A resurgence of stand-up comedy brings loads of laughs to Santa Cruz
Whether they’ve been at it for nine weeks or nine years, local stand-up comedians will tell you, trying to draw laughs from a Santa Cruz audience is no walk in the park.
“If you can’t deal with rejection in a way that doesn’t permanently crush your spirit, then you shouldn’t get into stand-up,” warns DNA, local comedian, Good Times contributor, and longtime host of The Blue Lagoon’s Thursday Comedy Night. “I’ve seen comedians come off the stage crying—it’s brutal. You’re going to get eaten up and spit out.”
And yet, despite the risk of an unresponsive audience or jokes falling flat, the stand-up comedy scene in Santa Cruz is undeniably flourishing. Every week, local funnymen and funnywomen take the stage in venues throughout Santa Cruz County.
“Stand-up isn’t a new thing, but lately there has just been more traction, as more and more people actually want to perform,” says George Kane, local comedian and emcee. “If they were on the fence about it before, they have decided to give it a shot.”
Kane recently formed two new comedy nights—Tuesdays at Red Restaurant and Bar in Santa Cruz and Wednesdays at The Mediterranean in Aptos—making him one of the key players in the blossoming local scene, which also includes weekly stand-up events at Surf City Billiards, Trout Farm Inn, and The Crow’s Nest, as well as Planet Cruz Comedy and Joe Hughes Comedy showcases at various venues around town.
Although Kane says Santa Cruz is experiencing a comedy boom, he also believes that the scene is constantly evolving. Between the tourist traffic and the constant arrival of new university and community college students, Santa Cruz County has new laughter-craving audiences every day.
“As long as it’s something that the comics want to put the [legwork] into, the audience will always be there,” explains Kane. “This is a town that wants you to succeed, and there is enough room for everybody, but you have to meet Santa Cruz half way. Comics have to be willing to perform for free or very cheap. And the local audience isn’t readily accepting of violence or profanity in a set.”
But in general, Santa Cruz audiences are happy to support comedians who are able to touch on risky topics with tact and sensitivity.
Dave Grimes, former pro-wrestler-turned-comedian, says a comic can speak to uncomfortable subjects, as long as it is done without malice.
“Take Richard Pryor or George Carlin for example,” says Grimes. “They said things that were incredibly offensive, but found ways to shine a light on whatever that ugly way of thinking was. It really depends on who’s doing it, how it’s done, and what the intent is.”
The comedian-audience relationship is a very open one. The limits of what subjects and language will and will not go over well are determined every night by each audience.
Noah Gain has been performing stand-up locally for six months, and while he admits that he has yet to find his comedic “voice,” his ultimate goal is to have a natural conversation with the audience. In his experience, a crowd will not support a comic if it doesn’t like a topic or the way a comic addresses it.
“It’s just rolling with the punches,” says Gain. “The biggest thing you can take away from a bad night is that a joke you’re doing, or a shtick you’re pulling, isn’t working, and it’s just part of the editing process. It doesn’t get me down, it’s just a help.”
Caroline Hawkins, comedian and co-host of the family-friendly comedy showcase at Trout Farm Inn every Thursday, relies on humorously bad relationships for her stand-up fodder.
“One of my jokes is that the reason I got into comedy was because I’ve been dating guys in Santa Cruz for 10 years,” laughs Hawkins. “That makes any woman a comedian.”
Hawkins notes that while much of her material is universal, she tries to add some balance to the male-dominated scene by addressing women in the audience. The biggest problem with female comedians, Hawkins asserts, is that there aren’t enough of them.
“Nine times out of 10, whenever I am announced on stage, the host will make a point to announce my gender, and my following joke is always that I’m the token,” says Hawkins. “At the same time though, if the jokes are good, I get laughs. I am always rallying to get more women up there, and all the male comedians have been incredibly supportive.”
The aforementioned comedians and emcees agree that the lack of competition and the support networks within the local comedy scene have contributed enormously to the success of stand-up in Santa Cruz.
“If you support others, they will support you,” explains Kane. “If everyone is hitting it off and doing well, it creates a momentum of its own and it’s so much more fun. Let’s face it, everyone needs a laugh—especially a free one.”
The Crow’s Nest: 9 p.m. Sundays, 2218 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, $7. Surf City Billiards: 9 p.m. Mondays, 931 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, No cover, Open mic. The Mediterranean: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, 265 Center Ave., Aptos, No cover. Red Restaurant and Bar: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, 200 Locust St., Santa Cruz, No cover. Trout Farm Inn: 7 p.m. Thursdays, 7701 E. Zayante Road, Felton, No cover. The Blue Lagoon: 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, 923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, No cover. All comedy shows, except for the one at Trout Farm Inn, are 21+.
From Comedians to comedians…
1. Write every day
“You have to write as much as possible—even if you don’t feel like it, even if you don’t like what you’ve written. It’s like anything else, it requires a lot of work. Treat it like a job even if you’re not getting paid.” –George Kane
2. Be reliable
“If you’re on time, you’re always at the shows that you say you’re going to be at, and you have new material that you’re trying out, people will reward you.” –Dave Grimes
3. Work your strengths
“Whatever they may be. For example, if you’re an animator, bring that to your comedy. Think outside of the box as to what is unique about you and
what you can offer to the scene.”–DNA