This could be 2021: Loss of loved ones; loss of homes or housing; lost employment; lost dignity; the lost right to make choices over one’s own body; lost hope in humanity; lost arguments regarding masking, vaccines, boosters, democracy and civil rights; loss of control over drinking and not drinking, overeating and not eating, road rage, weed and not enough weed; and lost zest for life.
But loss of opportunity to have the last laugh as we slam the door on 2021? Not a chance. Now is the time for us all to collectively kick this pandemic in the butt and kick ourselves back into our old, swinging, happy-go-lucky ways.
We need to take action. We need a ha-ha booster, or at the very least a voice other than our own bouncing off the bedroom walls. Following are a few Best Places in the East Bay to have the last laughs: four live and in-person comedy events—masked when not eating or drinking and no entry without proof of vaccination, plus other rules, sigh—and one “bonus” show suggestion for the kiddies and kid-like adults. Or, to serve reluctant or responsible chucklers for whom breaching a public forum is mentally or literally rife with risk, a few choice podcasts. They aren’t all comedy, but if we can’t bring ourselves to let go of 2021 with a giggle, at least we can celebrate the start of a new year in good virtual company by gloating about all the Bay Area talent on offer.
Best of Comedy Oakland: New Year’s Eve Special
Comedy Oakland presents an all-star lineup of industry pros and top “hand-picked” up-and-coming comedians. Comedians appearing include Shawn Felipe (NBC, National Lampoon), Chris JOnesy Jones (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Samson Koletkar (BookMyShow’s “10 Best Indian-Origin Comedians of the Last Decade”), Ira Summer (World Series of Comedy – Las Vegas), Gina Stahl Haven (2019 San Francisco Comedy Competition Runner-Up), Emily Van Dyke (Walk The Plank Comedy Competition Winner) and Ben Feldman (SF Weekly’s Comic To Watch). With no drink minimums, seating at 50% to allow for social distancing and free street parking available nearby, it’s a great way to drop $20 and laugh with some of the best national and local talent in the business. Show time is 7pm. Note the event is also available on Zoom, but tickets do sell out, so act swiftly. www.comedyoakland.com
Alameda Comedy Club: New Year’s Eve with Eddie Pepitone
Those whose sense of humor runs dark and whose epicurean awareness makes them hip to haute cuisine without the high price point should steer themselves to this mighty little club on the island. Owners Patrick Ford and Lori Theis know their way around laughs, offering reliably excellent comedic talent including surprises for those in the know; luscious liquids including cocktails, beer and wine on tap, as well as sippers and sparklers both alcoholic and non-alcoholic; and savory, shareable plates such as Mac ’n’ Cheese Balls, truffled pecorino, smoked grafton cheddar cheese and Fresh Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies.
About Pepitone? We’re not sure what it means to be “hailed as a modern-day cross between Jackie Gleason, Don Rickles and Eckart Tolle,” but we do know about social rage and self-doubt. Remarkably, such things combine wins in Pepitone’s act, resulting in a show that pits chaos, enlightenment, inner-conflict and external rants into a laugh-as-you-cry New Year’s Eve evening. Two shows, at 7 and 10pm, with the late show also featuring live music and a midnight countdown. Bring proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test—less than 72 hours—and ID. Shows are ages 18+ (16+ if teens attend with parents and all are comfortable with some mature content). Check the website for updates and other terms. Prices range from $50 for a table for two at the early show to $200 for a table for four at the late show. www.alamedacomedy.com
San Leandro Performing Arts Center: LIGHTEN UP FOR New Year’s Eve
Join host comedian Brian Copeland and a solid roster of comedians in San Leandro to say sayonara to 2021. The lineup includes Don Reed, Johnny Steele, Joe Klocek and Nicole Tran, and folks who tickle the podcast audience on Copeland’s podcast, Copeland’s Corner (Daymon Ferguson, Justin Lockwood, Chris Riggins, Lauren Mayer, Jason Mack, Jesse Egan, Julia Jackson.) All comics and audience members must be masked and provide a photo ID with either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test no more than 48 hours old. Tickets are $70, show starts at 7pm. www.brownpapertickets.com/event
Tommy T’s: Angela Johnson Happy Holidays
It’s worth the hike to Pleasanton to land in a seat at Tommy T’s when San Jose-native Anjelah Johnson-Reyes takes the stage. Floating in with credentials that include record deals with Warner Bros.; one-hour comedy specials on Comedy Central, Netflix and other televised/streaming platforms; appearances in films and television series including The Shield, Ugly Betty and Curb Your Enthusiasm; stepping out in commercial product campaigns—any comedian involved with Snickers is A-list in my book, snicker-snicker; and crushing it for 65 million viewers with her unbridled portrayal of a fast-food worker with a wicked tongue and attitude to match. Launching her performing career as an Oakland Raiderette, the former professional cheerleader provides the perfect bounce into 2022. Two shows: New Year’s Eve and Jan. 2 (the Jan. 1 shows are sold out). Be sure to visit the website for Covid-19 protocols and ticket and admission requirements. www.tommyts.com
The Marsh Berkeley: Fool La La – Once Upon a Mind
For countless Bay Areans, the funny—as in peculiar, not ha-ha—starts long before they visit the Marsh to attend this annual, hyperkinetic show for kids of all ages. Bay Area professional clown Unique Derique is often called “a fixture” on the comedy scene, yet Derique is anything but fixed in one place. Even in his everyday real life as Lance McGee, a trauma and wellness consultant, drama therapist and mindfulness coach, his work is everywhere, extending to Oakland middle-school educators, administrators, staff and countless generations of students. McGee’s workshops and consulting services support trauma-care practices for nonprofit organizations, health clinics, colleges and educational systems throughout the Bay Area. Appearing live at the Marsh and streaming virtually online on select days now though Jan. 2, the Clown Prince Unique Derique’s fluid clown-foolery includes juggling, jokes, body percussion and a brief and boisterous aftershow circus-skills seminar. Prices $10–100; all shows at 1pm; and to ensure safety at the live in-person show, face coverings and proof of full vaccination—2 shots of Pfizer or Moderna; 1 shot of J&J—are required at the door for ages 5 and up. Children under 5 and/or unvaccinated are not permitted entry but are encouraged to participate online through the livestream. No show on New Year’s Eve. themarsh.org
As previously mentioned, the following local podcasts are not all comedy based, but they are all Bay Area focused and thus sure to provide at least a nostalgic smile or a smug grin because, hey, we live in the coolest place on the planet.
Ear Hustle, Bay Curious, The Finch Files: Stories from San Francisco and Beyond, Rightnowish, 99% Invisible, The #GoodMuslimBadMuslim. This last podcast has ended new episodes, but the entire archive is available online and well worth a visit to experience the vibrant duo’s clever, hilarious and authentic episodic podcasts.
Another must-mention: Luminary, a subscription podcast network with an award-winning lineup of original shows. Subscribers receive unlimited access to the full collection, which features diverse voices and important stories. Luminary was founded by Matt Sacks in 2018 and offers a 7-day free trial to all listeners; afterwards, subscriptions are $4.99/month for U.S. subscribers or $34.99/year, billed annually.And for podcast fans who aren’t locked into Bay Area origins and just really wanna laugh, try The History of Sketch Comedy, Hot White Heist and The Midnight Miracle.