Taxi cab confessions

Comedian Brent Weinbach hails the laughs. Plus: Jonesin', Al Green, and more
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No Weinin'

a&eletters@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER We all have fantasies, and considering the fact that he happily goes to the sick, hilarious places only you and your silliest, closest pals go, comedian Brent Weinbach's is remarkably simple. He'd love to drive you ... no, not insane, but around in a cab. Of course, when the dream sort of came true — he got to tool around with a cabbie-curator for "Where to," a 2007 art show of taxi-related art at the Lab — one bubble was brutally burst, spurring a joke, of sorts.

"Not a lot of people got it," confesses the longtime SF comedian, now based in his native Los Angeles and back in town for his Outside Lands fest performances. In the cab, he says, "I met a wide variety of people: I met two yuppie girls, a yuppie guy, and more yuppies — and a stripper. A yuppie stripper.

"The point was," Weinbach continues, "I thought it was going to be more like New York City, where all kinds of people take cabs. But that's really what it was — a bunch of yuppies and a stripper. It turns out the only people who ride around in taxis in San Francisco are yuppies."

A disappointingly homogenous experience for a comic who has found plenty of very specific and strange black, queer, Chinese, Russian, Mexican, and just plain twisted voices to filter through his hilariously stiff, straight-guy comic persona — and despite the perk that, as a Travis Bickle manque, one would have a captive audience in the backseat. Still, cabbing it provided a theme of sorts for the wildly diverse array of live performance recordings, studio-recorded skits, and Weinbach-penned tunes and video game-inspired backing sounds making up the comedian's second album, The Night Shift (Talent Moat), the focus of a release show at the Verdi Club on Sept. 11. Weinbach sib and comedy co-conspirator Laura of Foxtail Brigade opens, along with Moshe Kasher and Alex Koll.

The tunes on Night Shift are a new touch, setting me off on a daydream about Weinbach doing the duelin' piano (and laughs) routine with Zach Galifianakis. (Weinbach once teased the ivories professionally in the lobby of Union Square hotels like the Mark Hopkins.) "Sometimes I close my set with one of those songs," Weinbach says. "After hearing the word 'penis' a bunch of times and talking about poo-poo, it's kind of funny to end the set with a sweet old-fashioned song." He worries, though, about the track-by-track re-creation of the album at the Verdi Club: "I hope they don't kill the momentum of the set."

Yet Weinbach is game — the ex-Oakland substitute teacher has had to be (memories of the letter from a student apologizing for calling him a "bitch" ghost-ride by). He dives into a rapid-fire, impassioned discussion of his comedy, which rarely discusses race directly, yet clearly emerges from the mashed-up, pop sensibility of a half-Filipino, half-Jewish Left Coast kid.

"The only time I've ever talked about race is right after the presidential election, when I wrote this: 'On Nov. 4, 2008, history was made' ... — I usually get a little applause here — 'It was a remarkable thing to see so much of the black community come together and deny gay people their civil rights. So now that the black man is keeping the gay man down, that means gay is the new black. And that means suburban teenagers will have to get used to a whole new way of acting cool.'"

Weinbach pauses, then explains heatedly, "I was really upset that 70 percent of black voters in California voted against gay marriage, when this whole election was about getting a black president into office. It just blew my mind." As for the joke itself, well, "It gets a good response, though sometimes people think I'm making fun of gay people or black people. I don't even know what's going through their head, actually.

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