Category Archives: Entertainment

SFSU Humans vs. Zombies Celebrates its Season Three opening

Steven Benitez (right) carry a box to complete a mission during the Humans vs. Zombies season 3 opener, 'Return to Night,' Oct. 23, 2013. Photo by Tony Santos / Xpress
Steven Benitez (right) carry a box to complete a mission during the Humans vs. Zombies season 3 opener, ‘Return to Night,’ Oct. 23, 2013. Photo by Tony Santos / Xpress

Written by Justice Boles
Photos by Tony Santos

Zombies. Walking corpses that feed on the flesh of the living. These undead monsters have been used to symbolize basic primal fears like death and disease, as well as more modern-day anxieties like consumerism and loss of individuality.  Ever since George Romero released Night of the Living Dead in 1968, the zombie has become a pop culture juggernaut, appearing in forms of media ranging from books to comics to video to movies to television. Books about surviving the zombie apocalypse have become New York Times best sellers. Legion of the undead movies and video games rake in hundreds of millions of dollars. The Walking Dead, a television show based on a comic book about zombies is the most-watched drama series telecast in basic cable history. Whether it’s through admiration or just plain obsession, even college students in the United States have developed games of Humans vs. Zombies. Just Check the official website. Like the reanimated corpse itself, the concept has spread its way across campuses—including San Francisco State University—and has sunk its teeth into the hearts of students.

 

 

The basic premise of the game is to simulate a zombie apocalypse. Usually played over the span a week, students are assigned missions to accomplish, not knowing if their friends, classmates, or roommates could be a zombie in wait, ready to strike at anytime, anywhere, with the sole purpose of adding another monster to the undead army.

Inspired by games held at other colleges, San Francisco State University students Nathaniel Dizon and Ricki Herrera decided they were going to bring their own version of HvZ to SFSU.

In October 2011, the duo held their first game of HvZ. Since then, they’ve hosted more than a dozen games on the SFSU campus with scores of people attending each game, sometimes as many as 80 HvZ goers.

Played over the span of several hours on a weekend, their game is more reminiscent of a Civil War Reenactment than a game of tag.

Generally, there are two teams, the humans and the zombies. Humans are gifted with weaponry, usually in the form of Nerf guns that fire foam darts and similarly

An unnamed person who refused to speak at all walked through campus during the Humans vs. Zombies season 3 opener, Oct. 23, 2013. Photo by Tony Santos / Xpress
An unnamed person who refused to speak at all walked through campus during the Humans vs. Zombies season 3 opener, Oct. 23, 2013. Photo by Tony Santos / Xpress

foamed swords. These have proven so popular that Nerf has begun making a special Zombie Strike line of weapons. The zombies, on the other hand, benefit being virtually unkillable and constantly reanimate after being shot or struck with foam weaponry, as well as amassing a larger horde with every human killed.

However, more personally for the SFSU game, the moderators are in charge of building the world and the rules. With the expanding number of players, the number of moderators has expanded as well. Moderators Adam Benigno, Fernando Herrera, Jamison Chow and Lisa Olson have all brought new flavors and ideas to the game. These changes have come in the form of expanded human weaponry like Riot Shields and a Bazooka– colloquially called the BFG– as well as a plethora of new “special” zombies that keep the game dynamic and interesting.

Generally, the moderators try to design the missions around a larger narrative, like survivors trying to escape a zombie-infested city. This most recent game, affectionately titled “Return to Night,” involved a mad scientist and a chunk of plutonium woven into the story of humans fighting off the undead horde.

“There’s been a few missions we’ve designed, and just every human died in the first mission,” said Dizon. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how much fun it is being a zombie. I really like building missions the humans don’t really win. Let’s be honest, humans aren’t gonna survive the zombie apocalypse. I don’t think the humans are really designed to win this game.”

“Return to Night” began simple enough: A hand full of zombies facing down an army of Nerf-equipped humans. The game was divided into 5 rounds, each round having a few objectives for the humans to complete. The completion of the objective leads to human benefits, such as access to better weapons and longer zombie stun time. On the other hand, failure upgrade the zombie horde’s attributes, like stronger undead or a severe weakening of the Human fort and safe-zone.

The humans were successful in most of the rounds of “Return of the Night”, although there were many casualties that swelled the ranks of the undead. Round three saw the fall of the human base and the demoralization of the living, but they followed that up with a successful ending to round four. After that, the only way to win was to survive the increasingly difficult waves of zombies. After cutting and shooting their way through the first four waves, it looked like the six remaining humans might have some semblance of a chance, but they were low on ammo and hope. The final wave swooped in and overwhelmed the momentary survivors, ensuring another zombie win for the record books.

“It’s not that the humans can’t win. On a few occasions, the humans have managed to survive,” said Herrera, “but usually the zombies continue to chip away until humans are dead. We like to make every game different and unique.”

The sense of community the game has brought delights Dizon and Herrera. After every game, the moderators like to hold an open forum, engaging the players about what worked and what didn’t. “We try different missions and objectives, sometimes they’re good and we get some positive feedback, and sometimes they don’t work as well,” Herrera said. They’ve even set up a Facebook group for the games in which a lot of the players like to actively share zombie-related jokes and websites.

Dizon and Herrera are graduating soon and think it will be unlikely that they will continue to run the games after they leave college.

“We would just like to say that we’ve had a great time planning and playing these games and meeting so many cool people. We appreciate the support and enthusiasm everyone brings to the game. We would love it if anyone else wanted to take the reins and run their own version of HvZ.”

