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Those Terrible Things You Say: Two of the Bay's Own Establish Boundaries 

Wednesday, Jan 21 2015
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Nato Green and Moshe Kasher are the ultimate comedy authorities, the ringleaders, the guys who determine whose routines reign supreme. At least, they will be at Iron Comic, a comedy pressure cooker where comics scramble to create jokes from audience suggestions, and one of the highlights of SF Sketchfest.

Green is a San Francisco born-and-bred comedian and scribe who's also a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner. Kasher is an Oakland-to-L.A. transplant who's got his own Netflix special, the hella-smart Hound Tall Discussion Series podcast, and a 2012 memoir, Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16.

On Feb. 7, they'll be putting Todd Barry, Rory Scovel, Emily Heller, Eddie Pepitone, and Chris Garcia through their paces, setting the pace, deciding who lives or dies, when is "too soon," and what joke, if any, is too taboo for San Francisco.

DON'T CALL IT "OAKTOWN"

SF Weekly: First of all, Moshe, props for keeping your 510 area code.

Moshe Kasher: That way the Hollywood studios can see where I'm coming from.

SFW: You're representing Oaktown.

Kasher: Unfortunately, and I don't mean to insult you, I don't know anybody who's used that phrase, who's an Oakland native, since MC Hammer. ... But I'm going to give you a pass for this interview only.

SFW: I'm from the Peninsula. We don't get out much.

Kasher: Oh, the 'Sula!

Nato Green: My wife is from New Mexico, and in the late '90s we went to the Oakland Coliseum to see Prince, and he kept saying, "What's up, Oaktown!" And she kept saying, "I'm so embarrassed for him, that he doesn't know it's OakLAND and not OakTOWN."

THE NEW SAN FRANCISCO

Green: If you walk around some areas of Oakland these days, you'll get a real nostalgic sense of San Francisco. When I want to visit San Francisco in the 1990s, I go to Oakland.

Kasher: When I want to visit San Francisco in 2012, I go to Oakland.

Green: Where do you go when you want to visit Oakland?

Kasher: Richmond.

CAMARADERIE

SFW: Moshe, you're coming up for Sketchfest. Nato, you're staying here for Sketchfest.

Green: I'm putting on pants for Sketchfest, is what I'm doing.

Kasher: For some comedians, like Nato, this is a huge opportunity. For other comedians, like me, it's a chance to give back to the community.

Green: I've been to Sketchfest every year for eight or nine years, and I'm still hoping that Moshe will discover me. Comedians do like to come together and converge at these festivals. ... It's very important to remind people that you're the funniest in the game. And the most bloodthirsty.

IRON COMIC, VEGAN BELT

Kasher: [Iron Comic is] not terribly competitive. I'd say people's actual real careers and lives are much more competitive than this show. ... Tears are shed, but that's just how comedians fall asleep at night.

Green: We worked hard to make sure Iron Comic is a competition that continues to be no stakes whatsoever. The worst thing that'll happen is somebody talking shit on their Twitter page the next day.

SFW: You guys need a belt, like a WWE belt.

Green: Shit, how about just a belt? Not even a championship belt, but just like a belt from Urban Outfitters or something. That's about how useful winning Iron Comic is.

Kasher: I'm not comfortable with using leather, though. If there's some kind of non-animal-product thing we could use, I would prefer that.

Green: A vegan-leather championship belt that doesn't belie any championship, and that doesn't imply that one comedian is better than another. It's just a belt, to help support your pants, in true San Francisco style.

ON OFFENSE, AND RESPONSES TO

Kasher: It's not an issue any longer for people to come up to you after the show, because thanks to the advent of the internet, nobody has to come up to you at all. They'll just immediately log on to their smartphone, or laptop. ... They can inform you of their offense via the amazing World Wide Web.

Green: At Iron Comic, the audience writes suggestions on pieces of paper. We're pulling things out of a hat, and every time we'll hit a patch of, like, cancer. Kid-fucking. Blowjobs in the alleyway. Crack whores! It's like, why are you people offended when, you know, you get material about that?

Kasher: By the way, I'm going to expect and require that you quote, exactly, the phrase "kid-fucking" in your article. It's important to me as an artist.

Green: And It's important to me that you attribute that to me. When you're typing out the transcript, you're gonna want to attribute that to Moshe, but make sure that it goes to me.

SFW: I'm just going to write that you said it in unison.

