Posts Tagged ‘Molly Sanchez’

Waiting for the Punch Line

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By Molly Sanchez

On Sunday, they gather. Some dressed up in slacks and blazers, others casual in hoodies and t-shirts. They congregate, exchanging hugs and fist bumps. They laugh and they wait for the talking to begin.

This is not your typical Sunday service, a point made abundantly clear when the be speckled Ivan Hernandez ascends the stage and yells, “Fuck your baby!” into the microphone.

This is Sunday night showcase at The Punch Line club; a ritual comedian Nicole Turley has dubbed “Comedian Church.”

The Punch Line has been one of San Francisco’s most prolific comedy spots since it’s opening in 1983. Its stage has been graced by some of the world’s top comics and everyone from Robin Williams to Ellen DeGeneres to Louis C.K. has done a set there. The stage itself is a landmark, a lighted platform against a backdrop of a mural of the city. When a comic performs there it’s like performing on top of the city itself.

It’s a stage worth waiting for and that’s what they do. The club is divided on Sunday nights with paying customers sitting in the front of house, chatting and sipping their two drink minimum, and the hopeful comics waiting at the bar nursing their free glasses of water. Sunday nights are for comics. The showcase is comprised of 7 or so local comics and host, each getting about an 8 minute set. But these sets are coveted and the process to get one is a rite of passage for aspiring comics in the area.

Comics have to wait about 6-10 months to even be considered for a spot on the coveted stage. “You go in you start going to the Sunday shows and you introduce yourself to the manager,” says Allison Mick, an aspiring comic and a regular at the bar side of the club. Jeff Zamaria is the booker for the club. He’s “the man with the plan,” according to Turley who is always sure to pay homage to him with a hello whenever she comes in the club. Zamaria is only an ominous figure to those who are hungry for a spot otherwise he’s a “dark haired dude with a beard and glasses,” says Mick before chuckling and adding, “I know I just described half of the SF comedy scene.”

According to Mick, new comics have to go to the Sunday show as often as they can and just hang out, waiting to be seen. This, Mick says, “Puts you on Jeff’s radar.”

“Jeff really listens to everyone,” says comedian Sandra Risser “he’s the one who really decides.” Jeff keeps to himself in the club’s back right corner, fielding handshakes from reverent comics and holding up a flashlight to signal to the comics onstage that their set is running out.

Comedian Richard Dreyling describes the process as “a type of interview really,” and says it took him ten months before he got a set there. Comedian, Nato Green also sees the method to the waiting madness. It took Green ten months to get up on the Sunday showcase “the purpose of the wait was to make sure that by the time I got up I understood what did and didn’t work at the club.” Green calls the system of waiting “transparent and fair,” adding that the involved waiting ritual weeds out the “dilettantes and dabblers.”

“If your goal is to become a working comic, then coming up at the Punch Line is part of the process,” he says. “I don’t see any reason why the stage of one of the best clubs in the country should be a place for people who aren’t serious to try something out.”

“Some people check in earlier and really push for it but that’s not usually advised,” says Turley who got up after nine months of waiting. Dreyling disagrees “I don’t think there is harm in going at the very beginning of doing stand up” Dreyling is a 5 time veteran of the club and says “ Jeff likes to see how people get better.”

Once a comic gets up and does well on a Sunday night they can usually expect to be thrown into a three-month rotation of comics and may even be asked to headline weeknights or emcee Sunday’s show. To Turley “it’s a good way to get your name out there.” Dreyling concurs and says a set at The Punch Line is a “way for comics to benefit and develop by having a paying audience in a great club with a high standard for comedy. New comics benefit by seeing comedians who have been at it for longer and don’t make some of the mistakes common to open mic rooms.” Green adds, “The Punch Line system is good at training people to become working comics. If the process is too much for someone, it is a fraction of how hard the rest of show business is. They’re not going to stay a comic anyway. Nothing about show business is fair.”
This Sunday Mick sits on the patio outside the club. It’s mid showcase and the soft rumble of laughter can be heard even outside. She smokes a cigarette and laughs with the comic who gives her a light. They banter about open mics and go on a tangent about what a “porn method actress” would look like. Comics sidle in and out of the club, gently ragging on each other’s sets or talking shop and smoking.

As far as Mick’s Punch Line aspirations go she says she’s looking for “Fame and fortune,” before bursting into sarcastic laughter. She admits more humbly that she’d really just likes “to do well and get booked for shows.” “I love open mics, like a lot,” she says “ but I guess I’d like to do more showcases.” She’s been waiting at the Punch Line for 3 months.

Inside Turley sits at the dark bar and reminisces about her first time onstage there. “That’s when I had the most fun. The sound travels forward and it’s really laughter inducing,” she says sipping water and nodding towards the stage “even with a small crowd the sound travels forward, it’s just designed for it.” Green also recalls fondly his times onstage saying “I feel as comfortable on the Punch Line stage at this point as I do on my own couch, more or less.”

Green has reverence for the club that gave him his start but says “I really built it up in my head. At a certain point, I realized that every stage is just another stage. No stage is magic.”

Doctor Who

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By Molly Sanchez
Illustrations by Kirstie Haruta

Don’t you hate it when you’re at a party and someone mentions their love for the doctor? ‘The doctor?’ you think ‘what kind of person loves their doctor? Is it a Haight Asbury type doctor? Or one of those sexy ones that gets handsy with the novacane? And who is this doctor, who?’ Doctor Who, the question, and the answer. “Doctor Who” is a British science fiction television show that features a time traveling alien. It’s also frightfully popular in nerd culture on both sides of the pond. This means that nerds at a party may have more to talk about than you do, and you don’t want to be socially outgunned by a nerd do you? What follows is enough about Doctor Who and his cohorts to make you look cool at a party. Suck it, nerds!

Things not to say to Doctor Who fans:

The Doctor

The Doctor

1)I like that actor who plays Doctor Who.”

Why it’s dumb: There have been eleven actors who have assumed the role since the show’s inception. This is not a Darren from Bewitched situation (actor quit, substituted with worse actor), or a Richard Harris from the Harry Potter movies situation (inconsiderately died of old age) but is instead a major plot point. The Doctor is a member of an alien race called the Time Lords. Time Lords have the ability to regenerate and to change their physical form and personality. Thus the doctor can be millions of years old and still look like a 30-year-old bloke in converse sneakers. There is even some buzz that the next incarnation of The Doctor might be a woman. Let’s just hope they wouldn’t start calling her The Nurse.

Say instead: “Who is your favorite Doctor? They’re all so different!”

2) “Doctor Who? Oh is that the medical drama where everyone is boning in the supply closet?

Why it’s dumb: First of all, the show you’re thinking of is Downton Abbey. Second of all the name “The Doctor” seems to be an arbitrary title. After sifting through heated message board arguments I came to the conclusion that the title may refer to the way he tends to fix problems in time and space. As a fledgling Whovian myself I’d like to put forth the theory that the title could also refer to his vast knowledge of our world and others, similar to someone with a doctorate degree. But I dare not share this on tumblr, for fear of being torn new one by fifteen year old fan girls. Also the “Doctor? Doctor Who?” joke is one that is played out literally five times each season.

Say instead: “Gee the British make good television. That Doctor Who show just gets better with age!” (Except don’t say “gee”. Only losers say “gee”.)

3) “Sonic Screwdriver? That’s my favorite drink!”

Why it’s dumb: The Sonic Screwdriver is actually The Doctor’s go-to bit of alien technology. The screwdriver can pick locks, mend broken wires, and “in a pinch you could put up some shelves,” The Doctor boasts in one episode. This tool is not without its limitations and substances such as wood, deadlock doors, and hairdryers are impervious to the screwdriver. Lushes of the world need not despair; it is also a fancy cocktail.

Say instead: “That dress you’re wearing must not be a sonic screwdriver because it definitely works on wood. On the serious though, would you rather have a sonic screwdriver or a wand from Harry Potter?”

Cyber Man

Cyber Man

4) “I love that new show, Doctor Who!”

Why it’s dumb: Calling Doctor Who a new show is like saying a blonde girl has no leg hair: outwardly accurate but on closer inspection untrue. Yes the show, as fans know it today started up in 2005. However that shows is a modern reboot of a show that ran on the BBC from 1963-1996. The show was intended to be a family show about a man exploring iconic moments in history by way of scientific elements. This went well until the final series in 1995 received low ratings and shark -jumpy plotlines. Then there was a movie made (very Arrested Development) with a new Doctor and was barely a blip at the box office. At that point it looked like the series, which had run twenty six seasons would be no more. Then in 2005 the series itself regenerated, now incorporating more stand alone episodes, and has done well ever since.

Say instead: “Girl, you must be David Tennant because you are a ten! No seriously isn’t it cool that the series has such longevity? Wish Star Trek would come back to TV”(You don’t have to say that last bit. That last bit is for me.)

5) “So what are you guys? Whosiers? Whoovers? Trekkies?”

