Tag Archives: Entertainment

Comedy Godfather, City Outsider

“Humans! Listen to my face hole!”

Tony Sparks has been on stage long enough to know how to capture attention. He stands behind the mic at a sparsely occupied bar on a Monday night. He is two acts into an open mic show.

“Hey, humans!” Sparks shouts from inside the spotlight. “Even y’all in the back at the bar, ignoring the shit outta me. I need for everybody to give this next guy the big love.”

Sparks hands it off to the next comic. Slowly, people are drawn in. The bar fills up. Some people even come to sit around the stage. Two hours later, just before the show ends, the place is hopping.

Sparks is known as the “godfather of comedy” in San Francisco. He has run comedy events throughout the Bay Area for years. He came to San Francisco in the early 1990s, enticed by the city’s reputation as a nucleus of the comedy scene. Instead, he found himself ostracized from the prominent clubs and people of the day.

“This town was a piece of shit,” Sparks says. “It was really cliquey. So I don’t ever want to be that way with people. Hopefully when people hang out with me they get a sense of, ‘okay, I feel accepted and I can do this.’ I don’t want to do to other people what was done to me.”

Sparks set out to develop a more welcoming community of comics. In April of 1999, Sparks started hosting shows at BrainWash cafe and laundromat in South of Market. Calling the place an eclectic venue would not do it justice. The stage was set up against the huge, wall-high windows of the front of the building. The food line cut right through the tables, so most of the audience was separated from the direct vicinity of the stage. People usually talked at the bar, ignoring the show completely. And people were also there to do their laundry.

“It was more of a social hub than a great comedy spot,” comedian Hunter Stoehr says. “It was not a great place to do comedy, but it was a great place to hang out.”

“For people that were just doing open mics, it was the place you could go every single day,” comedian Graham Galway adds. “For people that were more established, it was a place to get an early set in. It was always a pretty large crowd, and it was a good place to meet people.”

Over the years, the strange hybrid establishment became a fixture of Bay Area comedy. BrainWash held open mics five nights a week, most hosted by Sparks.

“It was a great place. It was the foundation for the community,” Sparks explains. “If you needed to know what to do, and to grow, and where to go, you went to the Brainwash. The staff there was wonderful, the people were nice. They really took good care of me. It was like my family. I mean, c’mon, I spent nineteen years with them.”

 

In December 2017, BrainWash abruptly shut down. The cafe had been struggling to deal with a decline of customers caused by a large construction project next door. It closed with no fanfare, just a note on the locked door. It had been in business for more than thirty years.

The comedy community has been reeling ever since. There are other places that hold open mics in the city, of course, but none of them with the frequency that BrainWash did. Stoehr and other comedians describe the scene as “decentralized.”

“There was a huge gap, a void that opened up once BrainWash shut down,” Billy Catechi, manager of the bar Il Pirata, says. “That was a real shame. The place was one-of-a-kind.”

For the past twelve years, Il Pirata hosted monthly stand up shows. After BrainWash closed, said Catechi, Il Pirata decided to turn their monthly shows into weekly events. They asked Tony Sparks to host. The shows have been running every Thursday since early February.

Il Pirata sits on the corner of 16th Street and Potrero Avenue. Around 5 p.m. on a Thursday evening, Catechi brings a couple rows of chairs into the cleared-out lounge space and assembles a short wooden stage. In the room are several large booths, a spotlight, and a sound station with mixing boards and a big bank of speakers. This is the setup for the evening showcase of more established Bay Area comedians, which starts at 8 p.m.

Until then, there’s open mic out on the patio. The prep work for this event is less elaborate. Catechi pulls one table back a couple feet then plops a mic and speaker in front of the Jack Daniels dartboard. Mere feet away, traffic barrels by on 16th Street.

One-by-one, the comics come in and sign up for their four minutes behind the mic. Everyone who performs that night is a veteran of the process. Many of them know one another from the BrainWash. They mingle out on the patio until Sparks arrives just before six o’clock to kick the night off.

