Another brown reason to live: post-multiculti S.F. comedian Brent Weinbach.
By Kimberly Chun
WHAT CAN BROWN do for you? Well, for comedian Brent Weinbach, it fills in as his muse.
I'm standing in the Richmond District room that Weinbach described on the phone as the bedroom of a psycho, admiring a framed, blown-up photo of his poop, nestled in a bed of lettuce and tomato like a spring roll or mystery sausage. Nearby hang a tiny painting of a cute cartoon rabbit with an erection, a Universal Life Church mail-order ministry certificate, and a lined-paper letter from a student to Weinbach, apologizing for calling him a "bitch" when the comedian was in his substitute-teacher guise.
"Are you sure you want to see these? I don't think people cared for them too much," Weinbach stammers, pulling a book of poop pics from his closet. The images were exhibited last year at 21 Grand, in a show dubbed "Brown Elephants," to, er, a mixed reception.
The photos are the ickiest manifestation of Weinbach's fascination with brown a hue that holds scatological and racial resonance for the half-Jewish, half-Filipino Los Angeles native and provided the title for his self-released Joe Frank-inspired comedy CD, Tales from the Brown Side. The recording is not quite as bizarre as his live show a good portion of the imitations of Weinbach's black, Russian, Korean, and Mexican friends, cohorts, and kids he substitute-teaches in Berkeley and Emeryville ring somewhat flat without Weinbach's considerable physical comedy and onstage contortions, in which he twists himself into gangstas on drive-bys, immigrant matrons, Italian villagers, and assorted surreal specimens who joke about eating excrement. Of course.
"I'm still in junior high, basically," Weinbach confesses. "Junior high kids I relate to a lot, because they're kind of young and old at the same time. I feel old and young at the same time. They're really mature in some ways and really immature in some ways."
Less a combination of Pee-wee Herman and Mr. Bean, as he jests in what he calls his easiest "hack" joke, than a hybrid of Franz Kafka and Ad-Rock, with his bottomless black eyes, angst-stiffened demeanor, and double-fisted mic stance, Weinbach finds his humor in the layered cultural strata around us and doesn't shy from making fun of both his subjects and himself (witness him imitating a black comedian imitating a white comedian imitating a black comedian "that's sort of me trying to be smart and base at the same time," he explains). A smart but maladjusted perpetual juvenile, with a wicked ability to imitate insert-any-ethnicity-here, Weinbach comes off as a hunger artist obsessed with his paltry bowel movements and toilet humor, a borderline-offensive yukster for a post-multicultural era.
In the three years since he started doing standup, Weinbach, a graduate of UC Berkeley, the epicenter of P.C. consciousness, and an ex-KALX DJ, says the bits in which, for instance, he imitates black students he encountered when substitute teaching in Oakland go over best with African American audiences. "It's about slightly making fun but also just taking a lot of truth and exaggerating it," he explains. "Sometimes people think I'm trying to be offensive and edgy or whatever, but I'm not trying to be offensive at all."
"I do a lot of stuff that relates to urban life. People surrounded by diversity that can tell the difference between something that's ill intentioned and something that's innocent and fun. That's what I'm going for," Weinbach continues, going on to describe a recent Hemlock Tavern show he spent shouting back at hecklers while disastrously opening for Schaffer the Darklord and Ass Baboons of Venus. "I wouldn't have been surprised if someone threw a bottle at me at that Hemlock show, because some people were really, really not ... feeling it.
"I guess what I'm saying is, I want to be a black man. No, I'm kidding."
Weinbach grew up identifying with his brown side because his Filipino American mother's clan lived near his Hollywood home. His father's family had roots in the Midwest, and his paternal grandfather was a songwriter who penned a regionally broadcasted Halloween song. After graduating and eking out a living as a substitute teacher and jazz piano player at hotels like the Argent and Mark Hopkins, he started pursuing his childhood wish to become a comedian and began following a friend around to clubs. There he met fellow rising comic Jasper Redd, who said, " 'Just concentrate on your stresses,' " Weinbach recalls. "The first set of jokes I wrote were all about sexual frustration."
And occasionally reality collides with that exaggerated truth, often with better results than Weinbach's recent auto accident (he pulls a shard of glass from his hoodie pocket with amazement).
"I did a show in Oakland at a black club," he remembers, "and one woman came up to me and said, 'Yeah, I know Jamonica.' You'll hear that on the CD it's one of the kids in elementary school. And she was like, 'I know Synchro and her brother Leviticus,' and she mentioned her son, who went to Emery High, and said, 'Yeah, my son goes there, and his name is ...' And I thought, Omigod, her son is awful. He was a very scary kind of guy. His eyes were not aligned right, and one looked out the other way. Though, actually, he ended up being pretty cool, especially after his mom told him that she saw me doing comedy."
Brent Weinbach performs June 11, Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, S.F. Call for time and price. (415) 923-0923.