How Stand Up Comedy Became a Lifeline for These Bay Area Restaurants and Bars

On a Wednesday night at Oakland’s Low Bar, diners can hear echoes of muffled laughter and sporadic applause floating through the walls. That’s because the popular Chicano dining and drinking destination in downtown Oakland has been hosting a regular comedy night, the Lowdown Comedy Show, at its private dining room since early June. Patrons can order food and drinks from the bar and risk sniffing them as the local comedians keep them laughing.

“People seem thrilled to be able to eat oysters and burgers and drink cocktails while watching live comedy,” said Low Bar chef and co-owner Matt Meyer. The performance space, which is typically used for private events on weekends, seats 40 people, making it perfect for an evening of intimate comedy. The artists of the evening share the revenue from ticket sales: $10 per person.

Around the Bay Area, that formula has repeated itself in recent months — a paid comedy show, food and drink, and lots of fun — at venues outside of traditional comedy clubs. Regular, weekly or bi-weekly comedy nights have popped up at Tacos Oscar, also in Oakland; Hawker Fare in San Francisco; and even the boba shop San Mateo Bobabia. The electrifying mix of good food, high-quality drinks and punchlines is timely and practical, comedians and restaurateurs say. Business owners love the extra food and beverage sales, and the fact that otherwise empty spaces are used on slow nights. Comedians love having the ability to accompany their sets with good food – and the fact that they can keep the money from ticket sales, which is not often the case in comedy clubs.

“Comedy clubs tend to use gate revenue sharing,” says Jordan Thewlis, who alongside Jeff Dean and Hayley Beacon is partly responsible for the unlikely combination’s growing popularity. The three started comedy nights at Tacos Oscar in January 2020 and have been performing a show called Deadass Comedy at popular outdoor burger joint Lovely’s since November 2021. Tacos Oscar was a strategic choice of venue at the start of the pandemic, since the performance space is outdoors. “What was good about the pandemic was that it really made people appreciate the live events and the community after going so long without having them,” says Thewlis.

There’s also a different vibe to it all, he says. “If you’re putting on a show at a comedy club, you’re basically competing with all the other shows that’s going on at that club,” he says. “In a restaurant, especially restaurants with a large following on social media, when they advertise a show, their patrons are excited to find out what’s going on in the place they already know and love. Plus, comedy fans show up too. “We also have a sequel, so we’re bringing a whole new generation of people to the door,” says Thewlis. As Thewlis points out, comedy clubs aren’t usually known for having the best food, since performers are the main focus. “Running a high-end restaurant is also rare,” he says. Why not try out your brand new set in front of happy, satiated people whose tables are filled with crudos and cocktails?

Business owners appreciate the friendly atmosphere and the ability to mix things up, especially given the tough few years the restaurant and bar industry has endured. For Tacos Oscar owner Oscar Michel, comedy nights are primarily a fun way to use space when the restaurant would otherwise be closed. There are occasional food pop-ups during shows, such as Tacos Sincero or Xulo, and parties are BYOB. “It’s not at all a question of money. Just a place to gather and laugh,” says Michel. “I’ve always preferred to attend a comedy or musical show at a laundromat, a park, someone’s garage, a bar, or anywhere that isn’t a comedy club.”

Matthew Meyer and Daniel Paez of Low Bar.
Kait Miller Photography

For other restaurants, however, comedy nights have been a huge post-pandemic lifeline. Unlike a musical performance, comedy shows are relatively quiet, don’t require stellar acoustics, and end relatively early, making them the perfect kind of restaurant side-hustle. But not without caveats. “We’re doing our best to fill the space because we need the business,” says the general manager of a Bay Area restaurant, who preferred to remain anonymous because the venue doesn’t have a performance license. limited live.

According to San Francisco County, this permit is required for live performances in establishments whose primary use is not entertainment, such as a restaurant. But the application process takes time. “When we don’t have comedy, it’s like overnight – it increases food sales and brings people into the restaurant who have never tried the food,” says the restaurant’s general manager. “We make an extra $4,000 a month.”

On the other side of the Bay Bridge, things seem clearer. There, the budding union of comedy and good food is a perfect example of collaboration that benefits both parties without taking anything away from them. “Little independent comedy shows like this wouldn’t exist if restaurants charged hosts for their space,” says Low Bar’s Meyer. “We’re happy to trade our space for a few laughs.”

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