Comedian, TV Star & Local Legend Greg Proops

Updated: Mar 11, 2015 12:45
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A killer on Who’s Line is it Anyway, a voice actor on everything from The Nightmare before Christmas to Stripperella.  His glasses, tailored suit, and pompadour have been all over your television set since the 1980’s.  When he wasn’t doing Ugly Betty or Flight of the Concords, Greg was making people think and laugh liberally as a stand-up and podcaster.  Versatile and thoughtful, he’ll quote a Greek philosopher in one breath and sing a 1970’s punk ballad in the next.  He grew up in San Carlos, cut his comedy teeth at San Francisco State, and became a star in Los Angeles.  He is a walking historian of SF Comedy and nightlife; the bold, cocky, hilarious, local legend Greg Proops:
We here at like to show love to the people who make cities like San Francisco and New York special. The Local Legend series is our chance to hip you to some of the strange, brilliant, and unique folks who populate these towns and give them the character that people from around the world have come to love.

You grew up in the Bay Area (San Carlos)- what was the bay like in the 1970’s and 80’s?

 Groovy.We used to drive up to San Francisco and over the Bay to see bands and dig the mad culture. My gay friends moved to SF before me and it was a wild scene of art and music and drugs. I saw the Clash at the Temple Beautiful on Geary and Bo Diddley at the Hall in Burlingame. The People’s Temple and the assassination of Milk and Moscone was a terrible trauma. The atmosphere was permissive and there was a feeling everyone was in- women, gay, blacks,Latinos, Asians, Indians. Then Reagan stole the election and the poor were demonized. The up side was everything wasn’t completely corporatized and over valued so you could live within SF for a reasonable rent. My objection to now is every city is simply a playground for rich people. Gentrification never improves culture.

Any “very SF” stories about your days performing in small clubs here?

 Oy. Loads, baby. The Holy City Zoo was the smallest dank closet ever. Bob Rubin was bartender there. I did NY Eve 1988 there with Jeremy Kramer and Henriette Mantel and we made Jeremy close because we were too afraid. I was in a team with my partner Forrest Brakeman and we took out a bag of props and Jim Samuels who was the headliner turned and said, “Ah, props the death of wit.” There was a club in Colma so help me called Molloy’s and the Sunshine Saloon in Pleasanton where it was free and the crowd got mad if they shut down the pool table. My line was they serve beer in buckets because it requires an opposable thumb to hold a glass or bottle.
 The Holy City Zoo comedy club SF, 1983.  Photo credit Adam Chin

What was it like running around the city as a teenager back then?

Awesome and dangerous. We were often high in groups at concerts or taking acid watching planes take off at SFO. The City had many seamy, scary parts and lots of back room clubs and dance halls. We would go out dancing in the 80’s with undone suspenders and loads of jewelry, wearing a used tux coat. Thank god I was thin  and sexy.

Did you ever get in trouble?

Only by being a douche. I have one rule. Never go to jail. I was mugged but I was drunk and singing so…

What was the comedy scene like when you started, what’s it like now?

Then there were 10 full time clubs within an hour of the city. we did open mikes every weeknight. At one point there were four full-time clubs in SF. Busy as hell. Jake Johansen, Milt Abel, Warren Thomas, Sue Murhy, Paula Pounstone, Bobby Slayton, Jeremy Kramer,Tom Rhodes, Dana Gould, Tom Kenny, Bobcat, Robin, Will and Debi Durst- shit was on fire. Now I think it is great so many little rooms, comics like Joe Klocek are holding it down.

Favorite Comedians right now?

TJ Miller, Jen Kirkman, I just saw Aparna Nancherla and she was tremendous. I love Jackie Kashian and Alsion Rosen on the podcast end. Matt Gourley and Supergo is worth listening to.

Favorite restaurant or bar in SF (any era)

The Old Tosca was quite good. Sinatra and opera on the jukebox. The brandy cappuccinos. In the old days the Chi-Chi on Broadway had a horseshoe-shaped bar and a lovely owner named Miss Keiko. I love Greens for lunch. La Taqueria for carne asada tacos. Slanted Door for hangover lunch. Mijito for carnitas. Taqueria La Cumbre for carne asada burritos. Dodges on Union had the best bacon. The Pier Head near where the ballpark is now was a real dive. I had a vey wild birthday there in ’85. Arts Cafe on Irving the best cheap pancakes and eggs in the world. The Pork Store on Haight was my saturday breakfast place for years. Leon’s Ribs on Fillmore was grand now long gone as is Do-City on Divis. Brandy Ho for the ham with garlic cloves. Tommy’s Joint for brisket and a beer. Lefty O’Douls for the photos. Mabuhay Gardens was hotbed of punk. We used to play the Old Savoy Tivoli on Grant Ave in the 70’s and 80’s. Broken glass on the filthy carpeted stage. Jukebox with the Clash and reggae in the bar. I had some fine underage birthdays there.

Chi-Chi Club on Broadway matchbox.  Photo credit flickr. 

First job in the city?

Handing out flyers at the BART station on Market Street. Then it was do I eat or buy smokes? I worked in a law office as a schmendrick (yiddish for a ‘stupid person’). I parked cars at Julius Castle. I sold tschotsckes at Red Peppers on Union, Polk, Clement, Noe and the Cannery. I temped at the Art Institute in some cold ass room.
Julius Castle was a great big fancy restaurant just bellow Coit Tower. Photo credit Henry Stern

Your Podcast is called Greg Proops Smartest Man in the World.  How’d you come up with that name and is there a lot of pressure being the smartest man in the world?

Phil Beauman told me to take questions and brook no dissent. He gave me the name cause of my snarky attitude. None at all it comes easily to me. I am joking.

Has the nature of comedy on television changed?

It is not as important now because of the phone and inter web. We are all free agents now and more the better. This is a comedy boom time. Podcatsing and videos are the way we get it on now.

You performed with Wayne Brady on “Whose Line is it Anyway“, is he more like his character on “The Wayne Brady Show” or on the “Chapelle Show” in real life?

A sassy mix. He is amazingly talented and funny and a big old show-off.

What’s your new book “The Smartest Book In The World” about?

About 300 pages. Art theft, feminists, baseball, baseball and Alexander the Great. Oh and that Cheney is the devil.

Any stories about the legendary City Lights bookstore?

My wife worked there for years. She got to meet Ginsberg, Jerry Brown and Lawrence Ferlinghetti who is a brave and loving soul. He told her he saw Lenny Bruce fly out the window of the apartment building across the street on Broadway. It is the stanchion of free thinking lit and poetry in the Bay Area. A must visit for anyone seeking knowledge and fun. Then go to Vesuvios or Specs for a belt.

How does the bay compare NOW to back THEN?

Too much belief in the rich and powerful then and now. Then it was the society types and their opera and symphony, now it is the IT types and their lack of sophistication and self-awareness and the delusion that technology makes you an interesting individual.

Favorite thing to do in the City?

Dinner with my wife at our favorite joints. Getting high outside The Punchline with friends.

Upcoming Greg Proops Dates in the city

The Infinite Monkey Cage at the Palace of Fine Arts on Friday the 13th.

Book Reading at McRoskey Mattress Factory in SF Thursday, May 21, 2015

Live Podcast at The Punchline May 26th

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor and co-owner of this little expiriment. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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