TV Misery: 5 Shows That Need to Throw in the Towel

Photography by Regan Walsh

One of the great tragedies in life is watching a once good show morph into something plain unwatchable. At first, it starts out with a few bad episodes, and you figure things are bound to get better. However, it just gets worse and gradually you find yourself understanding why that one guy, Steven Cowan, blasted his TV with a shotgun because he was pissed over Dancing with the Stars(or maybe that’s just me).

Here are just some of the shows on television right now that need to get cancelled ASAP. Afterwards, we can light a candle in remembrance of their former selves.

 

5.  Once Upon a Time

 

Mistake #1: Never kill off the main eye candy after only seven episodes (especially when it is Irish babe Jamie Dornan). This fatal error in the first season upset many fans that had grown attached to the sheriff of Storybrooke. Oh Graham, we hardly knew ye. With the premise of fairy tale characters unaware of their true identities and stuck in the real world as part of a curse enacted by the Evil Queen, the show was a big draw for fairy tale lovers and Disney fans alike. Watching the Evil Queen, the mayor of Storybrooke, try to get rid of newest resident Emma Swan(who didn’t know she was the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming) to prevent her from realizing her destiny of breaking the curse made for good, fluffy television. However, it got completely off track for its second season. First, there was the tendency to reiterate the same phrases over and over. You could make a drinking game out of how many times Charming and Snow White said “You found me.” In fact, some of the dialogue from last season is still making me cringe. Secondly, inserting Rumplestiltskin into pretty much every fairy tale was unnecessary. Moreover, never deciding what direction to take with the Evil Queen was frustrating. Either she stops using magic or she’s a villain. Pick one and stick with it. And making Peter Pan possibly the villain for season 3? No. All in all with its ever expanding world and cast, the writing can’t keep up.

 

4. Vampire Diaries

 

Everything started to go downhill the moment Klaus (the OG of vampires)became a regular character in season three. In beginning, Vampire Diaries was about the main protagonist Elena Gilbert finding out her new boyfriend and his brother were vampires. Plus, she is the doppelganger of their former lover/vampire maker, Katherine. Oh, and might I add her best friend Bonnie is the resident witch, and her hometown is a haven for the supernatural. Gradually as the show became more entangled in vampire mythology, it got too caught up in the idea of the original vampires. On top of being an extraordinarily lackluster villain, the decision to turn Klaus into a potential love interest for Caroline made no sense. It was the so contrived and forced it caused secondhand embarrassment. One minute he’s killing everyone in Mystic Falls, the next he’s doing crappy drawings of horses to show his sensitive side to Caroline. Then there was that awful werewolf/vampire hybrid storyline and the never-ending love triangle between Elena, Stefan and Damon continued to be never-ending. Let’s not forget Bonnie getting reduced down to a plot device. Also the constant back and forth over whether Damon has really redeemed himself (spoiler alert: he hasn’t) got old. Not even turning Elena into a vampire last season brought any life back into this mess of a show. So it’s time to go “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on these bloodsuckers and put a dagger in it.

 

3. America’s Next Top Model

 

So the firing of the Jays(Miss J and Mr. Jay) was the final kiss of death for this reality show. And let’s be real, no one misses Nigel Barker. Miss J was the runway walk expert and judge who filled the screen with his over the top presence. Without Miss J, who was going to help the contestants perfect their runway walk into an effortless glide now? Who Tyra? Nope. Plus, Mr. Jay was the creative director on all of the photo shoots and gave advice to the models to get the best shots. Together with Tyra, they were a ridiculous, unstoppable trio. As expected, replacing an entire judging panel was a recipe for disaster. Tyra’s dynamic with the new judges just isn’t the same and the judging is consistently inconsistent. Bryanboy as the social media correspondent could literally be fulfilled by anyone. While it’s true ANTM always had a flair for camp, it seems as if the last few seasons aren’t even trying anymore. Over the years, there have been bad music videos, human hair dresses, Canada, Greek salad, and even hot dog themed photo shoots. No wonder this show lost its steam, everything has been done. So the only thing they have left is to try and outdo the ridiculousness of last season. How Tyra ever managed to get VOGUE involved in this disastrous competition will always be a mystery to me.

 

2. Law & Order: SVU

 

This procedural drama about detectives in the Special Victims Unit in New York City was getting stale as it entered into its double digit seasons, but then Detective Stabler left after the 12th season. No closure whatsoever. Arguably, the core of the show was the relationship between partners Stabler and Detective Benson. It should’ve been cancelled right then and there. Yet, NBC probably didn’t want to let go of the last successful show in the Law & Order franchise without a fight. Adding two new detectives to fill the void didn’t work. More of Fin and Munch being hilarious wasn’t cutting it either. Bad ripped from the headlines stories couldn’t heal the pain. Stabler really was irreplaceable. Putting Benson through another severely traumatic situation where she was held captive by a rapist/murderer in the last season’s finale was the last straw. Of course in the recent season premiere, warrior princess Benson was able to get away from her captor’s clutches, but honestly why go there at all? She’s been through enough. Bring back Stabler and have him ride off into the sunset with Benson. End scene.

