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.