.Make ’Em Laugh

The best things in life are funny at Comedy Oakland

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Who doesn’t love a good laugh?

East Bay readers have loved more than a few good laughs at Comedy Oakland, recently voted “Best Comedy Night” for the seventh time.

Samson Koletkar founded Comedy Oakland in 2009. “We don’t call it a comedy club,” he said. “It’s a comedy show run by comedians.” He should know. A successful stand-up comic himself, he continues to perform across North America, and while collecting his own yucks from the audience, keeps an eye out for performers who would be a good fit for Comedy Oakland.

That’s because Comedy Oakland has its own specific vibe. “I have always focused on making our performances audience—and comedian—friendly.” At home inside the Washington Inn, the two shows on Friday and two on Saturday are staged in a dedicated room, with good lighting, a good sound system, and as few distractions for the comics as possible, a far cry from noisy bars, cafes, and other pop-up venues.

There’s no two-drink minimum, the check-in experience is seamless, parking is easy, and audience members can relax in an atmosphere that provides entertainment, fun, food and drinks from the Inn if they want them—and comedy that appeals to a following who like their jokes smart. Also, no heckling, and, according to the website, “No Alpacas.” (It’s well known alpacas have no sense of humor.)

It’s also easy to exchange tickets, if something comes up and you can’t make a show. As long as a patron notifies Comedy Oakland before a show, they will receive a full refund. “If the person was not able to get in touch, we send a follow-up email, letting them know they can use their purchase for a future show,” Koletkar explains.

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Back in 2009, Koletkar said, there were no regular local comedy shows in Oakland. So when he started Comedy Oakland, “Oakland pride kicked in,” he said. Now patrons come from all over the Bay Area, drawn by the excellent reviews. “Our audiences have followed us through five venues,” he said. “They must like us.”

He relies on his own observations to book comics, along with referrals from comics who appear regularly in his shows. Some are booked because he knows, based on their sets, that their take will resonate with his audiences. A quick check of Comedy Oakland’s website shows a wide range of comic personas. “It’s fascinating to hear from people who come from completely different backgrounds,” he said, even if, in the end, most of what’s funny comes from “human experience.”

“I thought that idea was unique to me,” he said. “But…apparently not.”

Diversity embraces more than just skin color, gender, and sexual orientation. Even a line-up of mostly white male comics, all of whom come from different backgrounds, is going to produce completely different takes on subjects, he said. In the Bay Area, we sometimes get too fixated on visual diversity while missing out on topical diversity, he quipped.

And no topic is off limits. “It’s how you do the jokes that makes all the difference,” he said. One of his own comedy mentors told him, “Punch up, not down.”

“The audience will let you know if it isn’t working,” he said. “As comedians, we are listening. Silence is the worst response.”

There’s not a lot of silence at Comedy Oakland shows. “Comedy Oakland is hilarious!” wrote one audience reviewer. “It’s worth the price and the atmosphere is perfect for an awesome time! Drinks and food are good too! The new location has great service and a super-friendly staff!”

One audience favorite event will make a return before the end of the year, Koletkar said. Pre-pandemic, every Saturday featured a “Comedy Machine” show, which was competitive, with audience members voting their favorites forward, and a winner finally emerging. As people continue to return to live performance, and crowds grow, he foresees “Comedy Machine” will be back on stage by September.

Meanwhile, although Koletkar said he can’t recall the first joke he ever told, funny must run in the family, he recalls his daughter’s first joke at three years old:

“My dad’s name is Samson. He tells jokes at night. I call him Samsonite.”

Bada bing!

Comedy Oakland, 495 10th St., Oakland (inside the Washington Inn). (510) 214-2626, ComedyOakland.com. Shows Fridays, 7:30 pm and 9:45 pm, Saturdays, 7 pm and 9:30 pm (and Thursdays 8pm starting in September).

Use code EBX for a 20% discount on tickets.

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