INTERVIEWS

There’s Always Room for Bubbles: SF Comedy Legend Larry “Bubbles” Brown: Part One

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IMG_5184The local stand-up comedy surge reminds me of the zombies in World War Z. Faceless, nameless fodder that will soon disappear into a sea of trampled anonymity. Which makes being a relevant comedian after three decades all that more impressive. Larry Brown, known as Bubbles, is a Bay Area comedy staple, a consistently funny voice whose down-in-the-dumps patter and catchphrase (more like a sound) should be trademarked.

DNA: Were you originally doing comedy in the Bay Area?

Bubbles: I grew up in Ohio, but I moved out here. There was a bar on Franklin Street in San Francisco that had an open mic night.  This was the late 1970s. I went in to look one night, got scared and ran out. Four years later I kept hearing about The Punch Line and the SF Comedy Competition. I went down to the Punch Line in February of 1980 to see what these guys looked like. I went in very skeptical, thinking it’s going to be local people that have never been on TV and they’re going to suck. I saw some really funny people like Bobby Slayton, Barry Sobel and Michael Pritchard and I got hooked. I wanted to do it myself but I was really afraid so I literally watched for an entire year before I went on. My first set was at the Holy City Zoo. That’s 34 years ago in March! My anniversary would be March 31st.  34 years of mediocrity.

Well, you seem like you still have it together.

I’m reasonably rational.

Did you get a response from the other comics on your first time up?

Surprisingly I did really well the first two times I went up at Holy City Zoo. I basically got a standing ovation, I shouldn’t have, but the crowd just went crazy. I had decent jokes and the comics accepted me. It was kind of a closed society but they took to me right away, so I got into that little club. And that was a fun social scene. A few years later the comedy boom hit and we started making money and we had a nice ten-year run.

Comics today, we hear about this “comedy boom” like people who just missed the Gold Rush—with a bit of skepticism that finding “gold in them thar hills” was actually as easy as it sounds.

I’m always boring the younger comics with stories of how we used to get paid. I had been doing comedy for three years when I quit my day job. Everyone I started with began quitting their jobs and making money. It was cheap to live back then and my rent in San Francisco in the early 80s was $250. Health insurance was $24 a month. It was a much better time.

You moved from the Midwest into a whole new popular community. I assume drugs and girls.

There was a lot of cocaine, I never got into that. I was so shy with women, but suddenly it was easy to meet women. It really changed my life for a while.

Looking back it seemed like that nucleus of the SF comedy scene was an insider’s group. The world didn’t yet know what was happening in SF.

I think so. I have an SF Chronicle from 1988 where it listed the comedy gigs. There were 14 full-time clubs and a bunch of one-nighters. And there were a 10th of the amount of comics that are doing it now. You had so much work being throw at you, that you could actually just live in SF without going on the road.

Did you go on the road?

I would only go to places like San Diego and Vegas because I don’t like to fly.

Of everyone in that first circle who was the first person to make it?

Rob Becker did a one-man show, nobody probably knows him, but I heard he made 60 million dollars off selling that show.

The Defending the Caveman show?

Yeah. He made a fortune. We started the same month. Then a bunch of guys I know that got into writing made a lot of money. Alex Reid who now is a big writer (Malcolm in the Middle) did well. The jobs behind the camera in comedy are the smartest jobs to get. I kept bumbling along thinking something would happen and it didn’t. So, now here I am, one foot in the grave.

Were your first jokes similar to the structure of the jokes you do today?

No. They were more observational. More true stories that I would like to get back to. Now I do more one-liners and it’s hacky and I hate it, but it seems to work best for me. My first joke was about moving from Ohio to San Francisco and the differences and little stuff.

Do you feel a wall between what you have become known for and what you would rather be doing onstage?

Yeah, I think there’s a wall, I’m afraid. I’m almost hiding behind the one-liners. I know if I throw those out they’re going to work for the most part. I feel like if I do a longer form I’m going to bore the crowd—I’m going to lose them. I’ve tried a couple of new jokes that are a minute long and it makes me really nervous. It’s easy to get stuck in that stand-up mode where you’re just standing there telling jokes and it would be fun to do something different.

Do you feel like you would have to design a show where there would be a disclaimer in the title? Like, “A Special Evening with Bubbles”?

Not Your Regular Bubbles!

Right. So people wouldn’t be like, “What the hell’s he doing?”

I always wanted to do a one-man show. I know some comics that have but it’s really terrifying to me to go out there for an hour and a half—just being yourself. I’ve got a good idea for the opening of my one-man show. In first grade, way back in the mid-west I was on the slide during recess. I was watching these clouds go by, and for some reason, they reminded me that we were all going to die. I got so depressed I curled up under the slide and wouldn’t move. They had to get the teacher to bring me in and I got sent home with a note

You could have slides behind you illustrating those stories.

That seems like it could be fun to add production value. We could have slides of a kid hiding under a slide.

We’ll have to find an actor that can play little Bubbles.

We would need a depressed five year old.

I see you sitting in a tufted chair, smoking a pipe, reading stories about killing hookers.

Every show ends with me being taken away in handcuffs saying, “What took you so long?”

 

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Interviews
02/20/2014

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