Kasher: We sung it, like Gregorian chanting.

CANCER AND COFFEE JOKES

SFW: So what happens when somebody pulls "cancer" out of the hat? How do you make cancer funny?

Kasher: I think you don't. I think you throw that one away because you realize it's going to be an entire round of depressing anecdotes about lost family members.

Green: I had a friend who had breast cancer, had a double mastectomy and wanted me to make jokes about it. And then I did, and she enjoyed it and felt it was a cathartic moment for her, and the rest got upset. ... Audiences love to get offended on behalf of people that they can't be bothered to talk to.

SFW: What topics make people really nervous in the audience, especially in San Francisco?

Kasher: Coffee beans. If it's not single-origin, people aren't ready to joke about that.

Green: Yeah, if you say you really love Robusta coffee, people get very uncomfortable.

Kasher: Those Keurig cups? I can't even go there. I don't even have the comedic chops to be able to make that funny.

PUNCHING UP, PUNCHING DOWN, PUNCHING THE HOLOCAUST

Green: I talk about things that make people uncomfortable all the time, but I try to be responsible about being clear who the butt of the joke is, and at whose expense. I'm sort of in the camp that says comedy should punch upwards. ... [But] I might have an above-average number of Holocaust jokes in my act, relative to most comedians. I finally did a Holocaust joke that went too far for my mom, and now my mom is boycotting my act until I stop doing that joke.

Kasher: To me, the idea of a Jewish comedian defying his mother is more offensive than any Holocaust joke could ever be.

SFW: So what's the gist of the Holocaust joke?

Green: There's some loose talk about lampshades.

SFW: Oh, no!

Green: I agree, oh, no!

Kasher: "Punching up," I don't know what that means. That's a new kind of comedy — no, that's a new blogosphere buzzword that means nothing. I don't know what punching up is, or punching down. I just think, funny, that's what's important. Also, attendance at Iron Comic and the other Sketchfest shows. That's what's important.

CHARLIE HEBDO

Kasher: I started getting a bunch of articles forwarded to me that said, "Yes it's terrible what happened, and no we're not excusing what happened, but ... these [Muhammad] cartoons were offensive, they were obscene, they were racist, they were awful." And I'm not a big believer in any of that information that comes after the "but." To me, comedy is valuable ... despite the fact that it's offensive, and probably because it's offensive. Free speech isn't something that we kinda have to bite our tongues and accept ... it's kind of a foundation stone of having a free society, that we embrace the obscene.

SFW: What do you think, Nato?

Green: I think I'm going to kill Moshe.

Kasher: I accept that as a thing that is covered under free speech! I celebrate Nato for his threats on my life.

ALL S.F. COMEDIANS MOVE TO L.A. ... OR DO THEY?

Kasher: Moving to L.A. feels like a betrayal of everybody's principles, and often those principles include self-published poetry zines. ... My friend Greg Behrendt is also a Bay Area guy who moved to L.A. "If you want to get into show business," he said, "this is where they keep it."

Green: The Bay Area is a great place to start out as a comic, and develop your voice and your point of view ... but then you hit a ceiling. And if you want to go past that ceiling, which I don't, then you have to move.

Kasher: Nato has children, so he can't approach the ceiling. He has to stay in the basement.

Green: Moshe will tell me that he's come home, changed the underwear in his suitcase, and then gone out on the road again. I can't be a good dad and live on the underwear-suitcase-rotation system.

TMI ONSTAGE AND OFF

Kasher: Some comedians are incredibly revealing and intimate, like Tig Notaro and Louis C.K., and some comedians are filled with artifice and persona, like Zach Galifianakis or Jerry Seinfeld. I don't think that either of [those approaches] are any better or worse than the other. They're just a totally different comedy product.

SFW: And then you write something like Kasher in the Rye, which is very personal.

Kasher: You don't quite realize how much of yourself you've put out there until you put it out there. You realize, oh my, everyone I meet knows everything about me, everything about my childhood. And they have an intimate relationship with you, and you've never met them.

MY WORST HECKLER

Kasher: The worst heckler I ever had was Nato Green at Iron Comic. He just kept screaming about his children. And punching up the jokes.

Green: It was probably my mom, because she was worried about what the goyim would think. Also, I make fun of the rich and the powerful too much, and they're gonna figure out how to kill me.

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Giselle Velazquez

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