It’s t-minus fifteen minutes. The audience remains translucent. 49-seats of emptiness connects two pools of light. In the lobby Wigglesworth, nicest cyberpirate, watches the door with French bulldog, Wellington, lazily laying nearby. Across the moody, barren strait, a smattering of chattery, the loudest voice belonging to Bucky Sinister.
Bucky has probably heard some offensive assumptions: stocky, tattooed, downplayed dapper with freshly cut, slick hair. In the avocado-green room, with suspended livery and hoarded horrors, the sensitive badass is a kingly raconteur, bouncing lively in badinage with two of the night’s guests, neighborhood chocolatiers.
The Daily Show, local anti-political performance art, pranks. A rich colloquial confluence of rolling anecdotes from legitimately interesting San Franciscans with one exception. Nato Green, native through in through, slinks into a sleeve of his own design, iPhoning with a casual aloofness. “Do we have two mic[rophones] ready?” Nato leaks. Bucky exits to check, leaving Green to pre-interview with ebbing/flowing soccerdadcoach excitability.
Sean Keane arrives ‘round eight, complimented on his “Let It Be” McCartney-ness before being whisked away by the natural chaos of live production. Comedy isn’t glitz, it is gridiron exhibitions containing a lot of audibles. Caitlin Gill arrives. It’s t-plus eighteen minutes. In a matter of thirty minutes the once husky belly of the Dark Room Theater is now paunchy and groaning. Baron Vaughn — “Way less famous than he should be,” spouts Nato — is running late, and everyone seems even keel about it. Hasn’t anybody told the showrunners that it’s their fourth anniversary, an occasion worthy of silk, flowers or at least punctuality? Why does everything seem like business as unusual?
The Business is a weekly San Francisco-based comedy showcase founded by Chris Garcia, Sean, Alex Koll, and Bucky on April 15, 2009. Immediate disaster, two audience members, Sean wasn’t even at the inaugural offering (tax day). Now, 1,463 days later, it is a standard, the prominence, the unmatched real and raw in San Francisco on a weekly basis. Inclusion is an honor, induction is a privilege but very few become businesspeople, a point of pride for those gathered at the evening’s gaping maw. Slow patterings on natural rhythms, riffing propelled against technical adversity. In comedy jazz, it’s about the jokes that are being told. No stone is left unturned, no thought is filtered, no child left behind. Chris Thayer, a puckish, recently relocated Businessman, waits patiently on a laptop. Thayer lives in Los Angeles and helms a franchise of the Business; he’s Skyping in to pay respects. Chortles sprinkle lightly, evaporating over silly voices and indulgence. Everyone’s committed to the process, in tune and united, anticipating the unexpected.
Sean solos first, weaving in and out of singleman tales, seamlessly threading through new and old material. He’s characteristically cool, in-the-pocket, nonchalant, the perfect anchor playing against his assumed innocence (puppy-dog eyes, lapping tonality) and keen observations. “Going long”, the lifeblood for ascension as an artist, is rarely given to comedians. It’s the reason the Business was founded. Bones receive meat, meat receives skin, jokes become bits, bits become pieces, pieces become voice, voice becomes loud. Sean flubs a line about New Years Eve McDonald’s drive-thru dystopia, referring to “McNuggets” as “McNiggits”, catches himself before bursting his head open from a Freudian slip. “The Mc-N-word is what we say around here,” chimes booth-bound Bucky. Instantly, Sean erupts in adventurous, brilliantly anachronistic, Scottish hip-hop revelry.
“The Business is the best thing I’ve ever done,” declares Caitlin, opening her heart before opening her mind. She speaks with a potential for everything, shrewd awareness on a molecular level. After ten minutes pass, her matter-of-fact, spirited bombardment — rife with irreverent impersonations, candor and poise — is derailed. “Whats her name?” spouts the darkness, unaware of incredible folly. The “her” refers to Caitlin’s cat, an important actor in a meticulous pantomime. Caitlin, grossly disrespected, hears “your”. “I’m going to finish this punchline an address what you did,” fumes the amazon. She claims court, lashing acerbic distain, slowly coaxes the heckler’s intent, recollects, and blooms a brilliant defense against answering the original inquiry. “I can’t personify the cat, because then you’ll feel bad for me leaving her alone in my apartment,” states the comic bluntly. Her gravity is undeniable, tenaciously pulling all forty-nine to her position with whirlwind alchemy before finally exhaling, “her name is Elanor.” Applause.