 

1. Glee.

 

Was there really any other choice? When the pilot of a show is better than the series as a whole, you know it’s time to throw in the towel. The first season made you root for the underdog glee club New Directions to win all the awards and prove they weren’t a joke. In retrospect, given that Ryan Murphy was the creator it never stood a chance. Trying to remember back when Glee was satirical, witty, and didn’t have practically 20 songs per episode was a challenge. Once the second season came around continuity got thrown out the door and keeping track of plot holes became a lost cause. Despite having such a large ensemble cast, only a handful of characters were lucky to get adequate screen time. Before, the songs in an episode had meaning and connected with the overall arcs in the show. Yet, it rapidly became about the Britney Spears episode, the Lady Gaga episode and then the Britney Spears episode again. Serious issues started getting played up for shock value. Case in point, naming last season’s episode about a school shooting “Shooting Star”. There’s also that one time they did a body swap episode and another episode there were some ginger supremacists. Let that sink in, ginger supremacists. Last season introduced a bunch of new students to McKinley High, but nothing about these characters is inherently lovable or standout. Season 5 needs to be Glee’s swan song because it has gone long enough already.

In the Friendzone: Rap’s most unlikely contenders

Dylan Reznik poses for a portrait in his home studio in Pleasanton, Calif. Reznik is one of the members of the hip-hop duo Friendzone. Photo by John Ornelas / Xpress
Dylan Reznik poses for a portrait in his home studio in Pleasanton, Calif. Reznik is one of the members of the hip-hop duo Friendzone. Photo by John Ornelas / Xpress

Written by Tom Rizza
Photos by John Ornelas

There is a house – a large house – on a hill in a gated community in Pleasanton. Winding through a maze of McMansions, it would be no surprise that white, sheltered, twenty-somethings live there. The assumption is they probably don’t have full-time jobs and are living off their parents’ success, like most of contemporary, American slob society.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

This is the home of Dylan Reznik and James Laurence, collectively known as Friendzone.  They’re members of a new wave of artists that are changing the perception and feel of hip-hop.

“Two random people like us could never have worked with someone like Tupac back in the ‘90s.” says Reznik. “It was it’s own world and it wasn’t open like it is now. The Internet opened it up.”

Dylan Reznik: one-half of Friendzone.
Dylan Reznik: one-half of Friendzone

Since the release of their first full-length album Collections I in 2012, the duo has ridden a hype stream to success. Their work is featured on A$AP Rocky’s newest album Long.Live.ASAP on the track “Fashion Killa.” Some of their tracks will be appearing as bump music on Adult Swim.

They attribute this success to the Internet and being in the right place at the right time. Twitter and Soundcloud has allowed them to reach out and collaborate with artists across the globe, such as Ryan Hemsworth (Nova Scotia) and Yung Lean (Sweden).

“You don’t need to build up a local following anymore. That’s not what it’s about,” says Reznik. “Like kids from the Midwest. They don’t have a lot of shows but they collect music like it’s comic books.”

They met Oakland rap duo Mondre M.A.N. and Squadda B of Main Attrakionz through Twitter.  Collaborating with all of the artists featured on their Kuchiburu Network 3 tapes, wouldn’t have been possible without reaching out online.

James Laurence, right, and Dylan Reznik, left, pose for a portrait in their home studio in Pleasanton, Calif. The two make up the hip-hop duo Friendzone. Photo by John Ornelas / Xpress
James Laurence, right, and Dylan Reznik, left, pose for a portrait in their home studio in Pleasanton, Calif. The two make up the hip-hop duo Friendzone. Photo by John Ornelas / Xpress

Reznik and Laurence have been making music in various capacities, both together and in separate projects, since they were in high school in the early 2000s. From hardcore punk to experimental noise, their range seemed limitless. While hip-hop was relevant to their tastes at the time, they never considered making it.

“Right after high school I was getting really into old school hip-hop like Nas and A Tribe Called Quest, but never considered making it until Lil B,” says Laurence. “When I first heard Lil B, we both came across him at the same time, and we said ‘oh shit this is music we can do. This is touching.’”

For Reznik, Lil B shattered hip-hop’s barriers.

“Rap seemed like a very closed art form,” says Reznik. “All of a sudden that was out the window and it was so obvious that there was an incredible amount of things you could do. People hadn’t scratched the surface.”

In the mind of an average music fan, two white kids from the suburbs does not equate to hip-hop producers. Hip-hop’s origins are set in contemporary, Black urban America. Lil B and social networking, for Friendzone, pioneered a new landscape for hip-hop where only one thing matters: Can you make people move?

After having their hearts and minds opened, Friendzone put together A.L.L/JD, their debut to the hip hop scene. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like hip-hop. The tracks have snares and bass. The similarities end there. A.L.L./JD sounds more like cuts from an Aphex Twin album than anything Dr. Dre or WuTang’s RZA have produced. But that’s the point. It doesn’t matter. That mold doesn’t exist anymore.

With anything new, there’s pushback. Coming from the noise scene, Reznik and Laurence say their fanbase was thrown off by the newest experiment.

“There was a lot of stigma in musical circles that we were involved in about making melodic music for the masses,” says Reznik. “That’s what made it exciting to me. It was like noise music to noise music people.”

“I remember showing songs to some friends and they were like ‘What the fuck? Why don’t you make Black Metal?’” adds Reznik with a laugh. “And I was thinking ‘you don’t even know about this yet. This shit is coming. That shit that you’re doing is retired.’ Thats how it happens. Things move cyclically.’”

