Comedian Dave Chappelle speaks at a news conference aimed at saving The Punch Line comedy club, which is facing eviction, at City Hall on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Comedians get serious about saving iconic SF comedy club

The Punch Line expected to lose its lease in August

Dave Chappelle joined local comedians and city officials Tuesday for a rally in support of the Punch Line Comedy Club, which faces displacement from its longtime home in downtown San Francisco.

Chappelle joined District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, CNN host and Emmy award-winning comedian W. Kamau Bell and local comedians Nato Green and Kaseem Bentley for a rally at City Hall on Tuesday morning.

With its lease set to expire in August, the Punch Line will be forced to vacate its 444 Battery St. location, where it has operated for nearly half a century, to make room for a new tech tenant. Peskin identified the tenant as Google. A company spokesman has not yet returned a call seeking comment.

“Why should people care? Because art is a very important part of life. I love music. Can you imagine life without music?” Chappelle told reporters. “It would be a miserable life right. But a life without laughter — I would die.”

The Punch Line helped launch the careers of big names in comedy including Robin Williams, Jon Stewart, Margaret Cho, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Schumer.

Chapelle said that he remembers performing at the Punch Line at the tender age of 18.

“I have seen people like Kamau become big stars out of that place …it’s one of the best clubs on earth,” he said, adding that the venue itself has “a warm vibe and very profound spirit.”

“It’s a storied room throughout standup comedy, people come from all over the country, even the world to play in that 200-seat room you have on Battery and Clay,” said Chappelle. “It’s a very sacred place for us.”

Local comedians stressed the importance of keeping Punch Line in place in a city that “is built on the arts.” Many said that the club provides a pathway into the comedy industry.

“We have Dave Chappelles and we also have people like me who are relatively unknown and all these other comics you see, the faces you don’t know, that’s the goal. It gives them a purpose to do this kind of thing,” said Bay Area comedian Chris Riggins. “Because once you get into that room and you have the respect of that room, it’s gold. It’s like platinum. You can’t do any better.”

Larry Dorsey, a San Francisco native and comedian, said that he has been a patron of the Punch Line for over a decade, worked there in his youth, and now performs at the club as a comedian.

“I used to get out of school, go to the library, read some books and then go to the Punch Line and take a nap in the green room and go to work,” said Dorsey. “People used to come [to San Francisco] for inspiration, for art, and now it’s slowly dying out, it’s becoming roboticized. Everything we stood for is romanticized.”

“People should be enraged, especially those who love arts and culture,” said comedian Kaseem Bentley. “The Punch Line is an institution that should be considered a landmark, but we might not get to see this happen since these soulless ghouls are kicking culture and history out of San Francisco.”

Repeated attempts to negotiate a new lease with the club’s landlords have been unsuccessful, according to staff in Peskin’s office.

“Displacement is not a laughing matter,” said Peskin, who announced that he plans to introduce interim zoning controls at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors hearing to “prevent the conversation of [the building’s] entertainment use to any other use as a matter of law.”

The interim controls, backed by supervisors Hillary Ronen, Ahsha Safai and Sandra Lee Fewer, require nine votes of approval to pass and would expire after 18 months.

The legislation is expected to be heard at the Board’s Land Use committee on June 3 before heading to the full Board for a vote on June 4. If approved, the interim controls would go “into law literally the next day,” said Peskin.

He added that his office is trying to have “reasonable conversations” with Morgan Stanley, “the company that owns that edifice.”

Morgan Stanley could not immediately be reached for comment.

Peskin also had a message for Google.

“Do no evil,” said Peskin. “Keep this institution in tact.”

On May 16, Peskin’s office nominated the Punch Line for The City’s Legacy Business program, which aims to preserve long standing businesses and institutions by providing business owners with financial benefits.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

This is a breaking news story and will be updated with additional information.

 

Comedian W. Kamau Bell speaks at a news conference aimed at saving The Punch Line comedy club, which is facing eviction, at City Hall on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Larry Dorsey Jr., a comedian and San Francisco native, holds a sign at a news conference aimed at saving The Punch Line comedy club, which is facing eviction, at City Hall on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Comedian Dave Chappelle steals the mic from comedian and activist Nato Green at a news conference aimed at saving The Punch Line comedy club, which is facing eviction, at City Hall on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supervisor Aaron Peskin speaks alongside comedian Dave Chappelle and other comics at a news conference aimed at saving The Punch Line comedy club, which is facing eviction, at City Hall on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Comedian Dave Chappelle, right, applauds as Supervisor Aaron Peskin speaks at a news conference aimed at saving The Punch Line comedy club, which is facing eviction, at City Hall on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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