Frank Arthur Doyle, the godfather of stand-up comedy in San Francisco, known by most by his stage name "Frank Kidder," passed away on December 20, 2012 at the age of 70. The creator of the famous San Francisco International Comedy Competition and responsible for launching the careers of legends like Robin Williams and Jerry Seinfeld, Kidder will always be remembered fondly across the comedy industry.
After a terrible car accident in 1962 forced Kidder into an early retirement from his military service, he turned to stand-up comedy as a form of therapy. When he met the artist Hilda Kidder, who would become his wife in 1970, he told her that his goal in life was "to somehow create a venue where young people could try out and develop their comedy acts." Few venues like this existed at the time, but Kidder's ambition brought to life the vibrant comedy scene that has thrived in San Francisco for the past four decades.
The young producer began holding shows first at The Coffee Gallery in North Beach, a famed Hell's Angels hangout. He later moved across the street to The Intersection and began running comedy workshops, the very same that launched a young actor named Robin Williams into stand-up comedy. The workshops later moved to the legendary Holy City Zoo, where the tiny stage was a vital part of the early careers of today's favorite comedians such as Williams, Greg Proops, and Patton Oswalt.
Kidder hosted the first San Francisco Comedy Competition in April 1976, as two nights of performances by 20 comics. Comedian Bill Farley took the crown that year, while Robin Williams came in second. Since its inception, the competition has been produced by Jon and Anne Fox, and has evolved over the years into a four-week competition that runs 32 comics through a gauntlet of rooms around the Bay Area and beyond.
The famed competition of Kidder's creation has been credited as a major stepping stone in the careers of many comedians over the decades. The format, which was novel at the time in the industry, of breaking a stand-up format down into categories and scoring by several judges, has been replicated and inspired such shows as NBC's The Last Comic Standing and Showtime's The Big Laugh Off.
In 2005, Kidder was given the Comedy Legend Award at Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park, an award that has been bestowed upon his own pupils since 2002.
A Facebook group in memory of Frank Kidder invites members to share stories and memories of Kidder and the comedy scene, tell jokes, and "make us laugh."
In the video below from September last year, Kidder's wife and collaborator Hilda tells the story of how she and her husband created the competition. The video is lengthy, but well worth the watch for anyone with an interest in comedy history.
Awkward Silence is a weekly column covering local stand-up comedy in San Francisco.