Underground musician-comedian George Chen, Club Chuckles, stand-up and burritos, Treasure Island Music Fest, Sic Alps, more music
Chen, who's in his 30s and grew up in San Jose, considers himself a late bloomer when it comes to comedy. But he's been expressing himself artistically, in other manners, since high school, when he and his sister started the Zum fanzine, and later the record label. Now he has the Zum podcast, which was formerly music mixes, and now features interviews with musicians and comedians.
For the past few years, and especially since he started doing open-mics in late 2011, he's been focusing mainly on comedy, with music gigs here and there.
"My entire music career was sort of an elaborate failure. It was sort of an abrasive, deliberate failure in some ways. I think it was a very defeatist attitude about what I was doing, like 'oh, this isn't going to be popular. This is just going to be super cult,'" he says in a typically self-effacing manner.
When we first start talking, he seems somewhat hesitant to link his musical past with his comedy present, but he keeps laying out all these perfect examples.
He was in a hardcore band called Boxleitner in the early Aughts with his friend Gabriel Mindel Saloman of Yellow Swans that he says was initially a joke band.
"I thought of it as a parody of a hardcore band at first," Chen says. "It's like a very sincere joke band, if that makes sense?" I mention the Locust as another example, and he counters, "but they're such good musicians."
Later, he just spells it out: "this is why I can say my comedy career started in music; I also did a cover band in the late '90s ...It was an all-Chinese cover band of the Northwest punk band Lync, so we were called Chync, and it was very odd that you had a band of four Chinese-American dudes that were all into this punk band hard enough that we knew all the songs."
This week, Chen will be doing some free stand-up outside with more than a dozen other comics during the Ha!ccupy Berkeley event at Berkeley's Sunday Streets (Sun/14, 11am-4pm, Shattuck Avenue from Hast to Rose, Berk., www.sundaystreetsberkeley.com).
Also, Chen's monthly Cynic Cave night happens to fall during the first ever SF Comedy and Burrito Festival (www.sfcomedyandburritofestival.com), so it got swept into the lineup of that brand new fest. The Comedy and Burrito fest deal is this: more than a hundred comics will perform at six venues throughout the Mission over a three day period, Thu/11-Sat/13. Each ticket purchase comes with coupons for free burritos from nearby taquerias. Another great mashup of ideas, this time hopefully topped with hot sauce.
And lest we forget, there's another, much bigger fest in San Francisco this weekend, as festival season continues: Treasure Island Music Festival (Sat/13-Sun/14, noon, single day $75; two-day, $129.50. www.lineup.treasureislandfestival.com). This year, I'm most curious about luminous Beth Ditto's Gossip, to see how they work this glossy new dance-pop sound live, Grimes, to hear if her tiny voice can carry, and Public Enemy, because, it's Public Enemy. There's also M83, Joanna Newsom, and Divine Fits. Also, Sunday's headliners the xx just released shimmering new LP, Coexist, which should create a sexy, foggy atmosphere. And then there's Saturday's pop culture regurgitater, Girl Talk, if you're in to that sort of thing. Though the best part about Treasure Island — besides the outstanding views — is the lack of set-time conflicts.