Doug James is standing in the parking lot outside Molly Bloom's and is one drag away from finishing his Marlboro Red when a pretty, raven-haired girl looking like she's fresh from shooting a Noxzema commercial approaches him. She's got a Sharpie in her left hand and a folded flier in her right and says hello, giggling tipsily before asking, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Rip Taylor?" James laughs, a chortle that's equal parts joy—over being approached by a cute gal—and annoyance: yup, he's heard that one before.
In actuality, James looks more like a weathered Richard Branson—a.k.a. the "Rebel Billionaire" and Virgin mogul in chief—than a run-down Rip Taylor, but the girl probably doesn't care either way. All she wants is an autograph—"From Doug James or Rip Taylor?" James quips as she hands him the flier—and he obliges. Then it's back inside the pub for another round, a quick chat with the regulars and, finally, home. The week before, he'd flown in from New York, and just a few nights previous, he'd been in Ontario. Tomorrow night, he'll drive to Huntington Beach, but tonight, it's San Clemente. And home? Well, that word seems sort of relative at this point.
"I used to do comedy," James explains, which is puzzling for a minute, and then more so when he continues, "now I just do shows." What he means is that he used to do standup; now, he books it. His business card reads, "We go anywhere," and it's true: from pubs in Colton to Gallagher's in Huntington and down to Molly Bloom's—not to mention the occasional one-off cross-country zigzag—James keeps busy putting together three-act standup shows featuring comedians from Comedy Central, Letterman and more.
Busy—and successful. During a recent Wednesday-night show at Molly Bloom's, the restaurant was standing-room only, the tables packed from 9 p.m. onward with locals ranging in age from boozy, barely 21-year-olds to woozy, 50-and-then-some-year-olds. Few bars can generate that type of business on a regular hump day—even with specials like Bloom's $4 Irish car bombs and $3 kamikazes—let alone for a hump-day comedy show featuring mostly unknown acts.
But talking to James, you get the feeling he's seen enough comedy clubs fail to know how to make them work, and while his own standup career may have faltered, he still knows good comedy. Pairing young comedians such as recent Boston International Comedy and Movie Festival winner Sean Quinn with more seasoned ones who are in transition or working on new material, he creates a steady build of at least a few dozen yuks before presenting the headliner, often an accomplished comedian such as Steve Seagren, a husky, Scotch-guzzling comedian who's performed on numerous cable-TV showcases and absolutely killed at Molly Bloom's a few weeks back. Toss in a regular, weekly San Clemente-based comedian, the adorable and getting-better-by-the-week Peter Dautel—quite possibly James' secret ingredient, since most of the audience seemed to be his friends—and you have a night of live comedy that's very much worth the drive and far more entertaining than you'd expect, especially for a Rip Taylor production.
DOUG JAMES HOSTS THE ALL-STAR COMEDY SHOW AT MOLLY BLOOM'S, 2391 S. EL CAMINO REAL, SAN CLEMENTE, (949) 218-0120. EVERY WED., 9 P.M. FREE. 21+.