Bringing the funny
Former local impresario launches comedy festival in Chico
Many old-school Chicoans remember one-time local impresario and would-be City Council member DNA (yes, that’s his legal name). He was a publisher of two very-alternative local papers (The Ball’s Edge and Hump), and the producer of a long-running series of weekly free concerts in the downtown City Plaza back when it still had a gazebo, as well as the impressive Nowhere by Nowhere music festival spread across many local venues.
More recently, DNA has been living in Santa Cruz (having moved there nearly a decade ago) and hosting comedy showcases there and in San Francisco for several years. Last year, he produced the successful Santa Cruz Comedy Festival and decided that the format—having national and local comedians rotating from free showcase to free showcase, and a handful of headliners highlighted at one big show—might work in Chico as well. For the Chico fest, there will be 50 comedians—35 visiting, 15 local—performing the night of Saturday, April 18.
The CN&R caught up with DNA to talk about comedy, the 35 comedians and his plans for bringing more of it to Chico.
Comedy events seem to be on the rise locally—what to you think is driving this trend?
The comedy scene is a refuge for misfits and malcontents. The surge of comedy scenes in small towns is reminiscent of the DIY hardcore scene where low-budget shows sprung up like wild mushrooms in every living room and back bar without any thought to profit. People crave laughter in their lives. Could it be with the environment collapsing, political salvation in shreds, and every major institution a parody of itself, people just need a break? Maybe.
Tell me a bit about the Blue Lagoon comedy showcases you started doing in Santa Cruz in 2008.
I took over the Blue Lagoon from a woman who wore a python around her neck and would have grand mal seizures in the middle of a joke. We’d carry her offstage and then bring her back on to deliver her punch line. The Blue Lagoon was/is a notorious gay bar and Hells Angels hangout—so it appeals to a certain kind of deviant. I book up to 100 comics a month, and I’ve never had trouble finding comedians. I’ve had comics drive up from L.A. to do five minutes in my room, because I’ve trained my crowd not to be assholes.
I notice that there are few women comedians in the lineup at the Chico festival—is comedy a tough market for a woman to break into?
Funny is funny; it doesn’t matter if you have 10 dicks, four breasts and skin like a serpent. Stand-up is not elitist; it’s one human being, a microphone and an audience of at least one other person. I get just as pumped when anyone funny—male or female—is on my stage. But, I do keep an eye out for female comics. Because as a promoter, if I book 15 dude comics every week, the female audience members in Santa Cruz chase me to my car and accuse me of having a sausage factory—true story. Chico’s Becky Lynn is performing at the Chico Comedy Festival, so that makes two.
How are the Chico showcases organized?
Each venue in Chico has a headliner who I thought would excel in that environment. Brendan Lynch does notorious crowd work. So I put him in Duffy’s. It will be like the killing fields in Cambodia. But I know they can handle it. Conor Kellicutt is headlining The Bear, aka ground zero for college kids. Conor is super affable and I wouldn’t be surprised if several frats want to pledge him that night. Lydia Popovich is a Chico State graduate and one of the top female comics in SF, soon to leave for L.A. I thought the hip, smart atmosphere at La Rocca Tasting Room was a nice choice for her. And so on, and of course Drennon Davis and DJ Real is the hot ticket at the El Rey, a musical duo whose shenanigans might garner them their own show on Comedy Central later this year.