Spinning Platters Interview: Andrew Holmgren of Sylvan Productions

by Dakin Hardwick on January 25, 2013

Andrew Holmgren

Andrew Holmgren is a local comic that hosts a monthly show at Dirty Trix Saloon called Get Yucked Up. He is also a member local comedy crew Sylvan Productions, who put on high quality comedy shows all throughout the bay area. He will be doing Get Yucked Up as part of SF Sketchfest at Cincecave at Lost Weekend Video on Friday, January 25th and as part of the Comedy Happy Hour at Cafe Royale on Monday, January 28th. On New Year’s Day, we got together at a coffee shop in downtown SF to talk about his career and comedy culture in San Francisco in general.

What is the premise behind Get Yucked Up?

Well, the original way it started was that me and my co-host and co-producer, David Gborie, were new comics just getting started in the city, and we wanted to get booked more. So, we decided to make our own show. We put together a monthly show in Brisbane, and for like a year, almost nobody showed up. I think we had twelve people total over those twelve months. We once did a show for a baby and his mother. I don’t know why they were allowed in the bar. So we just played improv games, and the baby was the worst heckler ever! The current version of the show is an exclusively stand up show, with an emphasis on the show becoming a party. The place we do it is at a place I hang out at all the time (Dirty Trix Saloon), it’s where I go to watch TV because I don’t have a TV at my place. So, it’s as if I invited a bunch of people to my living room and I’m like “Hey! Come watch this show! Have a beer! Let’s have a dance party later!” It’s really an emphasis on trying to put the best comics from the area plus out of town guests. We try to vary it up with really cool guests, like we had Robin Williams show up once. There have been a bunch of other Sketchfest comics, and a few from Canada. It’s been a great networking opportunity, too. I’ve met a lot of people from all over the country that have helped me book shows elsewhere. Comedy is kind of a small world when you really get into it.

When you do the Sketchfest gig, it’s going to be at a different venue than normal…

It’s at Cinecave, which is probably the coolest comedy venue in San Francisco. It’s in a video store, where people rent videos, not because they need to, but mostly out of nostalgia. And you go behind the counter, and there’s a theater that holds like 40 people, and you can buy drinks there. It was featured as part of the Comedy & Burrito Fest, too.

Do you think Cinecave can outgrow it’s space considering the attention it’s getting?

It’s never a bad thing when shows sell out. Nobody complains about turning people away. Comedy is a thing where you want it to be intimate. You want low ceilings and you want to be close to the people. It’s literally the perfect place for that. And it’s such a weird thing that it feels really special when you are there.

Will there be a dance party?

Probably not, but you never know. We can always move the party elsewhere. Although I might be tempted to just go to another show. I think there are good shows everywhere when I’m playing. I’m pretty sad that I’ll be missing Futurama Live and Adventures of Pete & Pete reunions because I’ll be performing.

What was the genesis of Sylvan Productions? Which came first, Get Yucked Up or Sylvan Productions?

Well, Get Yucked Up didn’t precede Sylvan Productions, but it preceded out involvement with Sylvan Productions. Sylvan was started by two of my roommates Andrew (Moore) & Justin (Gomes) who were into improv in high school, and they had an improv team that needed a name. So they named themselves after Sylvan Learning Center. They would put on improv shows in high school. Then they moved to San Francisco and started doing improv shows in their backyard, which led the the first Sylvan show called Open Improv. It’s like an open mike for improv. Anything goes and anyone can get up. That started at The Dark Room and moved to Sub-Mission. Then they started to get business minded with it, trying to grow Sylvan, and they invited Get Yucked Up to join, then we kept creating more shows. They even have a show now at Cinecave called Fresh Like Cadaver where we watch a horror film and two comics riff on it MST3K style followed by some stand up.

Sketchfest historically seems to be LA visits San Francisco for three weeks. They seemed to make a move towards the local talent this year. Why do you think they decided to do that?

There is definitely a lot more local talent this year. Get Yucked Up didn’t even submit because it’s a sketch comedy festival, and we just do stand up. And they approached us! I applied as a performer, and they asked me to do a Get Yucked Up. I think they were inspired by the Bridgeport Comedy Festival which added a lot of local comics last year, and it was a big success. And the folks that play the festivals, although they change a little every year, are all people that play all of the festivals, and they get together when they play these festivals, and it’s like a breath of fresh air getting to find out what all of these different cities are all about. That’s what they’ve been focusing and, and (Bridgeport) sets the tone for the rest of the year. They also know that if you book local talent, they will fill it up with local people, as opposed to “We flew these guys into New York that you’ve never heard.”

How long did it take you to go from open mics to doing real sets?

The thing I would point to is… It’s a confidence factor. People can hear it in your voice and feel you when you are on stage. There were some shows at The Purple Onion (RIP) and it was a “bringer” show where the comics had to sell their own tickets. I now know that’s not the best way to do things, but I played it to a packed house and killed it. And, from then on, I had this confidence factor that inspired me to start Get Yucked Up. I’m still trying to break into the bigger rooms in the city, but I probably moved faster than a lot of people. Some people can take six years of being terrible and now they are some of the funniest people on earth. But, to answer your question, it as about a year and a half. It’s great just to get that big laugh. It’s feeling that I can’t even describe. It’s fun.

Where do you envision yourself in five years? In five years?

I probably won’t be here. Realistically, as like a home base, I’ll be in NY or LA. If I could stay here, that would be awesome, but that’s kind of on me and everyone else in the scene to make it as good a stand-up city as those other places.

Like the 50’s?

Yeah, we had some booms like in the 50’s and the 80’s. Dirty Trix, where we run our show used to be The Holy City Zoo. Exact same building, with the stage in the same place. That’s why Robin (Williams) showed up. It took us a long time to get Robin to show up- we kept going “Hey Robin! Hey Robin!” and one week he came to see our show, and the next week he did a set!

This conversation went on for a while, and got really weird at points. We dig a little deeper into the subject of San Francisco’s thriving comedy scene, it’s history, and we even take a few really weird turns that you just need to listen to in order to believe. This is the deal behind the whole Doug Stanhope thing in the beginning.

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