How I Spent My Summer Vacation
By Clark Stanton Peterson
Photos by Dan Dion
Hey, Let’s go see some comedy.
OK, we could go to the Other Café.
Wait. What was the first café? You can’t have one without the other.
The Other Café.
See, there you go again.
OK, forget it, we can go to the Zoo.
The zoo? I want to see a comedy show. Not a bunch of animals.
I saw Bobcat there.
Geesh. You’re getting out there. I want to see comedy and you’re talking about bobcats.
What about the Punchline?
How about the setup? You can’t have a punch line without a setup.
No, these are names of comedy clubs. Let’s just go to the Other.
Now you’re talking. Why didn’t you say so to begin with? Who’s on first?
Oh no, you’re not going to get me started on that old bit.
Palace of Fine Arts, Sept. 25, 2010. 7:35 pm. A benefit for KQED. Fade in. John Boland, a KQED suit, spoke for a few minutes to lead off the show. Then producer Bob Ayres spoke about the Other Café, the club he co-founded in 1977 in San Francisco. He and his partner Steve Zamek had started with mostly musical acts, but when the comedy boom hit, the club went virtually all comedy as Zamek left the club. Ayres intro’d his parents in the audience and led into a short video by Fran Solomita.
1. The first performer was Bob Sarlatte, perennial host of sports banquets, 49ers field announcing and TAP Plastics ads. He sang “Burning Love” accompanied by the Stupeds. Apparently Sarlatte does more singing with Butch Whacks and the Glass Packs these days than he does standup. On this unusually toasty evening in SF in the middle of a heat wave, he sang the lyric “I feel my temperature rising” and ‘libbed “No shit, how hot is it in here?” Continuing to remark on the atmosphere, he said “How about throwing another log on the air conditioning?” and “They had better lighting at the Nuremberg Trials.” Later he returned to days of yore for his famous routine about the man who cut off his own head and took it to Golden Gate Park, and how in New York they have a sidewalk with a missing pot of gold and a chalk outline of a leprechaun.
2. Mark Miller, who in 1980 had a slight build, high voice, glasses and perfectly coifed hair, had changed little. The L.A. writer was hired to pen quips for John Wayne Bobbitt, on tour after donating his manhood to a vacant lot and than having it retrieved and replaced. Quoth Miller: “It cost him $750,000 in medical expenses. Not to brag but that’s $95,000 per inch…If any women are looking to hook up with him, he’s unattached.”
3. Buzz and Carl, a comedy duo starring Lorenzo Matawaran and “Carl Bradley,” did a fast-paced act including a parody of a game show (Lorenzo in Filipino accent saying “The category is George Raffi. Oh, Geography”) with these lines: “The coldest blackest place on Earth. What is Sean Hannity’s heart?” and “It takes a minute to travel through the human body. What is a Taco Bell burrito?”
4. Darryl Henriques, formerly known as the Swami from Miami and a zany actor, physical comedian, entered in pork pie hat, baggy rapper jeans with boxers sticking out, and thick clodhoppers. He did an enthusiastic gymnastic dance, then spent a minute panting and slugging down water to recover his breath. He stripped down to a white wife-beater and reprised his vintage manic drug/alcohol-laden drive down highway 5 to L.A.
5. Barry Sobel. The only one to enter stage right, he even set up shop while being introduced. The dude just could not wait to git ‘r’ done. He repeated his catch phrase – “I can’t do no more” – punctuated by arm thrusts to elicit rimshots from the band. Said he, “When I was a kid we didn’t have ADD. We had ‘That kid is fucking retarded.’” And “Why are we surprised that Tiger Woods likes to fuck? He’s the best at getting it in the hole.”
6. Mark McCollum. With a black outfit and hair as white as Salt Lake City, he did his trademark cartoon voices singing Led Zeppelin accompanied by guitar. Bursting with energy and zeal, he aped Popeye, Olive Oyl and others. But he also tossed in a one liner: “I suffer from Regret Syndrome, which means I say things I instantly regret.”