In addition to Il Pirata, Sparks also hosts a regular Monday night show (along with free pizza and videogames) at Milk Bar on Haight Street. The gigs he runs now don’t come close to matching the sense of camaraderie of BrainWash. Still, he continues to host shows, passionate about preserving venues for burgeoning comics to perform.

“What else am I gonna do?” Sparks says. “I’m an old man. I been doing this since I was 16 years old. I don’t know anything else to do.”

An open mic can be a brutal thing. A show is the only place for an aspiring comedian to hone new material. So they go out on a weekday night and try out their budding jokes in front of an audience made up mostly, if not entirely, of fellow comedians.

“There’s a lot of open mics where there’s no audience, there’s just other comics who have already seen most of your jokes,” comedian Travis Thielen shares. “And you only have a couple new things, so it can feel kind of disheartening.”

At Il Pirata, some do better than others. One comic’s tale about hiding pot from his parents as an adult garners some earnest chuckles, while another’s rant about millenials falls flat. Admittedly, the latter scenario is more common.

This is why the geniality of Tony Sparks is such a key to the success of the night. Even when he delves into darker personal topics, there is a buoyancy to him. Sparks has a way of delivering jabs that feel like both a roast and encouragement.

During a recent show at Milk Bar, Sparks addressed a comic who had just performed a set that was met with silence from the audience. The main factor for the icy response, perhaps, was a complete lack of discernible jokes anywhere in the routine.

“That was beautiful, although I didn’t understand shit you was saying,” Sparks said as he took back the mic. “Don’t feel bad. The rest of them,” he gestured toward the audience, “they were ignoring you very openly.” Then he turned on the audience: “You guys are bullies. He poured his heart out and you shit all over him.”

The ribbing is anything but discouraging. Comedian Tammy Clarke works at open mics and with Sparks to hone her craft. In August she will be opening for shows headlined by comedian and actress Mo’Nique.

“Honestly, I’ve gotten nothing, but love and support in this comedy sector,” Clarke says. “It feels good.”

The moment each comedian finishes their set, Sparks belts out an enthusiastic “Yaaaay!” and prods the room to break into another round of applause. When a brand-new comic comes up, Sparks leads the audience in a short chant of “lots of love” to build up the energy in the room.

“Sometimes there’s one thing that you do in life that just makes you so fucking happy,” Sparks explains. “When I host these shows, or when I get on stage, I’m so happy. I’m so incredibly happy. I have so much fun.”

Still, there’s no filling in the hole that the loss of the BrainWash created in Sparks’s life. His discontent about living in San Francisco hasn’t abated in the nearly three decades of his residency.

“I don’t trust the city, I don’t like it,” Sparks admits. “I don’t like the people. I hate everything about it. Everything. The only thing I loved about it is gone; that was the BrainWash.”

Sparks says he has gotten invitations from venues in other cities to go create his own BrainWash-type establishment. Still, there is something that, for now, keeps him in San Francisco.

As the open mic wraps up at Il Pirata, Sparks thanks everyone for coming out and congratulates them on their performances. Then he goes inside, hops up on the stage, and launches into his next comedy showcase.

XPress Magazine’s guide to finals at SF State

Contributed to by Tami Benedict

Step 1: Realize that you have not bought the books for the finals.

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Step 2: Frantically scour the internet for PDFs of the aforementioned books.

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Step 3: Try to read said books as fast as possible. Two chapters should be enough to write a paper, right? Alternately, SparkNotes.

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Credit: Tumblr

Step 4: Know that you probably won’t sleep for the entire week. Invest in cheap coffee by the bucket.

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Credit: Tumblr

Step 5: Understand that the final project that was given to you a month ago is due in two days. You haven’t looked at the assignment since it was announced.

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Credit: Tumblr

Step 6: Office hours have become your best friend. Beg for mercy and leniency.