Friendzone’s new album DX, set for release on Oct. 8, is a departure from the dark, sometimes erratic, yet pretty tones of Collections I. Instead, listening to DX is a euphoric and daring experience from a group still trying to define its sound. The result is a much needed breath of fresh air for a genre with a whole lot of been there, done that. Friendzone is proof that it’s an exciting time to be a hip-hop fan. Stay tuned.

DX is scheduled for release on Oct. 8 and is available at friendzone.bandcamp.com Listen to tracks for free at soundcloud.com/friendzone and follow them on Twitter @_FRIENDZONE.

Rapper goes AWOL

R_Leibrich_AWOL show001

By Ivane Lund Soyombo
Photography by Ryan Leibrich

 

As soon as AWOL steps on stage he commands the attention of the crowd in the semi-packed strip mall bar, Park 77. It’s his first solo show, and the crowd watching him is an odd mix of his peers and sports enthusiasts still trying to figure out why the baseball game is now on mute.

He begins flowing as though the crowd, more than 50 people more interested in playing pool, is actually there to see him. Soon enough, eyes are no longer on one of the seven televisions broadcasting highlights from the Giants game. People place pool cues back into their carrying cases and watch as the MC in the t-shirt adorned with the word ‘Rich’ glides across the floor, rhyming effortlessly.

He complains about San Francisco’s Mexican cuisine falling short to his hometown of San Diego, ushering a laugh from the crowd, followed by a song dedicated to the Southern California city.

“If you’ve got some shit in your heart that’s real, share it with people,” he breathlessly tells his audience before going into his last song, the crowd nodding their heads to the music in unison.

AWOL took the stage nearly three hours after the show’s advertised 8:30 p.m. start time and laughs afterwards as he says, “I guess I’m not going to class tomorrow.”

San Francisco State student Alexander Powell spends his days toiling away in the Humanities department and his nights showing off his knack for the vernacular under the moniker AWOL.

From the time he was a teenager in San Diego, Powell knew he had a way with words.

“It started with lunchroom freestyles in high school. My friend would always beat-box. I was just kicking stuff off the top of the head, just having fun, and people would be like, ‘oh, he’s dope!’ And I just realized I actually have a little bit of talent,” says Powell.

What began as a way to kill time in the cafeteria developed into a serious passion for Powell during his freshman year at San Francisco State when his roommate encouraged him to abandon the playful nature of his rhymes and take his musical talent seriously.

Powell started rapping alongside his roommate’s band, From the Hip, at local shows. The rest is history.

A few years into performing with From the Hip, Powell partnered with his brother, Jordan,  and together they formed the duo SinSerious.

Their self-titled EP released on Bandcamp last September. Playing shows together whenever Powell was home in San Diego, a small Southern California following started building.

“I think SinSerious is definitely me at my best lyrically, sometimes. ‘Cause we’re going back and forth and it’s a little friendly competition––it’s expanding on what we can do.”

Last year when From the Hip––now Nova Noir––went on a break, and performing shows regularly with his brother, who still lives in San Diego, proved to be impossible, Powell found himself still searching for that musical release.

“I just decided I should keep doing music regardless.”

And thus, AWOL was born.

Powell’s brother was responsible for coming up with the name AWOL, a perfect fit for the older brother who had a penchant for going against the norm.

“He was just like, ‘Yo, you should call yourself AWOL. It fits you perfectly,” says Powell, “And I wasn’t average, I wasn’t going along with the scene all the time so it kind of fit.”

While the ease and grace present in Powell’s SinSerious verses is present in his solo work, the music is noticeably more personal.

At a time when hip-hop is overrun with artists rapping about girls, drugs, and cars, AWOL’s music is a nice refresher.

Raiju Takes the Stage

By Jessica Mendoza

The lights dim down in the Depot. The current band, which just performed, left the stage and the workers are setting up the equipment on the stage as they prepare for the next band to take the stage.

While the stage is being set, Vinnie Hecht, drummer and bartender at the SF State Pub, taps his sticks on the drums and practices his part while he looks at his laptop screen for the music notes. His long time friend, Bobby Carroll, is fixing his guitar and playing a couple of notes on his guitar.

“I have to warm up my voice right now” as Scott Wagner, vocalist, tells Darby Keith, guitarist, before the stage is completely set up. Max Coley, the bass player, is sitting down and talking to a few people and selling the bands t-shirts.

People are standing in front of the stage and chatting amongst themselves with beers in their hand. The crowd grows bigger and start gathering in The Depot as eagerly awaiting Raiju to come out and take the stage.

It’s Raiju’s first performance on stage together since earlier this year. “Scott and I know each other since 2006” says Nick. Scott and Nick moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. They were looking forward to create a new band. “We put on an ad on Craigslist,” says Nick about looking for musicians.

Bobby and Vinnie have been friends since the third grade. They have been playing together from middle school throughout high school.

They responded to Nick and Scott’s ad and got hold of them. To complete the entire group, they needed a bass player. Later on, Max responded to the ad and completed the band.
“We’re focusing on mystical creatures,” says Vinnie when it came to picking a name for the band. They went through a list of names. Finally, they pick “Raiju”. It pronounces “rye-joo” and it stands for a “Japanese thunder beast” according to the band. Raiju practices at a rehearsal room in the Oakland Music Complex.

“We really wanted heavy metal music that was strange and odd” as Bobby describes Raiju’s music. All together, they wanted a sound that would be “applying to us and to make it fun for listeners”, says Bobby.

Prior to the performance, there were minor technical problems with sound. Once everything is fixing, Raiju is ready to take the stage. The guys were more excited than nervous since it’s the first show.

