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They’re doing variety shows at Zola now. Is Spokane ready? (Are the performers?)

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Lance Paullin stands next to the small stage at Zola, looking a little worried despite having done this stand-up comedy thing for five years now.

“Yeah … I’m about to go on,” he says, quietly with a smile. But as he rubs his eyes, the smile disappears from his face, which once again resumes the worried expression. Then he steps up.

After a shuffle to the front of the stage, Paullin stands poised in front of his audience, red plaid shirt tucked into belted jeans, classic black Vans neatly laced, a gravity-defying cowlick lit up in the red stage lights. He begins to fidget with his microphone stand but the middle part — the part he’s trying to twist loose — is stuck.

“This thing’s tighter than my sister,” he utters. Half the crowd laughs. The other half seemed to be mulling over whether or not they had just heard an incest joke. They had.

“If you’re feeling awkward and uncomfortable, I’m doing my job,” Paullin says.

This is the second show of New Taste Tuesdays, a weekly variety show in the making. Co-organized by Paullin and local booker Patrick Kendrick, the show aims to highlight several local scenes at once, tapping into both comedy and music, with the intent to branch out into more diverse acts later on.

On this particular Tuesday, Paullin shares the stage with two other comedians, Andrew Ouellette and Harry J. Riley. The comedy is sandwiched between two sets by local band the Flying Spiders.

Paullin and Kendrick know their idea is still in beta testing. It’s a young show that Kendrick says is “still in the rehearsal mode.” Juggling this many people — the comedians, the massive band — is bound to have complications. And, on this second go-around, it shows.

The line-up begins late because of some start-time confusion. After a brief introduction and the first set by the Flying Spiders, comedian Andrew Ouellette takes the stage. But his comedy has to compete with the noise from the bar area, and the Tuesday night regulars aren’t used to having to be quiet.

Ouellette begins confidently, but he seems to waver as his set wears on — especially when a man in the balcony begins to heckle him. Ouellette seems to be losing the audience, but then he shoots back.

“Do you know where Idaho is?” Ouellette asks the man in the balcony.

“Yeah.” “Can you find it on a map?” “Yeah.” “Go there,” he says. And the audience erupts. Paullin, who goes on next, pairs risqué material with timid delivery. The audience sometimes laughs at his jokes and sometimes doesn’t, but he seems to sell his comedy to them — regardless of whether they liked his jokes — by showing what he calls a “funny weakness.” In other words, he is open about his struggle onstage.

There are plenty of awkward moments — shuffling between acts, the bar noise — but these are relatively minor issues. Making people receptive to the variety show format, on the other hand, is a whole other challenge.

“I want people to just be super-excited to see what’s going on each week,” Paullin says. “We want to keep people on the edges of their seats if they’re sitting down, and the edge of a cliff if they’re standing up.”

New Taste Tuesdays • Tuesdays at 8:30 pm • ZOLA • 22 W. Main Ave. • 624-2416 • zolaspokane.com

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