Comedians including W. Kamau Bell and Dave Chappelle rallied with city officials including supervisors Ahsha Safai, Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton and Matt Haney and City Administrator Naomi Kelly in May to call for efforst to save The Punch Line Comedy Club from closure. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Comedy club signs new lease ensuring its survival at current location

The Punch Line, once threatened with eviction by August, granted legacy business status

UPDATED 6:15 p.m.: The Punch Line Comedy Club has signed a sublease with Google that will enable the beloved comedy club to remain at its 444 Battery St. home, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Details of the lease agreement remain unclear. Supporters of the Punch Line, including Supervisor Aaron Peskin, were seeking a 10-year commitment to keep the club in place.

After being threatened with the loss of the club’s lease this spring, a Punch Line representative said earlier on Monday that management was “optimistic” about ongoing negotiations with its landlord and Google — which is leasing parts of the building — over a possible lease extension.

The Punch Line’s lease was set to expire in August, and the San Francisco Examiner previously reported that the building’s owner, Morgan Stanley, was unwilling to negotiate an extension at the time. The club’s supporters feared that its impending displacement would come as a result of Google moving in.

“We’re excited that the Punch Line will remain our neighbor and a vibrant part of the Bay Area community for years to come,” said a spokesperson for Google in a statement on Monday.

On Monday afternoon, the club was granted legacy business status through a city program that aims to preserve independent, locally-owned and long-running San Francisco businesses by providing financial incentives for property owners who agree to 10-year-lease extensions. State law does not allow restrictions on commercial leases.

The status is granted to businesses nominated by a city supervisor that meet certain criteria, including having operated in The City for 30 years or longer.

In the Punch Line’s legacy business application, Peskin, who nominated the club for the designation, indicated that the legacy status “will provide an additional basis for its ongoing success at its current, original location, as well as peace of mind for the longtime employees.”

Peskin, whose office facilitated the negotiations, in May introduced interim zoning controls to temporarily prevent the building’s conversion from entertainment use to another use, such as office space, for a total of 18 months.

“Displacement is no laughing matter, and we’re committed to ensuring that the Punch Line remains in its home, with a minimum ten-year lease/sublease,” said Peskin in a statement to the Examiner on Monday. “The unanimous passage of the Punch Line Preservation Act got the attention of the appropriate parties, and today we celebrated the approval of the Punch Line’s Legacy Business status, another tool to help in the lease negotiations. I’m confident that we’ll have good news to report very soon.”

The Punch Line, operated by Live Nation Worldwide Inc., is The City’s longest running comedy club, featuring shows at least six nights a week for the past 40 years.

“I don’t know how to explain to you what a comedy clubs means to a comic — it’s a cathedral, a classroom, an incubator, it’s so many things,” said Comedian Will Durst, at Monday’s Small Business Commission hearing on the Punch Line’s legacy application. “It’s a public utility of this town, it’s not just a comedy club.”

Local comedian Nato Green called the Punch Line a “community and a home.”

“We have been through marriages and divorces, addiction and recovery, all of that stuff,” said Green. “This club has the kind of juju that comics talk about that lives in the walls, that can’t be reproduced, fabricated or conjured up — it has to grow authentically.”

The Punch Line has been operating at its current location since 1978, and has hosted and helped launch the careers of a number of prominent comedians including Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Ellen Degeneres, Wanda Sykes, Drew Carey, Chris Rock, Zach Galifianakis, Ali Wong, Amy Schumer, W. Kamau Bell and Dave Chappelle.

In May, Chappelle was among those calling on Google and the Punch Line’s landlord to work with the club’s management on a lease extension. Chappelle said he first performed at the club at age 18.

In response to public outcry, Google confirmed in a statement published in May that it had leased a space inside 444 Battery St., nextdoor to the Punch Line, and that rather than displacing it, the tech giant planned to join the fight to save it.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information from a club spokesperson.

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