Tickle your funny bone with new comedy series in Danville
By Lou Fancher
It’s funny how often the backstories of stand-up comedians are knockdown, sit-down unfunny. Scholars of humor profess that sad and silly ride the rails in close proximity.
What is it that makes a person be able to suffer addiction, divorce, financial or physical disaster, PTSD, and other traumas and come out laughing?
Some cowboys of crying-to-cackling are even capable of making us less funny folks find the ha-ha amid life’s hardest hits. Those pioneering comedians are coming to the Tri-Valley on a monthly basis, courtesy of Bay Area comedian Liz Grant and her new series Comedy with Liz Grant and Friends.
The once-a-month stand-up showcase debuts Sept. 14 at Danville’s Village Theatre with headliner Anthony Hill and comedians Ben Feldman, Mean Dave and Adam Pearlstein.
“It’s a sample platter,” says Grant. “Everyone is likable and there are no insult comics.”
Which isn’t to say there’s no comedic edge: Grant says Hill is animated to near goofy; Feldman an excellent writer whose sly and dry wit is delivered deadpan but kicks up lively response. Mean Dave offers generous absurdity but withholds his surname and Pearlstein’s style is self-described as “contrarian punchdown.”
Grant’s resume includes stints alongside Robin Williams and Dana Carvey at San Francisco’s now-closed Green Room Comedy Club and other local venues and writing in the early 2000s for George Carlin’s Laugh.com.
The San Lorenzo native had an unusual childhood. “My parents were hippies. Until the third grade, I didn’t even know my name was Elizabeth — or how to spell it,” she says. “I went to a school where there were no grades. Chee Chee was what I was called. I found out at a summer Spanish camp when I told the teacher my name that it meant ‘boobs.’”
Despite the topsy-turvy lifestyle, Grant says she is grateful for the freedom afforded to her and her brother.
“One time my brother said, ‘I want to bake something.’ We didn’t even know what we were doing and couldn’t get it out of the pan when it was done, but mom let us do it.”
Her father, she says, is hilarious and a terrific storyteller. “He has the best laugh. I think I wanted his attention as a child: I’d do stories with big characters and he’d laugh and laugh.”
Other moments in Grant’s life weren’t as funny: Drug and alcohol addiction that started at age 14 and was kicked at 21—she’s been clean for 25 years — and hardships caused by being a smart kid, but a student distracted from academics by genetics, ADHD and a mind that races, not always along predictable tracks.
At San Lorenzo High School, Grant was voted class clown and homecoming queen in the same year. “I did ridiculous things and was disruptive, but it would usually be funny. I won a talent show back then and didn’t even know it was an option to go into comedy as a profession.”
Instead, she became a licensed massage therapist, among other part-time occupations. She opened and ran for seven years the InnerCalm Massage Center in Pleasanton. “I was competitive, I had ego. I wanted to train employees to do massage like I do.”
All along, she developed shows and performed standup. Her one-woman show, “Deja Wince: Lessons From A Failed Relationship Expert,” ran for 23 weeks in San Francisco. Material from her newest show, “Massage Cop,” will be included in the Laugh On series.
Her motivations for starting the series and presenting it in Danville are varied. “It’s a way to establish a network of comics. Talent comes up from L.A. and there’s so much talent here in the Bay Area. Comedy belongs in theaters and we’re limited on venues. I have tons of friends in Danville and I’m moving (from San Francisco) to the area.”
Grant is at her best when improvising with an audience, which means she’ll use taro-like cards. Expecting repeat audiences but not wanting to repeat material, she’ll have people pull the comedy cards, then riff on the topics.
“Live comedy should be like tightrope walking: a customized, once-only experience that people have to return to the next month because it will never be the same.”