Political comedy took a shot right to the kisser after 9/11, which sensitized us to the point that quips about current events seemed, for a while, a lot less amusing. This retreat proved a great big bummer for the many comics who formulate jokes by perusing Section A of the newspaper. Cutups like Jamie Foxx and Janeane Garofalo were forced to postpone or cancel shows; Letterman and Leno refused to crack wise in their monologues; and poor Bill Maher, former host of the TV program Politically Incorrect, learned the hard way that our national humor threshold had sunk to unfunny lows.
But gradually our funny bone has grown back. The Onion was one of the first publications to take on the World Trade Center attack, with a special edition released soon after 9/11 featuring headlines such as "America Vows to Defeat Whoever We're at War With" and "God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule." Jon Stewart followed up on The Daily Show, tagging his wartime coverage "America Freaks Out." On a local level, S.F. funnyman Will Durst has similarly returned to his old waggish ways, with jokes about Dubya, Saddam, and other topical faces and places making their way back into his act. Expect a fearless take on the events of 2003 at "The Big-Fat Year-End Kiss-Off Comedy Show XI," a wittily erudite alternative to rowdy New Year's parties, featuring the talents of Durst, cockeyed commentary from Johnny Steele and Steven Kravitz, and improvisational sketches by Debi Durst and Michael Bossier. The wisecracks start flying at 7 and 10 p.m. at the Cowell Theater, in Fort Mason's Herbst Pavilion, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $25-40; call 345-7575 or visit www.willdurst.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
New Good Time
New Year's Eve at the Embarcadero is a young tradition, only a few years old, but it's already a favorite of in-the-know San Franciscans -- and with good reason. For so long burdened with an unsightly highway, the post-earthquake waterfront has been restored to its previous glory: The view! The bridge! The water! The islands! It's once again one of the prettiest places in our already good-looking burg. Add fireworks over the bay (as the city promises to do), plus tons of people in the mood for kissing and celebration, and really, what's not to like? The pyrotechnics begin at midnight; the best viewing spot is along the Embarcadero between Mission and Howard, S.F. Admission is free; call 274-0584.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
It Tolls for Thee
At the stroke of midnight, most city revelers commemorate the new year with champagne, smooches, and "Auld Lang Syne." But in accordance with ancient tradition, in Japan the joya no kane (end-of-the-year bell) is struck 108 times before midnight to symbolically hamper the 108 mortal desires Buddhists believe plague humankind. The solemn ceremony takes about two hours, since each beat must be delayed until the reverberations from the previous one have died away. Grab a stick and take part at the Japanese New Year's Bell Ringing Ceremony starting at 11 a.m. at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin (at McAllister), S.F. Entrance is free with museum admission (free-$10); call 581-3500 or visit www.asianart.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Submit to It
Are you now writing or have you ever written a play? Answer yes or no, please. Taking the Fifth only incriminates you. If you have poured your life's blood onto the page in hopes of becoming the next Clifford Odets or Lillian Hellman -- well, what are you going to do now? The Playwrights' Center offers a helpful event: a "Submission Party." Center staffers provide advice about formatting, cover letters, and synopses, plus general inspiration to get those envelopes stuffed and sent out into the world. The party begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free; call (510) 913-5413 for location information and a reservation or visit www.playwrightscentersf.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser