Take a Leap: February Wrap-Up

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Grabs Is Gone, but the Profane Genius Lives On


Longtime Oakland Tribune crime reporter Harry Harris eulogizes Paul Grabowicz, 1/23/16.

As much of the world wrapped itself in the Santastic vibes of Christmas Eve 2015, word was traveling throughout the Bay Area’s once and future community of writers, journos and long-ago journos that Paul Grabowicz had passed away.

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The Year of the Mouth: KarenWorldUSA 2015 in Review

This year brought both change and more of the same to KarenWorld. It was a year in which free and felt experiences surpassed purchased happenings. We still went out at night, but we found ways to economize. And lucky for us, there was plenty of action.

It’s still unclear whether staying in was more a function of 2015’s financial realities or the fact that we — like Carrie Fisher, fine wines, the stinkiest cheeses and, frankly, pretty much every San Franciscan who leaves his/her apartment these days NOT in an Uber — are aging.

Our year started with Margaret Cho, headed into spring with the great Sandra Bernhard, rounded into fall with Cecile Richards and Hills testifying for all our lives in front of shiny, surly politicians and came to a close with a spoiled, bellicose brat who was born on third base, thinks he hit a triple and trades in wives, beliefs and hair-care products about once per decade.


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Screaming Queen Halloween: Keep SF Weird


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Her Mama’s Daughter: Cecile Richards Sits Down Before Mansplainers & Stands Up for Women

This Is How the President of Planned Parenthood Handled Men Interrupting Her for 5 Hours

It was a creepy spectacle. After a summer of bizarre anti-woman shenanigans and hoaxy, apparently horrifying videos, the leader of Planned Parenthood was summoned before an Congressional hearing in which mostly white men aggressively and rudely displayed their lack of understanding of even the basic outline of women’s lives.

On its face, the whole spectacle was worrying. But by the time it was over, Cecile Richards had made mincemeat of the anti-abortion, anti-ladyparts, anti-sex partisans who tried to bring down an organization that serves the underserved and stands as a last line of defense between women and their right to choose the lives they want.

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Sandra Bernhard Is the Sandra Bernhard of Earth: The Regency Ballroom, May 1, 2015

Sandra Bernhard. For TV.

La Bernhard in a (thankfully) rare public moment of not talking.

As David Letterman was winding down his decades of talk show hosting, Sandra Bernhard, a frequent guest especially during his early Late Night edition, was just winding up a new tour, “Sandra Bernhard Is #Blessed.”

Early in her surprisingly soulful set May 1 at the Regency Ballroom, La Bernhard went on one of her trademark meandering but riveting digressions about a recent trip to Prague; friends gushed about the city so much that she saved four days to take in what she now confidently says could have been done in an afternoon. This aside sequed into how wrong people are about travel, especially when they try to compare places to Paris.

“They say, ‘Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East.’ No, it’s not,” she retorts, in that inimitable blend of honesty and irritation. “Beirut is the Beirut of the Middle East. Paris is the Paris of France.”

The text on this ticket is a master of under statement.

“Possible” mature content? Um, this ticket is a master of understatement.

As I thought about what she said as she said it and the word “inimitable” in the above paragraph as I wrote it, it’s clear that Bernhard’s words aren’t just true about cities. They also apply to her. There is no one quite like her. I should know, because I’ve tried. Not necessarily overtly, and not with the intention of taking over her life. But I’ve appropriated aspects of her comic gaze and inflection over the years, in that way that we all soak up and reflect back those we admire and who inform our personalities and outlooks.

Letterman’s self-deprecation and embrace of oddballs, including the guy who lives under the bleachers. John Stewart’s deadpan in the face of bloviating. Tina Fey’s wordplay. Robin Williams’ manic, free-thinking references.

To this abbreviated list of comic stylings, I would add La Bernhard’s addition of that one extra detail, often a brand name, that takes a description from OK to outre, *just* over the top, along with a skewering embrace of celebrity culture that started decades before E inflicted the Kardashians on us or Joan Rivers asked “Who Are You Wearing?” In Bernhard’s world, her daughter’s heavy goth makeup doesn’t ruin the family’s towels, it ruins “Fieldcrest, Egyptian cotton” towels. And it’s funnier this way.

I’ve understood this aspect of comic timing and pacing for years but haven’t thought about it in a long time. Somehow, seeing her here, in front of an old-timey San Francisco audience — stylish gay couples, straight guys dragged by Bernhard-worshipping girlfriends, single ladies of a certain age (ahem!) who could have seen her with me 20 years ago at Bimbo’s — reminded me that we’re all appropriating something from someone all the time. Artists feed the culture, and the culture feeds on itself.

Bernhard’s voice has gotten stronger and sweeter over the years, but she can still bite with the ferocity that made her famous 40 years ago, morphing a heckle at late-arriving audience members into a totally on-point Baltimore joke, and warning newly rich San Franciscans not to get too wrapped up in the money — “Look what happened to me!”

As close as she would get to a tender moment — an authentic one, not Bridget Everett-style — came early in the show, when La Bernhard spotted comic legend Paul Mooney in the expensive seats. She effused lovingly and spontaneously about Mooney, a longtime collaborator of Richard Pryor’s perhaps best known to younger comedy audiences for his cameos on “Chappelle’s Show,” who discovered and championed her when she was still a teenage manicurist, doing nails during the day and lighting out for open mics at night. (I can’t be the only one in the room whose thoughts immediately turned to how Bill Cosby allegedly took advantage of young women in similar situations.) She warmly made him promise to come backstage after the show to chat, and the whole interchange warmed my heart, especially because I know Mooney has been pretty ill lately.

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In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Lamb: March 2015 in KarenWorldUSA

This month saw us Better Calling Saul, celebrating Bach in an Outer Sunset garden, celebrating life events and enduring unseasonably warm, globally weird weather.

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