There’s a trope that comes into play anytime someone chats with a comedian for the first time: “Oh, you do comedy?” one might begin. “Tell me a joke!” The comedian’s response is usually a scrambled one. They may explain that that’s generally not how it works, or they may try to pull a joke out of their hat — with the latter often to mixed success.
Comedian and UC Berkeley alumnus Chris Garcia, however, never needed to be asked to prove his comedic chops. Naturally funny from the get-go, the stand-up comedian peppers his conversation with playful humor and witty stories. Garcia is back in the Bay for the annual SF Sketchfest — a festival he’s no stranger to.
Garcia differentiates SF Sketchfest from other comedy festivals, such as last summer’s Clusterfest, not only in terms of its scale, but in terms of its variety. Garcia himself will be performing much more than your average stand-up routine; he’ll be featured in a live music act as well as two storytelling shows. In a phone interview with The Daily Californian, Garcia described the latter as a form of stand-up in which any performer can simply “tell one story, usually based on a theme.”
“I’m doing a show called ‘7 Deadly Sins,’ ” Garcia explained. “We get on stage and we pick one of the sins out of a hat, and then we tell a story about that.”
Each monologue-style story will be about 10 minutes in duration, which might sound intimidating to even the most heavily seasoned of comedians — many of whom are generally more familiar with 3-5 minute sets. But Garcia hardly seemed daunted by the task of sustaining laughs.
“I could definitely tell a story for that long,” he said confidently. “I’ll probably go over.”
The comic and self-proclaimed “endearing idiot” tends towards stories that are “embarrassing” and “personal,” heavily leaning into themes of childhood antics and humorous family situations. It’s a more wholesome brand than gross or wild party humor, a genre Garcia admits he actively avoids.
But the art of generating material isn’t always straightforward. Some jokes can sit in the pipeline for what seems like ages, constantly rewritten and reworked. It’s often not until it’s required — either for an album recording or a broadcasted special — that a joke truly reaches its final form.
“I had a joke that I worked on for like 10 years — I never really figured it out — and then I would bring it out, and I would dust if off and try it again,” said Garcia.
When he did finish the joke, it was for a comedy special in December. The story involves an experience he had at UC Berkeley, watching a fight between two street performers. The more popular performer wielded a frog puppet while the other — the envious one — took out his fury on the puppet rather than the person holding it. When he performs the joke, he incorporates plenty of physical humor, heightening the absurdity of the moment with an enthusiastic reenactment.
“It was my first joke I had ever told,” he said, jokingly adding, “unfortunately, not a great joke to tell over the phone.”
But the frog puppet story is a joke of the past. For SF Sketchfest, Garcia hopes to bring completely fresh material; he spends much of his time as of late creating new content. When he’s not preparing for SF Sketchfest, he’s working on a much bigger project — a TV sitcom pilot for 20th Century Fox Television.
“I called it ‘homework that matters’ the other day,” Garcia explained. “This is my childhood dream — I want to have a TV show. So I’m working crazy hard on it, like I never have before. … It’s like writing a book or something; I feel like an author. I wake up in the middle of the night, and I’m like, ‘Ah! I have it!’ and then scribble something down on a notepad, and I’ll wake up and it’s just garbage, but then I just keep on trying.”
As for his live music performance at SF Sketchfest, Garcia is particularly excited. As a guitarist and vocalist, he’ll be performing in a ‘90s cover band, composed of himself and several of his friends. It’s almost reminiscent of his time at UC Berkeley, though perhaps a step up in quality.
“I was in really bad bands when I was in Berkeley.” Garcia explained. “I don’t know if there’s still like a big co-op scene; we used to play at like (Casa Zimbabwe) — I don’t know if that’s still around — and Cloyne Court.”
With so many memories tied to past SF Sketchfest performances and Berkeley experiences, it’s no wonder that the Los Angeles native keeps returning to the Bay Area. It’s a love that he hopes will enliven SF Sketchfest attendees, whom he appreciates for promoting the vibrancy of San Francisco comedy. All in all, that’s what SF Sketchfest is about for the comic — getting people to return and laugh again and again.
“I hope they keep on coming to stand up shows and continue the great tradition of San Francisco and the Bay Area as a great comedy town,” said Garcia. “What’s Fresno got going on for comedy, you know?”
Contact Shannon O’Hara at [email protected].