Call it escapism, or a simple aversion to the spangly cocktail parties, junior-prom disco balls, and giant ball-droppings that dominate our New Year's tradition. Whatever the case, it seems people are increasingly turning to comedy as a way to celebrate the holiday. That's fantastic news for a scene that's grown exponentially in the Bay Area over the last decade or so. It's also a great solution for anyone suffering from holiday ennui. Especially since most Bay Area comics are way too sacrilegious to treat the holidays as a muse.
Perhaps you're new to the scene, and seeking a primer of sorts. Look no further. We've told you about Paul Mooney at the Black Repertory Theatre, and "Not Your Normal New Year's Eve" at Herbst Theatre — both of which would top any respectable to-do list. But some other good options have come over the transom. Here's an abridged guide:
Laughter Against the Machine
This one's as much a perennial as the Big Fat Year End Kiss Off with Will Durst and Johnny Steele. But it's always worth mentioning, if only because of the consistently thought-provoking content and the performers' keen ability to stay on top of pop culture. Headliner W. Kamau Bell isn't just one of the preeminent comedians in the Bay Area; he's also a well-respected commentator on race as a social construct. His ever-evolving show bears the extremely compelling title The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour. And his SF Weekly web column is even more provocative: "Kamau's Komedy Korner." (The KKK acronym was no accident.) Add the erudite and acerbic humor of Nato Green, a San Francisco-raised father, union organizer, gastronome, bibliophile, and political sparkplug, and you've got a book's worth of material right there. The lineup caps off with lesbian comic Janine Brito, whose interests range from feminism to female objectification (in the most enlightened way possible). They'll all be at Phoenix Theatre (414 Mason St., San Francisco) on Thursday through Saturday, December 29-31. $20-$25. PhoenixTheatreSF.org; buy tickets at Brown Paper Tickets.
Greg Proops with Kevin Kataoka and Chris Garcia
Not for nothing does Greg Proops have a podcast called The Smartest Man in the World. He's a left-of-center humorist with a penchant for using SAT words and a writerly way of describing things. Like Middle America, which he characterizes as "blanched cattle skulls, pools of alkali, BTK killers, Children of the Corn, and people going to the country watching pig races and eating pork chop sandwiches trying to eat all the carbohydrates in the world." If you transcribed Proops' bits verbatim, you'd have something akin to a John Cheever short story, with the added bonus of a punchline at every turn. This New Year's he'll be accompanied by Kevin Kataoka, an observational humorist whose interests range from Speed Racer to Victoria's Secret and Wilson Phillips. Opener Chris Garcia is a local favorite, famous not only for his cutthroat way of dressing down hecklers, but also for having the best gams in San Francisco. (That's not objectification — that's just truth.) At the Punch Line (444 Battery St., San Francisco) on Thursday through Saturday, December 29-31. $23.50-$50. PunchlineComedyClub.com
Comedy Off Broadway
And speaking of hunky comedians, local yuckster and Pandora comedy analyst Joey Devine proclaims himself a "heartthrob/comedian" on his Tumblr — if you're into slash titles on business cards, that's certainly not a bad one. He'll be on the lineup this New Year's Eve at Comedy Off Broadway in Oakland, a well-established event that's brought some of the best comics in the Bay Area to perform in Jack London Square. Ample but cheap, this even features ten performers, including hosts Joe Gleckler and Samson Koletkar. Among the others are Ben Feldman, Bryce Druzin, Stu Kosh, James Fluty, Dan Wilson, Rebecca Arthur, and Mike Motto. If that isn't enough to pique your interest, check out the New Year's Day show with four-time Iron Comic champion Sean Keane, a baby-faced Cal alum and sometime sports blogger who fared well in the Country Music Channel's "Next Big Comic" competition — though he seldom mentions it on his resume. He'll be supporting headliner Robin Cee. At Miss Pearl's Jam House (1 Broadway, Oakland) on Saturday and Sunday, December 31 and January 1. $10-$20. COBOak.com
John Oliver and Emily Heller
Because bookish humor never gets old in the Bay Area, we'd be remiss not to include Daily Show correspondent John Oliver, who descends on San Francisco in the final days of December. Oliver's an appropriate choice for anyone wanting to revisit the news events of 2011, not only because he had to keep abreast of them for his job, but because he recently compiled an end-of-year world news retrospective that featured bits on Osama's death and the Anthony Weiner debacle (which, for five minutes, was mandatory grist for every comic in the US). He'll be accompanied by fabulous Alameda native Emily Heller, who will repatriate (temporarily, at least) from her swank new digs in New York. She's co-host of the recurring all-female showcase Girl Talk, conceiver of the beloved blog "Sex Talk with Kaseem" (type it in your Google search engine — you'll understand), and an unwitting fashion icon. And she's fresh. At Cobb's Comedy Club (915 Columbus Ave., San Francisco) on Tuesday through Saturday, December 27-31. $35-$60. CobbsComedyClub.com