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Credit: Tumblr

Step 7: Realize you haven’t eaten all day, proceed to shovel down the cheapest, greasiest fare in existence.

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Credit: Tumblr

Step 8: The barista at the coffee shop knows your name and drink order by now. This may be a good thing.

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Credit: Tumblr

Step 9: Stake out a space in the library, preferably next to an outlet. Get your bitch face on whenever someone is talking.

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Credit: Tumblr

Step 10: Hear people in library having mental breakdowns, understanding where they are coming from. Commiserate and take relief in the fact you aren’t crying…yet.

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Credit:Tumblr

Step 11: Realize you forgot your laptop charger at home. Give up, decide no work is being done and you’re destined to fail and live a life of mediocrity.

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Credit: Tumblr

Step 12: Look at the final review sheet, don’t understand any of it, and know that you are screwed.

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Credit:Tumblr

Step 13: Follow these steps as your Plan B.

Credit: galenmarek1
Credit: galenmarek1

Top Five Holiday Movies that can get you into the Holiday Spirit

The holidays are right around the corner and it is time to get into the spirit. (Janelle Moncada/ Xpress Magazine)
The holidays are right around the corner and it is time to get into the spirit. (Janelle Moncada/ Xpress Magazine)

Thanksgiving has passed and the Black Friday mayhem is finally over. The turkeys and pumpkin pies will now have to wait another year until their popularity can rise once again. For now, it is time for Santa Claus to ride his sleigh and families bringing about laughter and cheer.

Even though finals are right around the corner, it does not hurt to take a small break from the books to curl up in a blanket and stream a holiday movie on Netflix. From either watching a holiday classic or a Christmas movie that has recently been released, these movies will certainly bring forth the holiday spirit.

Whether you are looking for some nostalgia, some laughter, or even something eerie, the following movies will spark up your holiday mood.

1.) Elf (2003)

Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhard, Zooey Deschanel

Will Farrell has become everyone’s favorite human elf. After being raised in the North Pole, Buddy (Farrell) is unaware of his humanness and is revealed that he was given up for adoption when he was a baby. With this in mind, Buddy sets out to find his father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), in New York.

Farrell’s hilarious acting certainly adds on to the Christmas cheer. With quotable lines and unforgettable scenes, it is no wonder why this movie is always showing on television in December.

2.) Love Actually (2003)*
Director: Richard Curtis
Starring: Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Kiera Knightly, Alan Rickman

With a star-studded cast, this movie is probably one of the best holiday date movies to watch. The movie follows the lives of eight different couples who are dealing with their love lives during the Christmas season in London, England. In addition, somehow each tale is “loosely interrelated.”

Each couple sends out a great message about love and happiness, especially during the holidays and how it plays a significant role in our lives.

If you are looking for a good romantic comedy to watch right now, this movie is the one.

3.) The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)*
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara

In 1993, a holiday hero was born, Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloweentown. The movie tells the story of how Skellington discovers Christmas and tries to understand the concept of it. After stepping through the portal to “Christmas Town,” he becomes elated with his new experience and tries to share these ideas to the residents of Halloweentown.

This movie is a great movie, not just because it was made by well-known director and animator, Tim Burton, but also because it is great to watch during two holidays – Halloween and Christmas.

4.) Scrooged (1988)*

Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe

We all know the story of Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol. In Richard Donner’s interpretation, he tells the story of a cynical, selfish television executive, Frank Cross (Bill Murray).

Cross, who plans to run a live-adaptation of A Christmas Carol, lacks the Christmas spirit just as Ebenezer Scrooge does in Dickens’ novel. With the help of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Cross realizes that he has to change.

This contemporary setting of the classic tale certainly gives the viewer a much more amusing way to depict the novel as opposed to the much more darker scenes that Dickens wrote.