Our so-far loose night loses its frivolity. Isaac Fitzgerald, of the Rumpus, performs sans magic. No. Perhaps his magic is just black. Armed with a recently reunited schoolboy journal, he enacts a one-act, knockdown-dragout power struggle between a well-meaning teacher and an hell-meaning student. Mortifyingly “Mortified”, the piece shines a light on pride and hubris rather than embarrassment and shame. Every passage of vitriol and academia pulls focus to an obvious truth: The Business’ vibe is now different. Not better, not worse, but different without the characteristic spontaneity.
Nato is in the now, commenting on the recent tragedy in Boston. “There’s a lot that we don’t know… what we do know is that no bankers ran towards the explosions,” sniped the politically-infused social vigilante. Introduced as “the fifth Businessman”, a Pete Best or George Martin type, Nato’s investigative, iconoclastic, ripe, riffing rhetoric turns every word into a footnote. The Business is his forum, the quintessential platform for simmering contempt. Later, Nato respites his seething to flex his versatility, employs his skills at interviewing on aforementioned chocolate czars. Their chat, Sean in tow, never cloys, subject matter excluded. Reps from Dandelion Chocolates, a succinctly local flavor, play along with the ostensible tastemakers, making light of dark cacao and drawing gentrification parallels with white chocolate. It’s all a carrot-horse ploy to get to the next Willy Wonka reference, albeit informative by proxy.
Bucky rests atop a stool. He’s heavy with a full life, rising in comedy — a virtually new endeavor — at a midlife he didn’t expect. Were one to chart San Francisco’s Business anatomically, if Sean is the reassuring voice, if Garcia is the engorged heart, if Alex is the deft hands, if Caitlin is the expanding lungs, if Nato is the piercing eyes, if Thayer is the new blood, and if Mike Drucker is the cyborg attachments, Bucky is definitely the spine. He performs with strength, flexibility, resilience, romantically brushing languid portmanteau against cosmic ironies. “I love this joke,” hushes Sean backstage. The Business LOVES the Business; they cheerlead from the wings. Bucky leaves on a tale of weasel-bowel coffee, shuffling off into the darkness.
Our headliner arrives mid-show, jolting with laughter at compatriots’ punchlines, scanning notes, his gaze grazing between both in preparation. Baron Vaughn lives in the spoiled comedy mecca of Los Angeles, where big names refine uncut wit with a frequency only surpassed by those in New York. En route to Portland for the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, San Francisco is a respectable detour. At the Business, he’s revolving tangentially, oscillating between pressured gems and lofty germinations with a creative fervor akin to the show’s organizers.
Everything comes out: parking tickets, mutated English, neurotic self-awareness, joy, dismay, jovial dismay. Comedy, in its most potent practice, defangs individual distress while hopefully discerning truth. “I’m trying to not feel embarrassed,” Baron declares reflectively, before launching into a secular, Sun House-style spiritual entitled “Snakey Go ‘Way”, a piece far too complex for conciseness.
It’s easy to mistake Bucky Sinister’s solemn introspection for gloom. The crowd’s opacity returns to zero; he lingers where they once sat, ruminating his set with forlorn calculation. “I tried to to be a little ‘too cute’,” Bucky admits with slightly agitated hindsight. He feels his set wasn’t natural enough, “It’s like saying your phone number, the lies stick out”. Expressions on the visages of fellow Businesspeople share a similar disposition. No matter how many accolades, or increasing longevity, the mission remains the same: growth. In that growth comes hard work, dedication, pain. Out of that growth comes truth, validation, discovery. It may be the fourth anniversary of The Business, but therein contained, it’s just another day at the office.