Editor’s Note: This story is part of Good Times’ annual Santa Cruz Visitors Guide 2019. Read the full publication here.
Over the last 13 years, Santa Cruz has been building a comedy revolution. Each week, there are more and more opportunities to check out live comedy. And there’s nothing quite like sitting just a few feet from comedians as they sling jokes. Sometimes it’s like watching a tight-rope walker without a net, and other times, it’s like watching Evil Knievel trying to jump Snake River Canyon (spoiler alert: he doesn’t make it).
Basically, Santa Cruz stand-up is like a farm system, where comics start off at the open mic sign-ups, then get picked to perform at the showcases, and move their way through the line-up, from opener to middler to headliner.
I’ve come up in the Santa Cruz comedy scene myself, both as a comic and now as the guy watching for those future headliners. I started the annual Santa Cruz Comedy Festival (Oct. 4-6 this year), which brings 100 comedians from around the state to a dozen venues around Santa Cruz. I’ve also recently opened Santa Cruz’s first comedy club, DNA’s Comedy Lab and Experimental Theatre. From national headliners to weekly variety shows of comedy, sketch and improv (CSI: Santa Cruz, get it?) to hosting specialized comedy shows, live podcasts, all-age magic shows, and Santa Cruz’s weirdest monthly show, The Last Late Night Show, it’s quite a ride.
With more laughs per square mile, Santa Cruz is becoming known as a comedy hub in California. Seven nights a week, comedy shows are flourishing all over downtown and throughout the county. From open mics to national headliners, there’s something for everyone who loves to laugh.
Up on the hill, UCSC has been home to some major comics, from Saturday Night Live’s Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg to writers for Netflix, Showtime and HBO to headliners in comedy clubs throughout the country. Santa Cruz has been pivotal in launching many comedy careers. UCSC grad Emily Heller just directed her first episode of the HBO comedy series Barry. Comic and Santa Cruz native Joe Sib opened Metallica’s last tour. Chad Optiz, who came up in the Santa Cruz underground comedy scene, now tours the country.
The range of places to see comedy here is wide, deep and weird. There’s something supremely unique about comedians being compelled to make strangers laugh at night. From Irish bars to dive bars, jazz clubs to comedy clubs, Santa Cruz comedians grind it out seven nights a week. If you want to try it yourself, the bunny slope is Monday at the Poet and Patriot, hosted by the scholar Sam Weber. You show up at 7:30 p.m., sign a piece of paper torn from a comic’s journal, and wait your turn as dozens of hopefuls get their five minutes of fame (or infamy). It’s humbling to realize that the jokes you thought were gold around the water cooler at work might not succeed in front of a crowd of students, locals and community members. Bartender Larry Blood will hold your hand and help you drown your sorrows or celebrate your success.
Wednesdays finds comedians running all over town dropping sets at multiple venues. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery is home to outdoor stand-up at 8 p.m. with host Hrag. Good beer, grilled cheese and Hrag’s enthusiasm make this a winning formula. And then at 9 p.m. over at Rosie McCann’s on Pacific Avenue, a coalition of hosts run a sign-up room (8:30 p.m. sign up, show 9 p.m.) with a showcase of pro comedians in the middle. It’s intimate, and a great way to hone your material.
Deep in the bowels of the Blue Lagoon, Santa Cruz’s most colorful dive bar, is the weekly Thursday “Blue Lagoonies Night of Comedy.” Now in its 13th year and led by the Queen of Charm, Chree Pow Powell, it’s a kitchen sink show with up to 20 comics in 90 minutes. Not for everyone, but if you have a kink, bent or twisted personality, Blue Lagoonies might change your life.
Some say that we need laughter now more than ever, but I’m pretty sure that during the Black Plague comedy would have been much appreciated as well. No matter your situation, you owe it to your heart, health and mind to get some laughter on the funny streets of Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz Comedy: A Day-By-Day Guide
Sunday: The Crows Nest, 2218 East Cliff Drive. 21+, $7. 9 p.m.
Monday: The Poet and the Patriot, 320 Cedar St. 21+, free. 8 p.m.; The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave. 21+, free. 9 p.m.
Tuesday: Bocci’s Cellar, 140 Encinal St. 21+, free. 9 p.m.
Wednesday: Rosie McCann’s, 1220 Pacific Ave. 18+ (until 10 p.m.), free. 9 p.m.; Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, 402 Ingalls St. 18+, free. 8 p.m.
Thursday: The Blue Lagoon, 923 Pacific Ave. 21+, free. 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday-Saturday: DNA’s Comedy Lab, 155 S. River St. For schedule visit dnascomedylab.com.
Third Wednesdays: The Blue Lounge, 529 Seabright Ave. 21+, free. 9 p.m.
Second and Fourth Fridays: The Over the Hill Gang Saloon, 3530 Portola Drive. 21+, free. 9p.m.
Third Friday: New Bohemia Brewing, 1030 41st Ave. 21+, free. 8 p.m.
For headliner info and other details, go to standupsantacruz.com and pick up Good Times newspaper.