Monthly comedy shows launched at Santa Rosa’s Epicenter
Since it opened in December 2016, Epicenter has built a reputation as Santa Rosa's biggest indoor sports and entertainment complex, consisting of an arcade, soccer, bowling, a trampoline center, laser tag and restaurant. Now it's become the latest hotspot in Sonoma County for insightful, diverse and clever comedians.
“Epic Friday Night Comedy” was introduced last month and continues Friday, Oct. 19, with three up-and-comers looking to follow a strong start: the energetic stylings of Chey Bell, the reflective and relatable Chris Riggins, along with multi-talented headliner, Butch Escobar.
The new series began Sept. 14, when local comic, Jacob Bernie, a resident of Ukiah, hosted the event at Epicenter under his Total Bern Productions brand, where he also DJs and MCs for weddings, school events and parties. He couldn't have asked for a better turnout.
“People were so receptive,” said Bernie. “There was 74. We had 13 days to sell tickets, and we packed the room. It was so uplifting to host and create this show for Epicenter.”
Bernie has been doing comedy for 20 years, at places like Konocti Harbor Inn and Punch Line Sacramento. He started Total Bern Productions in January, and with a successful show at Epicenter to his credit, will be producing monthly standup shows there.
Known for his trademark angry rants, Escobar is an actor, performer and writer who recently had a video go viral on his YouTube channel, which had more than 500,000 views in two weeks. Having now done three shows with Bernie, he's come to appreciate his style.
“He's one of the nicest guys I've ever met,” said Escobar in a phone interview. “I'm stoked to be his friend and work for him. It's been a great relationship.”
Bernie believes in giving his comics a “red carpet treatment,” and only asking two things in return: First, for them to perform at their highest level. Second, to call the three best comedians they know and tell them about this experience. The best part, it's working.
The Crow's Nest in Fort Bragg is where one of Bernie's original production ideas took off, and when “North Coast Comedy” was born. He's also excited about a venue in Calistoga at Lincoln Avenue Brewery and hopes to do a free show for last year's wildfire victims.
As a “Santa Rosa boy,” Bernie says, watching it suffer through the fires was difficult. It's part of why a show at Epicenter feels so special.
“It's very surreal because I'm a Santa Rosa native,” said Bernie. “I had many friends who lost everything in Coffey Park. It's a way to participate in the healing of the area.”
Bernie says he wouldn't have gotten into comedy if it wasn't for his early years as a recovering addict. He's now 23 years clean but will always remember being told by a sponsor that he had potential to be funny, but his behavior was irritating.
“He encouraged me to tone down the behavior,” said Bernie, “and start writing [down] the things I thought were funny instead of always trying to perform - like every minute of the day.” Soon after, he started entering competitions, participating in open mics and doing what he could to get involved.
While his wife was in graduate school, Bernie took a hiatus from comedy to work full-time. He was eventually asked to do a show for his recovery fellowship in the Grants Pass area, which led to sets in Mendocino and Sonoma County.
Several producers have influenced and mentored Bernie, including Casey Williams from Sally Tomatoes, Jon Lehre at Double Decker Lanes and Steve Ausburne, Andrew Batson and Cody Smit, who've all pushed him to create excellent rooms and have helped him connect with top comics.
“I'm a big fan of Total Bern Productions,” said Escobar, “and every show I've ever done for him has been magnificent.”
As for the other featured acts, there's Riggins, who's very first time on stage was opening for Dave Chappelle. His ability to relate and find humor in life's everyday struggles should pair well with the third comedian, Bell, known for her brutal honesty and cleverness.
Escobar said Bell is amazing to watch, and Riggins is one of the best comedians on his way up in the Bay Area. “I hope Chris goes as hard and as good as he can,” said Escobar, “because I'm going to go harder, and I'm going to go better. The audience is going to love every moment of it.”