Andrew Orolfo Is Optimistic

S.F. is nearly 40 percent Asian, but Asian-Americans are few and far between in the underground comedy scene.

Local comedian Andrew Orolfo says the Bay Area’s comedy scene is going strong. (Photo: Red Scott)

“The comedy scene right now is blossoming,” Andrew Orolfo says. “I think that it’s better than ever. It’s insane how good it is right now. If your social media game is tight, you can have a sold-out show every night.”

That an underground, amateur-friendly creative scene is booming is an uncommon narrative in the Bay Area right now. Tech wealth and gentrification are pushing artists out of their homes and studios, across the country to cheaper rents and lower costs of living. But, according to this local comedian, there’s no better time to be doing stand-up in the Bay Area.

He should know, as he’s been doing it for years, starting with a fateful “yes” he gave an old manager at a skate shop, who asked if he wanted to tag along at an open-mic night at Tommy T’s Comedy Club in Pleasanton.

“I went up there and did terrible, but I thought it was so fun,” Orolfo says.

From there he was hooked. He started watching other people’s sets and listening to albums, researching their styles. In the beginning, he drew influence from Demetri Martin, Pete Holmes, Nate Bargatze, and Rex Navarrete — the latter in part because he’s also Filipino-American.

That’s rare. While several Asian women have made it big in comedy, including Margaret Cho and Ali Wong, it’s still rare to catch an Asian man on a comedy stage. Even in San Francisco, where the population is 36-percent Asian, Orolfo says he’s usually the only Asian man — and often the only Asian person, period — on the lineup.

“I’m usually one of the only ones, or maybe one of two,” he says. “There’s not too many of us in the Bay Area, which is weird.”

For some, it would be tempting to capitalize on this, choosing jokes about the Asian-American experience to set one apart from the crowd. Orolfo does do some of this — “when you have this face and you rock this hair people just assume you have a sword,” he jokes, referencing his top knot-inspired man bun. But his witty, deadpan style doesn’t depend on it, and while he’ll touch on it in a long set, it doesn’t define his work.

“I don’t stay away from it, but I don’t go for it just because I’m the only person there,” Orolfo says about Asian-themed jokes. “But I can do it, because the other ethnicities on the lineup can’t.”

 

While Orolfo is often the only Asian-American man on the comedy stage, in recent years he’s partnered up with comedian Irene Tu. Tu’s had her own fame: She made KQED’s 2016 Women to Watch list and was profiled in the Chronicle the following year.

“She’s one of my best friends,” Orolfo says. “We started a weekly show in Oakland together three years ago, and it’s still going.” Each Monday at 8 p.m. the duo host Comedy x Pop Up Food at Starline Social Club, which Orolfo says brings in a “really cool, very diverse crowd.”

While some beloved comedy venues — like The Dark Room on Mission Street, and the basement of Lost Weekend Video — have closed in recent years, Orolfo says there’s no shortage of spots to perform. But despite having a solid underground scene, S.F. is still missing the opportunity to keep the big names. Orolfo, as his career picks up, is eyeing the scenes in L.A. or New York, plotting his next move.

“Right now people have to get out to make it in the bigger pond,” he says.

But in the meantime, the Bay Area is a good place to start. And if you’re a budding comedian, just “find the open mics, do them as much as you can, and be kind to everybody,” Orolfo says.

You can find Andrew Orolfo at Comedy x Pop Up Food at Starline Social Club, 2236 MLK Way in Oakland every Monday at 8 p.m., and at Cobbs Comedy Club this Saturday, May 4, at 7:30  and 9:45 p.m.

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