5.) This Christmas (2007)
Director: Preston A. Whitmore II
Starring: Regina King, Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Loretta Devine

A feel-good holiday time film, This Christmas tells the story of the Whitfield’s first celebrated Christmas together as a family in four years. Ma’dere (Loretta Devine), the mother of her children, is hosting the holiday at her home in Los Angeles and is quite delighted for her family to be together again.

As her children are home, things do not go as planned as there is some drama between the seven siblings, even during this joyous time.

While this film is not as popular as most Christmas classics, it can still bring about some holiday cheer. Even though the movie does highlight some dark themes, it does end in a happy mood as it shows how much a family can stick together through the toughest of times during the holiday season.

*These movies can be streamed on Netflix. 

Swift, Stuck in 1989

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Well, Taylor Swift’s album 1989 has had the biggest sales week since 2002 which went to Britney Spears with Oops…I Did It Again. Seeing as how she pulled her album from music streaming sites such as Spotify, this should not come as a shock. Forcing people to buy the album in order to find out if they even like it is a surefire way to drive up record sales. Well-played Swift.

The “country” singer now turned “pop” singer is not the first or the only artist to pull their songs or full albums from Spotify claiming that they are not paid enough by the company when their songs are played from the site.

Swift has stated many times that she feels music should not be free and with the release of her new album 1989, she is finally making a stand. But is she taking a stand and fighting the noble fight or is she just fighting for more money?

The pop artist is well out of debt, I am sure, and yet she wants more compensation for her work. Musicians bare their soul in songs, they spend months away from their families while on tour, they push themselves to physical exhaustion; you cannot argue any of these things. What can be argued is that they are paid generously in return to the point where they can afford to let their fans experience their album before committing to purchasing it forever.

The world that we live in, right now, currently, at this point in time is a world crawling with technology and websites and electronics. This may not be good for artists but tough luck, it is a reality, wake up and smell the coffee – it is 2014! Musicians are acting like they are the only industry being struck by this turn to computers. As a journalist, it is almost insulting to write these words while I think about how many newspapers and magazines have gone under due to the tech-boom.

It would be one thing if Swift was fighting Spotify because she felt it hurt her relationship with her fans or it hurt her ability to write songs that connect to people but the fact is, she is fighting for more money. She is not fighting for fame, because she has that; she is not fighting for recognition or kudos, because she has those as well. She is fighting for money, which she also has, but apparently the cut given to her just is not enough.

There is no way that any artist will ever be able to stop the illegal downloading of their music, plain and simple. They should, instead, continue what they are doing and let the benefits they get be enough. If the music created is moving enough, fans will buy tickets to the tour and support careers in that way. Until our society turns its back on technology, this is a reality that musicians are going to have to come to terms with.

Beats N’ Stuff #2: hiphoppin’

Hello everyone!

This week’s playlist theme is “hiphoppin’”, which will explore just that, hip-hop (and trip-hop too I guess). Hip-Hop’s evolved a lot over time, from the smooth rhymes of A Tribe Called Quest to the harsh beats of Dr. Dre to the melancholic yet insanely popular Drake. The beautiful thing about hip-hop and rap is how diverse it is, hip-hop can be anything from two Japanese girls rapping in a karaoke bar (ala Charisma.com) to a man rapping about the absence of his damn croissants.

For this week’s “hiphoppin’” playlist, I picked out some notable hip-hop artists, a legendary hip-hop producer, a trip-hop artist, and one of the biggest rappers in the game right now.

 1.) “3030” by Deltron 3030

Hip-hop group Deltron 3030 consists of producer Dan the Automator, Kid Koala, and the one and only Deltron Zero aka Del the Funky Homosapien aka the guy that raps on some songs on Gorillaz’s first album. Deltron’s Deltron 3030 is a wacky space rap-opera set in the year 3030 (duh), and it’s arguably one of the greatest hip-hop records of all-time. Deltron Zero and crew are actually going to be playing at this weekend’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival on Saturday! It’ll be a blast. They’ll allegedly have an orchestra with them, so you can yell out “Deltron Zero, hero, not no small feat” along with a triumphant horns.

