Gonzo comedian returns to stage amid storied career

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Gonzo comedian returns to stage amid storied career
Dan Gonzo Machanik (Photo by Michael Geier)

By Kathy Chouteau

Comedian Dan “Gonzo” Machanik, a Marina Bay resident who opened for the likes of Garry Shandling and Cheech & Chong’s Tommy Chong in his heyday, recently made his comedy comeback at the Baltic Kiss in Point Richmond in a live show that got some serious belly laughs.

Next up, Machanik is heading to Las Vegas’ Ahern Hotel Fri.-Sat., Nov. 3-4 as part of his return to the stage after 37 years on-and-off in the biz. He plans to return to the Richmond Yacht Club* Sat., Jan. 6 for his “Birthday Weekend Show.” The Richmond Standard recently caught up with the Marina Bay resident to get the scoop on why he’s returning to comedy after several years away from the stage.

After being born at Stanford University and spending his first few years in Menlo Park, the Machanik family moved to Roslyn, NY on Long Island. His funny bone developed early, when at only three years old he started doing stand-up for his family, and eventually, a Mick Jagger imitation.

College called him back west at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he earned his Degree in Advertising, but not before a radio ad caught his ear for an amateur comedy contest in Aspen. At only 20 years old, he won the contest 14 weeks in a row and launched his comedy career—making enough money to support himself as he worked non-stop.

“Colorado is really where my career kind of took off,” said Machanik, who said he moved back to Aspen after college and worked all the time, doing stand-up, improv along with a group and at a local radio station familiar with his comedy. He eventually found himself at the Aspen Comedy Festival, a prestigious event in the world of comedians, and opened for Garry Shandling. Also during his mid-20s, the comedian performed eight shows with Tommy Chong.

Machanik counts Thompson as among his comedic inspirations due to his “Gonzo” journalism style of inserting himself into his own outlandish stories.

While he was working in Aspen, his comedy show was once introduced by late journalist Hunter S. Thompson, whom he also met several times. Machanik now counts Thompson as among his comedic inspirations due to his “Gonzo” journalism style of inserting himself into his own outlandish stories. The comedian has since honored the journalist by including “Gonzo” in his name and doing a “Gonzo chant” with his audience members.

Along with Thompson, Machanik, 57, also tips his hat to Henny Youngman, Lenny Bruce, Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield as other sources of his comedic inspiration. And Machanik’s own comedic style? “I always joke around that I used to talk about sex, drugs and rock & roll and now I talk about the lack of sex, drugs and rock & roll.”

Another highlight of Machanik’s comedy career was his time in Taiwan, where he landed in the mid-2000s when he founded a business and created a number of well-known beverage brands. He said there was a burgeoning comedy scene, and while he was there, they opened up the first comedy club in Taiwan, the Tai Pei Comedy Club. He headlined comedy shows there and said he’s proud to have been one of the first comedians to work in Taiwan regularly as a “pioneer of comedy.” He said it was a bit like “being a rock star for a couple of years” and added that the comedy scene is booming there now.

Black Star owners bringing dining, music to historic Baltic Building
Baltic Kiss (Photo by Kathy Chouteau)

After a few years he returned to the U.S. to launch the beverage brands in this country. With the rise of cancel culture—coupled with the cancellation of comedian/politician Al Franken—Machanik, who admittedly can have a “down and dirty” comedic style, began to feel as if comedy was a liability, especially as a business owner. Then COVID-19 hit, and Machanik said his beverage biz was knocked out by it.  

Just as Machanik had compiled hours of worth of comedy material on his phone’s voice memo, he got the call for the Vegas shows. He missed being on stage and decided that “maybe this is what I do to make a living again.” 

Machanik said these days he feels freer to express himself comedy-wise. “It’s ‘cuz I don’t have a day job,” he said, noting that “Having a corporate job is detrimental to comedy.” He added that he doesn’t do politics, emphasizing that comedy is about making people laugh.

Ultimately, Machanik—who shared that he is Jewish—said that with all the divisiveness caused by the Richmond city government lately, he hopes his comedy can be a unifying and healing force for people.

Want to keep up with Machanik’s upcoming comedy shows? Follow him here.

*The Jan. 6th show was originally planned for Baltic Kiss but will now be held at the Richmond Yacht Club.