works the room for a minute and returns somberly to place a white and brown cigarette inside the box's red, velvet interior.

The tiny coffin, he explains, will be the centerpiece of a wake this coming Saturday featuring local comics the Intellectual Delinquents. From 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Jerry Ayers and his four fellow pallbearers will receive mourners for "The Life and Times of a Cigarette." The impromptu funeral home will be Stasiu's, a northeast Minneapolis mainstay for barflies. It's exactly the type of mom-and-pop haunt that many fear will lose business to the suburbs after March 30, when Minneapolis's smoking ban for bars and nightclubs goes into effect.

Jerry, who has stood behind the bar at Stasiu's for 10 years, calls the ban "absolute bullshit." He and his comic friends concede smoking is not the healthiest pastime, yet they still believe local politicians are encroaching on their personal rights.

"The next thing they're going to ban is everything but the missionary position, and no one is going to tell me how I can or cannot hump," says Tommy Thompson, whose usual act involves channeling a disgruntled lunch lady. His brother Shannon Thompson, who identifies himself as "really more of a chew guy," holds a fuming butt in solidarity. "They are literally taking our rights from between our fingers," he proclaims.

At its core, what the comics will be doing during "The Life and Times of a Cigarette" is what they love to do: bitch and moan and grandstand. By their nature and their profession, these guys are resistant to changing mores--especially the kind initiated by politicians they didn't vote for. In this case, they seem to be willing to do anything to get that point across--even if it's not that funny.

Balling his hand into a fist, lanky straight man Benny Quash cries, "It's smoke-sation without representation! You don't see this stuff going down in Wisconsin. How would we get a good smoked cheddar?"

You really going on the record with that?

Quash smiles, nodding slowly while exhaling a whisper of smoke.


"THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE CIGARETTE" will be open to mourners 8:00 p.m. SATURDAY, MARCH 26 at STASIU'S, 2500 University Ave. NE in Minneapolis; 612.788.2529.

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