One Voice, One Mic: Alameda’s only comedy club comes roaring back with laughter

One way to regain physical fitness lost due to the pandemic is with an immediate visit to the hottest new comedy club on Alameda Island. OK, so the new core-strengthening Alameda Comedy Club, founded and operated by Patrick Ford and Lori Theis, is honestly the island’s only comedy club, but a seat at a table and permission to laugh courtesy of the lineup’s sizzling local and national headliner talent is still red hot. And let’s get real; the 15-month lockdown caused, for many of us, a serious lack of deep belly laughter and an overabundance of fast-food meals—delivered—that didn’t even require hunter-gatherer energy expenditure. Positive mindsets and transversus abdominis are therefore mushy, possibly even shadow-casting or ominously mountainous.

Ford and Theis bring multi-cylindered expertise to the venue, that after extensive renovations offers roughly 150 seats, quality sound delivered by four 1,000-watt speakers spaced around the middle-of-the-room stage and acoustics finessed with a 16-channel mixer from a newly added control room. The low-ceilinged, intimate space follows traditional, red-black color themes. Ford in an interview says, “Just Google comedy club images and you’ll see a sea of red stages; it’s an energetic color.” An outdoor patio easily holds 40 and, with limited food service and portable heating and lights, the patio kept the joint open and limping along during Covid. Ford says the club came close to not existing at all when he and Theis, after investing $200,000 in renovations and with more renovations to complete, considered not just hitting “pause,” but punching “full-stop.” In the end, they forged ahead, transforming the former sports bar into their long-imagined club.

On the tables—spaced six-feet apart when the indoor guidelines began to ease in mid-June and now slightly closer together—the usual mouth-waste comedy club fare—bad, generic beer and pizza/burgers not worthy of ingesting, according to Ford—is replaced with dishes demonstrating the culinary keen-ness of Club Manager and Booker Theis. Well-known in the food industry, her resumé includes managing top restaurants such as Boulevard and Farallon, among others. The menu developed by Theis, in collaboration with chef Arran Burns, offers shareable plates: charcuterie and cheese boards; Loaded Sweet Tots gastrique; Mac ’n’ Cheese Balls with truffle oil; Garlic Shrimp; Roasted Brisket Sliders; Hobb’s Pepperoni Flatbread and more. Desserts include Banana Foster Fritters and fresh-baked cookies. Craft cocktails, sippable spirits, Bay Area beers, California wines and non-alcoholic options provide a well-rounded beverage list.

Ford is a software executive, and has performed on L.A. comedy club stages and produced stand-up comedy shows for approximately 14 years. Long a comedy aficionado, in the 1980s he lived within blocks of the original Cobb’s Comedy Club on Chestnut Street. He recalls seeing Ellen DeGeneres, Bobcat Goldthwait, Paula Poundstone and others. But the pinnacle moment during his lifetime love affair with the art form happened during a rehearsal, not a performance. “In 2008 I got to watch George Carlin rehearse for his final HBO show,” he says. “He did his memorized stuff, then went through rough, raw stuff written on paper. He said he was trying to get it down to 90 minutes. I realized he was doing what I had just done the day before. You know, the job of every comedian is the same, first day to last. It’s one voice in front of one mic. It was great to see him onstage, getting the sausage made. You watch him and think it was all freeform, but it wasn’t. He worked and worked and worked on the material.”

Other top-name comedians he admires include Dave Chappelle and Sarah Silverman. Ford says they disprove the idea that some jokes are off limits due to being politically incorrect. “I wouldn’t recommend a beginner go into jokes about race or rape or violence against vulnerable people or other things that are a delicate dance,” Ford says. “But there’s almost no limit to what you can say if it’s funny and you do it extremely well.” He’s quick to add that any stand-up comedians without the chops who are currently being called out for punching down should be confronted, because “if the only thing you’re doing is being offensive, you’re not being funny.”

People trying to be funny on Zoom—even the best comics, he says—just wasn’t a happening thing for him during the pandemic. “Zoom comedy shows just suck; there’s no interaction with the audience. I made donations and supported my friends, but I don’t think I laughed once. You need the interaction with the crowd, the immediate feedback.” Bouncing raw material off a live audience, a comic finds subtleties of timing, reads facial reactions, identifies how changing even a single word or adding a microsecond pause can flip a joke from flat to fulsome.

While “exercising comedy muscles,” Ford remembers the punchline of a joke he wrote about a person suffering depression placing an order at a coffee shop. Testing it out, the joke originally fell flat when he ended it with, “I’ll have the prozac frappuccino and lorazepam scone.” He realized audiences got stuck on “lorazepam” because they weren’t familiar with the lorazepam sedative. “I changed it to ‘valium scone.’ It was the same joke—and with one word changed, they heard the humor and it hit home.”

Three upcoming shows he’s excited to present include comedian/actress/singer/dancer and DGA Emmy-nominated director Alycia Cooper. “I saw her in L.A., and she’s always delivered great quality and owns the stage,” he says. “She commands your attention without being loud: you’re just enraptured by her sharp wit and clever observations.”

Jason Stuart, whose bio announces he’s an openly gay stand-up comedian, has worked in film and television. His website offers this perspective: “I’m not just gay or queer, it’s just a part of who I am: I’m also a Jew, a man of a certain age, a lover, a friend and a son. But it’s always a part of who I am.” Ford says he had 500 comedians respond to a call he put out for headliners. “He looked good, and he called me to talk personally. Over the phone, I loved his commitment to the craft. I liked his tone. I decided to take a chance with him, even though I didn’t know him prior.”

Ford booked Kabir “Kabeezy” Singh the day before the high energy comic earned a standing ovation and four “Yeses” on NBC’s America’s Got Talent in June. “We had met in Oakland prior to Covid, and he was high energy. We saw him rising, and liked him because he’s a Bay Area talent and like other popular comics who get a lot of views, I wanted him as a headliner even before he got the nod on AGT.”

The club’s Drag Yourself To Brunch, held each week on Sundays, often sells out, a positive note Ford attributes not only to the “amazing drag performers,” but to the $48 prix fixe menu that features a deluxe waffle platter with bacon, sausage, salmon and fresh fruit along with choice of a mimosa, Bloody Mary or non-alcoholic drink. A just-added Wednesday Night Variety Show alternates themes each week between drag, trivia, slam poetry, storytelling and music nights. Tuesdays in the future might open up classes and workshops that combined with open mic nights, will stock the pipeline for up-and-coming comedians he hopes to support. Due to new, top-grade video recording and editing equipment, all comedians selected for open mic nights have the option to have a 5-minute professional grade demo/audition/promo tape drawn from their act, for a $10 fee.

Asked the cliché question about comedians he dreams of booking, Ford says, “Dave Chappelle can have the stage at any time. And Bill Burr, I just love him. And Paula Poundstone would be good.” And if he could raise a ghost of comedy? “George Carlin, hands down,” Ford says, providing the predictable, no-joke answer.

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