Litquake 2005: Humor at the Purple Onion
By Cindy Bailey 10.11.05

What better place to host a gaggle of humorous readings than at the Purple Onion, San Francisco's landmark comedy club in North Beach? I'm talking legends have performed here: Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, The Smothers Brothers – all at this original location. Today, the place still has that intimate feel, with low ceilings, dim lighting, cozy booths, small tables, and the periodic, comforting sound of the martini shaker coming from the bar. The perfect setting for Litquake's Humor Me event (Litquake being San Francisco's annual, week-long extravaganza of literary events).

While we waited for the room to fill and the show to start, Purple Onion's regular maestro, Geoff Foster, played (and sang) beautiful ballads on the piano. Once we were huddled cozily and well into our two drink minimum, Jane Ganahl, co-founder of Litquake, took the stage. She talked about Litquake, thanked the sponsors, and introduced the emcee, Bucky Sinister . And the show began.

Sinister, in his T-shirt and tattoos, holding the microphone in his fist and bursting all over the stage, opened the evening with – of course – a few jokes, saying he could just hear Lenny Bruce tying off in the bathroom (Lenny was a heroine addict). Sinister also wondered why if Hunter S. Thompson “was going to off himself anyway, he didn't do it by taking a shot at G.W.” He speculated that “that would make being Republican dangerous again.”

And then on with the readings.

Firoozeh Dumas , author of Funny in Farsi , read a hilarious story of finding a potato in the shape of a cross and deciding to sell it on Ebay. Her family knew it was worth $60,000, but also knew that “large starting bids were the death on Ebay, and so we started the bidding at $5.”

The suave-looking Ian Lendler took the stage next, appropriately dressed in cocktail lounge attire to read from his book, Alcoholica Esoterica , the subtitle of which is “A collection of useful and useless information as it relates to the history and consumption of all manner of booze.” He chose to read about champagne, and how it came to be. We're not talking boring facts and historical dates, here. We're talking about a fascinating tale with a lot of humor interwoven throughout.

“Hipster humorist” Mal Sharpe said he's been pulling pranks since the early 1960's. He took us along with him on one of those long ago pranks and got the biggest laughs of the night out of me. First, he showed us the soft briefcase he used to hide the tape recorder and mic, and then he told us how he and his prankster-buddy walked into a pharmacy and asked the pharmacist for some sterilizing products because he (prankster-buddy) was going to operate on his friend's (Mal's) heart. He read the books, doesn't look so hard, it's doable. The reaction of the pharmacist, who voiced genuine concern and restrained outrage, was hilarious.

At intermission, Sinister entertained us by reading from his latest book, Whisky and Robots , telling us the difference between rednecks and hicks and the paradoxes of Nascar.

Jack Boulware , co-founder of Litquake , read a story about shopping for his mother's coffin, saying that he was continuing the redneck theme. There were taxidermy animals lining the walls of the funeral home, because this is southwest Montana after all. Loved one of his character's names: Butt-Crack Todd.

Writer and performer Merle Kessler (aka Ian Shoales) read a number of funny short pieces: one about an outbreak of politeness in San Francisco, and another in which he takes on the role of a 27-year-old applying for a job as a radio talk show host to replace Howard Stern.

Finally, Beth Lisick , author of Everybody Into the Pool , read a hilarious selection from her book, one about visiting her in-laws. She read that her parents and her husband Eli's parents do have something in common in that “they both live in a house with a roof on top” – and you get that similarities end there. On their visit, Mom Penny took her girlfriend Caroline to a “fisting” workshop (as in how to place a fist into a vagina) while gay Dad complained about not being told there would be boys at this fair. Beth gave us her usual high-energy reading.

In closing, Sinister, full of expression, read another comical selection from his book. In fact, all the readings were animated, and very entertaining.