Dave Chappelle is a hot ticket in this and every city. But, this morning, anyone walking in the vicinity of City Hall could catch him for free.
The comedian was this morning’s headliner at a press conference announcing legislation from Supervisor Aaron Peskin to potentially keep seminal comedy club Punchline from being forced out of its Battery Street location by Morgan Stanley, which owns the building. Also taking the mic today were fellow comedians W. Kamau Bell and Nato Green, with other comedy-club veterans filling in the City Hall steps and toting “Save Punchline SF” signs.
Local media outlets swarmed the scene with their camera equipment and notebooks at the ready, waiting for Chappelle to do his a.m. set.
The Punchline “was the place I was at when I found out I was having my first kid; every important milestone in my life kind of went through this city, through that club,” Chappelle said.
“It’d be like burning down the Louvre,” he continued. “That room is special, and I don’t think it would take much to save it.”
Passersby, who looked puzzled as to what the press conference was actually for, whipped out their phones and captured the moment.
This is the closest I got to getting a picture w/ Dave Chappelle today. Us & a bunch of other comics (led by @natogreen), politicians, & workers came out to protest the yanking of @punchlinesf‘s lease by some tech company. The Punch has been there over 40 years. #savethepunchline pic.twitter.com/9Y5TfC475S
— W. Kamau Bell (@wkamaubell) May 21, 2019
Before the media frenzy and before the impassioned pleas to save a comedic institution, Bell was there early. Dressed in jeans and a black sweater, he emerged from the Civic Center BART station around 10:15 and headed upstairs. He took a seat on the City Hall steps next to those grand, intricately designed doorways and waited for the show to start.
As Bell bided his time, a small procession of men wearing dark blue suits strutted across the street. A woman, wearing a cream white dress and holding a colorful floral bouquet, was in the center of this blue suit huddle. It was just another normal day at City Hall.
“I have too many memories of the Punchline,” Bell told Mission Local as brides and grooms ambled past. “I’ve hung out there until the sun came up.”
Now a successful comedian in his own right, Bell remembered opening up at the Punchline for notables such as Margaret Cho, and witnessing veteran comedian and comedy writer Paul Mooney “alienate white people there.”
The Punchline was, and still is, a place of respite for comedians. “From ’97 to 2012, that was one of the rooms in my house,” Bell said. Club staff like Steve Stout, whom Bell mentioned by name, served everyone with generous doses of hospitality. “He’ll be out of a job if the club closes.”
Peskin later told the crowd that Google is the possible next tenant for the Punchline space, which is owned by Morgan Stanley. “I want to say to Google, ‘really, really do no evil.’ We’d like to do this with honey and not with vinegar, so we are hopeful that those talks will be fruitful.”
On May 16, Punchline was nominated as a legacy business, which provides some securities for “longstanding, community-serving businesses.” Peskin further announced he is today putting forth a measure that would limit the Punchline site’s use to entertainment purposes only .
After the unusual press conference concluded, the city’s comedy and political communities took highly coveted selfies with Dave Chappelle. It was a win-win situation.