Bay Area comedy finds its legs in the most unusual of places

Cameron Patera, Staff member

If you’re walking along the 1100 block of San Francisco’s Folsom Street, around halfway through you might see a large residential complex. Behind that, however, you’ll find one of the Bay Area’s quirkiest gems; the BrainWash Cafe. For 28 years, five days a week, the BrainWash Cafe has hosted some of the best amateur stand-up in the Bay Area.

Founded in 1989 by former owner Susan Schindler, the cafe, comedy club and laundromat hybrid was created as an accident.

In 1987 Schindler was having a drink with her friend, simply referred to as “Don,” who noticed that the bar they were in would be a perfect place to build her dream. The bar was in poor condition and Don hoped that Schindler’s purchasing of it would turn the derelict building into something a bit better, hoping to improve the area around his Howard Street store “The Balloon Lady.”

On, Don is recorded saying, “I love this space (the bar) but every time I look at that wall (it was the southern wall behind the bar), all I ever see is a line of washers and dryers … there is no laundromat south of Market, and people are always coming into the store asking where they can go to wash their clothes.”

After some looking, Schindler settled on 1122 Folsom St. This would be the formation of “Cafe Laundre,” now the BrainWash Cafe, the coolest comedy club on Earth. Serving up great salads, laughs and clean clothes, it’s a location that every Bay Area resident should visit at least once.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the cafe has fallen on hard times, failing to draw in the crowds and performers it did less than five years ago. This is attributed to the recent construction of a large residential complex next door.

In an interview with Hoodline, current owner Jeff Zalles attributed the clubs issues to, “noise pollution and the temporary covered walkway next to BrainWash’s outdoor seating …(the walkway) is eerie and nobody wants to walk by it at night.”


However, if they managed to stay afloat until the end of the construction, the complex could provide many potential customers and drum up profit.

Not only have they stayed afloat into late 2017, they’ve been flourishing as well. The complex was built and as a result the area no longer possesses the problems it was once plagued with.

A big comedy boom and civil unrest have also historically been catalysts for humor to rise from the coffin of the world.

“It’s kind of like a renaissance … especially during these turmoiled times,” Anthony Medina, the event producer for BrainWash Cafe, said. “It’s the over-information age… people want to speak their minds and what I’ve seen since then is a lot of growth.”

As this growth continues, the BrainWash Cafe wants to let everybody know that they’re the best venue to start a comedy career. For example, audience members are encouraged to yell “a lot of love” at new comedians before their first performance in order to make them feel as comfortable as possible right from the get go.

Other clubs in the area really don’t enforce this luxury and I’ve often felt very judged and unwelcome at other comedy clubs in the area.

The BrainWash Cafe doesn’t discriminate either, as the demographic is very diverse due to the eclectic South of Market location.

“It’s a great place to perform and practice for all demographics, just look at all the different-colored faces in the crowd. We’re in an area where that’s a pretty usual thing, although the area has unfortunately been gentrified. A lot of the culture still exists within the cracks left behind, though,” said Roman Bober, a 19-year-old student and regular audience member at BrainWash Cafe.

Having performed at the club myself, I can say that I personally felt incredibly welcome my first time. The support from everybody in the room was immense and I didn’t feel patronized when I was told to “come back soon.”

Now is the time to start pursuing your interest in stand-up, especially if you live in the Bay Area. Thankfully, rising like a Phoenix from the ashes, the most essential club in the area is waiting for you, sitting in the best position it has been in years.

BrainWash Cafe has comedy nights Monday through Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and is usually hosted by Bay Area comedy centerpiece, Tony Sparks.

If you’d like to learn more about the BrainWash Cafe and the Bay Area comedy scene, make sure you follow the Bay Area Comedy Network on twitter @SFBACN and check out