Not too long ago, Nato Green found himself onstage at the Punch Line, cracking jokes and having a blast with two of his favorite comics — pretty basic stuff, except everyone involved was shirtless.
Going bare-chested is normally outside the comfort zone for the San Francisco native, but Green says the Punch Line is a special kind of venue that allows comics to take risks.
“The staff, the bookers, the management — they all want the local comics to succeed and do well,” says Green. “There are other places where I go, and if I push myself and do something crazy, I’m thinking I might not be welcomed back. For a comic, you need to try new things and grow into the form, and the Punch Line is such a welcoming place to do that.”
In the volatile world of comedy, having a place to comfortably hone your craft is crucial. So it was understandable that Green was heartbroken when he heard in May that the Punch Line, in its Battery Street location for 40 years, was facing eviction.
“It was a shock to everyone — and no one came out and said why the lease was being terminated,” says Green. “It just felt another one of these unending goodbyes; it’s like every beloved institution in this city is leaving.”
Fortunately, Green knows how to navigate the wooly environs of San Francisco politics — a scene perhaps even more bare-knuckled than the comedy world — and he used his connections to help rescue the venerated venue.
Soon after learning of the impending demise, Green called Sunny Angulo, a longtime comedy patron and aide to Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes the club.
Angulo and Peskin devised a plan to introduce an interim zoning ordinance, which prevented the building from being used for any purpose other than live entertainment, while pushing the Punch Line to retain Legacy Business status in San Francisco, which would give it access to public funding and support.
Peskin — whose knowledge of the planning code “goes beyond what is healthy for any human being,” according to Green — also brought up the fact that, because the club is situated next to a privately-owned public space, any height addition to the site would be scrutinized by the full Board of Supervisors due to potential shadowing effects. That added another barrier to any proposal to change the space.
Finally, Peskin and Green helped organize a rally at City Hall, which had the good fortune of including the world’s most famous comedian.
“Dave Chappelle just happened to be at the Punch Line the night before the rally was planned,” says Green. “When he heard it was closing, he became upset and immediately wanted to help out.”
The confluence of events helped the primary players — building owner Morgan Stanley; Live Nation, which operates the club; and Google, which had plans to rent out the new site — hash out a long-term lease to allow the Punch Line to stay at Battery Street indefinitely. The day the lease was announced, the club also received its Legacy Business status, further cementing its future in San Francisco.
On, Wednesday, Green and Punch Line regulars Emily Heller, Guy Branum, Sheng Wang, Amy Miller and Karinda Dobbins are celebrating their victory with a blowout comedy special, appropriately titled “A New Lease on Laughs.”
“The Punch Line has always been a home for people who had no homes,” says Green. “I think we’re all proud that we could come together to save this great place.”
IF YOU GO
A New Lease on Laughs
Where: Punch Line, 444 Battery Street, S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Contact: (415) 397-7573, www.punchlinecomedyclub.com