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Atomic Comic: Masterful Clowns, Sweet to the Core

Updated: Jul 06, 2023 09:56
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Sara Toby Moore, photographed by Chutney Giggleswig

You wouldn’t think a show about surviving cancer would be a riot, but in the hands of a clown, it most certainly is. Sara Toby Moore’s Atomic Comic is a glorious mess of masterful stupidity, but with a sweetness to its core.

Before I say any more, let me clear something up. If the mention of clowns immediately makes you think of It or John Wayne Gacy, think again. There are many types of clowning, the least popular of which is the classic whiteface birthday clown (at least in San Francisco). Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were clowns; Sacha Baron Cohen is a modern clown (a bouffon, to be precise). The notion that “clowns are scary” is not only outdated, it’s also uninformed, something that is addressed cleverly throughout the show. Movies like It have taught us that clowns look a certain way and that you should be afraid of them, but clowning is all around us in ways we don’t always recognize. It’s a skill like any other, and it takes training and mastery to be good at it. And the cast of Atomic Comic is very good at it.

A fantastically energetic supporting cast lends a lightness to the piece. L-R: Colin Johnson, Sara Toby Moore, DeMarcello Funes. Photo: Kenna Lindsay



The show has many facets and frequently oscillates between farcical, high-energy skits and soulful reflection. It’s a show that you will want to sit back and let wash over you. Characters appear and disappear, show up on screens hidden in suitcases or projected overhead. Are they real, or all inside Toby’s imagination? It’s never totally clear, but it doesn’t need to be. Ordinary things are transformed into a goofy fantasy world, just like Toby takes cancer and tries to flip it on its head to find the humor in it (somehow even chemotherapy is hilarious).

Sharon Shao shines as the clown-phobic social worker. Photo: Kenna Lindsay


Atomic Comic is exactly the weird San Francisco shit that everyone says they want, but not everyone makes the effort to support. So go support it! The show plays June 30, July 1, and July 6- 8, 2023, 8pm at Z Space. You can get tickets here.

Genie Cartier is a San Francisco native with a background in Chinese acrobatics and aerial rope training. Her new solo show “the Curve” premiered in January 2023 as part of a residency at San Francisco Circus Center, and will play at the San Francisco Fringe Festival in 2023.

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Genie Cartier is a San Francisco native. She graduated from UCLA with a BA in English/ Creative Writing and earned an MFA in Creative Writing/ Poetry from SFSU. Check out her novella Fog City Summer on this website. When not writing, she is also a professional circus performer of 24 years and will be directing Dark Side of the Circus, a circus choreographed to Pink Floyd, in April 2020. Find out more at