Why it’s dumb: It’s not, really. Batshit , meaningless distinctions are part of any mega fandom. Just as contentious and equally silly as the heated “Trekker versus Trekkie” debate, the Whovian v. Wholigan conflict has been going on for years. Urban dictionary makes the distinction that a Whovian is “specifically and old fan” of Doctor Who and a Wholigan is “specifically a new fan, Doctor 9 and up.” Then again urban dictionary may not be the most reliable source, as they seem to define my name as a pure form of MDMA. Which is crazy, right guys? Guys?

Say instead: “Whovian, Wholigan, Who-freaking-cares! Lets just drink and be nice to eachother, ok?”

Dalek

Dalek

SIDEBAR
Here are some more things to add to your Who knowledge tool belt.

Companions
The Doctor, like P Diddy, likes to travel with an entourage. This entourage usually comes in the form of an earth girl he whisks away from her boring life, Peter Pan style, to join him in his adventures. This girl is called a companion and she represents the viewing audience of the show in that she is being lead by the doctor into fantastical worlds. There have been roughly forty companions ( even the occasional male companion) and all of them have ranged in appearance, ages, and time spent snogging the Doctor. Snogging, it’s a fun word. Try to use it sometime.

Daleks
The main adversaries of any Doctor are the Daleks. Daleks are octopus-like mutants who live inside metal shells equipped with an eyestalk and heavy artillery. They are protected by a bullet repelling force field and speak with a robot voice. Daleks live to exterminate the human race.

The Doctor

The Tardis

The Tardis
The Tardis is the Doctor’s main mode of intergalactic transportation. The time machine appears to be a blue police box on the outside and is famously much larger on the inside. The Tardis can only be controlled by Doctor Who and can be uses to travel through time and space. It also translates languages, both alien and domestic for anyone standing within a few feet of it. The Doctor and the Tardis have a loving relationship and at times they share a telepathic link.

Cyber men
Cyber men are human beings whose brains and organs have been put into scary robotic bodies. When humans are put in these bodies their emotions are mechanically suppressed so that they can become lean, mean, remorseless killing machines.

Weeping Angels
Weeping angels are easily the scariest monster in the Who universe and considering the series has featured faceless people, zombies, and more than one possessed child, that’s saying something. The angels look like stone statues but are actually ancient and powerful beings. They derive energy from sending people back in time but are strong enough to kill a human should the need arise. The trick is, the angels cannot hurt you as long as you are looking at them, but the space of a single blink is all the time they need to attack.

Why does everyone on Facebook have tally marks on their face?

April 23rd was a special day for Who fans and many of them celebrated by drawing on their hands. This isn’t the mark of some weird Sci Fi drinking game  (though such a game does exist). It is instead homage to an episode that took place on that same date called “The Impossible Astronaut” which aired last year and featured and alien group called “The Silence.” Freshman cinema major and tally mark wearer, Collin Searles had this to say “The marks are a way the Doctor deals with an alien species called The Silence. Their sort of power is that you forget their presence when you look away from them. The Doctor tallies his arm when he sees one so that he can remember that he”s seen one of the silence.” Searles and others marked their bodies that day and took pictures on facebook and instagram (#thesilence), some bearing the ominous caption “what are these marks on my arm?”

Open City: A Week of Comedy Open Mics in SF

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Wednesday Night Comedy at The Flying Pig brings crowds in to see 2 minutes speed rounds for 2 hours offering a plethera of the bay areas finest comedians such as Ken Townsend. Photo on Wednesday, April 3, 2013.

Wednesday Night Comedy at The Flying Pig brings crowds in to see 2 minutes speed rounds for 2 hours offering a plethera of the bay areas finest comedians such as Ken Townsend. Photo on Wednesday, April 3, 2013.

 

By Molly Sanchez
Photos by Frank Leal

By day I am a journalist. I sit in classes, carry a voice recorder in my purse, and find clever ways to mock my superiors within the confines of the Chicago style. But by night I am a standup comic. I sit in bars, carry a voice recorder in my purse, and find clever ways to mock my superiors within the confines of three-minute long sets. Open mics are a right of passage for entry-level comics, and the best way to get stage time. Richard Dreyling, comic and Marine corps veteran says, “Open mics are important because they provide a venue for comics to get good though trying material, figuring out what works, and getting more comfortable on stage. Most good shows won’t let comics on until they progress past that level, so open mics are a bit of a crucible. Everyone sucks at the start, its just that some people stick with it and with that consistency, get better. I look at it as a shitty boot camp that never ends, but you have to go down there to work those skills, like hitting the bag or running. You have to do it.” What follows is a guide to doing it every night of the work week. Even if you’re not a comedian these are events worth attending because nothing makes a good night great like a dark bar and hours of quality dick jokes.

Monday
Portals Tavern
179 W Portal Ave,
21+
Sign up:8
Get there: 7
Set length: 5 minutes

I’m a firm believer that good things can be found behind even the dingiest of exteriors, old wardrobes, faded Mission taco shops etc. The open mic at Portals Tavern is no exception. Behind the unremarkable wooden door that most people mosey past en route to West Portal’s other attractions (RIP Squat and Gobble) is a bar lit by Christmas lights and warmed by a fireplace. The ratio of comedians to civilians is a decent five-to-one here on a good night and the audience tends to be respectful of sets. The mic is hosted by loveable stoner, Justin Alan, and by the more coherent Scott Simpson. Both hosts insist on a strict code of conduct for the comedians ascending the makeshift stage, a microphone that abuts a jukebox. “Shake my hand when you get on,” Alan says. “Shake my god damned hand. Don’t make me look like an asshole!” The bar is usually filled with laughter either from bartender Randy’s weekly sets (ask him to tell the one about the Lone Ranger and the whores) or from the antics of comedians offstage. “Did anyone else hear that fart?” asks comic, Mean Dave, mid set. “This guy puked outside, what kind of place is this, someone take a dump right now!” The back patio area of Portals is also a great place to network with fellow comedians. Just watch out for the puke.

The last Tuesday of every month offers The Break Room hosted by Rajeev Dhar at Amnesia on 20th and Valencia. Combing through the bay areas finest comedians with 2 minutes rapid fire shorts. Photo on Tuesday March 26, 2013. Photo by Frank Leal/Xpress

The last Tuesday of every month offers The Break Room hosted by Rajeev Dhar at Amnesia on 20th and Valencia. Combing through the bay areas finest comedians with 2 minutes rapid fire shorts. Photo on Tuesday March 26, 2013. Photo by Frank Leal/Xpress

 

Tuesday
Amnesia
853 Valencia St
21+
Sign up: 6:30
Get There: 6
Set length: 3-4 minutes

Amnesia is a dark bar. I’m talking bat cave, basement apartment, and “future for graduates with a humanities degree.” The bar, featured prominently in my other article, is lit by glowing red candles on the high tables that line the wall and the pink-gelled theatre lights that blast on thestage. Climbing the stairs to the stage, the brightest spot in the whole bar, I always feel like Indy in Raiders of the Lost Ark and worry that I haven’t brought a heavy enough sand bag to displace the totem safely. The mic, called “The Break Room,” is run by comedian and producer, Rajeev Dhar, though sometimes it is run by his sun glassed alter ego “Prince Rajeev The Everlasting.” The room is populated completely by comics with only a few civilians who trickle in around nine to witness the bar’s nightly transition into a music venue. What no one tells civilians about comics watching other comics is that no one laughs. One comic, William Lushbough astutely labels this issue “the comic’s room chuckle” and describes the usual slight groans to the quiet intonations of “funny” as comic’s way of saying “ah yes, we agree with what you say there.” This relative silence is tough on later comedians, sometimes embittering the material. “I think a lot about guns,” one comic says. “Especially at open mics.” Amnesia is a good spot for networking or trying new material on peers. Beer lovers can avail themselves of the secret happy hour (dollar off taps from 6-7p.m.) and music lovers can show up at 8 p.m. and dodge the cover for the music act that comes
in at 9:30 p.m.

Casey Grim is the hostess for The Flying Pig's Wednesday night comedy show, aiding the audience to watch with a crowd wide beer game, screaming for visitors to drink when ever comedians utter the phrases she had picked through out the night. Photo on Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Casey Grim is the hostess for The Flying Pig’s Wednesday night comedy show, aiding the audience to watch with a crowd wide beer game, screaming for visitors to drink when ever comedians utter the phrases she had picked through out the night. Photo on Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wednesday
Flying Pig
433 S Van Ness Ave
All ages
Sign up: 7:30
Get there: 7
Set length: 5 minutes

Wednesdays at the Flying Pig are the brainchild of comedy power couple, Casey Grim and Adam McLaughlin. After meeting via sessions at the infamous Comedy College, McLaughlin and Grim devoted their married life to raising several cats and the bar set for open mics in their neighborhood. The Pig, as it is affectionately referred to, is bright and homey that serves delicious sandwiches, local beers, and salads the size of a grown man’s head. There is also free Wi-Fi so comics can tweet their jokes that didn’t make it into their sets. Because this venue is a restaurant rather than a straight up bar, the civilian-to-comic ratio is a healthy four-to-two. Audience members keen to be featured in everyone’s set tend to sit at the very edge of the bar, giving them a front row seat to the keg surrounded stage. Grim, twitter fight instigator and main emcee, has high energy and a loud laugh that gives comics new and old an onstage boost. “Comics aren’t funny, open mics help comics understand that. Or at least that’s the goal,” says Grim who takes pride in the organization of her mic.” The unfortunate thing is our lack of quality open mics has really trained poor habits into people. We need stricter open mics & showcases with higher expectations. That would really do the comedy scene a WORLD of favors.” The beauty of baby open mics like The Pig, baby here referring both to the event’s recent inception and the age of potential comics, is that they are often more generous with stage time than more established and thus more crowded mics and usually pull a wider audience. Sooie!

