The Bay area is hotbed of talent and creativity. I’m fortunate enough to be involved in multiple scenes, sharing stages with performers of all stripes. There are of course a number of great performers I could have included on this list. (Even my runners-up roster boasts talented folks like burlesque performer Jet Noir, hosts of the Hysteria Comedy Open Mic Night, Irene Tu and Jessica Sele; musical-comedy act Jefferson Bergey, fire performer Afina Flint, poet Lisa Evans and writer Daphne Gottlieb who would all make for an amazing show, but I had to narrow it down!) Here, I submit for your consideration a list of 16 Bay Area performers to watch in 2016.
16. Kate Willett
If you pay any attention to the Bay area comedy scene, you know that Kate Willett is a woman on the rise. Willett achieves a perfect blend of smart and filthy when she takes the stage. She takes on the grand comedic tradition of talking about the foibles of her sex life but makes it feel fresh. In her set, she states that society is having lots of important debates right now like “Are Women People?”. Obviously the world has begun to take notice of Willett’s talent; She just recorded segment for a Comedy Central show. For the time being she’s a Bay Area treasure, so check her out while you still can.
15. Kevin Seaman / LOL McFiercen
Drag queen and performance artist Kevin Seaman (a.k.a. LOL McFiercen) is the real deal. If she’s shaking her ample booty onstage or hosting karaoke at the Oasis, LOL is a spectacle to behold. The right mix of adorable, funny, and strange, Seaman brings a number characters to life. This past year he graced us with hot-bear fun times in the show Tender Bears/Osos Amorosos alongside writer-performer Baruch Porras-Hernandez and musician Me Llamo Sebastian. Seaman also brings to life dance Psychic Dr. Zebrovski. (You read that right. Dance. Pscychic.) No matter the character being portrayed Kevin Seaman gives 100 percent every time he hits the stage, and it’s impossible not fall in love.
14. Jade Way
Jade Way is just beginning to make waves in the Bay Area music scene, and I suggest you get on board her ship early. This singer-song writer with the bright voice was chosen by KQED to celebrate marriage equality, with songs that have just the right mix of tenderness and pop sensibility. At her live performances she’s not afraid to have a little fun, and in addition to her music, she’ll mix in some Childish Gambino mash-ups. I was also fortunate enough to see her do a very sensual cover of “Hotline Bling” at the Awaken Café in Oakland. She’s a radio friendly balladeer who’s bound to be the soundtrack to a romantic evening near you real soon.
13. Ben McCoy
This year Ben McCoy was named one of the best writers in the Bay Area by Anisse Gross. That’s true, but it’s definitely worth noting that a reading by Ms. McCoy is an exciting spectacle for more than just the literary chops Ben brings to the table. She’s a smart, funny social commentator, bon vivant in fuck-me pumps. If the legendary elusive trait we call “star quality” does exist, then it’s clear that McCoy has it in spades.
12. Prince Xzist
The first time I saw Xzist dance I was like “Who is this tiny ball of spinning fury?” He’s a Latino B Boy and a burlesque performer and he’s not afraid to mash the two together. While some break dancers choose to look hard and tough constantly Xzist wisely chooses to own that fact that what he’s doing is indeed hella sexy. You can catch him frequently as part of Fou Fou Ha, Tourettes Without Regrets and the Skylark’s Friday Night No Cover Cabaret.
11. Dhaya Lakshminarayanan
The Nerd Nation has risen and it has found its champion in local comic, storyteller, and solo performer Dhaya Lakshminarayanan. Her tales of growing up a painfully awkward, smart Indian kid in the southern U.S. are hilarious. Dhaya, a regular host of the Moth Storytelling show, is a casual conversationalist whose comedy makes you feel like you’re chatting with an old friend. Here’s to hoping you get the pleasure of her company in the New Year.
10. Sgt. Die Wies
A towering, powerful presence on any stage, burlesque performer Sgt. Die Wies is always captivating. Is it her costumes? Her smooth dance moves? Her ability to ooze sexuality? Her larger than life persona? Yes, it is all those things delivered with a charismatic punch that brings everything together. Check Sgt. Die Wies out at her monthly show, Womanopoly.
9. Natasha Muse
Natasha Muse reminds me of the snarky girl who sat in the back of class being cooler and smarter than everyone else. When Muse talks about her life, even the banal details of parenting get interesting. The first time I really realized how original Muse was when she made a quip about being a transsexual where she stated, “I’m a transsexual. Or as I like to say, I was a boy but then I got better.” The women in the audience loudly erupted with glee and the men laughed pleasantly. What Muse did with that one-liner was make the tired trope that is battle of the sexes comedy seem awake and exciting. Natasha Muse delivers smart social commentary and I’m grateful every time she steps on stage.
8. The T Sisters
Beautiful harmonies, melodic voices, a family band in the 21st century, and honest-to-goodness traditional folk musicians: Is it possible to be both a beautiful relic of the past and perfect for the present? It is if you’re the T Sisters. Chloe, Rachel, and Erika Tietjen sing and you just feel better about the world. Even when the song is sad their music lets you sit with that sadness and understand it’s a part of life. Who knew you could achieve Zen through folk music?
7. Gina Gold
Gina Gold is a black, Jewish, former stripper from New York. I am none of those things, and yet Gold is the most relatable storyteller I’ve seen. She has the ability to draw empathy from a room, she’s funny, she’s honest, she’s human, and isn’t afraid to tell you about it. You can catch her every month when she hosts TMI Storytelling in Oakland. Simply put, Gina Gold has what makes storytelling so great the capacity to create human connection.
