Molded by Suffering

I was not born in San Francisco, nor was I raised there. I moved to the city in the fall of 1986 and headed south before the '90s arrived.

But I consider San Francisco my home. I may not have grown up here, but I most certainly came of age here. But my contribution to its history, its comedy history anyway, has nothing to do with anything I've ever done or said on any of its stages. For I, along with my friend and fellow comedian, Alex Reid, founded The San Francisco Comedy Condo.

The 336, as it was known in its heyday, was at 336 21st Ave., a canary yellow, split-level duplex in the Richmond District, right down the street from The Video Café, a nifty name for a diner that rented "videos," the cumbersome, magnetic tape-based cassettes that were a popular method of watching movies before the Internet. Yes! There was such a time! A primitive, savage era, when winged reptiles ruled the sky and dick pix were painted on canvas and painstakingly taken door-to-door.

The 336 served two distinct purposes; first and foremost it housed comedians. Alex and I rented the flat in October 1986, and in comedians' hands it stayed, handed down, like a stucco yellow sword, from one group of comics to the next, for the next 19 years. In addition to the small army of stand-up comedians who called The 336 their home, the list of its guests was even more impressive. Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross, Louis C.K., Zachery Bacik, and Casey Hardmeyer have all graced its many couches. I'm pretty sure Jon Stewart crashed there at least once.

But that was not the real purpose of The 336. The real purpose of The 336, based upon my extensive, firsthand experience, was to grow mold. It seemed to be specifically designed for it. I remain amazed — amazed — that the above list of comedians is not enshrined on a plaque somewhere, a sad remembrance of those lost to the Mysterious Comedian Plague.

The house is one of those strange little gems that dot the city: human domiciles designed specifically to deprive its inhabitants of sunlight, to withhold any degree of heat or comfort, and to keep moisture in the air at all costs. It was a building constructed under the false belief that human beings are at their most comfortable when they are at their clammiest, that the natural state of man is to shiver in a damp sweatshirt, scrawling jokes into a notebook while crouched on a futon, buried under blankets in a vain attempt to hide from air that felt like a corpse tongue.

The neighborhood itself, it must be admitted, was a willing co-conspirator. The Outer Richmond remains one of America's leading providers of seasonal affective disorder. I distinctly recall one particular drive back to the city after visiting friends in Los Angeles. For six hours, from the 101 and up the 5, then inland, over the bridge and back into the city, I drove under a brilliant, cloudless, azure sky. A pristine, brilliant blue gem of a sky that hung over the city all the way up to 19th Avenue, which I duly crossed and bade the sun farewell. A sad Walgreens signaled my entrance to this primordial, fog-shrouded world. A bleak gray canopy spat a dank breeze at the strange shapes that wandered through the mist, not a mile from life-giving sunshine, though it seemed doubtful these muttering, huddled figures, held so tightly in the neighborhood's environmental noose, could even conceive of it.

And somewhere, lost in that bog of concrete and stucco, a small nest of cynical hipsters made fun of their cold, moist hovel, secure in the knowledge that the bleaker their plight, the funnier they'd be when talking about it. Luxury and comfort rarely beget hilarity, which is why The 336 flourished, and I'm proud to have been a part of it.

Dana Gould is a writer and podcaster and ubiquitous funny guy. He appears a goodly number of times on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. sfsketchfest.com/x/performers/dana-gould

 
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