Thursday
Brainwash
1122 Folsom St
All ages
Sign up: 6:30
Get there:5
Set length: 4 minutes

Brainwash is by far the best venue for new comics. Bar freaking none. First time comics are given a warm welcome by host Tony Sparks, a prestigious fixture of the bay area comedy scene. “Baby,” “Human” and “Sugar –nasty” are among the many terms of endearments Sparks applies to comics and audience members and he rallies the crowd to greet new comics with a boisterous call of “GIVE THEM A LOT OF LOVE!” That love can be seen in the sign up priority new comics get on a list that sometimes reaches over thirty comics a night. The same priority is given to women comics (I’d be mad about my vagina being seen as a handicap if I wasn’t so busy getting on stage early). Because of the supportive atmosphere of this venue it is often packed past capacity with comics and civilians and their combined laughter can be heard even over the rumblings of the adjacent laundromat. Because of the sprawling sign up list this mic lasts well past 11 p.m. but civilians tend to stay and laugh for the majority of the time. Comic Drew Harmon, a veteran of the Brainwash scene says “open mics are where that guy who everybody in the office says “is SO funny, you should do comedy!” finds out that he would rather just be the funniest guy in the office and not spend the next seven to ten years hanging out in bar basements and laundromats. Those that are left are sad, disturbed narcissists who will never know peace.” This spot is a great place to be seen by producers in charge of showcases and many a new comic lands their first gig at Brainwash. If you’re a comic looking for inspiration, the back bathroom is covered floor to ceiling with sharpied jokes and quotes from literature, history, and pop culture. Patty Hearst was right, Brainwash is a great thing.

Friday
Mutiny Radio
21st and Florida St
All ages
Sign ups: 7:45
Get There: 7:30
Set Length: 5 minutes

To say Pam Benjamin, comedian and host of Pamtastic’s Comedy Clubhouse, is enthusiastic is to say chocolate is just ok, or the BP oil spill was just a little messy. At the beginning of every open mic Pam, a former cheerleader, leads the crowd in a loud rendition of the Comedy Clubhouse theme song. The song is the Mickey Mouse Club theme …if the Mickey Mouse Club theme was sung by middle aged stoners. “M-U-T-I-N-Y Comedy Clubhouse/ Forever we will all get high, high, high( audience pretends to take a toke, all cough exaggeratedly).” The mutiny radio feels like that song, something wholesome and familiar with a little twist around the edges. The studio is small and the walls are bedecked with local art. The stage is teeny and abuts the bathroom. Sometimes, if the station’s djs have been negligent, the bathroom smell permeates the small space. “We called it Pam’s Comedy Outhouse last week,” Benjamin confides with a wink. Friday nights are fueled by her enthusiasm and sheer bouncing presence. She smiles and laughs so uproariously that a child seeing a bike under the Christmas tree would look at Benjamin and think “ Sheesh woman, get a hold of yourself!” Called affectionately “a grown up Rainbow Brite” Benjamin’s childlike glee can be seen when she introduces one comic as “a fireball inside the mouth of an angel from space”.The mic, which is every Friday (save for the first of the month) draws a mostly comics crowd with very few in-studio civilians. Still the show, which is converted into a podcast weekly, draws a crowd. Longtime intern and comedienne, Lalique D’Bruzzi, says that the listenership has reached “eighteen thousand or so”.

Side bar
Top five tips for Open Mics

1) Come early: SF is a city full of hungry comics aching for stage time. Since most of them are unemployed they arrive at mics an hour to two hours early and position on the list is normally decided on a first come first served basis.

2) Don’t run the light: When you have one minute remaining in your set,
the emcee will flash a light. This means it’s time to wrap up. Very few places penalize for going over time but doing so cuts into the stage time of your fellow comics. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t bring a book into a crowded bathroom stall; you’d do your business and get the heck out. Yes, comedy is like one giant toilet.

3) Drink…a little: If you are of drinking age and the mic you attend is at a bar you should buy one drink. This serves the dual purpose of being polite and patronizing the venue and taking the edge off before your set. Be warned though, too many pre-set drinks can be detrimental to your material and your ability to avoid being a jerk offstage.

4) Try new things: Nothing is more annoying than a comedy that does the
exact same material at the exact same open mic week after week. It’s ok to try different iterations of the same joke to see if a slight change of wording unlocks the elusive comic’s room laugh but doing the same material verbatim week after week is asking comedians to do the same job your bathroom mirror or shower walls could do, and I don’t mean help you practice kissing. If you must repeat a set to work out serious kinks take it to a different mic another day that week and challenge yourself to generate new material for the old mic.

5) Keep Freaking Going: Open mics get old. Sometimes people don’t laugh,
sometimes the set feels too short, sometimes you have cramps and would
rather go home and use your computer as a heating pad on your aching uterus than schlep out to a mic (so I hear anyway). If you’re serious about the business of being funny you need to ignore all these excuses and just freaking go. Going to mics is like running on a treadmill, it may seem like you’re going nowhere, but you’re conditioning yourself to live differently (shoot Sanchez, is comedy a treadmill or a toilet?? Make up your damn mind!) But don’t take my word for it; Patton Oswalt said it best when he said, “Go onstage a lot. Go onstage as much as you can. Don’t read books on comedy. Don’t take comedy classes. Don’t ask anyone how you should write material, or what they think of your material. Develop on your own. Go onstage. A lot. Every night. If there isn’t an open mike in your town, start one. And then go onstage. A lot. That’s it.”

Nerdy San Francisco

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PJ Reyes blocks his partners light saber at a light saber choreography class held by the Golden Gate Knights at Studio Gracia in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2013.

PJ Reyes blocks his partners light saber at a light saber choreography class held by the Golden Gate Knights at Studio Gracia in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2013.

 

By Molly Sanchez
Photos by Virginia Tieman

San Francisco is a city full of the weird and the wonderful. It’s the city of Lucas Films; the future home of The United Federation of Planets, and stomping grounds to nerds and geeks of all shapes, sizes, and degrees of virginity. As a connoisseur of all things nerdy, I feel it is my duty to bestow upon you the top 5 favorite nerd sites in the city.

Friday Night Magic at Two Cat’s comics in West Portal

Players of the game Magic: The Gathering compete against one another in swiss pairings at Two Cats Comic Book Store in West Portal on Feb. 22, 2013.

Players of the game Magic: The Gathering compete against one another in swiss pairings at Two Cats Comic Book Store in West Portal on Feb. 22, 2013.

Monday nights (5-9 p.m.) and Friday nights (5:30-9:30p.m.) are magical at Two Cat’s comics. Austin Meshel Haun, cinema major at SF state and comic store employee, oversees the store’s weekly free Magic the Gathering card games. “We get on average about 10 people Mondays, 16 on Friday and we hit capacity at 32 people for our weekend events.” Meshel-Haun says that the players range in age from the very young to the very old. Though there are many strategies for game play and deck building, Meshel-Haun says that there is one thing every game has in common,“I inform people that fun is mandatory!”

Nightlife at the Academy Thursday nights at the Academy of Science

Booze, music, and science, no this isn’t a flashback of your weird chem teacher from 10th grade, it’s a taste of what’s in store at Nightlife at the Academy. Every Thursday night from 6-10 p.m. the California Academy of Sciences hosts a party featuring a DJ or a live band. Partygoers can sip trendy cocktails in front of the museums aquatic displays or listen to lectures such as “A Brief Science of Sex and Culture” or enjoy a show in the planetarium while munching on sustainable cuisine. Admission is $10 for member and $12 for general admission.

http://www.calacademy.org/events/nightlife/

Nerd Nite SF

For Lucy Laird, co-boss of Nerd Nite SF, nerd is the verb. It’s “not who someone is but how someone chooses to spend his or her time, i.e., nerding out.” And what a great way to spend time! Laird describes Nerd Nite, which meets at the Rickshaw, shop every 3rd Wednesday of the month , as“discovery channel, with beer!” The group meets for host’s lectures, games, and field trips and each meetup costs an average of $8. “We emphasize humor, as bawdy and nerdy as possible,” says Laird, adding “its way easier to get up in front of hundreds of people with a beer in your hand and a slide presentation as full of hard data as LOLcats!” The lectures range from grammar to genealogy and from physics to fungi and as always the liquor and laughter flow freely. Nerd Nite is a great way to grow some new brain cells and kill the old.

