After a dozen years in the corporate world, Otis Gates had a lot of pent-up funny to let out. Born to a vaudeville performer and groomed by the famed Groundlings improv comedy troupe in Los Angeles, he dedicated the first part of his life to the stage. But work and family brought him back to San Jose, where, as a 30-something, he felt inspired to resurrect his comedy career.
“I had all these jokes bouncing around my own head that needed some validation,” he says with a laugh. “I’m very much egotistical in that sense.”
Teaming up with friends and family, he formed the “Heart on Comedy” troupe—concocted, he says, over bubbly beverages on a porch in the deep shadows of the sprawling metropolis of San Jose. His cousin, Monica Hill, helped organize the concept into an actual event, “Jokes and Validations,” which debuts Friday and Saturday at the Blackbird Tavern annex in downtown San Jose.
“The show will be kind of like watching a live filming of Saturday Night Live,” Gates says, “a lot of small snippets—some only 20 seconds long.”
An ensemble of about 20 people wrote, directed, costumed and otherwise pulled together the two-hour production.
“All original material,” Hill says. “We wanted to make sure our members contributed and created every bit of it.”
The crew ranges in age from young adult to middle aged and consists of self-described ragamuffins: actors, musicians, directors, a speech language pathologist, a masseuse, a librarian (the original search engine) and an assortment of yuksters. Gates and Hill have largely led the group along with actors Bridget Block and Chris Montana, who used to take theater classes with them at Saratoga’s West Valley College and perform at the now-shuttered Gaslighter Theater in Campbell.
Choosing which sketches to include in the show was purely democratic. Writers and actors pitch an idea and the rest of the cast votes. Gates and his crew are already cooking up plans to turn the show into a quarterly or bi-annual production.
“I think the South Bay’s ready for it,” he says. “When I was younger, I went up to Portland, then down to Los Angeles to pursue comedy because we didn’t really have anything here. But it’s exciting to see more happening on the creative front—more venues, people being more receptive to the arts.”
It’s a little harder this time, with Gates raising three kids and having to rent odd spaces here and there for his troupe to rehearse.
“But pending some Hollywood exec offering a lot of money for our act, we’ll be here making people laugh,” he says.