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When one thinks of Microsoft Office, comedy doesn’t typically come to mind — except, perhaps, for those familiar with “Talkies: Live Comedy and Short Films.”
Shares Talkies host Nick Stargu, “We had someone at the last show do Excel comedy. He did a whole bit just in Excel onstage. It was funny.”
“Talkies” is a live comedy event like no other. Held monthly, the show goes against the grain in terms of expectations one might have of a humor-focused show. It foregrounds creativity and multimedia use, resulting in a unique presentation of “funny” content.
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As Stargu explains, “What’s so great about the show is that it’s typically getting stand-ups to do things outside of their normal routine. It gives them a chance to experiment with something other than what they’re used to.”
Stargu and fellow “Talkies” hosts Aviva Siegel, George Chen and Land Smith are bringing their next installation of the show to Cobb’s Comedy Club, located in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, on Thursday. The upcoming “Talkies” features special guests Chad Opitz, Darlene Bereznicki and Jack Brown as well as short films by Kate Rhoades and the Dress Up Gang.
Talkies originated in the Bay Area — specifically, San Francisco — 10 years ago.
Says Chen, “The first iteration of this show was at Artists’ Television Access in the Mission. … When I started doing comedy, me and [comedian] Anna Seregina had the idea of putting on a show at this space. I was like, ‘Well, since it’s got a video space, we should also take advantage of the screens.’”
Chen shares that those early days of “Talkies” involved people presenting film footage and the use of an overhead projector. Occasionally, someone would do “straight stand-up,” but the show’s contents have leaned more toward characters, PowerPoints, short films and experimental multimedia performances.
And while all four hosts now reside in Los Angeles, and have started a monthly “Talkies” there, they still schedule shows in the Bay Area as well.
Chen notes, “Cobb’s has been really nice about asking us to come up every three or four months and do a show up here in San Francisco.”
A key reason for its return is that the hosts still feel connected to the Bay Area and enjoy the opportunity to come back to their old stomping grounds.
Says Siegel of the show’s history, “We were in like eight different venues in the Bay Area – ATA, Lost Weekend Video, Little Roxie, the Lost Church. At one point, we were in this place called Ball Four. It was a baseball-themed bar out of someone’s living room. It’s kind of hard to describe; it doesn’t make sense now that I’m saying it out loud. But it was really cool.”
Chen adds, “And then we were in Oakland for a minute — at the All Out Comedy Theater. They were great supporters of the show.”
They’ve also hosted “Talkies” in other Bay Area venues, such as the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and Oakland’s New Parkway Theater. The show’s been in the lineup at major events as well, including the Nevada City Film Festival and SF Sketchfest.
About the next SF Sketchfest, the San Francisco-based comedy festival, Chen notes, “We have a date and everything for 2023. And the lineup is just the same as last year but omicron basically knocked it out of commission in the winter.”
The pandemic caused the cancellation of SF Sketchfest in 2021 and its postponement in 2022. The postponed 2022 festival has been rescheduled for early 2023.
For a considerable amount of time, COVID-19 also affected the way the “Talkies” hosts and performers prepared for and presented the show. They had to pause the in-person “Talkies” and began relying on Zoom as their platform for the show.
While people often complain about “Zoom fatigue” as a result of their rampant use of the telephony software for work and socializing during the pandemic, the “Talkies” hosts have had a positive experience with it.
As Chen shares, “We were able to connect because of Zoom with comics from New York and all over the place.”
And being able to use Zoom — to continue with the show during the pandemic — was cathartic.
Says Stargu, “As crappy as the situation was, it was something I personally looked forward to – having this show to focus on to keep my mind off the insanity of everything that was happening.”
The hosts note that while traditional stand-up comedy doesn’t necessarily work well via Zoom, the unconventional format of “Talkies” was ideal, as Zoom is multimedia-friendly.
“Not to say that online is better than real life. Real life’s the best,” Stargu quips.
“Talkies” resumed its in-person format in October 2021 at Cobb’s — the onscreen theatrics and multimedia moving back to an actual physical space, the sound of laughter filling it.
Siegel comments, “We’re a show where you can come and watch something that’s really silly and lighthearted that will just make you laugh and feel good, and that’s definitely different from your typical stand-up show.”
And while, as Smith notes, the show has had some satirical-oriented political moments, such as when comic band Sad Vicious had the crowd chanting “ANTIFA” at the last “Talkies,” the hosts don’t see it as a political show.
Says Chen, “It’s more whimsical and goofy than it is trenchant political observation.”
An opportunity to have fun, to laugh and to see out-of-the-ordinary comedic performances most likely sounds like a great scenario to many this summer.
As Stargu assesses, “I think the world is pretty heavy right now; this [show] is a good little escape from reality for a bit.”
The next installment of “Talkies: Live Comedy and Short Films” takes place on Thursday at Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., San Francisco. Doors open at 6:45 p.m.; the show starts at 8 p.m. Reserved premium seating tickets are $26; General admission tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. For tickets and more information visit https://www.cobbscomedy.com/.
As a part of SF Sketchfest 2023 (Jan. 20-Feb. 5) lineup, “Talkies” is scheduled for 8 p.m. Feb. 2, 2023, at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St., San Francisco. For more information, visit https://sfsketchfest2023.sched.com/event/qEO7.