Jean Bartlett


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Michael Bossier Then
Michael Bossier Now

Michael Bossier, a comic canary with an air tank
August 30, 2007
By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor

Michael Bossier is tall and smartly funny.  His family wanted him to be a lawyer.  But he has made it his business to: ‘Find, as an informed comic, the truth amid the noise and to remind, as many as possible, that the air is getting thin.’

Bossier grew up in Daly City, California.  He claims to be one of the first reversed bussing students.  (He attended Oceana High School in the neighboring coastal community of Pacifica.)  He likes to joke that he majored in ‘Library’ during high school.  Given his ability to rapid-fire impressive encyclopedic and literary patter in order to corral that stand-up trail-blazing punch line – the man deserves his diploma.

Q.  Your comedy beginnings came about as the official coffee pourer for San Francisco’s famous comedy troupe, The Committee.  What’s that about?

A.  I was in high school and someone said there was a place where there was a lot of political satire.  I had just finished “How To Talk Dirty And Influence People” by Lenny Bruce and had the bug for comedy.  I went to the club at age 15 and saw all these beautiful women onstage and as waitresses, and thought to myself, in the throngs of teenage lust: ‘I like these odds.  This could be me.’  I began to pour coffee as a volunteer which got me a Committee card.  This card allowed me to see all shows and ACT shows for free.

Q.  First time you did stand-up?  Where were you?  How did it go?

A.  I did stand-up twice, both times at The Holy City Zoo.  First time, I killed.  Second time, not laugh one.  Sometimes you can be too smart.  I went back to Improv; when you bomb, you bomb with others.  I also did not feel comfortable with the politics of being nice to a club owner who I knew was a prick.

Q.  You founded the comedy troupe Spaghetti Jam; share some details?

A.  The Committee had an offshoot called The Wing which performed on Monday nights.  The Wing split up and one part started at the Savoy.  The other part formed Improvisation Inc. with Cindy Kamler.  I was with Improv Inc. for about a year and a half and was cast from it into a show called “The Garrett,” which followed “P.S. Your Cat Is Dead” with Sal Mineo, which followed The Committee after they closed the doors.  So in strange karma like times, I took over from The Committee after they closed their doors.  Despite good reviews, we too closed and Improv Inc. banned me from the workspace.  I saw auditions for an Improv group named Black Box in the Fillmore district. Little did I know I was the only white person who showed up because it was an all black group which was founded by Mel Stewart (he played George Jefferson’s brother Henry on “All in the Family.”)  Another member of the cast was Danny Glover.  We performed in a black club called Minnies Can Do and I was the token white guy.  When Black Box broke up I had nowhere to play, so I went to the Spaghetti Factory (renowned now gone North Beach hot spot) and performed in a space in the backroom.  This is where I met Robin Williams who joined in.  I was also doing improv with Papaya Juice at the The Zoo and had my friends show up at the Spaghetti Factory.  I had an apartment at Green and Lombard where we would meet and party.  When everyone was toasted we would walk down the hill and the audience would be waiting for us.  We passed the hat, they seated themselves.  With the money we made with the donations we would buy more booze, go back up the hill with some audience members, and resume the party.

Q.  Who is funnier, you or your stage partner Debi Durst?

A.  Early on I heard an interview with George Burns who said that Gracie could make fun at him but not the other way around.  I realized that the audience liked to see us spar but it was easy for me to cross the line to cruelty but not visa versa.  Debi has no fear; I worry.  Debi reacts always in the now; I look at it like a chess match, always looking for the end game.  Debi has no in-deck editing; my mind is always three steps ahead.  Debi is always trying to one up me; I am trying to set her up for the joke.  The audience may say Debi is funnier but I am the structure, pace and tags.

Q.  Seeing you in action doing Improv, how do you keep so much information crammed in your brain and at the ready?

A.  I believe we, comedians, are the canaries in the coal mines.  We are bombarded with all media information: TV, radio, Internet, magazines, blogs, etc.  It is our job to digest three newspapers, subscribe to over twenty mags, surf the web, listen to the radio and read a book a week.  My nickname was Mr. Media because I had, still have, a thirst for: information, cutting edge trends and a love of music.

Q.  Have you ever thought of going on and/or taking on Jeopardy?

A.  I was on the Dating Game twice where I got my AFTRA card.  Chuck Barris appealed to out of work actors to go on the Gong Show and Dating Game.  I lost twice.

Q.  Who are your comedy theater heroes?

A.  Lenny Bruce, Nichols and May, Stan Freberg, The Firesign Theatre, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.  ‘Heroes’ is a strong word.  For instance I was working in a newsstand and Stan Freberg went to buy some mags.  They were: Cosmo, Juggs, Swank and Saga.  What could I say: “I love your work, by the way it’s $24.00 for your porno mags?”

