“Lighten up, everybody, the Old Rube is here!”
Those words will sound out onstage this week, auguring a set of wacky mind-tickling standup comedy at the Punch Line above San Francisco’s Battery Street.
The performer is Bob Rubin, a tall, bearded native of West Virginia who lives in Los Angeles, and is returning to the venerable venue which granted him his first open mic spot in 1983, and later in the decade featured him arguably more frequently than any other comic.
He won’t be among the last to play before a previously anticipated closure of The City’s oldest continuous full-time comedy club. In May, the club announced it had lost its Battery Street lease, yet, after plentiful publicity, has extended it, a publicist for Live Nation, which operates it, said on Tuesday.
In an interview a few days after his gig last month at The Hearth in San Francisco, Rubin lamented the dimming of the comedy scene after its last golden age in the Bay Area, in the 1980s and ‘90s.
“Some people think it was because there was too much comedy on TV, where you were going to be exposed to comedy that was just not that interesting,” he offers. “And a lot of the clubs folded because they weren’t curating the comedy properly.”
Performers who developed at The Punch Line and went on to wider fame include Dana Carvey, Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres, Sarah Silverman and Robin Williams.
Even after he moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles at the end of 1993, Rubin got called back regularly by the club: “They would fly me up and put me up,” he says. “They would always have good people working, the staff and the management, and to this day, there’s a good feeling when you walk in. Maybe now they think about me, he’s a crazy old man, but it’s still a sweet room, and that’s the sad part about it closing.”
A regular bit in Rubin’s early act drew on his origins as a Jew raised in West Virginia. “One joke everybody liked was, as a Jewish hillbilly, I wasn’t circumcised; the rabbi just whittled on me a little bit. In grade school, I was already the class clown, but I had some finesse, using non sequiturs and all kinds of things.”
He started college at West Virginia University, where he “just majored in smoking pot,” went on to study communication and perform original comedy material at the University of Arizona, and then relocated to San Francisco, whose reputed “flower power” had fascinated him since childhood.
“At the height of the comedy explosion, there were 10 full-time comedy clubs in the Bay Area, and about 30 one-nighters,” Rubin recalls. Like many struggling standups, he had to work odd day jobs before making night moves around the Bay with his many comic colleagues.
“We had a great social scene, and everybody would eventually make their way back to the Holy City Zoo,” a small, spunky club on Clement Street. Those who could rise early were rewarded with an opportunity to trade quips and promote their gigs on Alex Bennett’s radio show.
Rubin jokes onstage about how his relocation to the Southland put him under the watch of “the Hollywood cops,” who demand that you “put down your hopes and step away from your
But he’s still holding on, with a Netflix special due out late this year or next. It’s produced by another member of his old Punch Line gang, Patton Oswalt.
IF YOU GO
Where: Punch Line, 444 Battery St., S.F.,
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $18.50 to $21.50
Contact: (415) 397-7573, www.punchlinecomedyclub.com