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Righteous Indignation

Bucky Sinister leads the new school of indie comedy.

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Indignation lies at the root of all Bucky Sinister's material. Born in Searcy, Arkansas, to an evangelist father, the San Francisco performer cut his teeth reading poems between punk band sets at cafes and dive bars. He immigrated to the Bay Area in 1989 and endured a "trial by fire" in places like Cafe Babar and the Chameleon (now Club Amnesia), where other writers would heckle not by saying "you suck!" but by chewing you out every time they heard a mixed metaphor or dangling modifier. Once spoken-word went the way of MTV and Lollapalooza, and then became the sole territory of Saul Williams acolytes, Def Jam wannabes, and political science majors turned hip-hop artists, Sinister decided there wasn't any more room for a scuzzy, red-haired atheist with wife-beater tank tops and a penchant for making asides. So he turned the asides into stand-up comedy, and shifted to a new medium.

Though he's not always funny in a ha-ha kinda way, Sinister seems like a perfect opener for the Noise Pop comedy nights, which feature "crossover" entertainers like writer Beth Lisick and Dragon Boy Suede, as well as MTV's the Human Giant — performers who all come from a theater or literary background. The Human Giant's Rob Huebel, Paul Sheer, and Aziz Ansari all started doing sketch comedy in the Upright Citizens Brigade before they landed a hit show on MTV last year. Their most cleverly written bits feature robot vacuum cleaners, unsavvy casting agents, a pair of "illusionators" who show up at really inappropriate times (like your father's funeral), and three Superman villains who work at Weenie King. Dragon Boy Suede is known for irreverent, satirical rap songs written from the perspective of an Ali G-type with no moral compass.

Sinister, who characterizes himself as a "street narrator," is perhaps the most resolutely punk rock of the lot. "My comedy comes from things that frustrate me or things that anger me," said the tattooed, bespectacled entertainer. Take Sinister's new rant against soccer — a sport he could probably enjoy, were the fans not so intolerable. "The fans need to defend it by attacking other sports," the comedian explained, drinking a milky iced coffee at Philz Coffee in the Mission, and mopping up the extra froth with his fingers. No other fan group encourages this type of behavior, he said. "Nobody ever says, 'Oh, I like Sex in the City. The Sopranos suck!'"

Similar provocations inspired other bits like the infamous screed against raw food joint Cafe Gratitude, which appears on Sinister's debut comedy album, What Happens in Narnia, Stays in Narnia. Fast-paced, obstreperous, and thoroughly engaging, What Happens in Narnia also includes roman à clef stories about dating Wonder Woman and Laura Ingalls (actually "reverse roman à clef," Sinister said, since he ascribed a bunch of real date stories to fictitious people; the Laura Ingalls character is modeled after an old girlfriend who thought she should have lived in an era when people rode prairie schooners and died of diphtheria). It caps off with a 21-minute rant about a tweaker punk girl who began stalking Sinister after a drunken one-night stand.

Replete with pop culture references and Bay Area-specific nods to indie video stores and hipster cafes, What Happens in Narnia represents a new style of comedy that swaps the old setup-and-punchline for a monologue-driven form. Like the other comedians at Noise Pop, Sinister comes from a school of indie comedy that's enjoying the same kind of Renaissance that spoken-word had in the '80s. It's largely about cannibalizing the stuff of pop culture and revealing what's rotten at the core. 

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