Magazine article Sunset

Sunset's Travel Guide

Magazine article Sunset

Sunset's Travel Guide

Article excerpt

Live comedy is popular all over the country these days, and nowhere more so than in and around San Francisco. Styles range from droll intellectual distillation to in-your-face comic chutzpah to downright toilet talk. How do you know what you,re getting yourself into? We list the city's major clubs, and offer a few remarks.

On a good night, a club's atmosphere is in-group convivial, and you leave feeling kind of high and relaxed, with a sense of having shared in the experiences of other flawed but forgivable human beings. On a bad night, you come away feeling stiffed by hidden costs, and tyrannized by the public display of neurosis. A warm-up routine can quickly slip from affable teasing of audience members into ugly bullying. If you don't want to take a chance on "interaction," don't sit in the first few rows.

There's a price to be paid, literally, for yielding responsibility for your own entertainment to a comedy club. When an evening goes well, it seems a fair exchange for the stimulation and immediacy of a cabaret setting. But if you've been subjected to a string of tired mother-in-law jokes, you may feel rather blackmailed as charges mount up. Recorded information (we think of Cobb's) may indicate parking is validated, when it turns out only an hour is free. Or you,re told there's a two-drink minimum, but not that you must meet it even if you've already eaten in the club's restaurant.

Generally, on weekends the energy is higher, the headliners bigger-name, and the tickets more costly. Friday or Saturday admission may be difficult without reservations, though clubs with restaurants always save some seats for customers who will be dining--they can reserve with a phone call. On week-nights, your plans can be more spontaneous.

Each club's telephone (area code 415 unless otherwise indicated) has a recording with information on current programming, prices, and logistics. Sometimes you can push more digits for specialized tapes on subjects like parking or dining. There's always, eventually, a number you can call for a live response if you don't feel adequately informed.

Cobb's, 2801 Leavenworth Street (in the Cannery); 9284320. Many of the headliners are TV regulars, though their live material may be more raunchy than what networks allow. The Cobb's tape offers more help than most in characterizing the entertainers. The restaurant serves mediocre pastas and pizza.

Holy City Zoo, 408 Clement Street; 386-4242. San Francisco's longest-running club, this once served as an informal rehearsal room for rising stars, but now performances are less than topnotch, and the space itself seems down at the heels--with awkwardly configured seating, a sour-beer smell, and rather grim lighting. A management change may signal improvements. Meanwhile, we put this club at the low end of the scale. No restaurant.

The Improv, 401 Mason Street; 441-7787. The Improv looks for comics with the depth to warrant extended two- to four-week runs as one-person shows. (Rick Reynolds's richly autobiographical Only the Truth Is Funny opened here and went on to New York.) Such performances have more dramatic coherence than more typical stand-up machine-gun fire. No restaurant.

Josie's Cabaret & Juice Joint, 3583 16th Street; 861-7933. Josie's is an important forum for gay comics. Its space is pleasant, with Indonesian rod puppets decorating the walls. The comedy is sophisticated and the observations sharp, often with a streak of acerbic self-mockery. Drinks are relatively inexpensive, as are snacks.

The Other Cafe, 5800 Shellmound Street, Emeryville; (510) 601-4888. Relocated from the Haight in San Francisco, the Other still draws old friends across the bay for the more cerebral style of its topical, character-oriented humor. Performers are asked to avoid derisive treatment of the audience--a relief to those vulnerable front rows. We liked the restaurant's simple California cuisine. …

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