Chandra Gilmore jumps over her partners light saber at a light saber choreography class held by the Golden Gate Knights at Studio Gracia in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2013.

Chandra Gilmore jumps over her partners light saber at a light saber choreography class held by the Golden Gate Knights at Studio Gracia in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2013.

The Golden Gate Knights

Playing with light sabers is not just for jedis anymore, or for teenage Michael Cera in the Bluth’s garage thanks to the Golden Gate Knights. Started by longtime Star Wars fan, Alain Bloch ,and stage combat choreographer, Matthew Carauddo, the Golden Gate Knights is a group that meets every Sunday to teach the art of light saber combat to geeks and nerds of all stripes. Bloch says the class involves “stretches, calisthenics and lots of warm-ups” and is “very athletic and also very geeky.” Bloch says that not everyone who takes the class is a hardcore Star Wars fan. “ Our class makes a great date with a partner,” he adds. Classes are every Sunday from 12-3 p.m. at Studio Garcia on Heron street and cost only $10. I love Golden Gate Knights. They know.

The Podcast that shall not be named

Comedians, dragons, and beer oh my! These are the elements of improv guru; Max McCal’s latest brainchild is a podcast about comics playing Dungeons and Dragons and other table top games. Along with Justin Gomes, McCal started the podcast this January,” We thought putting some of the funniest people in a room together and asking them to just portray strange characters in fantastic worlds would be an awesome way to entertain,” McCal says. “ I think it mirrors the experience most people have with the game to not take it 100% seriously all the time.” Local comedians bring their own senses of humor to the game, which is made apparent by the character traits, one is a lesbian elf played by a bearded straight guy, the constant star wars jokes, and the occasional mid-melee serenades. The podcast can be found on http://www.sylvanproductions.com/.

Shakir Muhammad, a Muslim 18-year-old computer science major and Katerina Walter, a 25-year-old criminal justice major, fight back against Cry to God's Kevin when he said, "Muslims go to hell" at Malcolm X Plaza. Cry to God was at SF State speaking about its beliefs on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. Photo by Virginia Tieman / Xpress

Oh My God: Street Preaching in San Francisco

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Full time street preacher, Lawrence Dubois, spreads his Evangelical sermon outside the 24th Street & Mission BART station on Thursday, Feb. 21st 2013. Photo by Frank Leal/Xpress

Full time street preacher, Lawrence Dubois, spreads his Evangelical sermon outside the 24th Street & Mission BART station on Thursday, Feb. 21st 2013. Photo by Frank Leal/Xpress

By Molly Sanchez
Photos by Frank Leal & Virginia Tieman

It is Valentine’s Day, 2013.

“You guys love sex,” Kevin Farrer says matter-of-factly to the crowd, his grip tightening on a large sign on a post with multicolored words printed neatly on it. There are a few shrugs and nods from the surrounding crowd at his opening statement.

“You worship sex,” he adds his tone more accusatory this time. A high whoop comes from somewhere deeper in the crowd. Farrer shakes his head and lets out a bark of laughter. Farrer wears red. The message of “Trust Jesus” is emblazoned in white block letters on the front, back, and down the long sleeves of his red shirt. In his hand he clutches a red wrapped condom. Oddly, it matches his ensemble perfectly.

One immediately gets the impression that Farrer would not be the amused by the comparison.

“Don’t you understand how stupid you are?” he crows. “So I point you to Jesus Christ so that you may be delivered from the lust.” He punctuates this last sentence by flicking the condom to the ground with the air of flicking off an over-dry scab.

Kevin Farrer is a street preacher, a confrontational evangelist, and a messenger of god’s word, and kind of an asshole, depending on whom you ask. As part of his group, Cry to God, Farrer seeks to spread the word of his higher power to anyone who will listen, particularly those who don’t think they need to hear it.

“We desire people to hear the gospel,” he says. “We want people to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
He shrugs and says in a voice that is raspy and soft “we believe faith comes by hearing.”

Farrer wouldn’t be the first man in San Francisco to believe this. Street preaching is a tradition that has gone on in the world since biblical times and in San Francisco since the 1800s.

“The novelty of the thing had a moving affect.”

William Taylor, a missionary bishop who came to San Francisco in 1849 bringing his impressive beard with him, documents some of this early public evangelism in his book Street Preaching in San Francisco. In the first chapter of his 1875 book, Taylor talks about his first experience preaching in San Francisco’s Portsmouth Square, an area that is today Kearney St.

“It was regarded by most persons present, if not all, as a very dangerous experiment; for the gamblers were powerful and influential in the city and the Plaza was their principal rendezvous.” By his account the gamblers and the drinkers did not harm him. “The novelty of the thing had a moving effect,” he says recounting how “the people crowded out of the gambling houses and gathered together from every direction as thought hey had heard the cry,’ Fire! Fire! Fire!” After that sermon, Taylor spent seven years touring the “highways” of California and reports that he never “suffered any serious disturbance.”

Jesus and the Harlem Shake

Such was not the case on Valentine’s Day with Farrer.

Amid a particularly stirring lecture on “the evils of homo sex” Farrer is interrupted by a shout from deep in the crowd.

“Do the Harlem shake!”

He rolls his eyes and continues on.

“This is what you all are!” he says, pointing up to the sign. His finger taps the word “ankle biters” which itself is located close to the words “porn fiend” and “witch.

Nearby, Brittany Johnson, biology major sighs and shakes her head. “He makes Christians like me want to go in a hole and hide.”

“Christianity doesn’t mean we just take people to church, we take the bible to the market place,” says street preacher Ruben Israel. Israel has preached, somewhat infamously for 30 years. He, like Farrer is a fan of large incendiary signs,”Hell awaits you,” and “homo sex is a threat to national security ‘among them.’ If we just stood by a table people would walk by,” he says in response to the negative attention his signs sometimes receive. “We’re gonna take the bible to the college campuses, the places where people don’t go to church so they can know what God says about a particular topic.” Israel, who has been arrested several times while street preaching, calls himself the “Rodney Dangerfeild of preaching.”

“I get no respect!” He chuckles.

College Campuses Are The Pits

In the words of publick(sic) minister, Gerald Sutek “college campuses are the pits.” Sutek has been involved in publick ministry for forty four years both in the U.S. and in the Philippines and says that college campuses are a particular bane to the street preaching community. “The students today have been programmed into a box” he says. “None of them ‘think’ anymore. They are all lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.”

Back in the quad a student in a lilac polo and sunglasses is berating Farrer for a hug. “C’mon man just hug me!” the man says, inches from Farrer’s face. Farrer snorts with disgust “I don’t hug other men I hug my wife!”

Shakir Muhammad, a Muslim 18-year-old computer science major and Katerina Walter, a 25-year-old criminal justice major, fight back against Cry to God's Kevin when he said, "Muslims go to hell" at Malcolm X Plaza. Cry to God was at SF State speaking about its beliefs on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. Photo by Virginia Tieman / Xpress

Shakir Muhammad, a Muslim 18-year-old computer science major and Katerina Walter, a 25-year-old criminal justice major, fight back against Cry to God’s Kevin when he said, “Muslims go to hell” at Malcolm X Plaza. Cry to God was at SF State speaking about its beliefs on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. Photo by Virginia Tieman / Xpress

The student then hugs another male student passionately in front of Farrer to cheers of raucous applause from the lookers on.

When pressed the student, Kevin Defranco, admits, “I’ll just be honest with you, I’m just drunk I could give a fuck less about this guy.” He eventually stumbles off to ask Farrer loudly to be his facebook friend.

This is exactly what drives Sutek mad,” I find myself longing for a reasonable man to mentally banter with…but I find NONE. You would think that college campuses would provide that but they seem to go the other direction in this area.”

Hard to Ignore

The trick seems to be to get people to listen.

Israel presents this metaphor,” We live in a society where people have forty to fifty channels on the T.V. and still say ‘there’s nothing on TV.’” He continues, “You have to toss something out to get a response.”

According to Israel, “to preach means to raise your voice and yell in a tiresome manner.”

For some students in the quad on Valentines Day, the methods used were more tiresome than the preachers themselves. Ryan Simon, a senior political science major, says he respects Farrer’s and his colleagues right to be there. “They have a right to free speech, I don’t have a problem with them being here,” he says. “Right now though, it’s just a spectacle.” Simon filed a complaint with the campus police a few hours earlier, citing Farrer for harassment saying the group “crossed a boundary.” The University Police sit astride motorcycles at the outskirts of the scene, watching. “Free speech,” shrugs Officer Bautista “They come here every two to three months, we just make sure no one gets hurt.”

God Loves You

“People tried to tell them God loves you,” says Israel in response to the query that the more “shock and awe” evangelism might give people the wrong impression of Christianity at large, “but a big burly guy with signs is harder to ignore.”

Farrer agrees that the soft option is not always the best approach. “Jesus loves you,” he says in a mocking singsong before laughing and adding “Jesus is going to throw you in hell, how much love is that?”

