Every Tuesday night, SFstandup.com presents live comedy at Annie’s Social Club at 5th and Folsom Street. The free show, held in the very intimate back room of one of San Francisco’s best punk rock clubs, offers a chance to see just about everything the San Francisco stand-up comedy scene has to offer. Many of the best local comedians stop by to work on material, people get on stage to try comedy for the first time, and a couple crazies usually end up on stage too (not revealing themselves as lunatics until after they’ve taken the stage).
Drew Harmon hosts the show at Annie’s and also performs regularly all across the Bay Area, with appearances at The Purple Onion, the San Jose Improv, and Club Deluxe.
How did you get started in comedy?
Drew Harmon: I’d thought about doing standup since my teens, but it wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s that I finally started. I was working in Grand Rapids, Michigan in radio and TV, which usually means having the hours of a Farmer Vampire. I was writing – or at least trying to – funny blogs, and people said I should think about doing standup, because that’s what you say when you can’t think of anything else to placate the silly retard in your life who sends you nonsense via e-mail. I found out that the office I was working in was going to be downsized completely, and two days before I was laid off I got onstage for the first time at the local comedy club. I spent the next few unemployed months driving all over Michigan to get onstage as much as possible at open mics at bars and comedy clubs, usually failing miserably and loving it. I got the bug and I’ve been forcing my nasally, chubby self on audiences ever since.
How’d you end up in San Francisco?
DH: My wife and I were looking to move to a bigger city, and especially hoping to live in a place where it doesn’t snow nine months out of the year. After sending out resumes for about six months, we both ended up sending stuff to KRON 4 here in the city. We both fulfilled a position they were looking to fill, and since we would be living together and were coming from relatively low salaries anyway – and because we were silly hillbillies who thought coins were worth more than foldin’ money – they hired us both for a bargain. In the span of three weeks we sold or gave away about 50 percent of our possessions, stored the rest with my family and packed our car with our two cats, a few clothes and pots and pans and drove across the country to live in a city we’d never been to before. About a week after we moved I went to Annie’s to do my first open mic here in San Francisco.
What was it like going from doing standup in Michigan to the Bay Area?
DH: It was like starting over, pretty much. Before I left Michigan I’d managed to convince a few people that I was funny enough to actually get paid to do comedy and I was pretty happy with my material. When I got here it became pretty obvious that I was going to have to trash almost everything, because the bar was already set a lot higher at the open mics than what I was used to. Everybody was friendly, though. I started writing a lot of new stuff, and got to stretch what sort of stuff I could talk about onstage. When I started sometimes I’d make an oddball reference in a joke and get a lot of blank stares back. At some point here I wrote some weird bit about Barbara Walters being a “level seven witch on a quest to obtain the 13 power crystals and become a demon rider,” and people actually laughed. It’s been fun to try out whatever idiotic stuff comes into my head and see what happens.
How did you find the open mic at Annie’s?
(Photo by Pamela Ames)
DH: I was posting on the comedy message board called aspecialthing.com and knew there was a whole section dedicated to San Francisco comedy. Because I was moving in such a hurry and had never even been to California before, I started a thread there asking for decent neighborhoods to live in and what open mics were good to go to. I was very quickly pointed to sfstandup.com, not to mention given a whole smorgasborg of places to eat and drink and all that. But one of the biggest recommendations came about the open mic at Annie’s, which quickly became my favorite in the city.
What’s the weirdest place you’ve performed?
DH: I did a weekend emcee gig in a club in Michigan where the couple that was running the place would argue and yell at each other while the show was going on, and their office was right next to the stage and the audience could hear every word while they drunkenly shrieked at one another. That was awkward. But mostly all the oddball places are just bars where somebody decided they were going to have a comedy night and they put a mic in front of some corner and then foist the comedians on an unsuspecting audience of people who came to drink heavily and listen to The Eagles. That usually goes badly.
What’s the best thing about going to an open mic?
DH: It’s really a case of Anything Can Happen. While there’s plenty of seasoned comics working on material in the Bay Area at open mics, there are also people who have never done comedy who are trying it for the first time, and there are people who are completely insane who think they’re doing comedy but are just giving the audience a chance to see into a world they’ll never understand. Even the seasoned people will sometimes try something totally different, just to see if it works. So while you can go to any of the great clubs here and see professional, hilarious comedians, you can also go to an open mic, have a cheap beer and possibly see some awesome comedy or a total disaster or both, depending on who and when and where.
Any advice for open mic’ers?
DH: Once you see the light, you shouldn’t be onstage for any more than 60 to 90 seconds at an open mic. After that you have broken a Sacred Comedy Law and other comedians are perfectly within their rights to beat you with a microphone cord. Other than that, keep writing and hitting the stage whenever you can. Really, I’ve only been doing this about three years, so what do I know about it anyway? Politeness counts and just try to be funny.