6. The Jamming Nachos
People this young should not be this talented. Maybe the fact that I am kind of a slacker makes me a bit put off any time youth are clearly so hard working. It’s really just petty jealously on my part, I’m certain — but regardless, The Jamming Nachos have rocked their way past my cynicism and won me over. They’re a fun, irresistible rock band, all of whom hover around the late-teens. Their single “Anytime Anywhere” is a smooth rocking blast of joy. They also don’t shy away from more serious work: Their song about Trayvon Martin is a punk rock nod to the reality they live every day as young people of color. Normally, with people this young the word “potential” gets thrown out a lot. In the case of the Jamming Nachos, I say, “Screw potential.” They already have that elusive It-factor. They’re working hard, rocking crowds, and the music world needs to take notice. The next big thing is happening now.
5. Rubenesque Burlesque
Rubenesque Burlesque makes Body Positivity get hella sexy. What’s more Bay Area than loving who you are while owning your sexuality? Nothing. Boasting a rotating cast of hot and heavy plus sized babes held together by burlesque den mother Juicy D. Light (also the host of first Friday Follies at the Stork Club). Their Fat Camp routine is the best burlesque act I’ve ever seen. Full Stop. You need to see these ladies in all their splendor. It’s a big world and they’re ready to take it on.
4. Rachel Lark
Vagenius is the title of the latest album from the Bay Area’s favorite potty-mouthed songstress, Rachel Lark. Rising to prominence at local den of iniquity Bawdy Storytelling, Lark quickly became a show favorite. I’ve been fortunate enough to perform several times the past year with Lark and she always manages to be the shiniest star. When I needed to book an act to entertain a BDSM crowd, it was a no-brainer. She didn’t even bust out the whips-and-chains jokes; she went in with an ode of lust about Star Trek Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Of course they went nuts for it. It doesn’t matter if she’s singing about period sex, rape culture, or drag queens, she is insightful, funny, and a crowd-pleaser. In one of her songs she sings about wanting to be a gay man so she can be “Normal for having orgies and radical for having kids.” As a gay man, Rachel, we welcome you into our fold. You truly are a Vagenius.
3. Marga Gomez
Marga Gomez has been killing it in the comedy/solo performer game for quite some time, and was one of the first out gay comedians ever. But she doesn’t like to be called a “legend.” (Gomez prefers the term “Lesbian Comedy Astronaut.”) This makes sense, since if I were to send one comic into space to prove to aliens how funny the San Francisco comedy scene is, it would be Marga Gomez. Fortunately for us, NASA has yet to start up a “Comics in Space” program so we can keep laughing with Gomez right here on Earth.
2. The Wrestlers of HoodSlam
The adult-oriented HoodSlam has been on fire lately. To the often-heard pro wrestling question, “Isn’t it fake?” HoodSlam answers, “This shit is real.” HoodSlam routinely runs theme nights, and their '80s night match of Weird Al vs. Madonna got shared on Twitter by the real Weird Al. Is there a better endorsement to be had? One of the crowd’s favorite characters is a cocaine-addled rabbit named Drugz Bunny. How can you not love that? Thankfully, in addition to all of the talented dudes in the ring, we also get some ladies mixing it up and throwing punches, too. My personal favorite is the superhero-themed Brittany Wonder. The show’s main commentator is the Axe Body Spray-wielding, Nickelback-loving personification of all things douche: Broseph J. Brody. We should hate that guy, right? But I can’t help but want more. Hoodslam is real. Real entertaining, that is. See it live at the Oakland Metro Opera House, every first Friday of the month.
1. Lydia Popovich
Back in 2010, Nicki Minaj dropped the prophetic line “You can be the king but watch the queen conquer.” Today, I can’t help but think of comedian Lydia Popovich when I hear that. Hilarious and brutally honest, her comedy does more than make us laugh; it also makes us think. Popovich’s performance is the definition of well-crafted. In an interview with the blog Courting Comedy Popovich gave the advice, “They’re paying to see you; look like you give a shit.” She’s a passionate performer and impeccably dressed fashionista, the total package. She has managed to create a comedy routine that is perhaps the voice of San Francisco come to life, with her musing on the importance of brunch. She declares that she does not have time for “unconfident hoes” in routine she calls “Tits,” which is both a light-hearted look about how much men love boobs and a call to women to be unafraid to be smart, powerful, and sexy. But it’s more than the ability to incite laughs that earns Lydia the top spot on this list. In the last year she’s engaged crowds with stories of her love of Dolly Parton, who is perhaps an even better comparison than Minaj for Popovich given the pair's shared gift of gab. The moment that cemented Popovich as the top spot on this list for me was a show I hosted at Doc’s Lab the night before Christmas Eve, when she loudly declared “Fuck Elf on a Shelf!” a comedic calling out of passive-aggressive parenting and crass commercialism. She then proceeded to tell a story from her childhood about growing up poor and Mexican. From a lesser performer this could have been a schmaltzy tearjerker, but Lydia took the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotion talking about the annoyance of privileged white girls that got all the pound puppies and her own house without a Christmas tree. I laughed, I cried. Lydia is the queen. She has conquered.
Wonder Dave is a writer, performer and event organizer. He is the Host of Queer Burlesque Show Seduction Feroce and the co host of the Tourettes Without Regrets variety show and Story Showdown. You can find him online at WonderDave.org