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

Comedy Day: The Creation of A San Francisco Institution (Part 7)
by John Cantu ©

Comedy Day is coming up again so I thought I dedicate a couple more essays on the history as I remember it - and that is in no way an attempt to be snide. It's just honest acknowledgment that after having published some of my memories here along with a LOT of Don Stevens', (former House MC for the Holy City Zoo) there are others who remember things differently. I've always been a big picture guy - never have been a detail person (as you probably can tell by the many typos that slip by me and my spell check). I know I presented the proclamation to Jose Simon at one of the annual free Thanksgiving turkey dinners we did at the Zoo for comics who were away from home. And I remember maniacal Warren Spottswood reading it aloud to the gathering.

Now here are a few more bits and pieces that followed the 1980 Thanksgiving dinner, but preceded the first Comedy Day. As noted previously, it originally was called Comedy on Green after Bill Graham's Day on the Green, but somewhere along the line it got changed to Comedy Day due to fears of a copyright infringement lawsuit from Graham.

The main focus for me between Thanksgiving 1980 and July 1981 was three fold: money, publicity, and putting together the line up. Here are some bits and pieces that come to mind. As well as one other element. I realized immediately that the lynchpin to the whole event was the proclamation from the mayor. I knew getting that had would give Comedy Day whatever credibility it might possess at that early stage. And I knew that getting proclamation was the result of one person, Rebecca Erwin. It might have been my idea, but people give way too much credit to ideas. Ideas are easy. Any five-year old kid can lie on his/her back on a sunny day and create idea after idea just looking at clouds. Ideas aren't worth spam. Execution of an idea is what is important. And Rebecca had executed the request perfectly. So I told Jose, I thought she should be brought in as a third partner in the company. Jose was very resistant, quite adamant at the beginning about someone coming in to mess with his idea. I didn't bother to point out his idea from years ago was simply a free one-hour comedy show at Union Square during the noon lunch hour featuring mime Robert Shields. I was producing a full day of comedy with forty comics at Golden Gate Park Band Shell on a day officially proclaimed Comedy Day. But I felt there was no sense in wasting energy on clarification of the obvious. What was important to me was that Rebecca's talents be acknowledged and that she be brought on board as a full partner. She had brainpower that was invaluable. We argued, I pushed and I shoved and I cajoled and I pleaded and when we finally filed our Fictitious Name papers she was a full and equal partner.

The first budget was within $1000 or $1200 total. I don't remember writing an income and expense projection nor do I remember making a list of potential expenses. I hated dealing with money. I knew the importance and necessity of it, but it just never played any part in my plans or ideas. It was always a background annoyance to me - like a fly buzzing around your food. You deal with the fly as best you can while trying to enjoy your food. I think I had figured on sponsors being: Punchline, Holy City Zoo, Cobb's, Sea Witch, Other Café, and Flat Iron at $200 each. In any event, I remember the first money-raising appointment was with Bob Ayers of the Other Café. Along with Jose, Becky, I gave him the pitch and at the end he leaned back in his chair and said, What would you like me to do? I looked him in the eye and said, "Donate $200." And to his everlasting credit, he pulled out his company checkbook and wrote a check on the spot. That was the first hurdle - getting that first dollar. From there on in it was simply duplicating the process.

 Cantu notes:

Here are the "Thank you" and acknowledgements listed on the first Comedy Day Program

 We thank the following performers for their contributions:

  • Timothy Borron
  • Bob Barry
  • A.W. Brown
  • Marty Cohen
  • Jim Cranna
  • Gil Christner
  • Tony DePaul
  • Jane Dornacker
  • Will Duerst
  • Femprov
  • Jim Giovanni
  • Dr. Gonzo
  • Hazzard Bros.
  • Hurley and Zee
  • Billy Jaye
  • Doug Kehoe
  • Jeremy Kramer
  • Lorenzo
  • Bill Lucas
  • Mann and Vittorio
  • Rich Mark
  • Kevin Meaney
  • Pat Morita
  • Papaya Juice
  • Murphy St. Paul
  • Steven Pearl
  • Chris Pray
  • Michael Pritchard
  • Jeff Ross
  • Bob Sarlatte
  • David Scheuber
  • Joe Sharkey
  • Rodney Sheriff
  • Jose Simon
  • Barry Sobel
  • Spaghetti Jam
  • Warren Spottswood
  • Johnathan Szeles

 Special thanks to:

  • S.F. Mayor, the Honorable Dianne Feinstein
  • S.F. Board of Supervisors
  • Alex Adams
  • Jack Anderson
  • Bob Ayers; Eric and Coleen Barnes
  • Ray Barnett - KCBS
  • Diana Bedrosian
  • David BeIrose
  • Terri Berman
  • Rose Bianco
  • Yvonne Boggan
  • Richard Bond
  • Amador Bustos;
  • Debbie Casserty
  • Jim Celeste
  • Susan Cerce
  • Jason Christoble
  • Gretchen Cronrath
  • Juan Escobar
  • Sam David
  • Denis Egan
  • Ann & Jon Fox
  • Golden Gate Park Staff
  • Bill Graham
  • Madel Greger
  • Virginia Handley
  • David Hoffman
  • W.E Hogue
  • Ron Kakiki
  • Greg Keller
  • Frank Kidder
  • Quentin Kopp
  • Steven Kravitz
  • Karen Lee-Volunteer Staff Coordinator
  • Donn Matthews
  • David Mayeri
  • Chris Meigs
  • Midway
  • John Modica
  • Oscar Moreno
  • Barbara Morgan
  • Lisa Morgan
  • Kate Morse
  • Steven Pearl
  • Chip Romer
  • Rodney Sheriff
  • Rich Snow
  • Brad Stefani
  • Don Stevens
  • Karen Warner
  • Steve Wechsler
  • Holy City Zoo Volunteers
  • and Mitch Krug
    You are still with us

 Sound by "Sound on Stage" Brisbane.

NEXT: Comedy Day: The Creation of A San Francisco Institution (Part 8)