Raiju goes on stage. Scott thanks the crowd for their patience. He assures them “It usually doesn’t take us this long to set up considering it’s our first show.”

Bobby takes the mic and says “I’m so sorry, but let’s fucking rock!”

The anticipation was over and the show begins. As Raiju plays their first song “Pride and Gluttony +Sanitation by Fire”, begins with aggressive heavy metal sound. Scott jumps off the stage. He screams from top of lungs as his voice echoes through the room. The tempo of the music is faster and faster and slow down and fast again.

While the music is playing, a man jumps out of the crowd and begins the mosh pit. Finally He bumps into the crowd and Scott as he’s singing the song. The man bash into someone and made the person spewing his beer all over the crowded floor.

The guys of Raiju created music for anyone who enjoys the sounds of explosive heavy metal rock coming from the fires of hell and leave your ears will be ringing for days.

Raiju played other songs to the audience. The show ended. Raiju thanks the crowd for the support especially Vinnie, who takes the mic and says “thank you all for showing and I see a lot of regulars from the Pub.”

Women Who Kill: Comediennes of San Francisco

Words: Molly Sanchez

Loren Kraut, Mary-Alice McNab, and me: All women who know what it feels like to kill.

“It’s exhilarating,” Kraut says, her small face breaking into a large smile.

“It’s f***ing magical,” concurs McNab banging a fist on the table for emphasis.

Personally I feel like Mary Poppins after a good kill, like I could float all the way home.

These women and I aren’t murderers, we’re comedians and it’s the high of laugh lust we’re constantly chasing.

It’s a Tuesday night at a dark bar where people get onstage one by one and try to remember what to say. The bar is called “Amnesia”.

Amnesia is trendy. It’s illuminated by tiny red candles glowing on tables against the wall. The tentacles of what appears to be a paper mache sea creature reach out at patrons from the bar ceiling. It’s so dark one can barely read the names on the beer taps and is reduced to grunting vaguely at the bartender “I’ll have the one with the fish on it.”

Against the back wall of the bar is a stage. It’s lit by pink theatre lights from above and is cluttered with black microphone stands. None of these mics ever seem tall enough for any of the comics that ascend the small set of stairs to the stage so that the first few minutes of everyone’s set is spent adjusting it to fit their needs.

Tuesday nights at Amnesia are the brainchild of comedian and producer, Rajeev Dhar. I met Dhaj at the SF Comedy Burrito Festival earlier this year and he encouraged me to come check it out. “ I used to hate open mics ,” he confided “ I hated waiting around all night just to do 4-5 minutes.” “ Then I realized it’s part of the process, you know?”

I’ve never been to an open mic before, unless you count the times I barged into the music open mics on campus. I don’t really consider those days of doing penis jokes between acoustic guitar renditions of “Wonderwall” to have been very helpful in the way of developing my process. In my four years of doing standup I’ve mostly as an opener for my friend’s improv group. They did monthly shows at a bar downtown and every month they would dutifully smuggle my under 21 self in to do a 10 minute set. A long set, people who loved me and laughed at me, the occasional sneaked sip of beer? No wonder I loved this gig! When they stopped performing at the bar and my gig dried up it felt like a divorce to leave a comfortable loving space and venture out into the great unknown.

Amnesia is terrifying. It’s a bar filled with comedians that already know and like and talk to eachother. It only takes two sets for me to realize a crushing truth: Comedians rarely laugh at other comedieans. Some of them barely look up from squinting at their notebooks to even acknowlege at person is onstage . Some comics that go up at amnesia get flustered at the lack of response. “These are called jokes, folks,” one guy in a grey hoodie heckles into the void. He’s rewarded with at feeble chuckle from the back of the bar. “ I really wish I was white so I could say white things you people would laugh at,” barks a Native American comic. The crowd laughs uncomfortable. One guy at the door mutters “well he sure got us!” sarcastically into his beer.

McNab, sitting at the bar’s corner rolls her eyes at this. She hates when “ people think open mics are shows,”. “This is practice, this is training wheels,” she says to me later. “This is something you can only learn onstage,” she says “If you don’t get on stage you’re not a standup comedian.” She shrugs “ I don’t know what you are then.”

McNab has been on the comedy scene for 15 months now but she’s always been funny. Growing up she went to catholic schools and eventually made the move from Colorado to California when she was in her late twenties. At the encouragement of other comedian friends McNab enrolled in the Comedy College and started going to open mics. Some places she go to even let women do longer sets than men “ because there are so few of us in the industry.”

That’s how I’ve always felt, even in my limited experience, that I was a lone lady in a boys world. Yet at Amnesia some nights, women comics make up about a quarter of the performers.

“It’s an uphill climb,” says Loren Kraut a diminutive comic with glasses and brown hair. She shakes her head “ we’re not really wanted.” She adds “ I hate to be introduced as the ‘lady comedian’” she says scowling slightly “I want to punch someone in the face!”

Kraut has been doing comedy for 6 years. Before that she lived in new york trying to be an actress. Like McNab , Kraut is also a graduate of the Comedy College. “ I always wanted to do it,” she says of comedy “ but I didn’t have the nerve.”

And it takes nerve for Kraut to climb the stairs to the stage and do her set, especially considering what she talks about.

