Laugh Or Die: 7 Comedians Rocking the Local Scene
San Francisco’s always been a fertile breeding ground for comedians, but the current crop of laugh-makers is especially prolific. Catch them now before they head off to the major leagues.
Things are coming full circle for Chris Garcia (middle). During his undergrad days at UC Berkeley, he spent his free time playing guitar in bands when he wasn’t doing improv at the Lawrence Hall of Science’s show The Brainiacs. Garcia recently picked up the guitar again—just talking gets boring, he says—and began incorporating melodies into his stand-up routine. Some songs he sings in Spanish because the lyrics “Hey Grandma shake your booty / stay away from my French fries or I’m gonna drown you in a river ’til you die” just sound better that way.
Who says San Francisco can’t toughen up a comic? Certainly not Janine Brito (left), who moved to the Bay Area from St. Louis and quickly realized that her material was “pretty shitty” when juxtaposed with other local comedians. The 27-year-old has matured into one of SF’s more daring voices and recently won the 2009 San Francisco Women’s Comedy competition. Brito mines a varied lot of comedic gold: pop culture (she wants to wear Prince William’s wedding suit at her own nuptials), socioeconomics (how to get fired from art school), sexuality (she proudly sides with the nonbreeders of the world), and poop (follow her tweets @janinebrito).
Caitlin Gill recalls her first comedic moment like an overly nostalgic heroin addict. At 6 feet 1 inch tall, the Napa native was cast as a bear in a play called Wild Oats some 10 years before she became a comedian. Her only scene was innocent enough—scaring a sheriff from behind, but the audience found it hysterical. “Laughter has addictive properties, and I loved it enough to keep chasing the dragon.” She suppressed the stand-up urge while pursuing a career in political advocacy. “I wasn’t an actual lobbyist,” she says. “They have to be all registered or whatever. But I did lobby. I did the verb but was not the noun.” After moving to SF in 2006 and getting pointers from Ali Wong, Gill’s routine blossomed. More than 500 shows later, she’s something of a comic philosopher. “Sometimes I forget I have to be funny,” she says, “because I’m too busy analyzing.”
Brent Weinbach (top left) has what you would call a rapier wit. The Mr. Rogers look-alike says he believes in the vagina like other people believe in god—“I’ve never seen one, but I have faith”—and talks about boners a lot. Not to be missed is his self-described bone-collector dance, a Japanese Butoh-style number set to “Bad to the Bone.” The 2007 Andy Kaufman Award winner’s style is easily grouped with that of Mitch Hedberg and Zach Galifianakis, that rare comic who can squeeze minutes of laughter out of a 10-second joke.
Alex Koll (top middle) has been in the laugh game long enough to know that being a comic is akin to being a chameleon. “Aggregating your funny,” is how he describes it. Koll has his eggs in various baskets, writing, editing, and producing for TV, video, and film (and competitive air guitar, no joke). The Van Nuys native has been gigging in clubs all over the Bay Area for nine years, and the hard work is taking him to stages with much bigger cameras. His appearance in Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham brought his bespectacled countenance to a national audience in 2009.
Dennis Gaxiola (top right) found his stride early and is upping the ante. Gaxiola is transitioning to national status thanks to billings on Comedy Central and the Latin Kings of Comedy Tour. He embraces his 40s, telling audiences he’s been married for 21 years before clarifying he’s had three wives. But his most enduring relationship has a more spiritual bent, and the guy upstairs usually graces his act. “The Book of Job says I will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with rejoicing,” says Gaxiola. “So if you don’t get my jokes, you’re not hurting my feelings. You’re disobeying the word of god. No pressure.”
Emily Heller (right) doesn’t mind being an egotist. “I’ve always considered myself the center of the universe,” she says. “I actually wanted to make business cards that just read: ‘Emily Heller, Protagonist.’” The 25-year-old UC Santa Cruz grad has been making the rounds in SF for three years now and is already producing her own showcases. But San Francisco may not be able to keep this talent for long. “This is a wonderfully comfortable place to live, but nobody kicks any ass here. My plan is to move to New York and meet a really rich man with very little invested in personal hygiene.”