Annie's Social Club, the quirky SOMA dive bar whose stage was home to some classically unconventional San Francisco live shows, is closing on New Year's Eve. Everyone is sad to see Annie's go, but the loss is hitting local comics particularly hard. Chad Lehrman and Jeff Cleary, founders of local online comedy guide SFStandup.com, started an intimate Tuesday night open mic in Annie's backroom in 2006. Annie's Open Mic Tuesdays quickly became a hotspot for comedians of all stripes to try out their material.
Last night, December 29th, was their final show; The tiny hallway outside the backroom was lined with comedians trying their jokes on one another before they hit the stage. Drew Harmon, the host, elbowed past the comics in search of the next performer, and of course he got some gentle ribbing by the comics on the way. He jokingly threatened back,"You're never gonna perform here again."
Many of the comedians including Joe Gorman, Casey Lei, and Chris Thayer had their first open mic comedy performance at Annie's. Chris Thayer remembered the exact date he first tried stand-up, "I started comedy August 19th, 2008 at Annie's. I watched one or two shows and then I just went up. The first set was unmemorable and mediocre, but not bad enough to make me quit."
Emily Heller, the second place winner of the S. F. Women's Comedy Competition, said she used to drive up from Santa Cruz every other week to perform at Annie's on Tuesday nights. She went on to say "Jeff and Chad (from SF Standup) were the first people to book me for a showcase and it was here at Annie's."
Open mics are not just for amateurs, professional comedians also rely on the valuable stage time to perfect their material. Bay Area headliner Kris Tinkle noted "The great thing about the guys at the SFstandup.com is that through their open mic night at Annie's they gave a lot of local comedians stage time."
For comedians, the only way to know if a joke actually works is to go up and try it in front of an audience. This means open mics can be brutal, unpredictable, and embarrassing both for the audience and for the comic. Of course, that's also the charm of an open mic, because you get to watch an artist as they are creating their art.
In such a low pressure environment, you see the comedian's notebook, they admit when they're trying a joke for the first time, and there is laughter in the imperfection of it all. Plus, if you do laugh, then you've helped a comedian know their new joke is worth keeping.
Sadly, as the decade comes to a close, so does one of the city's best open mics. Around 9:30 last night, host Drew Harmon announced, "Annie's Open Mic Tuesdays at Annie's is officially done." Annie's Open Mic may be officially over, but for the comics here in the Bay Area it will not be forgotten.
For information on open mics in San Francisco check out SFStandup.com.