Laugh track record - Comedy Returns at El Rio

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Wednesday September 19, 2018
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Laughs will no doubt abound on September 21 when comic Lisa Geduldig returns to El Rio with her monthly comedy show, which, in various incarnations, will soon celebrate its thirtieth anniversary.

"I started doing stand up comedy in 1989 in this very room at El Rio," Geduldig, an out lesbian, said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "I had just given a tongue-in-cheek speech in my capacity of 'Best Woman' at a straight college friend's wedding and afterwards everyone came up to me and asked, 'Where do you perform?'"

The question planted the seeds for what would become Geduldig's second career; she's also a publicist.

"A few months later, I found myself at El Rio and saw a sign on the bulletin board for stand-up comic wannabes," she recalls. "I went to this class for four consecutive Tuesdays at this guy's house in Bernal Heights, and then we used the stage of El Rio on a Wednesday night before their scheduled comedy night, and we had a real audience rather than just the other students. It felt great to be onstage, and it really clicked."

Malcolm Thornley, then the owner of El Rio, invited Geduldig to perform. A few months later, she worked up the courage to call him.

"And the rest is history," she said.

Now, nearly thirty years later, Geduldig performs a monthly show at El Rio at which she invites other comics to join her. The show, which used to be seen on the thirrd Thursday of each month, currently plays on the 3rd Friday. She spoke about why she continues to do the shows.

"For me it's a social service: giving the public the joy of laughter, an escape from the stresses of life, and a community experience," she said. "Often it's just as healing for me as it is for the audience."

When booking her guest performers for the shows, Geduldig always seeks diversity.

"I strive for intelligent comedy and try to book gender parity, though sometimes there are more women on a bill to make up for the thousands of comedy clubs that maybe book a token woman if that, and as diverse a mix of comics as possible: LGBTQ, straight, multicultural."

Among the comics booked on the September 21 show is Richard Sarvate, who grew up in an Indian family in Fremont. Sarvate's parents moved to the USA from Bombay in 1976. He says that his home life was "chaotic" due to his mother's illness, which he says created the proper elements to breed an artist. His mother's schizophrenia is one of the topics he talks about in his act.

"It's very odd, because I'm not sure if the audience is going to go with me or not," he said of his decision to include the illness in his act. "It's unclear if they will feel sorry for me or if they will be able to see the humor in it. It's my job to convey that I have accepted the situation and it's okay for them to laugh."

But Sarvate's family might not be laughing.

"My family doesn't think I should be talking about it openly and making light of it, but that's not going to stop me," he said. "I've had lots of positive feedback, and my jokes help people heal. I even did a comedy show that Glenn Close produced to raise awareness about mental health. Her sister has schizophrenia."

His Indian heritage, he says, is a starting point for his comedy. "It's universally relatable because everyone knows about India and has an impression of it," he pointed out. "I can use it to build some common ground with the audience before moving into deeper topics."

Sarvate added that he has an "alternative" sense of humor.

"I used to be very odd when I started comedy," he said. "I had surreal jokes about walking into a taqueria in Chinatown that would serve fortune churros. The definition of alternative changes constantly. Because comedy keeps on evolving, being alternative just means being different than the mainstream. In the 1990s, being alternative meant that you were telling real stories about your life. In the 2000s it meant that you did abstract surreal act-outs. These days I'm actually fusing together the weird part of myself with a more mainstream version so that more people can relate to me."

He offered a sneak preview of what he'll be discussing at El Rio.

"I'll be talking about awkward social situations I get myself into, silly things people have said to me after shows, strange things women have said to me while dumping me, and a bunch more," he said. "I just want to relate to people. I am molding my onstage persona to be someone who is so upfront and confident about all that is wrong with him that the audience feels comfortable to be themselves."

Other performers on the bill are Milt Abel, Yvette Fernandez, Ayelet Schrek, and, of course, Lisa Geduldig.

Comedy Returns at El Rio, Friday September 21, 7pm. 3158 Mission Street, San Francisco. $10-20 (sliding scale).