Approximately 10,000 years ago, on a Thursday, a pre-historic man named Grrock slipped on a banana peel. His crusty friends laughed uproariously before falling out of their cave and evolving. Thus, underground comedy in Santa Cruz was born.
Today, one-off local comedy shows happen in pop-up restaurants while cult favorites like Mike Birbiglia headline the Rio Theatre. There is a burgeoning comedy scene with something to offer almost every night of the week in Santa Cruz, and you are invited.
A LITTLE HISTORY
If San Francisco is the hub of the comedy world in our region, Santa Cruz is a primary spoke. Back in the early ’80s, Jon Fox (who started the Punch Line in SF) opened a weekly comedy room at the Albatross, then moved it to its current space at the Crow’s Nest. Now it’s one of the longest-running on the West Coast. Every Sunday night at 9 p.m., comics from all over the country drop sets there to entertain locals and tourists.
UCSC has produced its fair share of outstanding comedians. SNL alum Andy Samberg and Maya Rudolph were both slugs. Graduate Brendan Lynch, whose father designed the school mascot, now writes for the HBO show Every Other Wednesday and rants on Bill Simmons’ million-listener podcasts. Graduate Emily Heller, who appeared in the SNL digital short Lazy Sunday, recently released her first album, Good for Her, on the Kill Rock Stars label.
The Santa Cruz Comedy Coalition encourages UCSC up-and-comers to reach out to the local comedy rooms and develop their stagecraft. Without leaving town, aspiring UCSC comedians and fans can meet comics from every level, soak up stories and learn the ropes. It’s an underground comedy smorgasbord in Santa Cruz with something for everyone.
MEET THE SCENESTERS
Weekly comedy rooms each have their own flavor, hosts and style. One of the best is the Monday comedy show at the Poet & Patriot Irish Pub. Set in a supremely comfortable Irish bar, affable host Sam Weber is the face of the next generation of Santa Cruz comedians. Weber knows how to keep a show rolling and this is a great first stop for anyone wanting to try their jokes out. Larry the bartender loves good comedy, so do your best, and expect honest feedback.
Every scene has its characters and Santa Cruz has Hamburger Wif Cheese, although everyone just calls him Burger. A third-generation Santa Cruzan, Burger runs multiple rooms. On Sundays, he and Travis “L.A. Roast Battle Winner” Denley run the Crazy Horse. Some comics hop over from the Crow’s Nest to mic it up at this very loose room in Seabright. Then on Tuesday, Burger hosts another event at the Pocket. One of the best-decorated bars in Santa Cruz, it’s a gem of a dive. On Fridays, Burger is at it again at the Tannery’s Artbar and Cafe.
On Thursday there is the Blue Lagoon, run by the old man of the scene, DNA (disclaimer, that’s me). Starting at 8:30 p.m. and backed by a band, the show is a tight 90 minutes, with 15 comedians and a headliner. Some comics that grew up at the Blue now appear on Comedy Central, while newer comics learn how to drop a tight three-to-five.
Monthly shows at other spots like New Bohemia Brewing Co. on 41st Avenue and Lille Aeske in Boulder Creek keep all the neighborhoods laughing, with new venues popping up every month.
One event that has opportunities for everyone to attend for free is the annual Santa Cruz Comedy Festival that takes place in October, at which 75 comedians run around 12 venues dropping multiple sets. The festival features shows at Streetlight Records, 99 Bottles, Pure Pleasure and many other venues. Keep an eye on the all-purpose comedy website standupsantacruz.com for details and links.
Want to know about comedy shows before anyone else? Follow the producers who bring solid big-name acts. Pulse Productions brings people like Paula Poundstone, Janeane Garofalo and Margaret Cho to the Rio Theatre. Good Neighbor Productions brought Doug Stanhope to Don Quixote’s, and will have Stanhope’s buddy Geoff Tate at the Blue Lagoon on Sept. 29. Comedy Night at the Crepe Place is George Kane’s baby and he has brought Kyle Kinane and Dan St. Germain, as well as Natasha Leggero to the Vets Hall.
So find your favorite spots and cheer for local breakout comics like Emily Catalano and Trevor Rogers. Or better yet, be like Grrock and make us laugh.
POP OUT GUIDE
Sunday: Crazy Horse (529 Seabright Ave.) 9 p.m. Show up, get up. 21+
Crow’s Nest (2218 E. Cliff Drive) 9 p.m. Prebooked. 16+
Catalyst (1011 Pacific Ave.) 8 p.m. Mixed mic. Show up, get up. 21+
Monday: The Poet & The Patriot (320 Cedar St.) Sign-up at 7:30 p.m., show at 8pm. 21+
Tuesday: The Pocket (3102 Portola Drive) 9 p.m. Show up, get up. 21+
Wednesday: New show starting in the fall at Rosie McCann’s. 16+
Thursday: The Blue Lagoon (923 Pacific Ave.) 8:30 p.m. Prebooked. 21+
Friday: The Artbar and Cafe (1060 River Street) 9 p.m. Prebooked. 16+
Saturday: Check pulseproductions.com, facebook.com/crepeplacecomedy, nubobrew.com and lilleaeske.com.