8 QUESTIONS FOR
In Marin / CURRENTS
Do you like your entertainers funny or smart? Marin resident Bob Ayres likes it best when
he can find them together, which he was able to do often as former proprietor of The Other
Cafe, one of San Francisco’s landmark early comedy clubs, in the stand-up
heyday of the 1980s. Starting with owning a Haight-Ashbury ice cream
store in the ’70s that didn’t actually make any ice cream, Ayres has led
a colorful but mostly quiet existence just out of the spotlight of the
Bay Area comedy, dance and lecture scenes. More comfortable backstage, he
reluctantly agreed to be put in the spotlight this month. MARC HERSHON
1When did The Other Cafe open? It was a coffee- house with one night of folk music a week when
I bought it in 1976. At that time, I had quit college
and opened an ice cream store in the Haight. When
the owner asked, “Would you ever want to buy this
place?” I said, “Yeah, I think I would.”
2When did comedy start to come into the lineup? Within a few weeks of owning the cafe, I went
to look for a band at The Palms on Polk Street. Before
the band played, this guy, Mark Miller, was doing
comedy and no one was listening to him. I thought he
was funny. So I told him I had a little coffeehouse and
he asked me if I’d like to do a comedy night. He knew
who the comedians were in town at that time, and it
included Robin (Williams) and Dana (Carvey), (Bob)
Sarlatte, Lorenzo (Matawaran) and Gil Christner.
3Dana Carvey was always an Other guy. What do you remember about him from those early
years? When he first moved to San Francisco, I had
to promise him that we would hire him enough to
make his $750-a-month rent. He had just won the
[San Francisco International Stand-Up] Comedy
Competition and it was a real surprise because he
was such a kid. And he looked like he was 12.
4Any favorite memories about being a club owner? My favorite thing about owning a comedy club back in the day was standing at the exit on a
sold-out, packed night. And I would thank everybody
for coming and I would say, “If you like what you saw
tonight, in three weeks we have somebody you’re
going to dig because just vibe-wise and attitude-wise, it’s a very similar show.” You had to do that
because there was no Internet. But they would come
back because they trusted us and it was great.
5Did you lose any clients to bigger agents? I have a good story on that one. We signed
Whoopi Goldberg to do a one-woman show
based on her characterization of Moms Mabley.
She goes to L. A. She gets hot. We get a call
from some big-shot agency. “You’re not going
to be representing Whoopi anymore.” Forget
the contract we had; their team of lawyers
were ready to crush us. Despite our friendship,
Whoopi never called us to close the loop by saying, “I got signed by a big agency — they can do way
more for me. So, of course, I had to do that. I’m sorry.
I’ll make it up to you.” There was none of that.
6Post comedy boom? I struggled at first. Then I started throwing these salons at my house. I
basically would ask my favorite people to invite two
or three of their favorite people — beloved friends of
beloved friends. It was fabulous. I didn’t know what
else to do other than invite really interesting, cool
people to my house for a cocktail party. It was called
Last Saturdays and it was held on the last Saturday of
the month. Ziff Davis eventually funded it as a lecture
series for three years. This eventually led to me being
a licensee for TEDx with TEDxMarin.
7Where do you live in Marin? I have a lovely home in the hills of Fairfax and I have a beautiful dog I love more than life itself. I came back
here about six or seven years ago.
8What do you like best about it? Marin is different than Fairfax. Fairfax I love because
it’s like a hippie town but without the attitude or
the ungroundedness of a Haight-Ashbury. I like
Marin because it’s so open and progressive in its
politics. And it’s beautiful here — there’s that.
And that’s not nothing. M