If you're going to have a long-running, successful showcase and want to ensure you remain a part of it, a smart thing to do would be to incorpore your name into the act.
Hence, the Romane Event, a variety show-turned-comics’-showcase, is celebrating its seventh anniversary at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28, at the Makeout Room in San Francisco.
Paco Romane, voted Best Comedian by the Bay Guardian, has been putting the “crazy underground show” together since its inception. The filmmaker/actor/comedian also works with longtime SF sketch comedy troupe Killing My Lobster, who will be part of the anniversary show.
Also appearing are comics Ben Kolina, Kaseem Bentley, Erin Judge, Joe Tobin, headliner Joe Klocek and host (and “Godfather of San Francisco Comedy”) Tony Sparks.
I called Paco to get the low-down on the anniversary and how he’s made Wednesday nights consistently funnier for the last six-plus years.
Corey Andrew: So are you like the Master of Ceremonies -- sit back on a throne?
Paco Romane: Mostly, I have guys who carry me around, feed me grapes. I go up and do a 15-minute set in the middle of the lineup. I’ve given myself the best spot in the lineup. The last six years, I’ve had to take the bullet and go first — get everybody warmed up. Whenever you go first, you end up saying, ‘Are you guys ready for your show? Let’s bring up the first comedian,’ like you’re not a comedian.
Corey: Right. You just ended up being there; thought you’d go up.
Paco: I just wandered in, thought I’d introduce things. Of course, all my friends get there right after my set. ‘We never get to see you!’ All right, I’m gonna move myself forward in the lineup.
Corey: How did you build the lineup for the anniversary show?
Paco: They’re all my friends. There are certain people you keep in your back pocket for bigger shows, like Joe Klocek and Joe Tobin, two of my favorites, and Tony Sparks and Kaseem. If there’s people visiting from New York or L.A., they usually want to drop in and do a set, too. I try to keep a spot open for those kinds of folks. I send out a yearly, ‘Do you wanna be booked in my show?’ e-mail, and then I put people on the calendar as they give me their availability.
Corey: Do you like to mix up the styles?
Paco: I do. Seven years ago, this was one of only two other comedy shows outside of the Punchline and Cobb’s in the Bay Area. There was nothing. There was kind of a 15-comic-death-march-to-the-sea kind of show and then Brainwash, which was open mic, and then my show. I always saw the 15 comics thing. That just sucks.
I started my show as kind of a variety show with sketch and film and stand-up and music, about four to five acts. You don’t want to tire out the crowd. They’ve had a few beers; they want to go home. You don’t want to keep them there and make them suffer through 10 more comedians.
Corey: What’s the secret to making a Wednesday night funny?
Paco: The lineup. How you book them. Where you put them in the set. You’ve got to have a crescendo. You gotta have a new person who’s funny open it up. Maybe they’re not as polished. Then you increase the polish as you go up through the lineup to your headliner. But you also have to make it a party.
My philosophy always is, if the audience isn’t having fun, nobody’s gonna have a good show. So many promoters, it’s more about themselves and getting their friends a set. I added a deejay playing fun music.
I’m always there at the door, saying ‘Hi,’ finding people seats. I would go up there as the host and be as monkey-dancey as possible—basically make people feel like they’ve come to something special on this random Wednesday night in the Mission. Next month you want them to be like, ‘Man, you’ve got to come with me. I went to this crazy underground comedy show; it was so much fun!’
Corey: What was that first show like?
Paco: My first show was crazy. It was Brent Weinbach, Moshe Kasher, Will Durst and Killing My Lobster. Brent and Mosher are geniuses, and, of course, Killing My Lobster and Will Durst are great — not that all my shows have been like that.
I had an illusionist who couldn’t figure out or finish any of his magic tricks. I’ve had some real clunkers.
Back in the day, I used to stand in the back with the deejay and go, ‘Is anybody gonna come in tonight?’ I come out of sketch comedy. I was with Second City for a long time. I was with Killing My Lobster for a long time. I’d always have 20-30 people on average at my show, which I thought was low, because I was comin’ out of these theatres. Come to find out, five paying people at a comedy show can be a pretty good night.
Corey: I think you’re going about it the smart way, by building it as an event and growing that reputation.
Paco: Yeah, it’s called the Romane Event. It’s got my name in it, and people are also like, ‘It says event!’ A long time ago I would not always have just comedy. I would have a band. I would have a yo-yo champion once in a while, bringing in some yo-yo people, just to mix it up. San Francisco audiences are so smart.
It’s hard for them to sit and be kind of entertained. You’ve got to shoot bullets at their feet a little bit and make them dance. Over the years I’ve gotten better stand-up acts, so I’ve become more of a stand-up showcase.
Corey: You’ve had a variety of acts; is there any act you refused to book? ‘OK, yo-yos, but no ventriloquists!’
Paco: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. To be honest, I’ve never booked a ventriloquist. I booked a guy who did card tricks, and the Makeout Room is super dark. Nobody could see his cards. The best thing about it, he didn’t get phased by it. He was like, ‘That was amazing!’ ‘Nobody could see your tricks!’ That’s why there’s not many variety shows in the Bay Area. There aren’t that many top-notch variety acts. There’s only so many fire dancers.
Visit pacoromane.com for more information about the Romane Event.
Corey Andrew has been interviewing comedians and writing about comedy for the last decade and a half. In 2011, he published the book, “Laugh Lines: Conversations with Comedians.” Corey was a writer and performer with Midwest sketch troupe The NonProphets before moving to the Bay Area with his family a few years ago. If you have ideas for future columns about comedy, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/coreywrites.