By Mike Kinney
From chatting with legendary late comedian Robin Williams for about a half-hour at a San Francisco comedy club, to performing on multiple stages throughout the Bay Area, standup comedy is a skill, thrill and a remedy for Richmond resident Karen Buchanan.
Those reasons, coupled with a dire need to laugh amid difficult times, are why Buchanan relaunched her standup career after a 35-year hiatus, starting with the ongoing Karen’s Kaleidoscope Comedy Show in Point Richmond.
The live comedy show runs weekly on Monday from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Kaleidoscope Coffee at 109 Park Pl. Families are encouraged to bring children to “one of the few clean comedy shows in the East Bay,” Buchanan said.
“When I met Sukriti Dewan and Venki Tanuku, the new owners of Kaleidoscope Coffee, shortly after they purchased the cafe in August of 2022, we decided to launch Karen’s Kaleidoscope Comedy Show to bring back live entertainment after the pandemic,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan began performing stand-up comedy in the early 1980s. She tells people her 40-year comedy career includes a 35-year break to raise a family and have a career. But really, comedy has always been part of Buchanan’s life. In 6th grade at Grattan Elementary in San Francisco, she started telling jokes to her classmates at recess in between rounds of the game, four square. She also kept a joke diary.
“I used to listen to George Carlin records and watch Laugh-In and the Smothers Brothers on TV,” she recalled.
Buchanan said her upbringing as a toddler in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco during the 1960s enabled her to observe plenty of wacky antics to develop into comedy material.
She first began performing in San Francisco comedy clubs during the early 1980s, including the Last Day Saloon and the legendary Holy City Zoo, where Robin Williams got his start in the 1970s.
“The rule of thumb at the time at Comedy open mics in the City was that if Robin Williams ever showed up to try out new material, he had carte blanche to bump any comedian on the lineup, take over the stage and go on as long as he wanted,” Buchanan said.
Unfortunately, the comedian who was bumped would then have to follow Williams, and it certainly isn’t easy to follow a legend in comedy.
“Well, one night in July 1984 at a regular Thursday night open mic at the Last Day Saloon, Robin showed up and I got to talk to him one-on-one for about half an hour,” Buchanan said.
He was kind and gracious and gave Buchanan advice about performing standup.
“Then, right before it was my turn to go up and do my five minutes, Robin jumped up onstage, grabbed the mic and proceeded to do 45 minutes of brilliant comedy right before my eyes,” she said.
Buchanan became the unlucky comedian who got bumped by Williams.
“Word got out, and within minutes, the place was packed,” she said. “I was sitting 10 feet from the stage, watching the genius at work, alternating between admiration and sheer terror that I would have to follow Robin Williams and bomb in front of a packed house. Fortunately, the open mic host decided to let Robin close the show, so I got a last-minute reprieve from Comedy Death.”
From 1983-1987, Buchanan also performed standup comedy at The Punch Line, The Other Café and Ye Rose & Thistle. Since restarting standup in 2022, she’s performed at a variety of venues in in the East Bay, San Francisco and San Mateo.
Local comedy is seeing a resurgence. Buchanan believes it’s a sign of the times.
“With the state of the world being what it is, people need a good laugh to get their minds off everything that’s going on,” she said. “Laughter can be very therapeutic, and going to Comedy shows is a fun way to do it.”