7. Johnny Steele spoke of his roots in Pittsburg, CA. He told of how they named the town after the Pennsylvania version. “We want a name that embodies violence, alcoholism, a crumbling mill base…” His parents’ arguments, he said, would “go from zero to police action in 3 exchanges.” His father had a MRI which revealed he had a chalupa in his carotid artery. Steele exuded manic energy that scored him one of the night’s best sets.
8. Bobby Slayton hosted the second set. As the Pit Bull of comedy, he didn’t disappoint, dismissing Sarlatte (”You can go”) as he walked off (Sarlatte gave him the finger in return) and dissing Ayres for being “out here way too long” and “being as bad as a KQED pledge drive.” He added that he didn’t need to see Belva Davis and Huell Howser now that he has HBO and Showtime. “I’m not getting paid tonight – I get a KQED giftbag.” Turning to his family, he said marriage is like a job, and he’s looking for a second one. Hitting on a young woman who asks him where he sees his wife in 5 years, he replies: “I see her in a coffin. What are you doing tonight?” He related how he had undergone a colonoscopy while his wife “had whatever women have – the smog test.” Bemoaning his young daughter and menopausal wife, he complained “one is getting tits, one is getting whiskers.”
9. Geoff Bolt. With a dry delivery, Bolt pretended the show was a competition. “I sure hope I win tonight.” He revealed that he had quit smoking, then paused. As people applauded he finished the sentence “…in the parking lot.” He spoke of smoking in church and putting out the butt in the “ash trays” on the walls with water in them, then taking communion. “It was free cracker day.” He closed his act by pulling out a hand puppet, holding it at times away from the mic or pushing on its face as he stuffed his hand in deeper, then chuckling in a high pitch. One of the best sets of the night.
10. A. Whitney Brown. “I sold my guest pass for $55, making this the highest paid gig I ever did for Bob Ayres.” He said he wanted to reprise his 5 minutes from his first Other Café show, but he remembered only the last line: “I knew you wouldn’t like it; I just didn’t know you wouldn’t like it that much.” Mentioning the old location at Carl and Cole Streets in the Haight-Ashbury, he noted that “they want to put a mosque next door and Glenn Beck wants to do a rally for all the comedians who died there.” Mentioning that he now lives in Texas, he said it was culture shock for him to walk around the Haight. “Where do you people buy your guns?” he wondered. Unfortunately he then did a bit that mentioned the “n” word, which was met with silence and some groans. The good will he had built up dissipated in a flash.
11. Michael Meehan. With the crowd momentarily taken aback, Meehan won them over quickly with clever material and energy. Dressed in a light blue suit with images thereon making him look like he was draped with Christmas wrapping paper, he said he saw a sign that read Think for Yourself. “The next time I went by the S was missing. Think for Your elf. That’s heavy.” His material was reminiscent of Steven Wright but without the deadpan delivery. “I’m neurotic and paranoid,” he revealed. “I’m afraid no one’s out to get me.” “Scientists are cloning sheep. Someone better clone shepherds or WE’RE GOING TO HAVE A PROBLEM.” He has an air freshener in his car in the shape of a handicap placard. “You know what it smells like? Free parking.” When he drives through toll plazas, he screams “ALLAH!” like a Muslim terrorist. He ended with another brilliant observation: “There are no widows and orphans in a bag of green army men.”
12. Marga Gomez. The night’s first woman, Gomez showed that apparently the Other booked mostly white men. A Latino lesbian, she said “I did get pussy at the Other Café, and once I started showcasing there I got lots more pussy. She pointed out her blue sport coat (“I call this soft butch.”) She noted she had performed at a lesbian music festival but when asked if it was like Burning Man, she responded. “Yeah, except we BURN a man.” “They should have Survivor in Iran,” she said of the popular TV show. “Our challenge today is we’re going to take a hike.” “I smoked marijuana for 20 years,” she said about how the drug is supposed to make you goofy. “It wasn’t the dope. I’m just a fuckup.”
