JEN MASON DID a stand-up comedy set earlier this year at DeAnza Springs Resort, a clothing-optional, high-desert vacation destination in Jacumba.
Yes, some audience members opted out of clothing.
“The crowd was smaller than usual, but it was cold,” she deadpans.
Naked audiences are certainly not the norm, says Mason (pictured, above), a mother of two and a Berkeley educated acupuncturist who became a stand-up comic at 50.
Post-pandemic, Mason says the public’s appetite for comedy shows has swelled.
She performs all over San Diego County, and beyond. She also teaches the JenX Comedy class for beginners and produces the Sofa King Funny Show at Finest City Improv in Hillcrest.
(Full disclosure: I’m enrolled in Mason’s beginners class.)
San Diego has a limited number of traditional comedy clubs, but Mason says comedy show producers have gotten creative with venues.
“It had been hard to find places to do shows, so comics had to make their own opportunities and start producing their own shows,” she says.
Restaurants. Breweries. Gyms. Yes, even Dapper Punk Comedy’s clothing-optional resort show.
“People just want to get out somewhere and laugh,” she says.”
Comedy Clubs & Beyond
Louie Centanni. (Courtesy photo)
The most established area comedy clubs are: The Comedy Store in La Jolla; Mic Drop Comedy (formerly The Comedy Palace) in Kearny Mesa; and downtown San Diego’s American Comedy Co., Mad House Comedy Club and recently opened Laugh Factory.
Local writer-turned-comedian Louie Centanni’s “home club” is The Comedy Store. He’s played shows in Phoenix and Denver, and notes how unique it is that downtown San Diego has three clubs within three blocks of each other on F Street.
“I don’t think you can find three comedy clubs that close to each other in New York City,” he says.
Each club has its own personality, Centanni notes.
“ACC will have A-listers–I saw the late Norm Macdonald there,” he says. “The Laugh Factory gets big industry names. Mad House has more up-and-comers. I like The Comedy Store because they look to develop comics.”
Centanni agrees that post-pandemic audiences are returning to comedy shows.
“There are more people going out and the venues are getting more diverse,” he says. “I’ve seen independent bookers pack rooms with up to 200 people, though it can still be hit-or-miss.”
He’s all in favor of more opportunities for comedians getting more mic time, but is aware of both the upside and downside.
“More comedy is a good thing,” Centanni says. “The unintended effect is that there’s a higher possibility you might see a bad show at a place like a bar.”
Nonetheless, he thinks having more show opportunities gives comics a better chance to develop their craft.
“I do think San Diego has a good community that realizes comedy is an artistic endeavor,” Centanni says. “If people just want to go out to a bar and laugh, that’s fine. But I think there’s also more of a chance now to get to know new comedians, follow them and watch them develop.”
Veteran Indie Producers
Benji GarciaReyes. (Courtesy photo)
Independent comedy shows aren’t a new phenomenon.
For more than a decade, Al Gavi and Maria Herman have been producing Comedy Heights shows. They do two popular weekly gatherings: Friday in Chula Vista at Bay Bridge Brewing and Saturday in University Heights at Twiggs.
Benji GarciaReyes is another local veteran producer. He estimates that since 2009, he’s performed in and produced more than 2,000 shows. This year, he booked comics in venues in El Cajon (The Grand), Chula Vista (El Cruce+241), City Heights (outdoors at [email protected]) and Vista (Five Suits Brewing).
“I feel like we’ve always had a strong comedy scene in San Diego,” says GarciaReyes, born in Tijuana and raised north of the border. “Yes, some people paused during the pandemic, but I was still doing outdoor shows and Zoom shows at that time.”
He says Los Angeles may have more comedy clubs, but that San Diego’s independent scene rivals that of LaLa Land.
“There are so many funny people in San Diego that the world has yet to find out about,” he says. “I’m proud of our community, and I think San Diego puts out a lot of entertaining shows.”
The New Wave of Indies
Kash Habib. (Courtesy photo)
Comedy enthusiasts can find at least a dozen independent shows to see during any given week in San Diego, estimates indie show producer Kash Habib.
“There are usually shows every night of the week,” says Pakistan-born Habib, who also works as a solutions architect for Hewlett Packard. “Some weeks there are more than 20 shows available.”
In 2019, Habib enrolled in a workshop at National Comedy Theater. He enjoyed it, got booked doing stand-up on some local shows, and within six months was putting together his own lineups.
Kash Comedy Presents produces five shows: at TBS Tavern in Mission Valley; Pali Wine Co. in Little Italy; 619 Spirits in North Park; BNS Brewing in Santee; and a new show at Hotel Carte’s rooftop bar in Little Italy.
There’s definitely a huge demand for this,” Habib says.
He recalls struggling to keep his brand alive during the pandemic. Habib did Zoom shows, and even taught himself to do magic tricks to add a different wrinkle to his lineups.
Now, he says, business is on the upswing and he’s regularly asked by other venues about doing new shows.
Laughing It Off
Kimbles Hume. (Courtesy photo)
The hunger to get out and watch comedy spans generational demographics, says Kimbles Hume. She’s been in the San Diego comedy scene for five years under the name Kimbles ‘n Bits Comedy (recently shortened to Bits Comedy).
A transplanted Brit, Hume produces local shows at San Diego Mission Bay Resort, L’Auberge Del Mar, Belly Up in Solana Beach and Beach House in Belmont Park. (She also runs shows in L.A. and on Jekyll Island in Georgia.)
“Especially at some of the high-end resorts where I do shows, there is a significantly older clientele,” she says. “Some of them haven’t been out to a comedy show in years.”
Hume observes that the trends of cancel culture and political polarization are not keeping audiences of any age away from comedy stages.
“Life is divided these days,” she says. “Audiences seem fascinated at how comedians are leaning in to touch on news and political topics. But most of all, people just want to laugh.”
Here’s when and where you can catch some of the above-mentioned indie shows:
- August 7 (Sunday). Benjie GarciaReyes: Up Comedy Shows Presents Zhivago Blea at Five Suits Brewing in Vista.
- August 10 (Wednesday). Kash Komedy Presents: Comedy Night in Little Italy at Pali Wine Company. Featuring Louie Centanni.
- August 11 (Thursday). Bits Comedy: One Night Only–Rachel Feinstein at Belly Up in Solana Beach.
- August 12 (Friday). Comedy Heights lineup at Bay Bridge Brewing in Chula Vista.
- August 13 (Saturday). Comedy Heights lineup at Twiggs in Normal Heights.
- August 26 (Friday). Jen Mason’s Sofa King Funny Show lineup at Finest City Improv. SDSun