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Talkies Comedy Variety Show Returns for Unmuted, In-Person Laughs

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A Halloween-themed Talkies at the Little Roxie. (Red Scott)

As comedian George Chen explains it, Talkies is a show that only could have started in San Francisco. Nearly a decade ago, Chen and fellow comedian Anna Seregina organized the first Talkies, a curious blend of live comedy and overhead projectors born out of the variety show’s first home at Artists’ Television Access.

“Because it was at ATA, we were like, ‘Oh we should probably also do film and other stuff like that,’” Chen remembers. The show became a monthly fixture in Lost Weekend Video’s basement (RIP), bringing together a group of comics, performance artists, video-makers and acts like Sad Vicious, “San Jose’s most hated band.”

“It’s sort of a show that was birthed out of very little stakes,” Chen says. “In the basement of a video store or ATA, you already know you’re getting something freaky when you go into those places.”

Somehow, to Chen’s own surprise, the show keeps going, despite the fact that the majority of its original organizers have moved to Los Angeles (he among them). It even persisted on Zoom and Twitch through the pandemic with the help of producer Will Scovill. Now, on Oct. 20, Talkies reemerges in physical space with a live show at Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco.

Throughout, Talkies has been less about straight stand-up and more about characters, multimedia presentations (PowerPoint decks galore) and video art that, as Chen describes, was “very funny for the art world.”

The Oct. 20 ‘bustin out of Zoom’ lineup.

The upcoming show is hosted by Chen, Nick Stargu (who kept Talkies going at the Roxie and All Out Comedy Theater after Chen’s 2015 move south), Aviva Siegel and Land Smith-Abbinante. Special guests include Kaseem Bentley, Jay Shingle, Amy Compeau and Mikey Walz; and the night’s AV presentations include short films by Kate Rhoades, Sad Vicious (Scott Vermeire and Steuart Pittman) and Cyrus Ghahremani.

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What should audiences expect as Talkies returns to face an in-person crowd? “I think one great thing about Talkies is that I don’t even know what people are going to be doing,” Chen says, characterizing what he does know as “shenanigans.” “There’s definitely going to be some stuff that other people have not even tried before.”

Chen himself hasn’t been on stage since March of 2020. “It’s very strange,” he says, describing the upcoming show as not so much a return to normalcy, but more like a starting from scratch. “It’s going to be a little weird for me, I think. Weird in a good way.”

Talkies: Live Comedy and Short Films will take place at Cobb’s Comedy Club (915 Columbus Ave., San Francisco) on Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 8pm. Tickets here.

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