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Even Liberals Aren’t Safe From Francesca Fiorentini’s Political Punchlines

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Bay Area-raised comedian Francesca Fiorentini performs at SF Sketchfest Jan. 27 and 28.  (Brendan Colthurst)

Comedian and journalist Francesca Fiorentini will always refer to her hometown of Palo Alto as “Shallow Alto.” If she tries, she may remember it fondly for being a Peninsula town with great affinity for The Grateful Dead or the occasional Jerry Rice or Joe Montana sighting. But she can’t separate it from its modern persona — a Silicon Valley avatar for tech-fueled excess.

Fiorentini started her 15-year stand-up comedy journey in an unlikely locale, Argentina, but the veteran jokester cultivated her voice on the Bay Area stand-up scene for the better part of the last decade. In addition, she honed it as the host of her viral AJ+ show, the Emmy-shortlisted Newsbroke.

After listening to hundreds of hours of her weekly comedy podcast The Bitchuation Room, which launched in October 2018, this writer noticed she’s not as outwardly enthusiastic about representing the Bay Area as many of us creatives from San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose. Which led to the inquiry, is it difficult for the Menlo-Atherton High School alumna to throw down for the Peninsula?

“It’s beautiful,” Fiorentini tells KQED. “It’s probably the best weather in the country wasted on some of the worst people in the country. Is that repping enough? I love my mom. Is that repping enough? I love public schools down there, I rep that.”

Fiorentini will soon return home for the annual comedy festival SF Sketchfest, which kicks off on Jan. 18 and continues through Feb. 4. She’ll host a Bitchuation Room live show on Jan. 28 at San Francisco’s Gateway Theatre with comic and labor organizer Nato Green, Emma Vigeland (The Majority Report) and Miles Gray (The Daily Zeitgeist). And Fiorentini and Green will perform political stand-up alongside Karinda Dobbins and Dhaya Lakshminarayanan on Jan. 27 for a night dubbed “Cornpops and Space Lasers” at the Lost Church.

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Fiorentini’s always been a multi-hyphenate at the intersections of journalism and comedy. After Newsbroke dissolved, The Bitchuation Room became her independent follow-up project, adopted into the audio space. Losing AJ+’s stability opened her path to work on a special MSNBC show and contribute to National Geographic. She previously battled with the idea of only talking about politics seriously and keeping a separate social media account for her irreverent and silly side, before settling firmly against it. Fiorentini asserts that four years of a Donald Trump White House proved that decision right, and so have three years of our rebound President Joe Biden.

“We need lots of information with high doses of humor,” says Fiorentini. “Otherwise, it is all too bleak and miserable, and the people who can do both at the same time are true treasures. Like me. I am a treasure — come to my show.”

 

Fiorentini embraces the idea of challenging her audience, and she affirms it’s necessary to keep complacent liberals — the kind she grew up and lives around — from taking important rights for granted. “That out-of-touch liberal mindset I find even more offensive sometimes because yeah, the right might believe in Q[Anon], but at least they believe in something,” she says.

When it comes to covering the right, “it’s important to laugh in the face of absolute impunity and corruption,” she says. “You kinda gotta laugh because you don’t want them to have the last laugh.”

Presidents come and go. While there is and should be a place to make fun of those in power, after the boom of The Daily Show-style programming from a wide array of popular comics like Samantha Bee, Jim Jefferies and Hasan Minhaj, it’s almost low-hanging fruit at this point. Fiorentini believes comedy requires more than grains of truth; it’s necessary to dig in and name the issues more than the figureheads.

“As soon as you really talk about some of these underlying issues of power, of white supremacy, of capitalism, of patriarchy, suddenly things start to get a little uneasy,” explains Fiorentini. “The money starts to dry up. The people who want to support you don’t feel comfortable supporting you. You start talking about colonialism and the West Bank and people start to freak out.”

On The Bitchuation Room, Fiorentini has the freedom to speak her truth to power thanks to its listener-supported format. But working for herself also comes with the reality of no days off. She returned to work shortly after giving birth to her first child in 2022 with her husband, fellow comedian Matt Lieb.

“I didn’t have maternity [leave],” says Fiorentini. “You know, no rest for the vaginally torn.”

Despite her critiques of the Bay Area’s obscene wealth inequality, Fiorentini relishes the opportunity to return home. As a “lefty stand-up comic who likes kombucha and kale, I could not be from anywhere else,” she admits.

The Bitchuation Room platforms many Bay Area comedians and activists both currently residing here and repping from elsewhere. It’s the notion of the Bay Area’s comedic identity that coaxes some more boisterous pride out of the comic, who deals with the most cynical news of the day for listeners’ information and entertainment.

“Joke writing is a muscle, and monologue joke writing is the crossfit of comedy. So I’ve put meat on my bones and learned how to succinctly get across potentially tough concepts by using comedy,” says Fiorentini. “In fact, I think jokes might be the best way of explaining how our world and our country work… ’cause often it feels like we’re living inside of one big joke, and we’re the punchline.”

Francesca Fiorentini performs a stand-up set at SF Sketchfest on Jan. 27, and hosts a live edition of ‘The Bitchuation Room’ on Jan. 28.

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