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

Some of the Unfunny Sides of Comedy

by John Cantu ©

Because of my longevity in the world of comedy, I get contacted a lot by the media. As recounted elsewhere in Backstage Pass, I was interviewed for and appeared on the E! Entertainment TV show Paula Poundstone The True Hollywood Story.

Here's an example of a request for information where I could provide no firsthand info, but got into a wonderful email discussion with a former Boarding House waitress.

It started thus:

Hello - - -

I'm writing to you at the suggestion of Curtis Matthews of the Comedy College there. I am working on a profile of Steve Martin for MSNBC and we are desperately looking for articles/ads/reviews or other materials on Steve Martin's breakthrough stand-up at the Boarding House in San Francisco.

He played there for two weeks around August 5, 1975.

Curtis said you'd been on the SF comedy scene for a long time and that you might be able to help us out with this.

Followed within a day or two by:


I wrote you on Friday and I'm very eager to make contact with you. If at all possible, could we talk on the phone? If you give me your number and a good time to call, I'd be grateful. If you'd rather, you could try calling me collect at XXX-XXX-XXXX


S - - - S - - - MSNBC

Sorry to say, but I was not a devotee of Martin's back in 1975 as he had not yet shown up on my comedy radar. But in doing some preliminary research, I came across this email by J - - - S - - - on a Steve Martin fan web site

I worked at the Boarding House, 960 Bush St. in San Francisco back when Steve Martin was doing stand-up comedy there on a regular basis (the mid 70s). He was the funniest human I've ever seen, before or since (and I've seen some pretty funny humans).

His stand-up routines were exceptional art. If anyone knows the whereabouts of any old Boarding House employees from the mid 70s, post me a note. I'd love to catch up with news from Riley, Judy, Carol, Bobby, Clint, Billy, Lisa, Kitty, David, & all the others. I found an old Steve Martin record recorded live at the Boarding House and felt like I stepped back in time. Great web-site. Thanks

And so I wrote to J - - - S - - -

J - - - - I ran Allen's Alley (the comedy room downstairs) for David in late 70s. While I too am a great fan of Martin, his Boarding House performances were before my time. I was there when Robin recorded Reality What a Concept upstairs.

I was a comedy guy in the 70s strongly connected with the Holy City Zoo and Cobb's and other venues (big producer locally) back in those days. Do you remember Bobby Slayton? Major club comic now, but I think he used to be a doorman at the Boarding House back then.

Anyway I came into the BH maybe 78/79 and ran the room downstairs and we called it Allen's Alley after Fred Allen's old radio show. (And we had to clean out the deli apparatus or we built a stage in front of it, I'm not sure. But I do remember the deli aspect.)

I now work with speakers coaching them on how to add humor to their talk. I do have a humorous motivation speech I give now called Work in the Humor Place, which is a play off the commonly heard topic of "humor in the workplace."

But the point is, two of the key stories in my talk involve the Boarding House. I have been giving the talk at small groups working the beats out, breaking it in. I will soon do a version where I will tape it. I will let you know when I get it done and be happy to send you a copy of the tape.

I do remember the financial problems and I remember Gat, who was brought in shortly before I started to turn things around financially.



J - - - wrote back,

John, Thanks for the note! You don't mean little smart-mouthed Bobby from New York City? He's the only Bobby I remember, and he was a horny little waiter that was really funny!

That would be so neat if he's a club comic now.

Let me know. Are you still in the City? I went back two years ago after 20 years away, and it was so deja vu. Except that everything I knew was gone, and nobody I knew was still there.

But other than that, same ol City! I still bore people with my Boarding House stories. It was i's own little magical world. Great music, and wonderful comedians. Steve Martin, Martin Mull, Franklin Ajaye, Robert Klein, David what's-his-name (not Brenner), Henny Youngman, even Billy Crystal once, as I recall.

My daughter loves that I got to see Bob Marley and the Wailers on a regular basis. I was there the night Lilly Tomlin freaked out on stage second show, insulted the hell out of the audience, and then stayed on stage till 5:00 a.m. on a cocaine/champagne weird high.

I had nothing better to do, so I stayed and listened to her rant and rave all night until the light and sound guy, Clint, gently led her off the stage and got her to her hotel room.

And Grace Slick came to see Martin Mull one night, loaded to the gills, and went up on stage, knelt down in front of him, and started running her hand up his leg straight for the family jewels.

She had to be led out, not-so-gently, and raised total hell out in the lobby! Hahaha, what a job.

And Robert Klein, in a weak moment, told some heckling beoch one night that if she thought she could do a better job, to come up and try. He broke the comedian's cardinal rule, and gave her the mike, and she ripped him a new one.

NEXT: I Have Three Chinchillas in Heat!