Ends and Means

Lawrence Dubois, a seven-year veteran of street preaching who was once a colleague of Farrer’s takes a different approach to spreading his message. “I don’t believe in doing something outrageous,” he says “the means don’t justify the end that way.” He identifies Farrer’s belief that the gospel is watered down as a common one among his peers. “But sometimes the pendulum swings too far the other way,” he says, referring the groups more incendiary tactics.

Full time street preacher, Lawrence Dubois, spreads his Evangelical sermon outside the 24th Street & Mission BART station on Thursday, Feb. 21st 2013. Photo by Frank Leal/ Xpress

Full time street preacher, Lawrence Dubois, spreads his Evangelical sermon outside the 24th Street & Mission BART station on Thursday, Feb. 21st 2013. Photo by Frank Leal/ Xpress

Dubois, currently an Oakland resident, says that when he street preaches he tries to “represent the character of Christ.” He feels that the message of the religion is “offensive” enough without sensationalizing it. “The gospel demands righteousness,” he says. “And men love darkness more than they love light.” Dubois says he shies away from message emblazoned shirts or signs and instead opts for common clothes or even the occasional suit and tie. He questions the methods of the more fire and brimstone inclined of his peers,” You want to present Christ in the best way possible because the bible says we are his ambassadors.” He says sensational street evangelists play into the stereotype of a “used-car salesman” and that they help reinforce the “Stigma” against street preachers in general.

Dubois says that he doesn’t “resort to calling people names or trying to enflame them”. He says he normally sets up his pulpits in poorer areas where his message of faith might bring hope to the community. He admits to being shy about public speaking at first and believes this weakness may be why God chose him for the task in the first place. Street preaching, he says has given him a lift like he’d never felt with anything else “If public speaking causes butterflies, open air preaching causes helicopters,” he says.

Back at Valentine’s Day, Farrer is looking for a similar lift. Faced with crowds of loud students and naysayers, he smiles and says conspiratorially “God works in supernatural ways, and maybe something I say today will give someone a revelation later. I’m not looking for you to walk up and accept the Lord, I’m just trying to get you to think.”

Women Who Kill: Comediennes of San Francisco

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Words: Molly Sanchez

Loren Kraut, Mary-Alice McNab, and me: All women who know what it feels like to kill.

“It’s exhilarating,” Kraut says, her small face breaking into a large smile.

“It’s f***ing magical,” concurs McNab banging a fist on the table for emphasis.

Personally I feel like Mary Poppins after a good kill, like I could float all the way home.

These women and I aren’t murderers, we’re comedians and it’s the high of laugh lust we’re constantly chasing.

It’s a Tuesday night at a dark bar where people get onstage one by one and try to remember what to say. The bar is called “Amnesia”.

Amnesia is trendy. It’s illuminated by tiny red candles glowing on tables against the wall. The tentacles of what appears to be a paper mache sea creature reach out at patrons from the bar ceiling. It’s so dark one can barely read the names on the beer taps and is reduced to grunting vaguely at the bartender “I’ll have the one with the fish on it.”

Against the back wall of the bar is a stage. It’s lit by pink theatre lights from above and is cluttered with black microphone stands. None of these mics ever seem tall enough for any of the comics that ascend the small set of stairs to the stage so that the first few minutes of everyone’s set is spent adjusting it to fit their needs.

Tuesday nights at Amnesia are the brainchild of comedian and producer, Rajeev Dhar. I met Dhaj at the SF Comedy Burrito Festival earlier this year and he encouraged me to come check it out. “ I used to hate open mics ,” he confided “ I hated waiting around all night just to do 4-5 minutes.” “ Then I realized it’s part of the process, you know?”

I’ve never been to an open mic before, unless you count the times I barged into the music open mics on campus. I don’t really consider those days of doing penis jokes between acoustic guitar renditions of “Wonderwall” to have been very helpful in the way of developing my process. In my four years of doing standup I’ve mostly as an opener for my friend’s improv group. They did monthly shows at a bar downtown and every month they would dutifully smuggle my under 21 self in to do a 10 minute set. A long set, people who loved me and laughed at me, the occasional sneaked sip of beer? No wonder I loved this gig! When they stopped performing at the bar and my gig dried up it felt like a divorce to leave a comfortable loving space and venture out into the great unknown.

Amnesia is terrifying. It’s a bar filled with comedians that already know and like and talk to eachother. It only takes two sets for me to realize a crushing truth: Comedians rarely laugh at other comedieans. Some of them barely look up from squinting at their notebooks to even acknowlege at person is onstage . Some comics that go up at amnesia get flustered at the lack of response. “These are called jokes, folks,” one guy in a grey hoodie heckles into the void. He’s rewarded with at feeble chuckle from the back of the bar. “ I really wish I was white so I could say white things you people would laugh at,” barks a Native American comic. The crowd laughs uncomfortable. One guy at the door mutters “well he sure got us!” sarcastically into his beer.

McNab, sitting at the bar’s corner rolls her eyes at this. She hates when “ people think open mics are shows,”. “This is practice, this is training wheels,” she says to me later. “This is something you can only learn onstage,” she says “If you don’t get on stage you’re not a standup comedian.” She shrugs “ I don’t know what you are then.”

McNab has been on the comedy scene for 15 months now but she’s always been funny. Growing up she went to catholic schools and eventually made the move from Colorado to California when she was in her late twenties. At the encouragement of other comedian friends McNab enrolled in the Comedy College and started going to open mics. Some places she go to even let women do longer sets than men “ because there are so few of us in the industry.”

That’s how I’ve always felt, even in my limited experience, that I was a lone lady in a boys world. Yet at Amnesia some nights, women comics make up about a quarter of the performers.

“It’s an uphill climb,” says Loren Kraut a diminutive comic with glasses and brown hair. She shakes her head “ we’re not really wanted.” She adds “ I hate to be introduced as the ‘lady comedian’” she says scowling slightly “I want to punch someone in the face!”

Kraut has been doing comedy for 6 years. Before that she lived in new york trying to be an actress. Like McNab , Kraut is also a graduate of the Comedy College. “ I always wanted to do it,” she says of comedy “ but I didn’t have the nerve.”

And it takes nerve for Kraut to climb the stairs to the stage and do her set, especially considering what she talks about.

She sidles up to the mic, takes it off the stand, blinks languidly at the crowd before saying “ Over the years I’ve written a small, and I think well written , pile of suicide notes.” The crowd giggles awkwardly, Kraut continues “ I’m always loath to throw out anything I might need someday.” She’s deadpan even about death. “It’s ok to laugh,” she coaxes gently “ I’m still here.” The rest of her set ranges from her time in an anorexia clinic, her title as “most pathetic lesbian” and her OCD. The  last one is evident by her stooping down in the middle of her set to pick a speck of glitter off the stage floor.

Her matieral, deep and uncomfortable though it may be, gets laughs. She smiles as she walks off stage and sits back down at her table. Later she tells me “it sounds corny but I do it for freedom of expression.” She says she talks about the kinds of things that she talks about because “if I make fun of it, I get to work out the kinks.”

McNab concurs “ You can work out your shit if it’s funny.”

She says it’s hard for women sometimes to access this method of catharsis and even get onstage. “ Women are trained to be pretty and smart and together,” she says . “Comedy is so much about self deprication that if you’re trying to maintain that façade, you’re fucked.”

Kate Willet is the next to go on stage. She’s the only comic I’ve ever seen in a dress. It’s mauve and she pairs it with brown boots. She could be any other girl, and the beginning of her set sounds about as incendiary as any girl slagging off her friends. “ All my friends are married, and they worry about ‘where should I buy a house’ and things like that,” she says. Then the façade drops and the comedian in her kicks in to full, filthy gear. “ I think about ‘how am I going to pay rent’ or ‘is this really the guy I want to get HPV from?” The crowd bursts into shocked laughter and she smiles innocently “Because you want it to be the right person, you know?”

The second comedian I’ve ever seen in a dress is also at Amnesia. Her name is Casey Grim and as she mounts the stairs to the stage one audience member says “ ooh look Katy Perry” under their breath. Grim looks the part with her dark black hair and bright doe eyes that peek out coquettishly from behind square eyeglasses. Her cuteness is why it’s so alarming to hear her say, in a fairy voice that is high and bubbly “ I’m like any other girl in that I’ve been sexually assaulted.” The crowd laughs, again somewhat uncomfortably and Grim continues to recount her story. She says she woke up in a strange dorm after a night of drinking to find a man with his hand down her pants. In the middle of this assault, she says campus police burst in and start to arrest the man. She says while he was being handcuffed “ I got to say the one thing that every girl who has ever been a victim has wanted to say.” “You suck at fingering!” she chirps gleefully. The crowd roars.

Talking openly about things not acceptable in “ polite discussion” is important for women Krout says. She has come to feel “ the need to express myself is greater than the fear, and it is fulfilling .”

