By 8:02 p.m., the gathered crowd stretched a city block and a half. These 20somethings had ventured to Oakland to imbibe and take in the spectacle known as Tourettes Without Regrets.
On the first Thursday of every month, it happens at The Oakland Metro, 630 Third St. Is it stand-up comedy? Burlesque? Spoken word? Sideshow? Vaudeville?
Yep. Uh huh. Indeed. Of course. Positively.
Last month, I ventured inside the warehouse-esque space which by 8:35 was getting jammed full of folks and energy. The vibe said something crazy was going to happen. Or amazing. Perhaps both. Cray-mazing.
Glad-handing and gliding through the masses pre-show was the ringleader behind the cavalcade of hilarity and mayhem, Jamie DeWolf—looking and performing like a mash-up of P.T. Barnum, the Cat in the Hat and Ed Sullivan on absinthe.
“To me, it’s like a poisonous cocktail,” DeWolf said of putting together the show’s line-up. “I’ll tinker with it sometimes to the day of. The last show was really solid but needed more bite. I got the couple from Slave Labours. She uses a grinder on pennies made of steel and grinds sparks into this guy’s face until his cigarette lights off it.”
Every show is gleefully different though rap battles, beat-boxing and burlesque appear to be regular features. Of course, this isn’t your granddads’ burlesque.
A diorama of a ’50s housewife preparing dinner unfolded as the striptease morphed into a bloody abuse revenge fantasy—capped with a fake head being launched into the ravenous crowd.
“I want the audience to be hit in every direction—interactive anarchy. I try to keep it a mix of high art and low-brow comedy,” DeWolf said.
“A lot of people need to remember that Shakespeare basically had ‘Yo momma’ jokes in his shows.”
When not creating the most-eclectic live show in the Bay Area, DeWolf makes films—such as “Smoked” which has played the festival circuit—teaches writing workshops for school kids and produces on National Public Radio’s “Snap Judgment.”
“I’m a busy guy,” said the also great-grandson of L. Ron Hubbard (yes, that L. Ron Hubbard).
Tourettes Without Regrets has grown by word of mouth. Initially, it was performed in Vallejo and Benicia, before getting tossed out of venues—sometimes during a show. “We would move it to someone’s house,” DeWolf said. Based on the e-mail list passed around at shows, the crowd isn’t just Oakland but from all over the area: San Francisco, Sonoma, Fremont, San Jose, etc.
They arrive fired up and ready to be part of the action.
“I’m encouraging the audience to be as involved and rowdy as possible,” DeWolf said. “To people who haven’t seen the show, that can sound terrifying. They picture people running up on stage, ripping their clothes off and throwing chairs at them.”
Back in the day, it could descend there, but DeWolf is the key to keeping the show from getting completely out of control. In March, to keep the crowd on their toes and paying attention, he offered a free drink to the winner of a no-rules, trousers-around-the-ankles game of musical chairs.
A spit-take moment emerged when it came down to the final two and the music stopped playing. The heavy-set gent yanked the chair away just as a bespectacled female was plopping down upon it.
She landed flat on her derriere, and the two began to tussle, until she was able to wrestle the chair away and claim victory.
“She broke her glasses!” DeWolf howled.
During the show, I ran into one of the headliners, Oakland-based comic Caitlin Gill.
“Aw, Tourettes is the best,” she said. She recalled a time when the audience was a little tepid. So DeWolf took to the stage and had everyone face the person to their right, then screamed, “1, 2, 3, 4, I declare the thumb war!” Gill said the place exploded into a frenzy of school-yard thumb wrasslin’, and the energy was bursting through the roof for the rest of the show.
“I love that the word of mouth must be so confusing,” DeWolf said. “’They were grinding sparks into some dude’s face and this chick is eating this guy’s head and then there’s some really great, heartfelt poetry—then blood flying around!’ ‘What are you talking about?’”
Audience members sign up to take part in an open-mic contest where would-be stand-ups and poets spit their craft into the mic. In March, transgender comic Morgan won. There are also dirty haiku battles, circus acts and storytelling.
DeWolf tries to schedule things according to how tipsy audience members might be getting, thereby affecting their attention span.
“The parts they really need to pay attention to and are about lyricism are in the first half of the show, and it becomes more unhinged as the night goes,” he said.
DeWolf added that April shows tend to be on the “randy and zany” side, and the show on April 4 will include “Game of Thrones”-themed audience events. Visit facebook.com/TourettesWithoutRegrets for more info.
Corey Andrew has been interviewing comedians and writing about comedy for the last decade and a half. He recently 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 several 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.