Comedians detailing their bullying experiences is pretty well-mined territory. The usual story covers a brainy, cerebral young adolescent getting the shit beat out of them by some ogre, only for said antagonist to find their just comeuppance in the end (that’s basically the plot for every 80s film, and why there are like, nine Revenge of the Nerds movies.)
But at the Swedish American Hall on Friday night, a set of five comedians (and one lucky audience member) gave a surprisingly empathetic and self-reflective take on the theme of bullying. The comics were gathered for the anthology project “Porchlight: A Storytelling Series,” a recurring event in SF Sketchfest, which celebrated its first full night on Friday.
Each of the five comics spoke for roughly 10 minutes about their own personal experiences with bullying, eliciting laughs, groans and fair amount of knowing, sympathetic sighs from a fully-engaged crowd at the venue.
Bryan Safi, a comedy writer and actor, started the night by describing his miserable experiences aboard an Alaskan cruise ship with his nemesis, a vapid, self-obsessed traveler named Rebecca, who, we later learn, was trying to rebound from a painful divorce. Comic Marcella Arguello followed with an awkward tale of rejecting her then-closeted friend’s romantic advances and podcast host Josh Gondelman closed out the first set with a hilarious yarn about being bullied by a bizarre wedding DJ, who insisted on performing in character as Michael Jackson (at no one’s insistence.)
Even the amateurs got into the spirit of the cathartic night. After getting his name pulled out of a hat, a lucky dude named Spencer spun a funny little bit about being forgotten at Universal Studios by his family, only to exact his revenge by sabotaging their chances at going on the Backdraft ride (yep — Universal at one time had a attraction featuring that unforgettable firefighting movie starring Alec Baldwin’s little brother.)
The highlight of the night was Errin Hayes dramatic retelling of a disastrous experience at one of her friend’s wedding. Hayes, who the night before took part in the premiere of Medical Police, an upcoming show on Netflix, discussed how she ignored her friend’s advice on a certain dress, and as cosmic revenge, she was stricken with unwanted menstrual developments, exacerbated by the humid conditions of a New Orleans summer night and her lack of undergarments. Not sure what the moral of the story was, but Hayes’ committed, animated retelling had the crowd reeling in laughter.
Comedy legend Bobcat Goldthwait closed out the night, entertaining the attendees with a trademark display of his frantic, shifty stage energy. He talked about getting publicly shamed by Jerry Seinfeld (a comic he has little love for), while also revealing cringe worthy stories about calling Bill Cosby a rapist (an accurate, if unsubstantiated claim at the time), and horrifying a Chicago audience with a terrible Michael Jordan joke (it involved patricide.)
Goldthwait’s reflective tales — he admitted the requisite amount of guilt — were an apt closer for the night. Human relationships are complicated — we get bullied and sometimes we are the bully. Friday night proved that the best way to suss out those intricacies is to talk it all out. The more stories we tell, the less clichéd those stories about bullies become.