The funny gene

Former Chico impresario DNA comes home to do stand-up with Pawns of Comedy tour

The Bay Area’s Pawns of Comedy team features (from left) Ben Feldman, Joey Devine, DNA and Brendan Lynch.

The Bay Area’s Pawns of Comedy team features (from left) Ben Feldman, Joey Devine, DNA and Brendan Lynch.

Photo By photos courtesy of Pawns of Comedy

Santa Cruz-based comedian DNA should expect a little name recognition when he passes through town this weekend with The Pawns of Comedy tour. After all, he spent nearly two decades making sure Chico could never forget him.

Even those residents not interested in the local art and music scenes where DNA booked thousands of shows, helped to reopen the Senator Theatre and started magazines and a record label might remember aliens standing alongside Highway 99 urging them to “Fight Evil, Vote DNA,” during his four City Council campaigns.

“I moved to Chico in August 1987, during the Harmonic Convergence,” DNA says. “I had just finished graduate school at Sonoma State and was being chased by the cops in Berkeley when I ran by Chico astrologer Koz McKev, who yelled, ‘When you stop running, come to Chico.’” And stop running he did, for the next 19 years.

DNA spent his East Coast childhood putting on $2 comedy and magic shows in the basement, nursery schools and nursing homes before his showman’s spirit went dormant: “From junior high through college, I kept my head down; I didn’t see any options to fly my freak flag besides Dead shows, which I consumed in the hundreds.

“What I found in Chico was something I always dreamed of—support for my art. I didn’t really know what my art was in ’87, but by 1990 I already had a newspaper (The Balls Edge), a concert series (the Music Revolution) and had produced my first comedy play (Surprise Party for Jesus).

“All this because people in Chico said, ‘Yes, you are a weird dreadlocked Jew, but we will give you some cash to manifest your weirdness.’ Apparently, it takes a village to make a weirdo’s dreams come true, and Chico was my village.”

The Balls Edge later became Hump, which evolved from a magazine to the record label HUFA (“We released Tim Bluhm’s [Mother Hips] solo album.”) He also brought Ralph Nader to the El Rey Theatre, wrote a novel (Memoirs of a Messiah), spearheaded the restoration of the Senator Theatre from a movie house back to a live performance venue and even served shortly as Timothy Leary’s chauffeur. The list of strange accomplishments goes on and on, continuing to the present day with DNA’s new life in Santa Cruz, where he admits it’s harder to maintain a public image (the classic “big fish, small pond” scenario).

“Living in Chico is like living in an aquarium—you can’t pee in the water without it showing up on somebody’s Facebook page,” he says. “When I left I thought that I would come to the Bay Area and be this awesome, unique, never-seen-anything-like-him stand-up comic. Boy, was I wrong! Obviously things take time. I’ve been in Santa Cruz going on five years and studiously going about being in a new community.”

Since leaving DNA has, among other things, worked at the University of Santa Cruz, edited Republican newspapers (“Don’t ask, don’t tell, I’m a hippie”), taught comedy traffic school, sold books, painted houses and rigorously worked the Bay Area comedy scene, which he notes is an intrinsically difficult battle.

“There is a trinity of places to live for comedy: New York, Chicago and L.A. I would venture to say that the fourth most vibrant place to live for comedy is the Bay Area, but we are not part of the trifecta. If you want to ‘make it’ in comedy, you do not live in S.F. So, the pressure is off, the dog-eat-dog world of comedy is lessened; there is much wood-shedding and mutual support.”

DNA now runs one weekly and two monthly comedy shows in Santa Cruz and founded the Pawns of Comedy stand-up gang that will bring him to Chico this weekend.

Touring with him are Joey Devine (“He’s adorable, chicks dig him, guys don’t hate him”), Ben Feldman (“His reputation is gritty and he has the potential to be the most offensive Pawn onstage”) and Brendan Lynch (“The most in-demand comic of the bunch, he regularly gets calls to play The Improv and Punchline”).

DNA is looking forward to the homecoming.

“My current feelings about Chico are the same as always. I may have been born in Newark, N.J., but Chico was my home. People would get married at my shows, [and] divorced and inseminated. I can’t help but think that what we all shared together was special and enduring.”