She sidles up to the mic, takes it off the stand, blinks languidly at the crowd before saying “ Over the years I’ve written a small, and I think well written , pile of suicide notes.” The crowd giggles awkwardly, Kraut continues “ I’m always loath to throw out anything I might need someday.” She’s deadpan even about death. “It’s ok to laugh,” she coaxes gently “ I’m still here.” The rest of her set ranges from her time in an anorexia clinic, her title as “most pathetic lesbian” and her OCD. The  last one is evident by her stooping down in the middle of her set to pick a speck of glitter off the stage floor.

Her matieral, deep and uncomfortable though it may be, gets laughs. She smiles as she walks off stage and sits back down at her table. Later she tells me “it sounds corny but I do it for freedom of expression.” She says she talks about the kinds of things that she talks about because “if I make fun of it, I get to work out the kinks.”

McNab concurs “ You can work out your shit if it’s funny.”

She says it’s hard for women sometimes to access this method of catharsis and even get onstage. “ Women are trained to be pretty and smart and together,” she says . “Comedy is so much about self deprication that if you’re trying to maintain that façade, you’re fucked.”

Kate Willet is the next to go on stage. She’s the only comic I’ve ever seen in a dress. It’s mauve and she pairs it with brown boots. She could be any other girl, and the beginning of her set sounds about as incendiary as any girl slagging off her friends. “ All my friends are married, and they worry about ‘where should I buy a house’ and things like that,” she says. Then the façade drops and the comedian in her kicks in to full, filthy gear. “ I think about ‘how am I going to pay rent’ or ‘is this really the guy I want to get HPV from?” The crowd bursts into shocked laughter and she smiles innocently “Because you want it to be the right person, you know?”

The second comedian I’ve ever seen in a dress is also at Amnesia. Her name is Casey Grim and as she mounts the stairs to the stage one audience member says “ ooh look Katy Perry” under their breath. Grim looks the part with her dark black hair and bright doe eyes that peek out coquettishly from behind square eyeglasses. Her cuteness is why it’s so alarming to hear her say, in a fairy voice that is high and bubbly “ I’m like any other girl in that I’ve been sexually assaulted.” The crowd laughs, again somewhat uncomfortably and Grim continues to recount her story. She says she woke up in a strange dorm after a night of drinking to find a man with his hand down her pants. In the middle of this assault, she says campus police burst in and start to arrest the man. She says while he was being handcuffed “ I got to say the one thing that every girl who has ever been a victim has wanted to say.” “You suck at fingering!” she chirps gleefully. The crowd roars.

Talking openly about things not acceptable in “ polite discussion” is important for women Krout says. She has come to feel “ the need to express myself is greater than the fear, and it is fulfilling .”

I remember a time, a while before my night at Amnesia that I felt fulfilled. I was in the midst of a grand maul breakup, broken totally on the inside and constantly having to change direction every time I saw my ex in a crowd. I was onstage doing a set when I saw his sidle in the back and stand staring by the door. I took a deep breath and began .“ I want to tell you a story about my ex boyfriend,” I begin, my heart pounding furiously in my chest, “ and because some of you may know who he is I’m going to change his name slightly so that you’ll know who I’m talking about but you won’t know who I’m talking about.” I see him roll his eyes but I continue “ so shmasshole and I were dating..” The rest of the set killed and I had the crowd laughing uproariously at several other jokes that skewered my still present ex. “We’d have sex, snuggle, and I was obligated to like his friends but he said he wasn’t ready for a relationship,” I said at one point before grimacing and saying “ that’s like saying ‘I like marshmallows, I like chocolate, but I’m just not ready for a s’more”. I killed and with the audience’s laughter I sauntered off stage thinking “ this must be how it feels to be Taylor Swift.”

Back at Amnesia McNab is about to go up. As the previous comic finishes up their set she nurses her dark beer and squints down at her set list . She scribbles something on a coaster before getting up onstage. I look at the coaster as she goes  up. “Camel Toe/holiday/muffin top” is scrawled in black pen around the coaster’s border.

“Does my camel toe make these pants look weird?” she asks the audience, pelvic thrusting slightly. She goes on to elaborate that she’s concerned about her body, namely her “muffin top.” She rubs the small fold of skin above her waist affectionately and says “this is a specialty muffin made out of whiskey and ice cream.” She laughs slightly saying “ It’s my job as a comedian to share these awkward tidbits with you.” Later on in her 4 minute set, McNab forgets what she was going to say. “Think, think” she says doing deep squats onstage, scrabbling for the rest of her set. It’s painful, as a performer and as a person that likes her, to watch the struggle. She snaps up from the squat and grins “Fuck it, I’ll end it here,” she says walking off the stage. When she sits down she mutters “I can’t drink before I go up, that’s the problem,” before leaning her head back and trying to remember the part she’s forgotten. This set is a perfect example of something she told me earlier “ it’s better to do a short, good set than a long rambling one.”

It’s hard to see a comic stop short like that but bombing is a right of passage we all need to pay at some point. Kraut recalls her worst time onstage, “ I was heckled by a dog!” she says. According to her a woman went to the bathroom during her set and the dog barked  the entire time. Bombing, Kraut says, “ feels like all the terrible things.”

All the terrible things are in my head as I too ascend the stage. After McNab’s set I’ve taken only tentative half sips of my own beer so my mouth tastes sickly of IPA and fear. The applause is lukewarm and as I start my set the room becomes so quiet I can hear almost perfectly the conversation of the smokers just outside the door. During my set, which garners only a few laughs even on material I know works, it occurs to me that doing standup comedy is like trying to play fetch with cats. Once in a while you’ll meet a great cat willing to lob something back to you. More often than not you get a cat that stares blankly at your attempt with a look that clearly says “ what do you a take me for, a fucking dog?”

