800 Larkin is a bar located on 800 Larkin. Up there the ghosts of blowjobs whisper through in the air disguised as fog. It is located in the Tenderloin, crossed with O’Farrell, neighbored by crackheads, pizza parlors, playgrounds, and strip clubs. Moving pass the curtain that took away Sirius Black, the club opens to a romantic, mahogany Hamburg log cabin. It is furnished by well-worn love seats, arm chairs and stained, wooden drink tables. Alma, a low-lid, long raven-haired bartender serves dim drinks in the low lights as a DJ burrows in and out of the cramped booth in the corner. The lounge gives way to the pool table, which gives way to a smoking room of various aromas and flavors. Overlooking the sultry affair are bare breasted beauties, sitting suggestively behind glass; they were captured in a flash a long time ago. For a time this perverted Elks Lounge hosted an open microphone and while laughs have subsided in the Playboy bomb shelter, the ghosts of blowjobs still linger.
Tall, Black, Crackabetic
Travis Curry organized open-mics at 800 Larkin. Travis is a bit of an enigma on the scene. He’s a standard ‘set-up-punch’ comedian who speaks about crack cocaine and misconceived linguistic practices (Black eyes aren’t black: they’re yellow, they’re purple, but never black”) all in a voice tinged with heavy, sarcastic, reverse racism. Currently Travis runs two rooms, and is very self-reliant. He believes that comedians are born and exudes a class clown mentality.
-At an undisclosed hour, persons of authority would bring up the two platforms that made the stage, up a rickety set of (people under the) stairs from the stage’s initial home: a condemned wine cellar.
-6:30to7:00 : The list would drop. Ravenous, hungry, Romeroesque comedians would scramble to scrawl the thin outline of their name. Crows fly out of the ensuing mosh pit.
- 7:30 : Newcomers enter a ghost town to find a long list of names all ready signed up. (SFStandup.com listed sign ups at 7:30). Stragglers either place a star next to their name to express a desire to go up early despite arrive late or decide to skip the whole ordeal all together.
- 7:45 : Travis flies into the building on his bike to do sound check and lighting.
- 7:55 : The Godfather of Bay Area Comedy, Tony Sparks, strolls in to help prep and gets ready to host.
- 8:00to8:12 : Show starts as comedians start to trickle back in.
- First Hour: Middlers and sporadically paid comedians work it out. Response is apathetic or mildly amused. Talent and potential are grand. Drinking begins.
-Second Hour: Up-and-Comers, hobbyist, bumpers, well-traveled open microphoners, and sideshows. Either eerily quiet or distractingly drunk. Earlier comics hang out where they can smoke or make motions toward home.
- Third/Final Hour: Masochistically patient open mic green horns and passing through established workers. Energy near nil. People talking. Stretching out the night on hopes and dreams and hops and barley.
Inner Workings (Dynamics)
The paradox of each 800 Larkin opening came from an empty room with a list of people committed to perform. The source of this paradox was the Deco Lounge on Larkin Street, three blocks down from 800. At the time both 800 and Deco had open-door policies, the shows running concurrently with an hour difference. In theory and practice this allowed comics to parasitically touch two mics in a three-block distance. Twas a priceless scenario for many comedians (especially the cheap ones, you know who you are).
800 Larkin lacked a permanent disc-jockey, meaning Travis Curry had to run the sound boards. This gave Mr. Curry a microphone in concurrence with Super Host Tony Sparks. The result was some of the most hilariously antagonizing banter I’ve ever heard. The experience is akin to taking the old man Muppets (Statler and Waldorf), turning them African-American and making them fight. Audience members slumped in seats as “milk dud” and “pregnant” jokes flew overhead. “Ima kick yo ass” was delivered with such lovingly bitter repetition. Two aging brothers slap fighting each other between acts. The most common source of discontent came from Trevor.
Trevor is a puppeteer with frightening sensibilities. His act consisted of grotesque, malformed, (usually black) puppets dancing in a deviant scene, performing lewd sexual acts while old jazz songs play in the nether recess of a boombox. The whole production seeped weirdness, bordered on disturbing, and with enough squinting could only be considered ironically entertaining. (As entertaining as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room). It also took more than 5 minutes to complete due to its set up time, it took energy away from the crowd, and sometimes would occur more than once a show.
Trevor was Travis’ friend, Travis liked it, Tony tolerated it but eventually the matter of sideshow distractions and stand up status quo came to blows. These blows manifested in verbal jousting and everything: the insults, the weary well drinks, the giggling on couches and the disturbia all collaborated to the uniqueness of 800 Larkin.
