Slayton Says: A Candid Conversation With Comedian Bobby Slayton On Our 40th Anniversary
Bobby Slayton: (Picks Up Phone) You're 3 minutes late. It's 2:03. If you're 3 minutes late every day, eventually that's over 20 minutes late a week which is over 1,000 minutes a year that you wasted of my time. I'm a busy guy. I don't have time to waste.
That's actually the abbreviated version of how the infamously sharp-tongued comedian answered the phone. There was no attempt at a compulsory greeting. He was immediately (and hilariously) ranting, raving and calling me out on my tardiness. Slayton is one of the few comics that was both around at Punch Line's inception in 1978, and who has routinely performed here yearly since. Taking his lead, I didn't even attempt to slow things down and introduce myself. I just played along...
Ronn Vigh: So, is this why you're known as "The Pitbull of Comedy?"
BS: Well, Alex Bennett came up with that. He was a big SF radio guy in the 80s and 90s. He really was the first guy in the country to have comics on the radio and I was the first guy. Then one day, I lost the radio station a big account they had with McDonalds because I made an innocuous little joke about them. Who even knows what it was. That was when Bennett told me, "Slayton, you're like a pitbull. You bite the hand that feeds you." It just stuck.
RV: And, so you've been--------
BS: I don't really like it anymore. I told my people to take it off my website. So, what are we doing here? What's this for anyway?
RV: Well, this is for Punch Line San Francisco's comedy blog. Since you're hosting our 40th anniversary celebration shows, I really wanted to get the chance to talk to you comic-to-comic and hear about the early days of our beloved club and how things have progressed or regressed over the last 40 years.
BS: Yea, well when it started, the place was a real dump! There was a big club just next door - The Old Waldorf. Where the Punch Line is now was kind of the back stage area when there was a show. It was a beat up shitty bar with a big pool table. One Embarcadero wasn't even built yet, there wasn't action downtown, it was pretty dead. Jon Fox started doing comedy there first and he used me a lot and Bruce Balm, George Wallace, Elayne Boosler, we were allcoming up and around then.... but it wasn't a nice place. I was kind of embarrassed.
RV: We're you simply living in the moment and doing gigs at the club because they were available to you? Or, did you recognize early on that the place was a diamond in the rough?
BS: Yea.... I had started doing comedy about a year before that and was kind of the house MC. I was so embarrassed by the joint. There were plastic sheets nailed to the ceiling, old beat up couches with nails coming out of the side, the microphone was mounted from the ceiling and would fall down during the show. The place was a fucking wreck. The guy running the place was such a cheap fuck. So, I went out and bought movie posters, posters of old time comics and tried to make it look decent. When Bill Graham took it over, he finally put some money into it.
RV: I technically started comedy in New York. However, Punch Line has been highly influential in my development as a comic during the 2000's. It sounds like it was both the infancy of your career and the club when you were performing here regularly. How do you think it has influenced your career?
BS: When Old Waldorf was next door, they were paying like 25 or 50 dollars a set at both places and Dana Carvey, Kevin Pollak and I worked the rooms the most. You would go up before the band, then over to the Punch Line and back to the band and then back to the club for the late show. By the last show, between the booze and probably the coke too, I'd be on my ninth set and forgot what the hell I talked about already. But, that's what got me good.... getting a lot of stage time. It was kill or be killed. It was really very good training!
RV: So, your career has spanned 4 decades. Being the "Pitbull of Comedy" that you are, have you found it harder or easier to do your act in more recent years?
BS: It's really much harder now. You think at this point audiences would be better trained but the attention span of millennials is that of a fucking fly.
RV: Yes but with the current political and social climate, do you think people tend to have more knee-jerk reactions rather than just listening to the material as a whole?
BS: All they hear are buzzwords. Holocaust. Autism. AIDS. Then they are quick to judge and get all caught up in a fucking bandwagon. As far as I'm concerned, if you can't name any of The Beatles then you should be dead. And then the millennials will complain, "Oh well The Beatles were before my time." It's like fuck you! George Washington was before my time and I still know that he's on the fucking one dollar bill.
RV: Do you think social media and sites like YouTube have ruined the live stand-up comedy experience?
BS: I never liked social media. I tweet once a week and I lose followers once a week. I don't give a shit anymore. The whole game has changed. You had guys like (Don) Rickles and dozens of comics in the 60s who would go on stage in 3 or 4 piece suits, jacket and ties... Now it wouldn't even matter. Everyone is a slob, in dirty shorts. Flip flops. It's disgusting now. It was a different time, a different era.
RV: In all 40 years, what are your best memories of performing at Punch Line?
BS: Robin Williams stopping by all the time and a lot of hot waitresses.
RV: I've heard stories of Robin popping in a lot. Though, I've also heard this club referred to as "The House That Bobby Built."
BS: You know where that comes from, right?
RV: Um. (Long Pause) I'm afraid to tell you no.
BS: Didn't you say you were from the fucking East Coast? It comes from Babe Ruth. Yankee Stadium. The house that Ruth built. Listen, I don't know if I contributed that much to the long term success. I was certainly a part of it and so was Dana Carvey, Kevin Pollak, Jon Fox, Bill Graham. It really was a big group effort.
It will certainly be a group effort again as we celebrate our 40th anniversary throughout October. Bobby Slayton is coming back to MC a series of shows featuring comics that have helped shape our club throughout its 40 years of serving up live comedy.
Bobby Slayton & Friends 40th Anniversary Celebration At Punch Line San Francisco on Oct 11, 12, 13. One show Thursday. 2 Shows on Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $25 - $30.