Recommended if you like: Gorillaz, musicians that have only released two albums in 15 years

2.) “MFN” by Cibo Matto

Cibo Matto are a New York City-based Japanese trip-hop duo hailing from the nineties. They recently reunited in 2011 with the culmination of their latest album Hotel Valentine releasing this past February. The album is funky and weird, proving that the ladies Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori haven’t changed one bit in all those years. While it doesn’t touch their masterpiece, Stereotype A, Yuka and Miho still show that they’ve got the “it” factor. Cibo Matto will also be in San Francisco this weekend for two shows: one at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Friday and one at The Chapel on Saturday night.

Recommended if you like: the video game Jet Set Radio

3.) “Just Tonight” – PR0P0SE

My personal favorite record label is the small internet digi-punk-esque Maltine Records. The best thing about Maltine: they put out all of their music for free! I discover a lot of rad musicians on there, one of them being the hip-hop duo PR0P0SE. Part thamesbeat, part Onomatope Daijin, PR0P0SE is a fun Japanese rappin’ duo, and exemplifies Japanese hip-hop at its finest.

Recommended if you like: Funky/retro-inspired beats

4.) “Don’t Even Try It (feat. Funky DL)” – Nujabes

Nujabes, or Jun Seba, is a legendary hip-hop producer who unfortunately passed away in a car accident in 2010. His relaxing, chill-enthused beats were refreshing in an era filled with repetitive beats and a lack of originality, and he began a trend of like-minded producers around the world. Nujabes is personally one of my top five favorite musicians of all-time, and his music spanning from his studio albums to the score he wrote for Shinichiro Watanabe’s anime Samurai Champloo stand as evidence for his immense talent. Though he may be gone, he will never be forgotten.

Recommended if you like: Good music

5.) “0 to 100/The Catch Up” – Drake

I grew up watching Degrassi on The N, later renamed as TeenNick. It’s still very, very, very strange to me that little Jimmy Brooks grew up to become a famous rapper outside of Canada and hangs out with Lil Wayne on a regular basis. Regardless, Drake has proven that he’s not just a hit-maker, but can legitimately make thoughtful music. In a year where both he and Kanye West both released new albums, the last thing I expected was favoring Drake’s album (though Yeezus is also great in its own right!). While this particular track may not be evidence of that, it at least has a killer beat.

Recommended if you like: That episode of Degrassi where Jimmy upstages Ashley at her own concert by going on stage and rapping (a metaphor for Lil Wayne’s career after launching Drake’s)

Kanye’s Controversy

Photo under  Creative Commons by Daniele Dalledonne
Photo under Creative Commons by Daniele Dalledonne

“I can’t do this song, I can’t do the rest of this show until everybody stands up.”

For those of you who do not know, Kanye West said this while performing in Sydney, Australia earlier this month. He expected his audience members to stand and show their support of him and the work he has produced. He then went on to say, “Unless you got a handicap pass and you get special parking and shit.” It was only after stopping the show, sending a bodyguard to make sure that the audience members that were still seated were in fact seated in wheelchairs, and stating his frustrations for having to wait, West continued his show.

The conversation has been on social media and in the news about Kanye West being an “idiot” or “making a fool of himself.” While I agree with that, I think there is a much more useful conversation that should come from this classic example of ableism — discrimination against disabled or handicapped people.

The first topic of discussion should be the way our society defines our bodies and the “correct” way to use them. Kanye is guilty of perpetuating the notion that standing is the highest form of showing respect. Emily Smith Beitiks, assistant director of Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disabilities says, “Our culture includes many rituals in which standing is the norm, seen as a way to give the highest praise.” When a judge enters a courtroom, you stand. When the bride walks down the aisle, you stand. When a singer in a play steals the show, you give him or her a standing ovation. The list goes on about how people place assumptions upon others because they have a particular idea of how the body should work. Making those assumptions point to ignorance and a lack of knowledge when it comes to disabilities.