The room was my first taste of real late night open-mic shows. Tony always encourages the comedians at the Brainwash to go to other open-mics: “Because not every place is like this… most places don’t give a shit about you jack!” The 800 atmosphere was very junkyard Neil Perth: There’s a pulse but a general sense of apathy. It was the medium room between the Brainwash and showcases at Bruno’s or Medrone. The time spent at open-mics like 800 are priceless, much like bench-pressing over your max. It feels impossible but it’s building through destruction. The crushing nature of the typical open-mic can be seen in lines: lines on paper, lines on faces, lines on mirrors, lines through jokes, lines, lines, lines.
It was also my introduction to the deep talent pool in SF Comedy. 800 didn’t even have all the headliners or East Bay residents stopping through but regardless, the talent on any given night was immense: Greg Edwards, Conrad Roth, Donny Divanian, Cameron Edmonson, Nicole Calasich, Colleen Watson, David Wiswell, Will Hatcher, Mimi Vilmenay, Melanie O’Brien and others. Legitimately funny people who daily hone their craft in front of dead or invisible crowds. Very deserving talent without a shred of appreciation.
Well I say fuck that! I’m going to laugh!
I have a reputation for having too much energy and over-laughing at comedy shows. Questions arise frequently about the legitimacy of my fan faire. I’ve been to shut up due to laughing too hard. I’ve been accused of using laughter enhancement drugs. It has severely ruined my reputation as a sourkraut.
To set the record straight: I love comedy. I listen intently to every performer and respond to what I hear according to my sense of humor, psychology, and experience. If I get a reference, have had a similar experience, or see the cleverness, I will laugh. My aural appreciation has a gauge based on freshness, threads of intelligence, design, delivery, and variance. I will snicker to be involuntarily polite, chuckle if I like the idea, louder if I love the punchline, spit-take laugh if the joke sideswipes with an unexpected conclusion, belly laugh is the joke is golden and tear-up/asphyxiate if the joke speaks to me intimately.
Trainwrecks are enjoyable as well. 800 Larkin had a few of those. The carnage was quaint.
800 Larkin also started the tradition of “comedy pals”; individuals with the same amount of experience that felt the need to band together. Josh Orr, Steven Lebeau, David Cairns, Andrew Moore and Roman Leo all stood out as the time as individuals with tons of potential but still developing their voice and technique. We were all trying to find how to fit in the paradigm of comedy, struggling to get validation of progress from nearly empty rooms in the 3rd hour. Those were fun times to watch and to experience first hand.
Then there were others who blew smoke in the face of comic convention, and were lovely in their disregard. Two usual suspects in this regard: Sammy Franco and Darien Black. Sammy is guttural, intellectual ejaculate and Darien is sloshed cunning. Both represent a segment of scratching, spitting, sexual, snarling, raw, ugly, beautiful comedy. Take the anime film, Akira and fry it on the brain of a performance artist covered in glitter and you might get what these guys are saying. They’re demolition comedians, in the same vein of Chris Schiappacasse and Ricky Luna. A deadly, deadly brand
This triangle of performers created the eye of a hurricane as the winds of chaos whipped around 800 Larkin. Crackheads literally reeking havoc. Fights breaking out on a regular basis. A Jeffrey Dahmer look-alike attempting to attack Anton Inara over a sheep joke only to be dragged out by Travis while confusedly saying “Where are you taking me?” Sex on the brain, and on the fingers, friends, free drinks, crew work and suganasties.
Nobody was there that final night, just a few hap(less)hazard comedians and a slew of new staff inside the bar. A whispering voice beckons me outside: it’s Travis Curry. He informs me that there had been a coup detat. The manager of the bar canned Travis and hi-jacked the show. She brought in a new M.C. and DJ on the still rotting corpse of Travis’ baby. Mr. Curry asked me to not perform and I complied on ethical grounds. Open microphones in the city are as much about supporting as performing. 800 Larkin had a special blend of personalities that enriched the scene. It had soul and you can’t get rid of the heart and expect the body to survive. And that was the night that comedy died at that establishment’ the scene moved on and new rooms emerged. On my way to such other venues (like Nick’s Crispy Taco/Rouge, Mondays @ 9 PM) I see the shell of 800 Larkin and feel a little wistful as the ghosts of blowjobs pass by.
Thank you for reading