Comedian, writer, producer, actor and podcaster Gareth Reynolds is no stranger to the Bay Area comedy scene—or, for that matter, nearly any comedy scene.
The co-host of podcast the Dollop and the ironically recent the Past Times hails from Milwaukee, Wis., though his parents are from across the pond. Growing up, he split his time between Packers territory and his parents’ native England. His bi-cultural upbringing features heavily in his latest standup special England, Weed, and the Rest, which was performed in Portland, Ore., and released last month on the All Things Comedy network’s YouTube channel, as well as Reynolds’ website.
His latest tour, which stops at Rooster T. Feathers in Sunnyvale this week, features all new material. Reynolds talks about performing and honing jokes like it’s an athletic workout, focusing on serious “gains” during his run at the 150-person venue, perfecting a joke for maximum laughs between Thursday and Saturday night.
“I love the Bay Area, and I love Rooster T. Feathers. When you have a weekend and you do five shows, you see such growth,” Reynolds says.
One of the most beloved comedy venues in the Bay Area, Rooster T. Feathers has a particular knack for fostering talent and cultivating an adoring audience. Despite a near three-year closure, live comedy fans stuck by the funny club throughout its pandemic hiatus.
Though Reynolds is familiar with the venue, he’s never met his local openers before.
“Rooster T.’s in particular is a place you trust. The last time I was there both the comics were great. I think they pride themselves on picking who will [open the show],” he says.
Veteran Bay Area comics Dauood Naimyar and Natasha Vinik open all five shows.
Born in Oakland to Afghan immigrant parents, Naimyar grew up in his parents’ video store. He and his father bonded over the comedy of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Like his early heroes, his jokes are blue and often deeply political.
“Most of the time if they’re not laughing it’s because I haven’t made them understand what’s funny yet,” Naimyar says.
Naimyar says comedy and spearing American politics is a way of remaining connected to the struggles of Afghan people.
“Being an Afghan American, I don’t shy away from it. I talk about it as much as I can,” Naimyar says. “I love comedy. It’s a coping mechanism.”
Naimyar claims to be one of only two Afghan Americans pioneering representation in American standup comedy (the other being LA’s Fahim Anwar), though an exact figure is difficult to pin down. Naimyar, who is Muslim, says there’s an element of gatekeeping to being a Muslim comic.
“If you’re not a perfect Muslim, you’re not Muslim at all,” he says.
Though his habits and brand of comedy might not sit well with a religiously conservative crowd, Naimyar is proof that Muslims are not a monolith. He hopes his comedy will open the industry to more Muslim representation in comedy—as well as opening the Muslim community to welcoming those who lie on a wide spectrum of the religious practice.
Natasha Vinik also grew up in the Bay Area and started doing improv comedy in high school. The San Francisco-based comic went to her first open mic with a friend in 2017 and fell in love with standup. She felt she could top the jokes tossed out by the overconfident bros who seemed more interested in boosting their egos than connecting with the audience—and it seems she was right.
“I just saw what trash any straight white guy was willing to say on stage at an open mic,” Vinik says.
Her comedy often dives towards spearing myopic men, scrutinizing the fine print behind gender equality, and taboo topics like abortion through comedy.
Vinik comes across as vulnerable and sincere, and her jokes about mental health and internet dating seem to provide a kind of generational catharsis for a mostly millennial audience.
Though Vinik continued performing over Zoom and social media during the shutdown and returned to performing live over a year ago, she’s happy to be back at Rooster T. Feathers once again.
“You know, it’s nice to see audiences coming back,” Vinik says. “Laughing feels really good.”
Thu-Sat, Various Times, $25
Rooster T Feathers, Sunnyvale