This article in partnership with Seeso. You get it.
Waiting in line to get into Big Jay Oakerson’s “What’s Your F@%king Deal?!” show in North Beach, a very blond girl walking by the venue turned to her friend and asked, “What do you think Doc’s Lab issssssss?” Good question! In fact, Doc’s Lab was, until pretty recently, the Purple Onion, a San Francisco institution that had been in the space for over half a century—Phyllis Diller got her start at the Purple Onion, and Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, and Richard Pryor all played there, among many other comedic luminaries. Zach Galifianakis recorded a hilarious special there in 2005 that I used to watch fairly compulsively. So the place has a lot of history to it, and, being the curmudgeon that I am, I was ready to decry the loss of another beloved SF institution.
But here’s the thing: Doc’s Lab is a beautiful space, and whoever gave it a facelift managed to retain the intimate feel of the Purple Onion—and, even more importantly, they kept it as a comedy club (that also has live jazz!). Pictures of Chris Rock and Larry David hang on the walls. The lighting is cool and sexy, like some sophisticated comedy burlesque house. It’s so nice, in fact, that when I met Ardie Fuqua, Big Jay’s co-host for “What’s Your F@%king Deal?!”, he swiped through a bunch of photos on his phone he had taken of him there—“you can’t take a bad picture in this place!,” he exclaimed.
This, in fact, is not 100 percent accurate. I had told Ardie that I was photographing the show for Splitsider and Seeso, and he, quite naturally, assumed that I was an actual photographer. So when he called me over a few minutes later to take a few shots of him with some fans, I sheepishly told him that I was “just some journalist with an iPhone,” which was probably unnecessarily confessional. My pictures were really mediocre. Ardie didn’t ask for my help again.
I asked around about the format for the show and I soon found out that “What’s Your F@%king Deal?!” is not your normal comedy showcase where an emcee (Big Jay in this specific case) introduces a bunch of individual comics who then do their well-rehearsed bits. No: this show is all “crowd work”—that is, entirely devoted to interaction with, and likely the skewering of, audience members. Now, I have a real fear of being singled out by comics, because they are by their nature a pretty quick and witty bunch, fueled by enough self-loathing to really zero in on a person’s weaknesses and then exploit them to the fullest. I once saw the great comic Dan St. Germain (a buddy: full disclosure) fucking eviscerate someone who wouldn’t stop talking during a show in Denver, and the only time I’ve seen a woman shrink into herself more rapidly was when Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin which newspapers she read regularly.
So! I was pretty nervous about the whole crowd work thing, both because I feared being singled out, and because it can get pretty rough. But what I didn’t expect was (1) how good-natured Big Jay, Ardie, Joe DeRosa, Matt McCarthy, et al. were with the audience members, and (2) how many of them seemed to want to bait the comics. I mean, the audience (with a bunch of Kaiser employees, tech bros, and a few guys in the front who were so tough that the comics didn’t even really seem to want to make fun of them) was just asking for it, to the recurring surprise of the comics on stage. And that was great, because it made the show that much funnier, —even better! — and took any possible attention away from me, drinking beer in the corner.
Safely ensconced in a room full of masochists, I got to enjoy Big Jay et al. going to town on these aforementioned audience members. A nice-looking couple in the front row got it pretty bad. The man was almost entirely bald; the result, Jay surmised, of his fiancée pulling his hair out during coitus. A very clean-cut couple (the man came to a comedy show in a polo shirt and boat shoes!) was extensively interrogated about whether they ever engaged in the dark arts of anal-digital-foreplay (not likely, haha); a very pretty woman was accused of “trying to ugly it up” with a “Joni Mitchell look” (works for me!); a more copious man named Corey in a sleeveless Andrew Bogut jersey was consistently singled out by the comics on stage because he was a copious man named Corey in a sleeveless Andrew Bogut jersey. I laughed, I photo’d, I got out of the building before I had to explain to the whole crowd that I was a journalist covering the event for Seeso, which sounds like a drug I’m not cool enough to have tried yet. All in all, I consider that a successful night.