I remember a time, a while before my night at Amnesia that I felt fulfilled. I was in the midst of a grand maul breakup, broken totally on the inside and constantly having to change direction every time I saw my ex in a crowd. I was onstage doing a set when I saw his sidle in the back and stand staring by the door. I took a deep breath and began .“ I want to tell you a story about my ex boyfriend,” I begin, my heart pounding furiously in my chest, “ and because some of you may know who he is I’m going to change his name slightly so that you’ll know who I’m talking about but you won’t know who I’m talking about.” I see him roll his eyes but I continue “ so shmasshole and I were dating..” The rest of the set killed and I had the crowd laughing uproariously at several other jokes that skewered my still present ex. “We’d have sex, snuggle, and I was obligated to like his friends but he said he wasn’t ready for a relationship,” I said at one point before grimacing and saying “ that’s like saying ‘I like marshmallows, I like chocolate, but I’m just not ready for a s’more”. I killed and with the audience’s laughter I sauntered off stage thinking “ this must be how it feels to be Taylor Swift.”

Back at Amnesia McNab is about to go up. As the previous comic finishes up their set she nurses her dark beer and squints down at her set list . She scribbles something on a coaster before getting up onstage. I look at the coaster as she goes  up. “Camel Toe/holiday/muffin top” is scrawled in black pen around the coaster’s border.

“Does my camel toe make these pants look weird?” she asks the audience, pelvic thrusting slightly. She goes on to elaborate that she’s concerned about her body, namely her “muffin top.” She rubs the small fold of skin above her waist affectionately and says “this is a specialty muffin made out of whiskey and ice cream.” She laughs slightly saying “ It’s my job as a comedian to share these awkward tidbits with you.” Later on in her 4 minute set, McNab forgets what she was going to say. “Think, think” she says doing deep squats onstage, scrabbling for the rest of her set. It’s painful, as a performer and as a person that likes her, to watch the struggle. She snaps up from the squat and grins “Fuck it, I’ll end it here,” she says walking off the stage. When she sits down she mutters “I can’t drink before I go up, that’s the problem,” before leaning her head back and trying to remember the part she’s forgotten. This set is a perfect example of something she told me earlier “ it’s better to do a short, good set than a long rambling one.”

It’s hard to see a comic stop short like that but bombing is a right of passage we all need to pay at some point. Kraut recalls her worst time onstage, “ I was heckled by a dog!” she says. According to her a woman went to the bathroom during her set and the dog barked  the entire time. Bombing, Kraut says, “ feels like all the terrible things.”

All the terrible things are in my head as I too ascend the stage. After McNab’s set I’ve taken only tentative half sips of my own beer so my mouth tastes sickly of IPA and fear. The applause is lukewarm and as I start my set the room becomes so quiet I can hear almost perfectly the conversation of the smokers just outside the door. During my set, which garners only a few laughs even on material I know works, it occurs to me that doing standup comedy is like trying to play fetch with cats. Once in a while you’ll meet a great cat willing to lob something back to you. More often than not you get a cat that stares blankly at your attempt with a look that clearly says “ what do you a take me for, a fucking dog?”

Still even those who bomb are given a warm reception after their set at Amnesia and everyone is receptive to praise. Grim grasps both my hands in both of hers when I say I like her set and thanks me fervently. Willet comes over and places an affectionate hand on the small of my back saying she’s so glad I could make it out. McNab acts as a sort of one woman Little League receiving line, offering a high five to everyone as they walk past her offstage. She envelops me in a bear hug and says she can’t wait to see me again.

Even on days when I don’t do my best I am so glad to have comedy as a release and as a way to meet other women brave enough to do it too. They inspire me to get back up again.

All of us are chasers of the same feeling. The feeling Kraut describes as “being in the exact right spot.”

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Miracle on 19th St: The Secret Life of a Mall Santa

By

Words: Molly Sanchez

Santa Claus is not supposed to take interviews. The official “Guide to Santa MEDIA Questions and Answers” put out by GGP Corporate Communications stipulates in screaming capital letters: “DO NOT RESPOND IN ANY MANNER TO ANY QUESTIONS THAT ATTEMPT TO MAKE YOU OUT OF CHARACTER.”

Which is why, when first asked his name, Larry Dahm answers “Santa Claus.”

The media guide goes on to give examples of the company approved responses he, or any Santa is allowed to give. The proper response to “What did you do before you were Santa?” is a jolly “Before I was Santa? Well I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t Santa!”

Dahm, who is in his ninth season of being a mall santa says, “I’ve done a little bit of everything.”

He says some of his early jobs included picking strawberries, bucking hay, and participating in a junior rodeo. Later in life, Dahm worked in the lumber industry, at gas stations, grocery stores, and says he even owned his own cab business for ten plus years.

Dahm’s attitude towards his work these days has changed drastically.

“I had an attitude, like most sailors when they’re half intoxicated,” he says with his trademark twinkle in his eyes. “As I got older, I found my way with the lord,” he says “and that’s why I do what I do [now].”

General Growth Properties (GGP) is the corporation that works with malls to employ Dahm and other mall Santas.

Santa Schools

Every Santa is interviewed by GGP and has to undergo a full drug test and background screening before they can get the job. Dahm says he passed his test with flying colors.

“They said I probably had a cleaner record than the President of the United States,” he says.

The GGP guide also has a mandated answer to having a background check. The “in character” answer is: “of course I’ve been background checked! I slip into millions of homes every year!”

“Not just anyone can be Santa,” says Larry Wells, the district mentor for the Stonestown Mall. “Theres an actual Santa school that they go to in June and July. As soon as Easter’s said and done, we have about a month break and then it starts all over again.”

At Santa school, potential performers have to roleplay in worst-case-scenario situations, like crying children, and also watch online tutorials and take written tests.

“They have to get a 90% on everything or they don’t get to be Santa,” says Wells.

When the season starts, Wells is in charge of mentoring Santas at over eight malls all around the Bay Area. Some problems he solves are little ones. When a child is crying on Santa’s lap, Wells immediately stops his conversation to help. He stands just off camera brandishing a feather on a stick. The prop is so simple it could be a feather duster, but with Well’s skillful wielding, the child is transfixed and even gives the camera a shy smile.

Other problems are, if you’ll excuse the pun, hairier. Last weekend, for example, he says he had to pick Dahm up and drive him to get his beard bleached because a mall official claimed it was “white, but not white enough.”

“We never use fake beards,” he says shrugging, a fact that adds to the realness of the company’s commitment to the idea of Santa. “We’re working for Santa and if he’s unhappy it shows. It’s a big production.”

Kids These Days

A big production is taking place in the heart of the Stonestown Mall. Larry Dahm sits in a comically oversized armchair flanked on either side by gargantuan sparkly toy soldiers in the middle of the Stonestown Mall. Corporate refers to this as “on set”. For Dahm it’s his nine-to-five.

A small boy wearing green rain boots bedecked with frog’s eyes toddles shyly up to Dahm, taking in his fluffy red and white robe.

As the boy moves closer, he absentmindedly starts to pull his shirt up and display his baby portliness to the seated Dahm.

“Oh no skin here, young man,” Dahm chuckles waggling a finger at the boy whose parents are scrambling to cover their precocious child. “I know it’s San Francisco but you can’t do that!”

Eventually, the boy sits on Dahm’s lap, looking in awe at his full, white beard. With some prompting from his parents the boy asks for “drums” with one hand in his open mouth, fiddling with a loose front tooth. Dahm nods knowingly and answers, “Lucky for you I have a lot of drums!”

To his left, at a counter bedecked with Christmas knick knacks stands Maygen Michota, his manager. She smiles as she watches the aftermath of the flashing, and bops her head slightly to the holiday music piped at ear splitting volume via the mall’s speakers.

The reactions of the kids is her favorite part of the job.

“It’s just pure and innocent,” Michota says. “It’s so sweet, even when they cry.”

Santa’s next interaction is with a crier; a tiny baby girl swathed in pink footy pajamas. She starts to fuss almost as soon as her parents lift her out to Dahm. He looks the baby in the eye and starts speaking softly to her. He waves a small set of handbells and they jingle softly in front of her face. She is transfixed either by the noise or by the kind words of the huge man in red. Either way, she sits quietly in Dahm’s arms and takes a precious, if a bit stoic, picture.

“He’s convinced more kids than any other Santa I’ve seen,” Michota says. “He’s really good at making them feel comfortable and that’s important.”

“That is the part I hate,” Dahmn says, referring to the crying. “It used to make me so upset when I started, I almost quit.” Dahm says he got over it by talking to veteran Santas who reminded him that it was just “another part of the job”.

Issues like this could be a reason corporate provides post season counseling for some Santas.

“They really get into the part. Some santas have a hard time getting back to reality,” Dahm says.

The Real Deal

There’s something special about this Santa in particular. I’m not the only person that feels it. A complete stranger walks up to me as I stand a few feet from the throne taking notes. She’s a middle aged woman, laden with shopping bags.

“That’s the real deal,” she says gesturing a long nailed finger at Dahm, “I always think he’s the real deal. He’s the one who does all the commercials.” I counter that I don’t think Dahm has ever done any television work. She ignores that and launches into a story about how she remembers waiting to sit with Santa as a child. She talks for a good ten minutes about her past, her present, and her future as it related to Santa and when she leaves she squeezes my shoulder and wishes me a Merry Christmas.

