It’s not much of an overstatement for Nato Green to brag that the whole trajectory of his life has been about long odds. After four years at Reed College, he returned to his hometown of San Francisco armed with a bachelor’s degree in history and lofty notions about organizing low-wage workers into some kind of guild. When nobody seemed interested in helping, he decided to do it from the inside — by taking a job at Noah’s Bagels and launching a union within the business. He would later file class-action lawsuits for bike and car messengers, tackle Sutter Health with the California Nurses Association, and co-found Young Workers United, a grassroots organization that advocates for youth and immigrant workers in the service sector. It wasn’t until Green reached his thirties that he would try his hand at stand-up comedy. He was well beyond the median age for dabbling in such rash artistic pursuits, but, all the same, Green thought he’d carve a niche by mixing gallows humor with acerbic politics. It worked.
A year and two weeks have passed since Green left the union world to do comedy full-time, and people still ask if he’ll eventually start mobilizing his yuckster peers. It’s a fair question, he allowed. Moreover, it’s a conceit he’s entertained. “There is sort of a screenplay in my head of, like, the hardboiled union organizer who walks away to join the circus, then gets pulled back in for one last crusade,” he said.
For now, though, Green is focused on building a cult of fandom, using humor to smash the state, and parlaying his political brio into a successful career in the arts. This week he’ll record a live comedy album at The New Parish, which, he said, will combine adventurous new material with old, dusted-off, half-baked ideas. If all goes according to plan, he’ll have it cut and mastered in time for the Netroots Nation convention in Providence, Rhode Island, this June. That’s a national confab for liberal activists — i.e., Green’s ideal audience — and he’s been dispatched to entertain them as one-third of the political comedy group Laughter Against the Machine. (The other two members, W. Kamau Bell and Janine Brito, are veritable household names in the Bay Area.) Green believes that if he can stick to the aggressive timeline he’s put forth, he’ll have the perfect opportunity to consolidate his stage career.
That should be welcome news to anyone with a jaundiced view of the comedy scene at large. After all, Green isn’t trafficking in dick jokes (he derides them as the average comics’ “Stairway to Heaven”), or racial slurs, or even the sorts of banalities you’d hear at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Rather, he’s a provocateur and a thinking-man’s comic, as apt to use culinary metaphors as he is to lard a joke with GRE-flashcard-derived vocabulary. Green promises to throw a few curveballs at the album recording, and says he’s prepared to spar with hecklers — plenty of them cropped up during last year’s Laughter Against the Machine Tour, and the comics trounced them handily. Bring a thick skin, and a dictionary. At The New Parish (579 18th St., Oakland) on Tuesday, May 8. 7 p.m. & 9 p.m., $12-$15. TheNewParish.com