You may have noticed – in fact, it’s impossible not to – that San Francisco is a fun place. So does Oakland, as well as Berkeley, as well as any city or town that lays claim to the regional fantasy that is the bay. It can find you at classic and historic venues like the Punch Line or your local dive bar’s Tuesday open mic; even Zoom’s aphasia can’t obstruct the laughs.

By now you probably know the names of the great comedians who once called this hub home, from Mort Sahl and Robin Williams to Margaret Cho, Ali Wong and W. Kamau Bell. You know that the art form of stand-up, usually associated with 1950s New York, dates back to San Francisco and the Gold Rush. Or that Charlie Chaplin worked here on the rather abrasive issues for what would become some of his most acclaimed films of the 1910s.

Or maybe not.


Nina Ghiselli (G for Stage) and OJ Patterson are the two Bay Area natives and seasoned hometown comedians ready to tackle that with an animated timeline of Bay Area comedy “the stage.” the bay, spanning decades, characters, places and, above all, the superior taste of humor that life here creates. Growing up in Alameda and “everywhere” respectively and working as a comedian for years (though Patterson now says he’s retired and lives in LA), they realized no one else was going to write the book about their world. .

What was billed as a pandemic project was fertilized over months of archival research, interviews, and lived experiences (oh, and writing) in “Bay Area Stand-Up Comedy: A Humorous History “, which, writes G in his introduction, is “a book that extensively explores Bay Area comedy in words and images.” And generally speaking, San Francisco is cutting edge.

“What San Francisco has always done is this place where comedians can develop their voice away from Hollywood away from New York to find out who they really, really are,” G says. “It’s the canary in the coal mine in many ways [in] that if it’s happening in the world, it can happen with us first, and we can get a first-hand account of it and then can act on it in comedy.”

In the case of stand-up comedy (remember, in the Bay Area there are plenty of firsts), San Francisco was a bawdy Western outpost full of entertainment-seeking audiences stripped of the civil war anxiety. It was ideal then for Artemus Ward (real name Charles Farrar Browne), a New York satirical writer and actor, to throw his commentaries and jokes on new ears in the early 1860s to see what stuck. . He and his successors were paid in gold nuggets. And that’s only chapter 1.

The meat of the book, however, comes with the 20th century and the intersection of comedy with other social and artistic movements led by the Beats, jazz musicians and the first legal topless dancers in the United States, all weaving in around North Beach. There, big names in comedy like Phyllis Diller, Steve Martin and Lenny Bruce mingled with local heroes like Larry Bubbles Brown and Mort Sahl, who died last year. As the scene blossomed into its own ecosystem in the ’80s — G’s personal area of ​​expertise — venues were plentiful and audiences were greedy.

“Something about the bay kind of encourages a culture of turmoil; I can connect Too $hort selling tapes in the back of his car with a Vanity Fair writer changing his name to Artemus Ward and finding out how happen in mining colonies,” says Patterson. “I think the Bay Area is 10 years old [ahead] culturally. The reality is that people say who they are and mean who they are here in a way that is slowly reflected over time across the country.”

Comedy, even today, can still seem quite white and masculine, and San Francisco wasn’t as inclusive as nostalgia would have us believe. So, with the “Comedy Renaissance” of the 80s and early 90s, a time came for marginalized comedians, like women, queer and black comics, to assert their own niches and voices in places like the short-lived Valencia Rose. Among the Robin Williams and Dana Carveys and Don Novello were the Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg and Marga Gomez.

They also describe how, in the chapter “The New Millennium”, media oversaturation and innovations (hello, internet) have altered the possibilities for people to perform and consume comedy. Many clubs and venues renowned a generation ago, and preserved through archival photos and posters, have since closed or become businesses.

“What makes the Bay Area great [is that] it’s not just about who kills or who’s most popular,” says Patterson, who prioritizes programming diversity on his shows. “People create their own spaces in their own kind of comedy and their own kind of fan. It is what it is. We’re going to do it for our group, and we’re going to do it to please ourselves.”

The book’s approximately 180 pages belie the true extent of the town’s comedy history; while the book is something of a first of its kind, G and Patterson hope it inspires new work that honors all the people who have bombed and killed before.

G in particular hopes, as a comedian with a disability, that more attention and resources will be given to the work his community has contributed to what we find funny. There’s also, given the circumstances of the book’s production, a chapter dedicated to how the pandemic has made comedic settings more malleable again, and the potential that has yet to be realized. A book cannot do everything.

“There’s this thing with comic books, which [they] just kind of think they spring up on their own. And it’s like, ‘No, you have a whole legacy of people who got you to this point,'” G says. “The best way to preserve it is to talk about it. This is the first time we’ve had a San Francisco comedy book, which is silly to me. And hopefully there will be more to come from someone else, because I don’t want to write any more books.”

For more on “Bay Area Stand-Up Comedy”, visit https://www.bayareastandupcomedy.com/.

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.