“It’s a corporate game, it’s money generated,” Wells confides. “But in the same breath it’s such a tradition.” He then launches into his own story of meeting Santa. He even admits to being a beard puller.

The official guide says that Santas must answer the question of yearly income with a glib “I get paid all the candy canes and snowballs I can eat, as well as plenty of carrots for the reindeer.”

Again, Dahm has his own approach. “Some of your Santas out there, all they’re after is the money,” Dahm says with, of course, a twinkle in his eye. “I want the money, but I still believe I’m doing a faithful thing.”

Bah Humbug

The cynic will point out the “faithful” thing Dahm is doing is placating children while their parents shop. They’ll point to corporate with their lists of appropriate answers and employees who run around protecting their precious image. The cynics will say that, Dahm, Wells, Michoto, and all Santas are just playing into the commerciality of the season, a season that was silly to begin with.

What these humbuggers fail to realize is the driving force behind all of this. It’s a feeling rather than a product.

“With all the troubles that’s going on in the world, it’s a time to stop and reflect. It’s about family, kids, relationships,” Wells says. “For a short period of time [Christmas] it gets your mind off other things, that’s what I’m using this job for. I just put my other issues aside and do this.”

With a job that is seven days a week, for two months Dahm has had to put parts of his life on hold. He has five grandchildren “that I know of,” he quips.

A few years back, Wells’ youngest grandchild was turning six and he was going to have to miss her birthday because of his shift at the mall. “She put me through a guilt trip,” Wells recalls. “But I told her, ‘I’ll be there on Christmas eve.” And he was.

“I have an ability,” Dahm says, waving to the people on the upper tier of the mall before turning to me and finishing. “I’m trying to bring pleasure to the children, to give them hope that things will be better.”

Yes S.F. State, there is a Santa Claus and though we are old and cranky and full of cheap beer, we can still feel it. It’s the sense of community in the season. It’s the faith that things will get better, beyond finals, beyond college, beyond everything that hurts us now. All that’s needed is the willingness to believe in a little magic.

And a super white beard!

Self-described "person and stand-up comedian" Karl Hess performs at the Comedy & Burrito festival's Kickoff Show at SUB-Mission. Photo by Babak Haghighi

Wet Burritos, Dry Humor

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Self-described “person and stand-up comedian” Karl Hess performs at the Comedy & Burrito festival’s Kickoff Show at SUB-Mission. Photo by Babak Haghighi

Words: Babak Haghighi & Molly Sanchez
Photos: Babak Haghighi

Sharon Houston, a dark-haired comic from Los Angeles, stands in the oval of light cast on the dark stage of a Mission District venue. Behind her is a wall covered in murals from the gorgeous to the graphic.

Squinting out at the giggling crowd at SUB-Mission in the darkness, Houston makes this assessment, “there’s some crazy f–ks in San Francisco!” The crowd whoops appreciatively, and she smiles before asking, “What the f–k do you eat in the Mission?”

Burritos. The answer to many of life’s questions, let alone Houston’s. Lines of people queue up in front of the assembly line of Pancho Villa Taqueria, waiting to redeem their voucher for a free burrito, a perk only allotted to festival pass holders. The smell of cooking carne asada is thick and intoxicating in the air, and patrons can hardly scarf down an entire burrito full of it before scurrying off to the next show.

Many clubs usually enforce ‘no outside food or drink’ policies, but at the San Francisco Comedy & Burrito Festival, held this year from Oct 11 to 13, outside food is encouraged—as long as it’s Mexican.

According to Ameen Belbahri, co-founder and executive director of the San Francisco Comedy & Burrito Festival, the tortilla and its contents are an essential part of partying in the city.

“The Mission experience, which includes drunkenly gorging yourself on a giant burrito, is about as San Franciscan as you can get.”

He and co-founder Jeff Cleary decided to start the festival after seeing the popular Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland. “Having met and befriended comics from all over the world, I learned that it [San Francisco] is also a city that comics from everywhere else want to visit and perform in,” says Belbahri. “That mixture of amazing local talent and being a popular destination spot for comics is what made it a great city to have a festival.”

The three-day festival featured more than a hundred comedians in well over 40 shows at six venues in the Mission, as well as an ongoing open mic. Not one of these shows had a shortage of burrito-eaters in the audience.

But why burritos? For San Franciscan comedian Drennon Davis, it makes perfect sense.

“San Francisco is pretty snobby about food in general and very proud of the Mission burrito,” says Davis, who was featured in NBC’s Last Comic Standing. “The comedy scene is also like that. We tend to have a higher grade of comedy that’s also very unique in style. We’re proud of it, so it only makes sense to put the two together and celebrate them.”

Performers and their audiences alike scrambled across the Mission district for three straight nights, constantly moving from venue to venue and from taqueria to taqueria.

Jeff Cleary, a veteran of the San Francisco comedy scene, co-produced the festival alongside Belbahri. The two assumed the event would be somewhat low-key, so they figured they could handle running the event on their own. But with an unexpected sell-out of festival passes, things were much more hectic than they anticipated.

“It’s a huge cocaine party without the cocaine,” says Cleary.

As the event went on, seats filled up, and things gradually began to fall into place.

“Next year, it won’t be a two-man operation,” Belbahri says.

Cleary used to organize an open mic at Annie’s Social Club, a former venue in the South of Market (SoMa) area. The open mic became a weekly haven for a struggling group of up-and-coming San Francisco comics. At the Comedy & Burrito Festival, Cleary brought the gang back together, or as much of it as he could, in an Annie’s Social Club reunion show at The Dark Room.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t get any female comics from Annie’s to be here,” said Cleary. “They’re all busy with actual, successful careers. The rest of us are here.”

Successful or not, San Francisco comics take pride in making their city a funnier place. “I love the kind of comedy we produce,” says Davis. “We tend to cultivate the weirdos of the comedy world.”

Weirdos. And they perform in weird places. For example, Brainwash, part café, part laundromat, hosts a popular open mic comedy night every Thursday in SoMa. Lost Weekend Video holds comedy nights in their tiny, brick wall basement, also known as the Cinecave.

Photo by Babak Haghighi

Not only does San Francisco breed the weirdos of comedy, but it attracts them as well. Comics from all across the country come to San Francisco to showcase their comedic talents to the awesomeness that is the San Francisco comedy crowd. Louis C.K., a king among comics, sold out all four of his mid-November San Francisco shows almost instantaneously when tickets went on sale during the summer. Dozens of big-name acts in the comedy world come to the city, whether it’s to play a small club, record a popular podcast, film a DVD, or sell out a massive symphony hall. It may not be the show-business heavyweight that Los Angeles is, but when it comes to comedy, San Francisco puts up a knockout fight.

Guy Branum, one of the higher-billed performers at the Comedy & Burrito Festival, was glad to return to his hometown by the bay to perform. On stage at The Dark Room, Branum reminisces about going to college in the Bay Area.

“I lived in the affordable part of San Francisco,” says Branum. “It’s called Oakland. I lived in the part of Oakland with a lot of white people. It’s called Berkeley.”

Every up-and-coming San Francisco comic dreams of landing a headlining gig at Cobb’s Comedy Club or Punch Line, two of the top comedy venues in the city. But to get there, they have to hit the open mic circuit first.

“It’s great to see people do their amateur stuff and to see their process,” says Raj Dhar, a local comic who volunteered at the Comedy & Burrito festival. “When I first started, I hated doing open mics. I hated waiting around to only get three or five minutes. But now I realize that’s what you’ve got to do—try to get out as much as you can.”

There are many other open mic comedy nights held in virtually every corner of the city. San Francisco’s open mic scene gives amateur comics plenty of chances to test their material and make a name for themselves in the scene.

As far as comedy festivals in San Francisco go, SF Sketchfest wears the crown. The annual festival will celebrate its twelfth year in January. In 2012, the festival hosted hundreds of performers at more than a dozen venues throughout the city. Festival shows feature stand-up comedy, sketch comedy, improv troupes, live podcasts, film screenings, TV-show reunions, musical guests, and all things comedy. Simply put, during Sketchfest, San Francisco is the funniest place on the planet. In time, however, the Comedy & Burrito festival may end up giving Sketchfest a run for its money.

“It’s a little unfair to compare the two,” says Davis. “Sketchfest is absolutely amazing, but it took awhile for them to get where they are. If the Burrito Fest continues, which I imagine it will, I could see them with similar success without being in competition with Sketchfest. Burritos aren’t going anywhere, and neither is comedy. It’s a pretty safe bet to say that the festival will keep getting bigger.”

Despite almost-detrimental technical difficulties during his headlining Friday night set at The Dark Room, Davis says he enjoyed everything about the festival. He had only one complaint.

“I wish there was more free beer. But that’s just a general complaint in life.”

Ever since he found success in San Francisco, Davis has expanded his audience both throughout the country and even outside of it, most recently by performing for a month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world. But for him, nothing beats the comedy scene of his hometown.

“It’s the best. Seriously. Great crowds and incredible comics—it’s a very symbiotic relationship.”

