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Will Durst talks comedy, his new show and the staying power of Trump jokes

Durst is yet to come

The Will Durst Comedy show plays at the Sebastiani Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Time: 7 p.m.

Tickets: $20 at the door or tinyurl.com/y9r3hg6p

Address: 476 1st St E, Sonoma.

Will Durst is the iconic Bay Area comedian, performing steadily in the San Francisco area and beyond since 1981 – over 35 years of one-night stands and, occasionally, steady gigs. His forte has long been political humor, which must mean he’s in hog heaven these days.

But wait, not so fast: we talked with Durst about his upcoming Nov. 16 show at the Sebastiani Theatre, and found that beneath the one-liners and setups, there’s one very concerned individual.

Which is no reason not to laugh.

IT: Do you look forward coming to Sonoma?

WD: It’s a target destination for me, because that is my demographic, it’s people who read or know someone who does. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy doing theaters now instead of comedy clubs, because I moved out of the comedy clubs. I aged out. The kids just stare at me like, “Why is this bitter old man lecturing me?”

But theater audiences have a tradition, a track record of listening to the words, and have a willingness to wait for the immediate gratification.

How have the venues have changed over the years?

I moved to San Francisco in ’79, and started doing comedy. The audiences were different. It was almost like verbal jazz that they came out to hear, and the comics were outcasts and misfits and hexagonal pegs that did not fit into square holes. There was no money in it and it was just this love.

Then the club owners realized, “Hey, I don’t have to make money at the door. I can make money by selling 200 $4 Coronas.” Now of course they’re $8. So, they just started handing out free passes to the comedy clubs. That happened about ’87, ’88, and it really knocked down the quality of the audiences. Because they had nothing invested in the show.

Did you find it harder to find work in a period like that?

There was so much work. That’s the other thing that happened. There was so much work, because cable kind of created the comedy club. Cable TV was in its embryonic (stage of) mass strangulation of the country in terms of entertainment, and they discovered how cheap it was to produce stand-up comedy. As opposed to music, they didn’t have to pay music fees and they didn’t have to pay writers, because comics were self-contained. So, they discovered how cheap it was to produce, and comedy clubs started becoming ubiquitous after that.

The last two cities in America to get a stand-up comedy club were the last two cities in America to get cable in their town, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

You’re from Milwaukee, aren’t you?

Right, when I left Milwaukee, there were three towns where you could earn a living (as a comic). Well, make money, not actually earn a living, but they were Chicago, Boston and San Francisco. I’m not a big fan of Chicago because I’m from Milwaukee, and they look down upon us, so I returned the favor. Boston had winter and I had just gone through the winter of ’79, so I chose San Francisco by design and serendipity. My comedy kind of fit with the San Francisco attitude. I caught the crest of the comedy wave, so I was lucky in many, many, many ways.

Durst is yet to come

The Will Durst Comedy show plays at the Sebastiani Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Time: 7 p.m.

Tickets: $20 at the door or tinyurl.com/y9r3hg6p

Address: 476 1st St E, Sonoma.

Well, you’re funny too, so that helps.

I know funny. I’m not that funny. I don’t have funny bones. I have a script. I have to write it out. You know? But I’ve been onstage for 45 years, so now I know a couple of tricks when I’m onstage to make it sound like it’s colloquial and I just thought of it just then, but I have a script. I’m a writer who performs, I think is what I am.

Do you try it out somewhere? Do you go to some secret club in Pacifica and work out your show?

No, but I do a show every Tuesday at a theater in San Francisco called the Marsh. And I started doing this show in April. The show is much changed since then.

We’re talking about the show you’re bringing to Sonoma, right? “Durst Case Scenario”?

Right. It’s just me for 90 minutes with an overhead projector. Two years ago I did “LSD to OMG,” and last year was “Elect to Laugh.”

Well, we got more than we bargained for, didn’t we?

It’s funny because in 2012, on election night we had a TV onstage and Obama was re-elected and there was cake and champagne and it was kind of a party atmosphere.

So we did the same thing in 2016. I did an updated show, a revamped show, you know, brand-new characters. On election night we figured Hillary was going to get elected, so we had a TV onstage, cake and champagne ... The cake went uneaten, the champagne went undrank. People did not pay any attention to me. They were staring at the screen, and I knew ... People left the show weeping.

Certainly the new President is a good source for material, but is there a point Donald Trump stops being funny?

I started doing Trump material as soon as he was elected, even during the campaign, but I focused on him after he was elected. I was working in December and January and February, and I used to get a laugh on this line. And the line is, “People say Trump must be a gift from comedy heaven.” Well, yeah, but no. How do you parody a parody? “Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” That’s the joke. And I used to get laughs at that. And now I don’t get laughs.

“Donald Trump is president.” That’s like saying, “Pope Charlie Sheen.” So I do find jokes. It’s weird, people are seeking ... I get people coming up after the show saying, “Thank you.” I never got a “thank you” before. I said funny stuff, but I didn’t get “thank you.” I mean, this is almost therapeutic.

The name of your show this year is “Durst Case Scenario.” Any parting words on your worst case scenario?

Here’s my prediction. Two years of great material, two years of running and hiding, and eight to 10 years of re-education camp in Montana.

Email Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.