Still even those who bomb are given a warm reception after their set at Amnesia and everyone is receptive to praise. Grim grasps both my hands in both of hers when I say I like her set and thanks me fervently. Willet comes over and places an affectionate hand on the small of my back saying she’s so glad I could make it out. McNab acts as a sort of one woman Little League receiving line, offering a high five to everyone as they walk past her offstage. She envelops me in a bear hug and says she can’t wait to see me again.

Even on days when I don’t do my best I am so glad to have comedy as a release and as a way to meet other women brave enough to do it too. They inspire me to get back up again.

All of us are chasers of the same feeling. The feeling Kraut describes as “being in the exact right spot.”

Wet Burritos, Dry Humor

Self-described “person and stand-up comedian” Karl Hess performs at the Comedy & Burrito festival’s Kickoff Show at SUB-Mission. Photo by Babak Haghighi

Words: Babak Haghighi & Molly Sanchez
Photos: Babak Haghighi

Sharon Houston, a dark-haired comic from Los Angeles, stands in the oval of light cast on the dark stage of a Mission District venue. Behind her is a wall covered in murals from the gorgeous to the graphic.

Squinting out at the giggling crowd at SUB-Mission in the darkness, Houston makes this assessment, “there’s some crazy f–ks in San Francisco!” The crowd whoops appreciatively, and she smiles before asking, “What the f–k do you eat in the Mission?”

Burritos. The answer to many of life’s questions, let alone Houston’s. Lines of people queue up in front of the assembly line of Pancho Villa Taqueria, waiting to redeem their voucher for a free burrito, a perk only allotted to festival pass holders. The smell of cooking carne asada is thick and intoxicating in the air, and patrons can hardly scarf down an entire burrito full of it before scurrying off to the next show.

Many clubs usually enforce ‘no outside food or drink’ policies, but at the San Francisco Comedy & Burrito Festival, held this year from Oct 11 to 13, outside food is encouraged—as long as it’s Mexican.

According to Ameen Belbahri, co-founder and executive director of the San Francisco Comedy & Burrito Festival, the tortilla and its contents are an essential part of partying in the city.

“The Mission experience, which includes drunkenly gorging yourself on a giant burrito, is about as San Franciscan as you can get.”

He and co-founder Jeff Cleary decided to start the festival after seeing the popular Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland. “Having met and befriended comics from all over the world, I learned that it [San Francisco] is also a city that comics from everywhere else want to visit and perform in,” says Belbahri. “That mixture of amazing local talent and being a popular destination spot for comics is what made it a great city to have a festival.”

The three-day festival featured more than a hundred comedians in well over 40 shows at six venues in the Mission, as well as an ongoing open mic. Not one of these shows had a shortage of burrito-eaters in the audience.

But why burritos? For San Franciscan comedian Drennon Davis, it makes perfect sense.

“San Francisco is pretty snobby about food in general and very proud of the Mission burrito,” says Davis, who was featured in NBC’s Last Comic Standing. “The comedy scene is also like that. We tend to have a higher grade of comedy that’s also very unique in style. We’re proud of it, so it only makes sense to put the two together and celebrate them.”

Performers and their audiences alike scrambled across the Mission district for three straight nights, constantly moving from venue to venue and from taqueria to taqueria.

Jeff Cleary, a veteran of the San Francisco comedy scene, co-produced the festival alongside Belbahri. The two assumed the event would be somewhat low-key, so they figured they could handle running the event on their own. But with an unexpected sell-out of festival passes, things were much more hectic than they anticipated.

“It’s a huge cocaine party without the cocaine,” says Cleary.

As the event went on, seats filled up, and things gradually began to fall into place.

“Next year, it won’t be a two-man operation,” Belbahri says.

Cleary used to organize an open mic at Annie’s Social Club, a former venue in the South of Market (SoMa) area. The open mic became a weekly haven for a struggling group of up-and-coming San Francisco comics. At the Comedy & Burrito Festival, Cleary brought the gang back together, or as much of it as he could, in an Annie’s Social Club reunion show at The Dark Room.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t get any female comics from Annie’s to be here,” said Cleary. “They’re all busy with actual, successful careers. The rest of us are here.”

Successful or not, San Francisco comics take pride in making their city a funnier place. “I love the kind of comedy we produce,” says Davis. “We tend to cultivate the weirdos of the comedy world.”

Weirdos. And they perform in weird places. For example, Brainwash, part café, part laundromat, hosts a popular open mic comedy night every Thursday in SoMa. Lost Weekend Video holds comedy nights in their tiny, brick wall basement, also known as the Cinecave.

Photo by Babak Haghighi

Not only does San Francisco breed the weirdos of comedy, but it attracts them as well. Comics from all across the country come to San Francisco to showcase their comedic talents to the awesomeness that is the San Francisco comedy crowd. Louis C.K., a king among comics, sold out all four of his mid-November San Francisco shows almost instantaneously when tickets went on sale during the summer. Dozens of big-name acts in the comedy world come to the city, whether it’s to play a small club, record a popular podcast, film a DVD, or sell out a massive symphony hall. It may not be the show-business heavyweight that Los Angeles is, but when it comes to comedy, San Francisco puts up a knockout fight.