Top 10 Youtube Videos

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In 2004 the winds of political change started to blow, flowing freely from the animated mouth of George W. Bush in a cowboy hat. JibJab.com launched their famous “This Land” video in response to the Bush/Kerry presidential election in 2004, a video that is now considered to be the first ever viral election video. Gregg Spiridellis and his brother Evan made the video in a “pre-YouTube” era and have since gotten more than eight million views. “Politics can be a dry, confusing topic to most people, hardly entertaining. We love bringing the laughs to the people which is why our short videos really resonate.” says Spiridellis.

Since then many others have taken their lead and created viral video parodies ranging from the hilarious poor lip readings of politicians to a few of the not safe for work (NSFW) variety involving Sarah Palin in a porno. Spoiler: you will never look at snowmobiles the same way again.

The Spiradellis bros say that the Democrats and Republicans are equally absurd. Maybe that’s why both sides of the political spectrum seem to be getting their share of YouTube views this election.

Top Ten Videos of the 2012 Election, compiled and commented on by Molly Sanchez.
Click on the title of the video to watch on YouTube.

10. Romney/Obama Hot and Cold

Channel: baracksdubs
Posted: Oct. 16, 2012

When asked about his favorite political videos Spiridellis was quick to point out the lip sync videos that have been going around this election cycle. This YouTube channel specializes in splicing videos of Obama to make him “sing” the lyrics of popular songs (Carly Rae Jepsen’s perennial classic, “Call Me Maybe” chief among them). The choice of song here seems especially poignant given politician’s penchant to smile beatifically one minute and mudsling the next. Fingers crossed for a follow-up video based on Justin Bieber’s “Baby” as an allegory for Medicare.

9. Big Bird for Obama Ad

Channel: BarackObamadotcom
Posted: Oct. 9, 2012

In his first presidential debate Governor Romney had a lot of good comments to make about the state of healthcare and taxes in America, yet the only thing people remember is his stance on public television, or as I call it “The War on Big Bird.” It’s not a huge surprise that a conservative would be against Sesame Street citizens. (We can imagine Bert and Ernie aren’t thrilled with the party’s stance on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell!) Democrats capitalized on this sound bite faster than Mr. Hooper could whip up a birdseed milkshake and this is the result.

8. Homer Simpson Votes
Channel:ANIMATIONonFOX
Posted Sept. 20, 2012

Springfield’s favorite father is back again, this time to discuss the political climate of contemporary America. Mmm….politics. This clip, aired as a promotion for the 24th season of The Simpsons, touches on a lot of hot button issues for this election from voter ID laws to gas station televisions, to Michelle Obama’s stand on health food. Eat your heart out, South Park.

7. Romney Girl

Channel: blndsundoll4mj
Posted Oct. 6, 2012

Trisha Paytas, amateur political commentator and makeup enthusiast would like to remind you that “Mitt” rhymes with “Tit” and “I have two of those so….” The latter maxim is just one of many reasons she is urging her followers to vote for Governor Romney (though the pun-minded among us would like to know how she could manage said “tits” without an Obam-bra.) Laugh at her comparisons between the governor and her cat if you will but mock not her enthusiasm to vote, especially in light of polls that suggest college age women vote less than men. http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/research/topics/documents/young.pdf
Plus you can read her “eww plane, go away” comment as a subtle 9/11 homage.

6. Shut Your Yapper

Channel: LateNight
Posted: Oct. 4, 2012

I don’t care what your daddy says, Jimmy Fallon election videos are here! This video perfectly parodies the bullying of moderator Jim Lehrer during the first presidential debate who was ignored more that Matt Damon on Jimmy Kimmel. What’s that? You think my jokes are trite? I think you’ll find I have four more videos so jujunah nah neet. Juuu juuu nah naha neeeet!

5. Get Nana a Gun
Channel: SilvermanVideos
Posted: Sept. 20, 2012

Whether her videos are about scrapping the Vatican for parts or doing the nasty with Matt Damon comedienne Sarah Silverman always makes her presence known on YouTube. Her message this election is about the proposed voter identification law that she says will affect “black people, old people, poor people, and students.” Her modest proposal is that everyone buy their grandma a gun license because it will serve as a valid form of identification where a social security card won’t. “It makes sense when you think about it. Cars cost tens of thousands of dollars but if you get a gun you can get a ride virtually anywhere!” Silverman says.

4. The Obama I Used to Know
Channel:http://www.youtube.com/user/JustNewProductions
Channel: JustNewProductions
Posted: Aug. 4, 2012

WARNING: Do NOT watch this video if you don’t want Gotye’s (goat-tee-yay, or Goat-ya?) “Somebody That I Used To Know” stuck in your head for the foreseeable future. This parody, complete with awesome stop-motion body paint showcases one man’s disillusionment with the president. “But you won and then you cut me off, now your speeches never soar as high as unemployment,” and “Sometimes I think that peace prize winners shouldn’t have a kill list” are among some of the song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics that make this not only an effective parody but also annoyingly catchy and poignant.

3. Kids React to Election 2012
Posted: Oct. 21, 2012

“It’s like five-year-olds fighting over a toy, except the toy is America” is just one of the priceless quotes found in the Fine Brother’s latest “Kids React to” video. Out of the mouths of babes indeed. The responses range from silly to oddly astute and all of them strip the bickering of the political circus to its barest atoms. These kids know nothing of political policy past or present and heck, even a kid ruminates on “binders full of women? And I thought my binder full of magic cards was cool!” Their innocence makes adults both more aware of the absurdities inherent in the political process and of their own lack of that knowledge they thought they would have gained by now. What is the “Electrical College“ college anyway? An archaic institution, or maybe just another PBS show on Romney’s hit list?

2. Patriot Game

Channel: New York Times
Posted: Sept. 17, 2012

Though this creation of the New York Times Op/Ed department may look like a Wreck–It-Ralph trailer, “Patriot Games” is a great testament to the similarity between the two candidates and the silly-ness of the political system as a whole. To boil down speeches to video game-esque “achievement unlocked” scenarios is to showcase the blatant one-upping of each candidate. This kind of searing satire makes the watcher long for the “Game Over” screen.

1. You Must Vote

Channel: VlogBrothers
Posted: Sept. 2, 2012

If the New York Times is brilliant for boiling down politics to video games then Hank Green is brilliant for boiling down voting to Twilight. “Say a guy creates a YouTube video and a bunch of people watch it. Half of them are Twi-hards and half of them are BBC drama fans,” Green says.“ If the Twi-hards leave comments 90 percent of the time and the Whovians leave comments 10 percent of the time, the person who makes the videos will have no idea the Whovians are there and will be much more likely to make content for Twi-hards.” The video was so popular President Obama (or his savvy band of interns) posted it on his official tumblr. His message is succinct and relatable and a great way to encourage young people to exercise their right to vote. Green’s hope in the power of democracy is refreshingly earnest and favors neither party.

Hank Green’s message, like the message of JibJab CEO Spiridellis is nonpartisan. The message, whether it is communicated via a viral video, pamphlet, or snarky editorial is that you, as an American, should exercise your right to vote because it matters to the country you live in. These videos reach millions of people all over the United States and intentionally or not, they spread the message of the inherent silly nature of modern politics. So yes, every candidate can be made to dance, every candidate can say similar truths and lies, and every candidate is basically a monkey in shoes. But at the end of the day, one of them will be the monkey in shoes that makes big decisions on our behalf so we’d better tune in and choose wisely.

barbie-featured image

Red, White, and Pink: Barbie for President

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VTieman_Barbie_006
Barbie give a speech about saving the ocean, ‘one fish at a time.’ Photo by Virginia Tieman.

Words: Molly Sanchez
Photos: Virginia Tieman

The message of hope is so last election-the newest presidential candidate is running on a campaign of dreams. Though the 2008 presidential race showed Americans that it wasn’t irregular for a woman to run for office, being a woman is not what makes this candidate stand out. She wouldn’t be the first president to be an actor. She would, however, be the first president to be a doctor, a pop star, and a mermaid. She’s served in four out of the five branches of the military and is pretty handy with a rapier as evidenced by her turn as a musketeer. She has mild religious affiliations if her Christmas caroling gown is any indication. Even though she’s unmarried, she’s in a committed relationship and can stand proudly on her own two feet. She’s also 11 inches tall and made entirely of consumer-grade plastic.

Don’t let her stature fool you: this little woman represents the dreams of girls who don’t want to pursue so-called “feminine” careers. On April 5th, 2012, Barbie’s press secretaries (or rather, Mattel representatives) announced her run for the White House. Though it is not the doll’s first “glam-paign” (she also ran in 2008), it will be the first time she has ever been able to stand erect and watch it for herself. Weighted pink platforms allow the doll, who has spent her 53 years being supported by doll stands, to finally support herself.

“I Can Be…President B Party Doll,” who comes in a variety of skin tones and ethnicities, is a definite departure from Barbie’s predecessors. No longer is she solely a white, flaxen-haired homemaker. Now she represents a multitude of races and professions like astronaut, yoga instructor, veterinarian and computer programmer.

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