Underground musician-comedian George Chen, Club Chuckles, stand-up and burritos, Treasure Island Music Fest, Sic Alps, more music
TOFU AND WHISKEY Kyle Statham, from the Oakland band Fuck, once gave Hemlock booker Anthony Bedard some laconic advice: "Music is easy, comedy is hard." What's interesting to me, is the comedian who brings a guitar to the stage, or the seasoned noise composer who tries his hand at stand-up; it has a boot-strapped vaudevillian, winking variety show appeal. And are you aware that cheeky, string-bean comedian Kerri Kenney-Silver, of The State and Reno 911, was once in a riot grrrl band called Cake Like? But I digress.
So, Bedard — also the drummer of Icky Boyfriends, Hank IV, and Little Queenie — has been booking the garage pop, swamp rock, surf-punk, and experimental avant-garde heavy lineups at the Hemlock (www.hemlocktavern.com) since 2002, and he established a monthly comedy night, Club Chuckles, there in 2003. It's still running. When I started listing shows for the Guardian's music calendar, the name Club Chuckles blew confused thought bubbles above my head. I thought perhaps there was a juggalo-esque rap-rock group that just happened to play the Hemlock monthly?
But no, it's an experimental comedy night. Bedard, who also runs comedy label Talent Moat, calls it a "deconstructed comedy club experience," that specializes in "weirder, bent comedy in an anything-goes rock club setting." Neil Hamburger, Brent Weinbach, Jasper Redd, Louis Katz, Moshe Kasher, and Reggie Watts have all popped in.
When I ask about there seeming to be an increase in underground comedic talent lately, Bedard says, "The comedy scene, not unlike the music scene, is cyclical, and right now there is a bumper crop of funny, interesting, cool, weird, up-and-coming comedians pretty much seven nights a week in San Francisco."
One such relatively new comedian is George Chen, who is better known in the local music scene as a member of KIT, Chen Santa Maria, Common Eider King Eider, and as a booker-promoter of underground, all-ages shows. Chen also runs Zum Records, and formerly worked for Alternative Tentacles. He's everywhere. And one night this summer, he sent out a Facebook invite to his music fans, saying he and Kevin O'Shea would be hosting an eclectic live comedy night in the basement of Lost Weekend Video.
That show was electric, the room was buzzing and packed with people who didn't seem like the comedy club types. And many of the comedians (12 in all, I believe? It went on so long that there was an intermission) riffed on San Francisco, LA, and what could best be described as hipster nonsense. By the end of the night, my cheeks hurt from laughing so hearty at the likes of Chen, Chris Garcia, Jesse Elias, and Jessica Sele.
That Lost Weekend night is now one of Chen's frequent co-hosting gigs — Cynic Cave takes place every second Saturday — along with Talkies, a multimedia comedic variety show he puts together monthly at ATA (www.atasite.org) with Anna Seregina.
So how did he get here? From long-standing musician/musicians-ally, to comedy club host?
"It's a lot of reboots with me. I'm a big rebooter. I'm a big control-alt-delete guy," he says, smiling, sitting in Alamo Square park after we make our way from Rare Device curiosities shop on Divisadero, where his sister Yvonne has permanent pop-up shop Little Otsu; he also infrequently contributes graphics and moral support to that endeavor. He has a slight lisp and an honest yet sarcastic demeanor that's incredibly endearing.