13. Fran and Jan. Introduced by Slayton with “There’s been a lot of great comedy teams. This is not one of them.” Talking over each other, they noted how everyone backstage had gotten older. “The punch bowl is spiked with Lipitor. I saw 3 people take the Activia Challenge.” Pointing out that we have a black president, they said the government had turned black too. “Entire black high court. He calls them the Supremes. Instead of Hail to the Chief it’s Stop in the Name of Love.”
14. Dana Carvey. Closing out the first half, Carvey admitted that he had met his wife at the Other when she was only 19. “I raised her as one of my own.” Visiting the Coliseum in Rome, his teenage son groaned in a world weary surfer-dude voice, “Is this pretty much all we’re gonna do?” Later when Carvey told his son he loved him, the son replied in the same droaning voice, “Uhhhhhhhhh, alright.” His octogenarian mother would unleash non sequitors from the kitchen. (High pitched voice) “Do you have a strawberry?” He pointed out that Nancy Pelosi “looks like she just sat on something cold and wet.” He also did an impression of Deepak Chopra with Tourette’s Syndrome: “Titties!” “Sluts come in bunches!” He mentioned how the Other Café attracted a more cerebral crowd, so “You didn’t have a guy in back yelling ‘show us your dick!’”
Relating how he did his Church Lady at a show for Microsoft employees with Bill Gates in attendance, Carvey cooed “Apparently we made a deal with the devil. We can have $50 billion only we must go through life looking like a turtle.”
Other Café partner Chip Romer spoke briefly and mentioned that NBC had wanted to do a meaningful show about juvenile hall featuring Michael Pritchard and Pee-wee Herman.
15. Pritchard did a eulogy for actress/comedienne/musician/songwriter Jane Dornacker, the leader of musical group Leila and the Snakes who died in a helicopter crash in 1986 when she was doing a traffic report live on radio.
16. Paula Poundstone emceed the next set. She had to follow the tribute but made light of the bittersweet moment. “When you die people speak well of you. Here I am alive and struggling.” She also made light of her loquaciousness. “My show was actually reviewed once as a hostage crisis.” She gushed that she got a letter from a company that said, “Congratulations on the purchase of your new foam pillow.” Oh how she treasured that! She commented on San Francisco’s “leading the nation in the hell and handbasket races.”
17. Tom Kenny said he hadn’t done standup in 15 years. He used to do voices on the cartoon show Rocko’s Modern Life. Now the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants admitted that he was once asked if he ever uses that voice in bed. “Yeah,” he riposted, “women LOVE it when you do retarded cartoon voices while having sex.” He got in a dig at the Tea Party when he opined that “Conservatives are more scared of gays than witches…poison, Africanized bees and Muslims scare the shit out of Middle America.”
18. Jeremy Kramer rode in with a silver-headed wooden cane in one hand and straddling Michael Pritchard on all fours. “I feel that if Margaret Cho can win on Dances with the Stars, everything will be OK. I’m reading how to transform your apartment into a meth lab.” Kramer then struggled with his act and seemed lost on stage for valuable seconds. It was a bit ironic and revealing when he blurted out, “Oh God it hurts inside.”
19. Michael Davis brought the crowd right back with his professionalism and command of the stage. His set was pure 1980. “There’s an old saying in show biz. A comedian says funny things and a comic says things funny. That means I’m a juggler. Enter with me the unusual world where the commonplace is considered ordinary.” He juggled a bowling ball, an egg (“the natural enemy of the bowling ball,”) and an apple. He took a bite out of the apple with each toss but then “mistakenly” bit the egg and ended up with chicken embryo in his mouth. He also spit ping pong balls upward, only to catch them in his mouth as they fell. Of all the comedians his act was probably the most similar to his old routines when he finished runnerup to Marsha Warfield in the 1979 SF Comedy Competition.
20. Will Durst, political comic, called the Tea Baggers “a euphemism for gargling testicles. What was second? Cornholers for Liberty? Freedom Felchers?” He turned his target to San Francisco, a place “where if you don’t read you know someone who does, where whimsy has a time share. We send all the bad hippies to the East Bay where they toil in the granola mines.” As to Obama and the controversy over his birthplace, Durst said “No, he was born in Honolulu in a manger. He was visited by the 3 Howlies… We’re being governed by a black man in public housing.” Noticing that Sarah Palin wrote crib notes on her hand, he called that “a teleprompter for people who can’t read fast. Palin erupts every 2 weeks. She’s like Republican herpes.”
