A long, long time ago, before irony was enshrined as a proven advertising marketing tool, there was a nightly improvisational satire revue in North Beach called the Committee, ranking right up there in tourist popularity with the current Beach Blanket show. For 11 years, throughout the '60s, many famous and near-famous comic minds trotted through the doors -- Howard Hesseman, Scott Beach, Peter (the dentist from Bob Newhart) Bonerz, etc., poking fun at the prevailing Zeitgeist and spawning successive generations of improv and sketch comedy that continue in the city to this day.
Pouring coffee at the Committee in those days was 14-year-old Michael Bossier. Beginning this Thursday night, March 13, Bossier's dream project comes to fruition -- the first annual San Francisco Comedy Group Summit. For two weekends at the Venue 9 theater south of Market, shows will feature members of the Committee, the National Theater of the Deranged, and Fratelli Bologna, as well as younger troupes like Nervous Laughter, Nude Coffee, 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, and the Associates. On closing night, March 22, the comedy team of Deb and Mike will present a history of San Francisco improv from the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s, in a benefit for Bread & Roses. Bossier will be getting his share of stage time from the various groups he's been in over the years, but admits, "I'll probably be pouring coffee, too."
Bad Old Daze
The restaurant waiter returns to our table carrying a tray of gleaming desserts. We select the kiwi-and-passion-fruit mousse with fresh papaya and sponge cake, and the chocolate outer wrap with hazelnut-and-chocolate mousse and hazelnut meringue. Gazing at hideously overpriced Japanese gourmet cuisine and a picture-window view of the Hilton Hotel across the street, the idea that my dinner companion once worked with the Black Panthers' free school in Oakland seems absolutely ludicrous.
The gold-cuff-linked wrist of David Horowitz flicks a fork into the glazed dessert with familiar ease; his expensive dark suit and "DH" monogrammed white shirt, donned for an afternoon lecture at Stanford, retain their perfect creases. Horowitz is the man liberals love to label an intellectual traitor, his left-to-right philosophical flip-flop now legendary, if overdocumented, among old lefties and conservatives who still spend time debating such things. He has run the gamut of political extremism in the defense of liberty, from '60s radical journalism here in the Bay Area to 1990s conservative publishing in Los Angeles, where he is funded by right-wing think tanks. His circle of friends has moved from Huey Newton and Tom Hayden to William Bennett and Newt Gingrich.
On the table between our lovingly handcrafted desserts sits Horowitz's newest book from Free Press, a political memoir called Radical Son that chronicles his descent into political disillusion, divorce, and spiritual emptiness, and his subsequent reinvention as an outspoken figure for the conservative, anti-PC backlash.
"I like the conservative side because there are so many fewer police there -- fashion, idea, thought, and other kind of police," he says. "Today, if you are on the left, if you were to be vocal against affirmative action, you'd be out. It's tremendously more intolerant."
It's a story Horowitz has told many times before, the conversion from left to right, in articles, books, interviews, and debates. The 1960s history has also been trotted out ad nauseam by Horowitz and other self-indulgent members of his generation, each clocking in with anecdotes and minutiae, furiously elbowing for shelf space in bookstores. So why another book? Why are we talking about it, sitting in a nearly empty restaurant in the Nikko Hotel, ordering another glass of wine from the corporate-teat slush fund? For me, the most crystalline moment of the Nixon administration was when Watergate hearings pre-empted summer reruns of The Brady Bunch. Why is this guy even bothering to talk to me?
"Any press is good press," shrugs Horowitz, wolfing down another bite of the kiwi/passion fruit mix.
And why am I bothering to eat with this guy?
It's because Radical Son is less a '60s memoir than an insider's diary. There are chapters on the Black Panthers, including the murder of a close friend that remained unsolved for years. What makes you turn the pages, though, is the story of a man who has bottomed out in every way -- politically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially -- and more than once. Let's face it, the tanking of someone's career is always compelling, especially if it's someone who has swung the complete spectrum of partisan politics, torn through three marriages, landed on the New York Times best-seller list, and, at age 46, shared an apartment with his rock musician son off Sunset Strip in L.A.
Horowitz hasn't had a boss in 30 years. He seems happy now, but it is the happiness of someone who has had to start over and make an entirely new life.
"I was completely cut off from everyone I'd ever known, trusted, loved. I was fairly lonely. It takes awhile. I was miserable for a long time, and I would urge people not to indulge their depressive instincts."
In many ways he wishes the 1960s never happened.
"We were all hyped up on an illusion," he says. "The '60s ruined American politics. It's much better when it's horse-trading and corruption. Two parties that are Tweedledee and Tweedledum make for stability."
What did he think about Huey Newton getting killed in Oakland, someone he once admired and for whom he worked? His answer is quick.
"I was glad. It should have happened when he was 15."
Is there anything he liked about the decade? Horowitz thinks a moment.
"What I like about the '60s, aside from the civil rights movement -- and the music was really good -- was the opening of the public space. Blacks into the culture, that was good. Much more room for people, whether they're gay or whatever.
"Everything else, we could have done better without."
Reached by phone from New York, Horowitz's son Jonathan provides this succinct description of his once-lefty father: "If he was in Seattle, he'd be the Mudhoney."
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