Another blunder of West’s is one that our society as a whole is guilty of: policing the disabled. From handicap placards for cars to filing paperwork, disabled persons are constantly being scrutinized and questioned as to whether they are truly disabled or just trying to reap the benefits. “People with disabilities face stigma and discrimination daily,” says Beitiks, “yet if anything positive seems to come from being disabled, you are then scrutinized to prove your disability, often again and again.” The fact of the matter is that some disabled people are in a wheelchair but are able to stand for a minute at a time, while others are incapable of standing for even a second. There cannot be discrimination based on the severity of a disability; there must be understanding and empathy.

West has been very open about the fact that when he was younger, his teachers believed he had a learning disability. In his song “We Don’t Care” off his album The College Dropout, West raps, “Now tell my momma I belong in that slow class/ Sad enough we on welfare/ They tryna put me on the school bus with the space for the wheelchair.” He has faced discrimination based on his own abilities and yet he still displays ignorance when it comes to this topic. This incident brings to light that there are misunderstandings and misconceptions even among the disabled community, not just from the outsiders looking in. Even people who have experienced ableism in their own life are capable of participating in discrimination against other disabled groups and people.

The conversation about West being a walking contradiction and being the king of sticking his foot in his mouth is entertaining, there is no denying that. I have enjoyed watching clips of interviews and reading all the absurd things he has said. But the situation that occurred in Australia has a much deeper take-away about disabilities and how to educate the public about them. This is the conversation that needs to be happening, this is the issue at hand, this is the problem that can be solved—let’s not target Kanye, but realize that we are all part of a culture that ostracizes and alienates people with disabilities.

Dances On The Wall: Punch Releases Their New LP at 1-2-3-4 Go

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  • 1-2-3-4 Go! Records in Oakland, CA host Punch's release of their new EP.
  • Rad opens the show.
  • Torso's lead singer, Ethan, talks to the crowd before their set.
  • Punch's front woman, Meghan O'Neil, sells merch.
  • The lead singer of Secret People before their set.
  • Laine German, 4, stands in the middle of the crowd wearing his mom's headphones.
  • Punch.
  • Meghan O'Neil of Punch.
  • James Monk rises above the crowd.

Photos and Words by Lorisa Salvatin

There is quietude as the small crowd outside 1-2-3-4 Go Records filter into the store and browse through records, as they wait to pay and enter the backroom for the show going on that night, but this is only the calm before the storm.

Fast drumming, thumping bass, and rhythmic guitar riffs filled the small dimly lit room on September 19. And while the occasional onlooker bobbed their heads with the beat, if not completely headbanging, the crowd seemed quite mellow through the opening sets played by Sacramento’s Rad, the Bay Area’s own, Torso, and Secret People.

The slow build up only crescendoed for as soon as headliners, Punch, hit the stage, causing the crowd to rage with the energy that punk shows are known for. Along with many of their old songs, the San Francisco based punk band played a number of their songs from their newly released record.

Circle pits formed. The crowd pushed to the stage. Bodies flailed. Voices rang with every heart-thumping to-the point song, each with a message needing to be heard. And with the last song ringing through the air among the fist raised high, together the room chanted, “Make it count! You can’t make it last!”

Summer Mixtape: New Songs Each Week!

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Photo by Nadine Quitania

Summer is officially here, so what better way to celebrate than with some new tunes? We’ve compiled for your listening pleasure, a rad playlist to kick off the summer. We’ll post a Soundcloud playlist each and every week with our favorite tracks to share with you and your friends. This week’s playlist features over 35 tracks from Little Dragon, Ta-ku, IAMNOBODI, and many more. So here’s to long road trips, afternoons at the beach, barbecues, and late nights with friends. Listen here, and make sure to follow us on Soundcloud and keep an eye out for what else we have in store.