Champagne corks will be popping across town 'round midnight this Thursday, but the sound of a man being shot from a cannon at the Circus Redickuless New Year's Eve Slumber Party will make a louder bang than any bottle of bubbly. The man being ejected across the cavernous Somar Gallery is the Rev. David Apocalypse of the Church of the SubGenius; the man lighting the fuse is punk circus proprietor Chicken John, who admits that he hasn't actually done this before (the good reverend will be wearing a fireproof suit and steel reinforcements as precautionary measures). Running the circus and hosting the weekly live-action game show "You Asked for It!" has given Chicken an idea of what people want, he says, and besides liquor and explosives, that includes circus acts like Chuckles the Clown, who will pluck a boyfriend from the crowd, dress him up like a hot dog, and have him assist her in an act that would make even Shakes blush. At this alternative to black-tie parties, guests bring their own sleeping bags, PJs, and clown noses and check 'em at the door; one room will be devoted to weird films and videos, and after 3 a.m., people can bed down in the quiet room. It's BYOB, too, and people who don't feel like they're gonna make it to the following morning's pancake breakfast will be very responsibly driven home on a free shuttle running every hour beginning at 1 a.m. The fun begins at 9 p.m. at Somar Gallery, 934 Brannan (at Ninth Street), S.F. Admission is $15; call 695-2884.
It's not quite black tie, but the SFNYE Superior Bash is getting warmer: Expect to find at least two dozen zoot suits in the crowd, since swingers should be turning out in droves to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra welcome 1999. Sharing headlining honors with Setzer is orchestral soul guru Isaac Hayes -- the old folks know him as the first man to win an Academy Award for a funk movie soundtrack (that would be Shaft), and the kids have heard him as Chef, the velvety voice of wisdom from the animated series South Park. Between acts, partygoers can visit themed rooms, shaking some tail feather at the '70s disco the Leopard Lounge and catching a snog in the Eye-Spy Make-Out Room. DJs and local bands will also play, and multiple bars will keep everyone well-lubricated. The bash begins at 7 p.m. at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove (at Larkin), S.F. Admission is $55; call (510) 762-2277.
Year-end comic relief, outside of clown acts and Setzer, includes the politically minded satire of the Will Durst & Co. Big-Fat Year-End Kiss-Off Comedy Tour, wherein Durst and stand-up Johnny Steele skewer 1998 with the help of musician Andy Valver, who summarizes events in "That Damn Song," and Deb and Mike, who recap movies, TV shows, and celebrity doings with improv skits. Shows begin at 7:30 and 10 p.m. at the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $20-35; call 441-3687. The comedy show at Josie's, meanwhile, leans toward bittersweet, as drag chanteuse Varla Jean Merman and Forbidden Broadway's Kristine Zbornik bid the club adieu with one of its last shows ever: Varla and Her Only Friend/Greatest Hits, a night of music, bits, and banter. The show runs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Josie's Juice Joint and Cabaret, 3583 16th St. (at Market), S.F. Admission is $25-46; call 861-7933.
And that leaves the people looking for a classy joint. The city has plenty -- the Fairmont hosts A Night in Brazil, the Holiday Inn features the New Year's Eve Latin Ball, and the SF Symphony presents A Night in Old Vienna. For a complete list of New Year's Eve events, see the Holiday Guide on Page 28.
-- Heather Wisner