Humboldt hasn’t laughed in awhile. And it shows.
"People are super stoked to hear some funny stuff," stand-up Sherae O'Shaughnessy says of the Humboldt comedy scene, which is only recently showing signs of a pulse. "But as much as we pride ourselves on being very liberal here, we're not."
To be fair, the brand of comedy peddled by the Ba-Dum-Chh comedy crew -- a quartet of comedians comprised of O'Shaughnessy, Joe Deschaine, Nando Molina and Joe Wasitas -- fences off no pastures for sacred cows. Those who are offendable will be offended. But Ba-Dum-Chh is willing to train its audiences.
“I almost feel like starting off my next set with: ‘Don’t be afraid of the people beside you judging you for laughing at something you think is funny,’ ” says Deschaine.
It’s creeping up on a decade since the Sweet River Grill and Bar in the Bayshore Mall closed its doors, and with its demise went the regular comedy nights that had satiated Humboldt yuk-seekers. With the exception of the occasional Van Duzer one-night stand from high-level names, it’s been pretty sober around here ever since. Ba-Dum-Chh noticed.
“I got up here and I'm like 'Where's all the funny at?'" says O'Shaughnessy, who moved here from Los Angeles. "There wasn't any."
But, given time, twisted minds find each other. About a year ago, O'Shaughnessy met mechanic Joe Wasitas after performing a comedy set at a Humbrews open mic -- a night that predominantly features musicians. Sherae had a good night. Joe had a bad one. But they were both comedians, so they agreed to get together and write.
Then, in February of this year, Savage Henry Independent Times -- also sensing a gaping hole where funny should be -- began hosting "So You Think You Can Funny?" amateur comedy nights at Jambalaya (by the way, the latest edition is next Tuesday). There, O'Shaughnessy and Wasitas formed an alliance with other regulars Deschaine and Molina. For better or worse, Ba-Dum-Chh was born.
While her three male compadres have about a year of comedy each under their belts, O'Shaughnessy has been spewing obscenities from stage for about a decade. Her older friends would sneak the then 16-year-old into Los Angeles underground comedy clubs and coax her on stage where she would surprise audiences with racial and sexual humor.
"They thought I was adorable," she says.
There has been some resistance locally to the group's blueness. A few months ago, Ba-Dum-Chh did a show in the Red Lion Inn's R.J. Grin's Lounge with both sides expressing interest in furthering the relationship. That is, until Ba-Dum-Chh's material was discussed and the group was asked to tone it down. In short, Red Lion wanted Ba-Dum-Chh to lose the "f-bombs." The funny people stood their ground.
"If we're in a 21-plus venue and somebody can blow smoke in my face, then I should be able to say 'cunt,' " says O'Shaughnessy. "I'm excited that we haven't been asked back."
But it’s not just profanity. Some subjects literally hit too close to home. Molina says he got a negative reaction when doing jokes about the Klamath occupation and eventual death of the gray whale -- it was hiding from the Japanese, if you're wondering -- but minutes before Wasitas had killed with dead baby jokes. Hypocrisy!
Despite the occasional feathers ruffled, the group is undeterred. For Deschaine, the personal fulfillment he gets from his time on stage is priceless.
“I did poetry when I was young,” he admits, “but that only gets you tail when you’re young.”
But seriously ... while acceptance under the spotlight is obviously a motivator for anyone with the audacity to step on stage, one of the biggest joys for Deschaine is the camaraderie he’s found in his posse.
“I get to hang out with people like this,” he says emphatically, motioning to his now good friends. “When the four of us go out drinking, I’m sore the next day from laughing. We feed off each other so well.”
If you’ll let them, the Ba-Dum-Chhs will push your buttons this Saturday when they perform at Jambalaya -- all proceeds go to Toys for Tots.
Less funny: A few blocks away on that same Saturday night is veteran hip hop artist Brotha Lynch Hung. Along with more widely known acts such as Geto Boys and Insane Clown Posse, Brotha pioneered a sub-genre known as horrorcore, characterized for its violent imagery and lyrics. Be warned, he’ll be at the Red Fox Tavern Saturday.
On a more positive hip hop wavelength, Sunday sees the Humboldt return of revolution-spitting artist Immortal Technique at the Arcata Theatre Lounge. After trouble with the law in his youth, the Peruvian-born immigrant rose to fame during the battle rap wave of the early ‘00s and has since found his groove with politically charged lyrics. Go see him, occupiers. Report back.
Lighter still! Lyrics Born makes another Humboldt voyage, this time reunited with Lateef the Truth Speaker to again form the group Latyrx. The alternative hip hop group was first formed in 1993 and is currently in talks to do another album. Latyrx plays HumBrews on Wednesday, Nov. 30 -- a good opportunity to test the Best Dancefloor of 2011 (according to Journal readers).
Same floor, less dancey. The night before (Tuesday, Nov. 29), New Riders of Purple Sage bring the nostalgia and jam-ish country rock for Humboldt ears.
We’re not going to sugar coat. Maybe you noticed, the Thanksgiving holiday means there are fewer shows in Humboldt this week. That being the case, sound seekers might have to step out of their comfort zone to feed the beast.
Let’s try this. If you’ve been meaning to celebrate the birthday of a legendary deceased guitar player lately, but haven’t had the time -- and who hasn’t? -- make sure to type “Hawkins Bar” into your GPS when you head out this Sunday. One band you know (the ever-present Jimi Jeff and the Gypsy Band) and one you don’t (Fresno rockers Strange Vine) will pay tribute to the late James Marshall Hendrix on what would have been Jimi’s 69th birthday at the inconveniently located Simon Legree’s bar -- Google that name.
Is it worth the trip for coastal Humboldtians to make the voyage just for some “Purple Haze?” Tough call. One thing’s for sure: that far out in the sticks, at least you won’t have to compete with any crosstown traffic.
Ouch. I’mma just stop now and leave the punchlines to Ba-Dum-Chh.