A laugh riot

Downtown Chico was filled with comedians for inaugural comedy fest

San Jose comedian Butch Escobar takes his turn at the Blue Room Theatre.

San Jose comedian Butch Escobar takes his turn at the Blue Room Theatre.

Photo by Brittany Waterstradt

Chico Comedy Festival, Saturday, April 18.

With Chico’s music scene busy breaking a Guinness World Record at the Tackle Box Bar & Grill and basking in the glow of accolades (at the annual CAMMIES Awards Show at the Chico Women’s Club), one could be forgiven for thinking that last Saturday (April 18) was all about music in Chico. But, there was also the sound of laughter punctuating the soundtrack to the beautiful, warm, spring night as 60-plus comedians took over eight of Chico’s downtown bars, restaurants and theaters for the Chico Comedy Festival.

The man responsible for adding all this comedy to the mix is a former Chicoan who is familiar with the sometimes chaotic nature of our entertainment-friendly city. “I’m the asshole who put it on,” joked DNA, the one-time Chico impresario who has since moved to Santa Cruz, where he performs stand-up and hosts comedy shows. For the Chico festival, DNA said he chose the most popular comedians he’s worked with from California—many of whom have appeared on Comedy Central, Last Comic Standing, etc.—and combined them with local comedians. “I picked the best. If you disagree then you don’t like comedy and you’re an idiot,” he deadpanned.

All together, there were 35 visiting comedians and 15 local performers (plus another 20 or so locals who joined an after-hours open mic at the Blue Room Theatre). Of those, a selection of nine headliners performed at the El Rey Theatre. After their sets, the “headliners” would then rotate through the other seven showcases that were going on simultaneously around downtown. All the shows were free, except the El Rey bill, which cost $15 and guaranteed you’d see all of the headliners.

I was ready for a whirlwind night of comedy, and started my evening at the El Rey, where hilarious Chico comedian/actor/musician Yusef Swaff was hosting and cracking up the audience with a timely parody of the recent videotaped killing of an unarmed black man by a white South Carolina policeman as a deer-hunting video game. “But I like white people,” Swaff added. “I need white friends, especially when I get pulled over.”

Swaff was followed by San Jose comedian Butch Escobar, whose appearance at a Pawns of Comedy event in Chico last year went viral when he tore into an insufferable heckler at the Blue Room for nearly 20 minutes. Escobar had the audience laughing and cheering at their own expense as he picked up where he left off: “I love your town full of asses. Chico should have been called Assville!”

After the El Rey, I set out for the free showcases, starting a block away at the Madison Bear Garden, where Brendan Lynch was engaged in a somewhat good-natured battle with hecklers. Lynch, who was named Best Comedian in Silicon Valley in 2014, responded to three loud and loudly dressed rugby players—one in a pink scarf, one in a touristy Hawaiian shirt, and one in a glittery, silver, floppy-eared hat—“Who are you guys, the date-rape all-stars?” Which drew uproarious laughter from the crowded patio.

Some of the highlights during my rounds included superstar L.A. comic Drennon Davis (find his “I Drink Beer Like a Baby Deer” skit online) killing it at B Street Public House with his Imaginary Radio Program, and Chico State grad Lydia Popovich winning over the tightly packed La Rocca Vineyards Tasting Room with uproarious stories about expelled IUDs and encouraging self-esteem for the plus-sized: “I’m fat, but not sad.”

My favorite comedian of the night was Oakland’s Chris Storin, who played to an audience of about 20 people at Has Beans Café. Storin had everyone in hysterics with his impersonations, especially his parody of his own parents—his dorky white dad and Latina mother—in the midst of making love.

The festival proper ended at 10:30 p.m., but the Blue Room’s marathon after-hours open mic stretched the party to 2 a.m. I stuck with it till about 1 a.m., and it was a lot of fun watching and interacting with the comedians, who made up a large part of the audience.

Aside from some confusion about the setup (multiple shows at multiple venues all happening simultaneously), and the at times too-brief nature of 10-minute sets, the inaugural comedy fest was a success. Most of the venues were packed, and it was a thrill to have so many experienced performers to choose from over the course of one night.