Durst’s political jokes prompted Paula Poundstone to mention that she ran for president of the 6th grade. “They offered me the Vice Presidency. What are the odds of the president being assassinated?”
21. Sue Murphy hosted the last set. “I’m getting older. I was jumping on a trampoline with my niece and every time I bounced I peed a little bit. I’m in L.A. now. Thank you for hissing. Like I live there because I’m an asshole. I’m dating a Republican. I’m taking one for the team. I’ll fuck everyone in Orange County if I can get Barbara Boxer reelected.” Reminiscing about Bob Ayres’ afro in the old days, she sighed “I remember taking mushrooms and seeing Bob’s hair and thinking I’ll never survive.” Later she said she was going to keep gaining weight to fill out her wrinkles. “Have you seen Sue? She looks like a fat 9 year old.”
At this point they showed a video by Kevin Meany, who was performing in New York so could not appear. He was dressed as a cop in one scene then wearing a dress in another. It was a funny and short change of pace that breathed some extra life into the show.
22. Linda Hill. “Thank you,” she said to light applause. “Smattering is a beautiful word.” She led off the improv set beginning with Geoff Bolt and Bill Bonham. “I saw someone wrote on the wall Mr. Henderson is a Fat Prick. This is a small company, Jimmy. It’s just you and I.” Hill and Dianne Amos struggled through a skit that pointed out the uneven nature of improv, then a cast of five (Debi Durst, Ed Crasnick, Alex Herschlag, Amos and Hill) did a skit based on the word France, offered by an audience member. Amos went last, anchoring the bit with the best material.
23. Kevin Pollak. Acting like it was a telethon, Pollak quipped “How much have we raised?” He did an extensive right-on impression of Christopher Walken handing out Halloween candy. “Trick or treat? Quite a conundrum.” He also retold a story about Jack Nicholson, who he starred with in “A Few Good Men.” When a good-looking woman went up to him and asked him if he wanted to dance, Nicholson looked her over, paused and replied, “Wrong verb.”
24. Bob Goldthwait, the penultimate comedian of the night, couldn’t help but riff on the late hour. “This show has been going on so long I was relevant. It’s light out so you can find your cars.” Thinking that he was sucking, he asked why people were staring at him. “We love you!” shouted a woman in front. He replied: “That ought to keep the shotgun out of my mouth later in the hotel room.” In actuality, Goldthwait probably had the biggest laughs of the night. Even after 5 hours of comedy he rocked the place. His jokes were spot-on. Samples: “I don’t have a problem with a mosque at ground zero, but I do have a problem with playgrounds and Catholic churches.” “I think Michael Jackson’s children killed him so they could take off the masks.” (Re: Jackson’s alleged pedophilia and Janet Jackson’s indecent exposure at the Super Bowl) “See that woman with her boob hanging out? Yeah, don’t go anywhere alone with her brother.” He later told a story about being in a store with Kirsten Dunst who dropped a vase and scared him. The proprietor asked him if he was OK. “I said I pooped a little.”
25. Robin Williams, the Big Surprise everyone was waiting for, took the stage around 12:40, 5 hours after the show had begun. “It’s the fucking Bataan Death March of Comedy,” groaned Williams. “It’s like coming into an orgy an hour late.” Turning to the Tea Party, he noted that they are “saying Obama is a Nazi. Even Hitler is going ‘You have not read my book.’” He couldn’t pass up the chance to venture his opinion about the mosque at ground zero. “It’s like an Indian casino at Little Big Horn.” He capped the evening with a joke about an 8 year old boy who catches his parents having sex. The boy runs screaming to his bedroom while the parents are left to debate what to do. Finally the husband decides he will go talk to his son. As he enters the boy’s room, he sees the boy having sex with his grandmother. The father freaks out. Says the boy, “It’s not so funny when it’s YOUR mother.” A scant 10 minutes later he was finished.