SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Dave Chappelle and other comics assembled at San Francisco City Hall Tuesday to try to save the Punch Line comedy club, which has its lease expiring in August.
The club, located in the Financial District at 444 Battery St., will be displaced by Google after spending more than 40 years in its current location unless legislation is passed to conserve it.
What Wrigley Field is to baseball, this club is to comedy, but what does the future hold for The Punch Line? And, what can Dave Chappelle do about that?
“Uh, I’m here in town playing The Punch Line, actually. There’s still tickets available,” joked Chappelle on the steps of City Hall. He may have started with a couple of jokes Tuesday morning, but moments later, the man considered one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time got deadly serious. “I love music. Can you imagine a life without music? Be a miserable life, right? But a life without laughter? I would die.”
District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and other supervisors are considering an emergency zoning law that would mandate, by law, that the room remain an entertainment venue. In addition, Peskin plans to begin talks with Google over the space, and lastly he has nominated Punch Line as a legacy business, which would entitle it to financial benefits from the city.
“So I would say to Google, really, do no evil,” said Peskin at the rally.
The building that houses the club is owned by Morgan Stanley.
“If we can’t get corporations with deep pockets to keep stuff open, how are we gonna keep people who don’t have deep pockets to keep (expletive) open,” asked W. Kamau Bell, another comedian who has forged nationwide fame out of nights at The Punch Line.
There were some more laughs, like when Chappelle was asked if he might run for office.
“That’s a terrible question,” he quipped.
When asked what, exactly, that makes room so perfect for stand-up comedy, he grew thoughtful. “There’s many factors,” Chappelle explained. “Of course, the people that inhabit the room are a primary source of it. The way the room is configured, but rooms, have vibes and spirits, man. And that room has a warm vibe and a very profound spirit.”
Although the club is owned by Live Nation Entertainment, which runs many venues across the country, its comedians said it has retained a ‘Mom and Pop’ feel as well as provided a mental health service to residents and an economic boost to the city.
“Any storied comedian will tell you it’s an American phenomenon. When they say special things happen there, it’s an understatement,” Chappelle said. “It’s one of the best comedy rooms literally on Earth — you should protect it.”
Some of his colleagues voiced concerns about the degradation of the city’s culture and alleged it was inattentive to artists.
“If the city can’t even prioritize a successful club that makes money, how is it going to fund smaller, less profitable art?” asked Bell.
Larry Dorsey, a patron and performer at the Punch Line, said, “People used to come here for inspiration, for art, and now it’s slowly dying out. (San Francisco) is becoming roboticized.”
Another comic, Nato Green, made similar sentiments.
“We need to have one place in San Francisco that’s not an algorithm, and that’s the Punch Line,” Green said.
Wilson Walker contributed to this report.
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