A budding comic feels good making friends chuckle in the basement, but nothing compares to trying to make a group of paying customers you don't know laugh in a professional comedy club.

Jason Cooper, 30, of Mays Landing, found this out when he won the chance to be the opening comic April 19 at The Comedy Stop Cafe & Cabaret in The Quarter at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City. Cooper was crowned the area's No. 1 Fool during a comedy contest earlier this month where he beat out 11 other comics and earned himself $300.

Cooper faced a tough crowd when opening at the Comedy Stop, but did manage to earn enough laughs to leave the stage satisfied with his performance.

"I think it went well. ... I could have been better. The audience was good. It was one of my best performances," said Cooper, a pharmacist, following his 10-minute set in front of dozens of patrons.

Silence greeted some of Cooper's routine, but he hit the crowd with his strongest material, including jokes about the "Jersey Shore" reality show and Blockbuster video stores.

Cooper has been doing standup for only eight months, but he's always been a fan. It was something he always wanted to pursue.

Entering the comedy contest seemed a quick way to make some of his goals a reality.

"It was an opportunity to get on stage and the possibility of a prize, or some sort of recognition. It was a no brainer," said Cooper, who has always prided himself for trying new things. "That's what I'm doing right now. This was a stepping stone to get even better."

Even though Cooper has only been at it a short time, he already hosts a monthly comedy show at The Rail in the Richland section of Buena Vista township. He books 10 comedians and a band for each show. The Rail is a bar where about half of the people are not facing the stage, and there is a lot of commotion during his comedy shows, Cooper said.

At the Comedy Stop, everybody was there to watch what was happening on stage.

"It makes a big difference. It makes it easier," Cooper said.

Cooper performed eight minutes of standup on a Monday night in The Comedy Stop in front of a panel of judges and a paying audience when he won the contest. He said he had a great time, and the crowd loved what he said.

"I was on fire. I was feeding off them. They were feeding off me," Cooper said.

Comedy Stop producer Bob Kephart brought back the amateur comedy contest for the club's 30th anniversary. Kephart said he used to do something called the Comedy Showdown from 1985 to 1991. Drew Carey and Ray Romano both participated in that contest, Kephart said. Kephart said he will have a 30th anniversary celebration at his club in August with a name comedian. He enjoyed his latest contest.

"It was worth doing. It brought me back to my roots a little bit," said Kephart, who added Cooper is as balanced as anyone can be at this stage of their career. "I have been pressured by local kids to have them try it (standup). It's a real job. It's real difficult."

Contact Vincent Jackson:

609-272-7202; VJackson@pressofac.com