Guy Branum, one of the higher-billed performers at the Comedy & Burrito Festival, was glad to return to his hometown by the bay to perform. On stage at The Dark Room, Branum reminisces about going to college in the Bay Area.

“I lived in the affordable part of San Francisco,” says Branum. “It’s called Oakland. I lived in the part of Oakland with a lot of white people. It’s called Berkeley.”

Every up-and-coming San Francisco comic dreams of landing a headlining gig at Cobb’s Comedy Club or Punch Line, two of the top comedy venues in the city. But to get there, they have to hit the open mic circuit first.

“It’s great to see people do their amateur stuff and to see their process,” says Raj Dhar, a local comic who volunteered at the Comedy & Burrito festival. “When I first started, I hated doing open mics. I hated waiting around to only get three or five minutes. But now I realize that’s what you’ve got to do—try to get out as much as you can.”

There are many other open mic comedy nights held in virtually every corner of the city. San Francisco’s open mic scene gives amateur comics plenty of chances to test their material and make a name for themselves in the scene.

As far as comedy festivals in San Francisco go, SF Sketchfest wears the crown. The annual festival will celebrate its twelfth year in January. In 2012, the festival hosted hundreds of performers at more than a dozen venues throughout the city. Festival shows feature stand-up comedy, sketch comedy, improv troupes, live podcasts, film screenings, TV-show reunions, musical guests, and all things comedy. Simply put, during Sketchfest, San Francisco is the funniest place on the planet. In time, however, the Comedy & Burrito festival may end up giving Sketchfest a run for its money.

“It’s a little unfair to compare the two,” says Davis. “Sketchfest is absolutely amazing, but it took awhile for them to get where they are. If the Burrito Fest continues, which I imagine it will, I could see them with similar success without being in competition with Sketchfest. Burritos aren’t going anywhere, and neither is comedy. It’s a pretty safe bet to say that the festival will keep getting bigger.”

Despite almost-detrimental technical difficulties during his headlining Friday night set at The Dark Room, Davis says he enjoyed everything about the festival. He had only one complaint.

“I wish there was more free beer. But that’s just a general complaint in life.”

Ever since he found success in San Francisco, Davis has expanded his audience both throughout the country and even outside of it, most recently by performing for a month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world. But for him, nothing beats the comedy scene of his hometown.

“It’s the best. Seriously. Great crowds and incredible comics—it’s a very symbiotic relationship.”

K-Pop Persuasion, PSY Invasion: South Korean pop star has the U.S. singing along

kpop2
Alex Pytlarz, 24, (back, right), Justin Ignacio, 22, (back, left) and Angie Song, 24, (right) dance to the song, “Gangnam Style” by K-Pop artist PSY at a dance rehearsal in a studio on Market street. The dance rehearsal was in preparation for a flash mob and lead by Kat Dallons, 24, (left) on Sunday, September 26 2012. Photo by Andy Sweet/Xpress.

Words & Doodles: Charlene Ng
Photos: Andy Sweet

A bespectacled man sits in a beach chair in the middle of a playground as he stares into the blazing sun, consumed by sweltering heat. He seems to be in his thirties. He sports a white button up shirt with rose-colored shorts and his hair slicked back. A soft yet steady beat hums in the background and gradually becomes a more distinct tune. The scene suddenly changes, and the man is now dressed in a shiny, flamboyant, black fitted suit. He is no longer in a park, rather he is in a horse stable and proceeds to break into a frenetic dance. The music picks up into a faster rhythm. Vibrant images of the dancing man continuously change as the scenes switch back and forth. He is dancing in a bus, on a merry-go-round, in a field, and in a sauna. Suddenly a dance battle ensues between the bespectacled man and a fellow in a neon yellow suit in a parking garage. Within a second, he is on the elevator floor as another man vigorously gyrates above him. The scene then cuts to a subway station where a red headed woman along with others characters join him and the dancing resumes. The screen fades to black. It’s over, but a sense of confusion and amusement lingers and the words “Oppa Gangnam Style” echoes.

This bizarre sensory overload, compressed into a four-minute Korean music video that has enticed and hypnotized audiences worldwide, is known as PSY’s Gangnam Style.

The video, released in mid-July, has already racked up more than 300 million views, is number one on YouTube’s top 100. The song itself has also reached first place on iTunes charts and has recently been circulating on some Bay Area radio stations like 99.7 NOW! While Korean Pop usually caters younger generations, Gangnam Style has even allured older audiences. Continue reading K-Pop Persuasion, PSY Invasion: South Korean pop star has the U.S. singing along

Soul Singers

The 90-member SF State Gospel choir rehearses before the end of semester concert at the Herbst Theatre. Photo by Mihail Matikov

Written by Erika Maldonado
Photos by Nelson Estrada & Mihail Matikov

What draws ninety students from different cultures, majors, religious backgrounds and sexual orientations to a stuffy classroom at San Francisco State University every Monday night?  Some say it’s the safe, familial atmosphere.  Others enjoy the idea of being a part of something greater than them.  To others still, these meetings are a spiritual experience.

The SF State Gospel Choir, held in Room 146 of the Creative Arts Building, a one-unit course offered every regular semester, is more than just a class.

“It’s about singing from the heart with a strong emphasis on emotion,” says alto and veteran member Mariam Saaed.  “Singing helps heal ourselves and others and sends a message of love, peace and forgiveness.”

Her involvement in the choir for the past five years helps her deal with depression and anger, helps her become more responsible and has helped establish some lasting friendships.
Continue reading Soul Singers