Editor's Note: Due to illness, Joel McHale will not be appearing at the "Stand Up Sonoma" event on Jan. 4. See story here.
Since catastrophic wildfires swept the North Bay in October, benefit concerts to aid fire victims have become a regular occurrence at venues all over the region.
But Jacob Totz, lead brewer at the Russian River Brewing Co. pub in downtown Santa Rosa thought fire-weary locals might appreciate a bit of humor as well.
“I wanted to have a comedy benefit for the fire victims. I thought it would be a unique way to raise money,” Totz said. “People could use a laugh.”
There should be enough laughs for everyone at “Stand Up Sonoma: A Comedy Benefit,” starring six nationally known comedians, Thursday, Jan. 4, at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
The lineup includes Joel McHale of the hit NBC comedy series “Community,” Nick Kroll of “The League” on FX, Nikki Glaser of Comedy Central’s “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser,” Kyle Kinane of the Netflix series “Love,” Chris D’Elia of NBC’s “Whitney” and Chris Porter, finalist on season four of “Last Comic Standing.”
“Since I know Chris Porter, I reached out to him first,” Totz said. “And the manager at the Russian River pub, Michael Deas, knows Joel McHale and reached out to Joel, who said he was totally on board. From there, it snowballed into this huge thing. The idea didn’t start out this big. That’s for sure.”
Porter, a professional comedian whose 15-year career includes his own Comedy Central special, vividly remembers meeting Totz while performing at the Punch Line Comedy Club in San Francisco a few years ago.
Totz was in the audience and caught the comedian’s eye while wearing a sweatshirt bearing the trademark for Pliny the Elder, one of Russian River’s most popular beers.
“I just stopped the show. I was like ‘Yo, where did you get that sweatshirt and how much Pliny do you have to drink to get one? Because I think I’m there!’ ” Porter said.
For a beer buff like the Kansas-born Porter, Pliny was worth five minutes of easy improv material.
“You know, Russian River beers are not that easy to get your hands on, especially in Los Angeles, where they limit to like, two. It’s like the Holy Grail. I just started goin’ off on how hard it is to find and how a friend turned me on to it.”
After the show, Totz introduced himself to Porter as a maker of Pliny or “one of the angels who brew it,” as the comedian put it.
“I got to know Chris, just from going to his shows and giving him beer,” Totz said. “So when the idea for this show came up, he was the first one to say yes.”
Aided by event coordinators Stephanie Valdivia and Jackie Tompkins, Totz linked up with a couple of nonprofits and booked the event at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
“This event makes sense at the Luther Burbank Center, since it was damaged by the fires, too,” Totz said.
Proceeds will go to Sonoma Pride Fundraiser and King Ridge Foundation, which directly help those in Sonoma County affected by the October wildfires. Additionally, a portion of ticket proceeds will go to Luther Burbank Center for the Arts Fire Recovery Fund.
Porter is modest about his role in the show, which features a rare collection of top TV comics in a single show.
“I’m the least famous person on the list. I don’t think you’re going to see a lineup like this anywhere near Santa Rosa in the next few years, unless they start having some kind of comedy Bonnaroo festival up there,” the comedian said.
“To see Joel McHale or Chris D’Elia or Nick Kroll alone, those are $50 tickets a piece,” Porter said. “You can see them all for a lot less than that would cost, and you can drink the greatest beer in the world. Oh, I know the VIP seats cost more, but hey, if you want to be important it costs money.”
The “Stand Up Sonoma” event will also feature a Community Happy Hour before the 8 p.m. show, beginning at 6:30 p.m., with local beer and wine available for purchase.
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @danarts.