Is This Thing On?: A Bay Area Comedy ek-spoh-zey
I'm rooting for Oakland. Although she's forever overshadowed by that stylish, chic, and sardonically quick witted brother of hers across the Bay, I see her potential. Sure, as a twenty year SF resident, I was spoiled on the bevy of world class restaurants, sold out shows, and glitzy late night entertainment. But having now made the pioneer leap to Oakland, I've left behind that polished knob, and I'm all in to support what amusements my hometown girl has to offer.
So this Thursday I eased on down to my local watering hole, The Legionnaire Saloon, to assay their weekly laugh-in, The Barbary Coast Comedy Showcase. I'd meant to get there early enough to grab a good seat, but had lagged. If this was SF, I'd be assed out for standing room only on the street next to the guy begging change. Not so in Oakland baby. Seeing that I was one of four people who had shown up, I had my pick of options. Sit on that San Francisco!
Time to belly up. If this was SF, I'd be pulling out a machete just to cut through the briar patch of bearded men and boho girls with wide rimmed hats between me and my mixologist; a mustachioed man who'd be sure to substitute unabashed scorn for the bitters in my Rye Manhattan. But in Oakland, there are no lines and no attitude. I ordered a drink from a woman holding a baby in one hand, who poured a stiff vodka tonic, and shot ocean spray cran straight outta the gun with a smile.
Although San Francisco fancies itself a multi-cultural and social consciousness hub, truth be told, that old queen is as homogenous as french vanilla. In Oakland, get ready to see some real diversity in 31 painfully vibrant flavors:
Where else can you witness a "cookies n' cream" colored comedian tackle racism, and homophobia, while he simultaneously snubbs the transgendered woman in the room. Oscillating between myself, and the only other straight patrons in the bar with obtrusive questions and eye contact, while carefully failing to acknowledge the fourth attendee. Getting even more awkward recounting the steps every man must take to avoid being called that most loathsome of all insults; Faggot. Dude, it was like so meta.
Think San Francisco rules the West Coast for cutting edge conceptual theater? Think again. At the Legionnaire loft in Oakland, we care far more about the idea for the work than the finished product. As when a nerdy, anxious Asian comedian took the stage, had a heckler buy him a drink, sipped from said drink, spilled a good portion of it to the floor, and failed to tell a single joke, before announcing his time was up and leaving the stage. Now that's performance art.
It seems to me that SF has become so passively gentrified, your East Coast counterparts think they can walk all over you. "I'm from New York" they squawk, like it's the fucking magical princess all inclusive E pass to every city in the Union. But that's not gonna fly here in Oakland, where a peg-legged guy from the audience easily out big-mouthed a New York transplant with a pair of working gams and a mic in her hand. East Coast? Try East Bay bitches! We'll take your big apple, smoke some kush outta it, and chuck it at you on stage.
SF liberal's have their panties so far up their butts, they've lost their sense of humor about "otherness". Not here in Oak-town, where a neurotic lesbian with OCD made an act of picking staples up off the floor and "air" touching each member of the audience. Not to mention she successfully subdued that same pesky peg-legged pirate by declaring she'd already counted every word in her act, and therefore wouldn't tolerate any offstage antics during her performance. It was funny mostly because it was true, so he minded himself like a choir boy till she was done. Hey, in Oakland we're not too PC to have fun with disabilities, but we're not stupid enough to fuck with someone who's clearly been in and out of a mental institution. Just sayin'.
And sure, San Francisco has some amazing immersive theatrical experiences, where the audience can interact with the players, but we've got that in Oakland too. Like when I got up to use the restroom before his act, and headliner Nato Green told me to go sit down. Pardon me? Sit Back Down, he ordered. I guess even when you've worked your headcount up to six people in a room, every last person counts. Especially to the one guy who's getting ready to stand up.
And that brings me to my last point. See, in The City you might start to feel small and insignificant, constantly surrounded by hoards of mutants; more youthful, beautiful, savvy, stylish, and rich, than you could ever dream to be. Not so in Oakland, a place where you can still get noticed -- even if you're an M to F and Adrian McNair is trying way too hard not to notice you. Come eat stale pretzels in a shabby room, and have every single performer on stage ask you your name and where you're from. Not to mention every man you pass on the street on the way to the venue. I promise. Here, art is still a first hand, raw, personal experience. Right down to when you can and cannot take your potty breaks.
While those SF Mission Hipsters might think they've assimilated sardonicism with a resistance is futile ferocity matched only by The Borg, we here in Oakland mastered quirky, ill fitting, and ironic way before it was appropriated by that thick rimmed co-opt on the West side of the bridge. I mean, what's more absurd than a comedy show that is funny precisely because of how uncomfortably unfunny it actually is. So thank you Oakland. Though yesteryears' chanteuse drank expensive hand crafted cocktails while singing songs of hearts left behind in San Francisco, mine is right here with you. And I mean that. No, really I do.