Q.  Where has comedy taken you to?  What states, countries, islands, planets, clubs?

A.  I always say comedy allows us to go to places where other people go on vacation – and we get paid to go.  We have played: near the King Kamehameha Royal Baths in Kona, Hawaii; the Moulin Rouge in Paris; the Red Rose Comedy Club in London and the steps of a Mexican Restaurant in Fremont.  We have opened for Donovan; Santana and Larry Ellison.  We got $2,500 bucks for saying in 15 seconds: ‘Here is Larry Ellison.’  We have done Improv in front of 40,000 people in Golden Gate Park and not a single soul at a military base.  We had to do the show because of government regulations.  They could not pay us unless we performed.  It made no difference that no one showed.

Q.  Does your long-time partner, Kelly Lawton, still laugh at your jokes?

A.  After ten years, she does still laugh.  The thing about looking at life with a comic eye is that you can’t turn it off.  As my friend, the late Warren Thomas used to say: ‘I wake myself up in the middle of the night in a deep sleep and say – That’s Funny!’  For a partner, you need a like mind.  Kelly is funny and all my comedian friends have like-minded mates.

Q.  Having attended high school in Pacifica, California, is there anything you learned that you could only have learned in Pacifica?

A.  To drink at the beach, go to school and maintain.  Actually Oceana was on a modular whatever; so we had lots of free time.  This free time helped me to learn to question structure and authority.  Instead of history, we had jazz.  Instead of PE, we had library.  Instead of lunch, I drank.  That last one is good training for one who works in bars.  The more money the audience drinks, the happier the club owner is.

Q.  Do you miss the days when you used to stay up late and have ridiculously fun conversations with other working comics; or do you still do that?

A.  I used to have this image of comics saying pithy things in round table like George S. Kaufman, but like all things, life seems to take care of itself.  Yes, we still stay up late and riff and talk politics.  We don’t stay at bars after hours anymore, thanks MAAD, but 4 am is the new 2 am.  Now we have the joy of texting but I think I may be too old to do that and do MySpace.com.  Debi spends way too much time on MySpace.  I think MySpace is just an audition piece for NBC’s “To Catch a Predator.”

Q.  Among the famous whom you’ve met, who has surprised you?

A.  Jack Lemmon is what you would think he would be.  I used to think famous people were different but when you meet them you go out of your way to treat them normal and they respond as such.  We opened for George Carlin and I gave him a tape I had made of celebrity melt downs.  He called me the next day and left a 20 minute message thanking me and said he would mail me a tape as well.  Two days later my tape arrived.  I thought: ‘If Carlin can be so thoughtful and so gracious, that is the Gold Standard.

Q.  What comics today really make you laugh?

A.  Bill Hicks (dead); Mitch Hedberg (dead); Sam Kinison (dead); George Carlin (not dead); Dane Cook (not funny); and Carrot Top (creepy.)  I find it hard to watch comedy.  It’s like a football player watching a game: ‘Hey, he missed a tackle, he missed a block, he’s open goddamnit, does anybody see he’s open?’

Q.  What things are going on in the Bay Area that you would like to see change?

A.  Back in the day we fostered local comedy in clubs.  We could play in the Bay Area for three months and not repeat a club.  We had community.  There were: the Zoo comics; the Intersection comics; the Punch Line, Cobbs, Improv etc.  Today, although there are open mikes and one nights, Cobbs and Punch Line are owned by Clear Channel.  It is booked in LA and does not use local headliners, except on weekdays when the headliner only wants to do weekends.  Today’s comics are looking for that brass ring, TV, movies, book deals.  In the ‘day’ we were comics because we were the misfit toys; we really had no choice.  It made our parents laugh and made them pay attention, comedy chose us.  We were happy we had no 9 to 5 job.  We were happy if we could pay rent.  Everything else was gravy.

Q.  Dead or alive, who would you like to sit down with to give them a piece of your mind?

A.  I have been ranting about the Bush administration for the past 6 years.  Our worst fears have been realized.  I would like to go back to all those in Texas, Arizona, Florida and all the other Red states and say: ‘See, I wasn’t paranoid or deluded.  I was right.  I have seen history and its ebbs and flows, its moves to the left and right.  What do you have to say now or is it still don’t confuse me with the facts and your fuzzy math.’

Q.  You’ve got 5 minutes to send a powerful subliminal message to Congress.  Got a message?

A.  When you stand in front of a crowd of reporters and scream: ‘I’m not gay!’  You are.

Q.  Got a message for someone starting out in comedy?

A.  A comic Diane Ford had this advice to a mother who had a daughter interested in stand-up.  ‘Tell your daughter to get an abortion, have a few nervous breakdowns, get fucked over by a club owner and live without money for years and that’s just a start.’  The hardest thing in comedy is to develop a point of view.  It all begins from there.  You must have funny bones./p>

Q.  You get an offer to teach at MIT; what are you teaching?

A.  How to do comedy drunk – six packs not included.  If you learn drunk it’s easier sober.

Q.  Got any ideas for a drug that could help with world stupidity?

A.  Yeah.  It’s called money.