Class of ’95 Clown
Seaside’s Jason Downs brings the laughs home.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Jason Downs drinks a Budweiser and downs a shot of Jameson. Then, he says a quick prayer and steps onstage at San Francisco’s The Punch Line, where he is opening for probably the biggest comic in the world right now, Dave Chapelle.
Staring out at a crowd of about 250 people who can’t wait to see Chapelle, Downs tells his first joke of the evening. Downs believes that he can usually tell how his act is going to go by the audience’s reaction to his beginning material. Uh oh, he thinks, my opening bit didn’t hit as hard as usual.
A couple minutes later, Downs tries a different tack and delves into his political material. This is San Francisco after all. “Everyone complains about the price of gas,” he says. “What about the price of ink jet cartridges? What place do we have to bomb to lower the price of those things?”
Suddenly, there is a change in the crowd. Now, they are onboard. Though those first couple of minutes felt like an eternity, the rest of Down’s 20-minute act flies by.
Downs’ story of how he got into comedy isn’t typical. As a Seaside resident and Monterey High School student, Downs didn’t spend his time in the classroom trying to crack up his other schoolmates. Rather, he claims that he was rather introverted unless he was around a select group of friends. “I was quiet,” he says. “I kept to myself. That’s probably why I do what I do now.”
While attending Monterey Peninsula College, Downs, who had always been a fan of comedy, decided to try his hand at a short-lived open mic night at Peter B’s. He says his act that night revolved around stoners, Scooby Doo and “Scooby snacks.” “It was just awful, awful material,” he says. “I ate it, but I was still better than the other guys.”
From there, the budding comedian moved on to the open mic at Juice ‘n’ Java in Pacific Grove. For a while, he was doing that gig on Fridays and traveling to the Bay Area on Saturdays for brief slots at a couple of other shows. “I would drive up to San Francisco and perform for five minutes,” he says.
Surprisingly, one of his roughest nights occurred in front of the usually supportive crowd at Juice ‘n’ Java. That evening, Downs basically got torn apart by a heckler, which taught him a lesson. “It just turned into a huge disagreement,” he says. “He got the best of me and showed me up. Once you get your ass kicked, you learn to fight back.”
In 2000, Downs decided to move to San Francisco to study journalism at San Francisco State University and to fine tune his comedy act as much as possible. He was doing his material wherever he could, at established venues like The Punch Line or more unorthodox spots, including a bus station at 16th and Mission. “Instead of doing my homework, I was constantly in the comedy clubs,” he admits.
These days, Downs believes his material is a lot different from the stuff he did onstage during his early days. “It’s definitely gotten more mature, deep and unique,” he says. “The more you do [comedy] the more you want to stick it out.”
His new act, which he describes as “very adult,” includes edgy bits about videotaping sex, and an immigrant appearing on the game show The Price Is Right. He says that anything that happens in his life, no matter how personal, is fodder for his comedy show. “If I cheated on my girlfriend, I’m going to talk about that onstage,” he says.
His mother is even pushing him to do more raw material about his childhood. “I’m just starting to get into the darker stuff about my family,” he says.
As for his goals as a comedian, Downs jokes that he aspires to being “rich with hookers and cocaine on a counter top.” Then he stops laughing and reveals his true dream. “I would love to be invited to the Playboy Mansion just once,” he says.
JASON DOWNS performs at Doc Rickett’s Lab, 180 East Franklin St., Monterey, Friday and Saturday at 9pm. No cover. 649-4241.