All manner of boats – from wooden canoes to plastic pedal boats – have floated across the surface of Echo Park Lake over the decades. But it’s probably safe to say that none have been guided by a gondolier and aspiring stand-up comic – until this summer.
New Jersey native Aaron Black moved to Los Angeles a year ago to kick start his career as a stand-up comedian. As he works to build a name for himself within Los Angeles’ open-mic circuit at night, he plays gondolier by day, rowing families and couples across Echo Park Lake.
Black started working on the dock at the Echo Park Lake Boathouse three months ago for Chaffin & Reeves, Inc., the company that was subcontracted by the city to operate recreational boats – including pedal boats and the gondola - after the lake reopened following a two-year clean up.
The gondola that Black steers would probably be considered a joke by those familiar with the sleek black gondolas of Venice. The Echo Park Lake gondola is a green and white outrigger canoe modified with a green canopy that shades a small bench. Artificial flowers dangle from a vase hanging overhead and the words “Echo Park” are printed along the railing.
Although Black is not your typical singing and serenading gondolier, his paddling experience as a commercial raft and kayak guide at the Kern River, near Bakersfield, and on the East Coast, has helped him get the job. “I’m typical in the sense that I’m a comedian that holds down whatever job in the day, one job that gives me ample time to do comedy at night,” Black said.
The Echo Park Lake gondola, which costs $50 a ride and $75 with reservation, does not get used much, perhaps only twice on weekends. While the gondola is far less popular than the pedal boats, Black said he can take up to two adults, or one adult and two small children, around the lake where they can take in the sprawling flowering wetlands and geyser-like fountain. Most of the passengers have tended to be families.
The 29-year-old Black, recently posted a YouTube video advertising himself as “The Awkward Gondolier” doling out love advice to potential riders. In the video he wears a striped shirt and a red scarf and suggests he can help fill those long awkward silences that can happen on dates with a “That’s what she said”. He plans to make other videos where he will take on different personas, “I can be like ‘The Heartbroken Gondolier.’ It will make a guy courting his hopeful partner, look even more attractive and cool.”
Black has been doing stand-up comedy for two years. He said he is “grinding” right now, hitting the open-mic scene at places like Flappers Comedy Club, Silverlake Lounge and the Hollywood Hotel. He recently created a show called Brew Ha Ha, which he said is part drinking game, part comedy show and takes place in his friend’s backyard in Silver Lake.
“When doing comedy, this early on I feel like I should just worry about getting good. I don’t know how things are going to happen yet. But in general, the goal is to make a living doing it,” Black said, “I want to be a working comic.”
For now, however, playing the role of Echo Park Lake gondolier helps pay the bills.
“Although not everybody is out here looking to get a taste of some stand-up comedy, if I feel that people are open to it and I see an opportunity, I’ll take it,” Black said.