Photograph by Cole Thompson
It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: Comic Richard Stockton at last month's live taping of 'The Planet Cruz Comedy Hour'
Santa Cruz Nation
Could Planet Santa Cruz, the radio variety show dreamed up by comedian Richard Stockton, go big?
By Traci Hukill
A month ago the lights of Kuumbwa came up on the Great Morgani, swathed head to toe in black Lycra and pink plastic bubbles and accompanying singer Simone Cox on accordion as she swooped and glided through the otherworldly theme to Star Trek. Next up, writer Sven Davis treated audiences to a one-man performance of Riverdance (from the waist up) and provided sound effects for a skit by Cox and comedian Richard Stockton about codependence, Santa Cruz style. After Stockton's standup routine, which touched on favorite local topics like apple moth spraying, musician-raconteur Al Frisby took the stage, followed by a belly dancer, the Raging Grannies and comics Noel Murphy and Mark Pitta—all entertaining, all local (almost) and all frequently interrupted by laughter and applause from a typically rowdy Santa Cruz audience.No one expected things to work out quite this well, with packed houses selling out ahead of time and boisterous locals bursting into wild cheers at the slightest provocation. Least of all Stockton, whose idea it was to start a radio variety show celebrating Santa Cruz culture. But The Planet Cruz Comedy Hour, modeled after Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, sold out its first two single-night engagements at Kuumbwa in October and November and is poised to do so again this Friday night. It's a pleasant shock that has Stockton entertaining greater ambitions.
"It truly is my idea to export this to radio stations in New York, Florida, Madison," he said one afternoon last week over coffee. Outside the picture window the last bit of daylight was draining out of the sky as Stockton, who possesses the malleable features of a good-natured lifelong class clown, leaned forward. "And we can, with Al Frisby and Simone Cox and Sven Davis. The talent here is amazing. As director, part of my job is just reminding them how good they are. They don't even know."
With encouragement from KUSP general manager Terry Green and producer J.D. Hillard, Stockton is considering taking his show big, doing for Santa Cruz what his hero Keillor has done for rural Minnesota. "Are audiences gonna understand Robert the Umbrella guy? I don't know. But think about it: What do I know about Lutherans, ice fishing, hard winters? Yet I feel like I understand Lutherans now because I've been listening so long."
Without a doubt, part of the young show's success is the Santa Cruz audience itself, famous among performers for its enthusiasm. "They're smart, they're ready to play, they're naturally creative," says Stockton.
But it's also true that Stockton has assembled a can't-miss cast of local personalities and even some national talent from his own days doing standup and TV (he worked as a sketch player on BET). This Friday's show features regulars Ukulele Dick, the Great Morgani, Davis, Cox, Rupert Opie, Rhan Wilson and comedian Karin Babbitt, as well as local progressive radio talk show host Peter B. Collins and the Eclectic Company, a 10-voice a cappella group. Andrew Norelli, who has performed alongside comedian Dave Chappelle, and character comic Geoff Bolt will headline the show. Audiences can expect plenty of wicked satire about wacky locals and even a ballad about a homeless man who prefers to be identified as "an outdoorsman."
All good fun, but Stockton frames the entire project in curiously earnest terms. "I'm moving more into social and political commentary," he says. "As I get older, that's more interesting to me. Talking about the difference between men and women, that's something a lot of young comics do, but this is the point in my life at which I'm supposed to say, 'Look at what I contributed.' Everything fell my way—I've done professional comedy, I raised kids with it, gave my ex-wives houses with it. But one thing's gnawing at me: 'What have I done for anyone else?'
"This is where I feel the magic."
THE PLANET CRUZ COMEDY HOUR with Richard Stockton and special guests Andrew Norelli and Geoff Bolt is performed Friday, Dec. 7, at 8pm at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Ticket are $15 adv/$20 door; 831.427.2227. The show will air on KUSP on Saturday, Dec. 29, at 5pm.
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