John Cantu doing the door at the Zoo John doing the door at the Holy City Zoo

Comedy Day: Comedy Day! Chicks' Schtick? (Part 6)
by John Cantu ©

I might not have much formal education (never finished 11th grade), but one thing I do have is an innate understanding of people. And I was quite certain how the proclamation would be perceived by most of the comedy community.

Now, people with Becky's level of political savvy would of course recognize it for what it was: simply an "atta boy" trophy, and for all real intents and purposes worth about the cost of the sheet of paper it was printed on. But I knew, for the non-politically savvy, (and most of the comedy community fell into that group and I include myself in the unsophisticated group. After all, it was Becky who took the lead in us getting the proclamation) it would have an inestimable value on the symbolic level.

The comics would give the proclamation a much, much, much higher credence than the reality. They would treat it as if the great leaders of the city had reviewed the Comedy Day idea, found it desirable, and had bid Cantu "go forth with our best wishes in bringing glory to the city."

In other words, it would be perceived as if I had been given some sort of official okay by the mayor and the board of supervisors to go forward and make it happen. The proclamation gave me a level of confidence I hadn't had before. I felt I could now approach anyone in the city about participating. It didn't mean that they would necessarily jump on the bandwagon, but it did take the idea out of the dreamy-eyed, pie-in-the-sky arena.

Now, there was one remaining task. I had to present the idea to Jose as a done deal. But I was comfortable doing so with the proclamation in my back pocket. I knew now that there was so much momentum, he could no longer support his "Don't f*ck with my baby!" stance.

I don't remember exactly how the idea came, but I soon thought of the perfect setting to break the news to Jose and to the entire comedy community: At the annual Holy City Zoo Comedians' Thanksgiving dinner.

In the fall of the previous year, one of the women I was dating, Cynthia Ziegler had approached me and said, "You know Cantu, many of these comics are away from home and I think it might be nice to give all the comics a home-made Thanksgiving dinner turkey with all the trimmings."

I liked the basic idea, but I was hesitant. I thought maybe there could be a total of 100 - 150 who might come - comedians - their girlfriend du jour, the handful of women comics, and certain comedy friends (the "Zoo" volunteers) and a few special "Zoo" comedy regulars. I was thinking of the cost in restaurant terms and in my mind I was looking at several hundred dollars for food.

Cynthia, said, "Oh, no, silly. If we can get some of the club regulars to volunteers to pitch in and cook, it wouldn't cost much at all." She was right. I think I spent $60 - $70 for food. And she organized a cooking crew and we had a glorious time. Then I just turned the beer tap on and the soft drink tap for beverages. (This complementary booze for the comics was to come back to haunt me in later years - but that is a story for another time.)

Since we were planning the 1980 Thanksgiving dinner, I figured that would be the ideal time to announce the proclamation. About two-thirds of the way thru the dinner, I called for silence saying we had a special announcement.

Warren Spottswood, a large six feet four inch comic with a maniacal stage energy, was chosen to read the proclamation. As I expected, when Spottswood got to the finished and read the "I do hearby affix my hand . . ." there was pandemonium, cheers and whistles.

While I had never heard of Machiaveli at that time, when I first read "No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution." I thought back to that moment.

The announcement for Comedy Day had been done so publicly and with such fanfare that it was thoroughly enjoyed by Simon and applauded by the comedy community at large. It was the perfect fait accompli.

Now, here, I am going to take a detour of sorts because I don't know if I had started doing some pre-production work prior to the Thanksgiving dinner or whether it started afterwards. But regardless of the exact time frame, what I do remember is having a meeting with some volunteers and one of them was a woman named Barbara Morgan.

(Barbara, coincidentally worked at a Savings and Loan branch just up the street from a bar called the Rose and Thistle, a venue I walked by a couple of times when I went to see her at work to discuss something in preparation for Comedy Day. Years later, I opened "Upstairs at the Rose & Thistle" with Brian Funnigan and ran it during the time Margaret Cho was starting to perform there. Carlos Alazraqui (the voice of the Taco Bell Chihuahua) developed his act there and Mark Curry of Hangin With Mr. Cooper used to occasionally do guest sets.)

Anyway, Barbara said, "What are you going to do about places for people to go to the bathroom." In my quick witted fashion I replied, "Bathrooms? What are you talking about?"

"Cantu, I have some friend who've done music concerts outdoors. If you expect to have a few thousand people, and it sounds like you are, you have to have bathrooms for them. You got to rent some Port-A-Potties. I'm not sure how many you need, but it's like one for every so many hundred people at the event. You also gotta have security to make sure the audience doesn't crash the backstage. And you gotta have trash containers for people to throw away soft drink cans and food wrappings."

I had never even thought of those issues. I was coming from the perspective of an indoor producer. Every facility I had used already had that covered. I said, "Barbara, I don't have a clue as to what we'll need or how to get them."

She said, "Ok I'll ask around and try to figure out what you will need and see if I can get some deal or something." And she ended up getting us everything we needed AND at no charge.

  • Now consider: The idea for using Golden Park and for making it an annual event came from a woman;
  • A woman volunteer was driving me through Golden Gate Park when I discovered the venue, the Band Shell;
  • Rebecca Erwin wrote the proclamation and then deftly maneuvered it through the Board of Supervisors;
  • A woman mayor signed the proclamation;
  • Cynthia Ziegler created and organized the Thanksgiving dinner where the Proclamation was first read to the comedy community;
  • Barbara Morgan arranged for us to have the essential facilities - Port-A-Potties, trash containers;
  • And Virginia Handley, a woman not yet mentioned, made the beer run all day long the day of the first event to and from the "Zoo" picking up cold kegs of beer for the comics to have backstage.

But at the first Comedy Day celebration, it was Jose and I who stood up, took a bow and all the credit. That's why this is titled: Comedy Day! Chicks' Schtick?

NEXT: Comedy Day: The Creation of A San Francisco Institution (Part 7)