Q&A with Comedian Greg Proops: On the Best S.F. Haunts and Fuckin' Kindles

Categories: Comedy, Interview
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Stand-up legend Greg Proops (most familiarly of both the British and American versions of Whose Line Is It, Anyway?) returns to San Francisco three or four times every year. Although born and raised in San Carlos, Proops spent his formative years as a comedian here, and, as he will tell you, the city is forever an important part of his life. This Thursday, Aug. 2 through Saturday, Aug. 4, Proops returns to the Punch Line for stand-up sets and a live recording of his hit podcast The Smartest Man in the World.

He spoke with us by phone from Las Vegas last week. Talking to Proops is always a relaxed and unpretentious experience. Because he is a well-rounded, well-spoken man of many interests, the conversation is apt to go in unpredictable directions. This time around, it wound up focusing on men's apparel and American crime fiction.

Don't miss Proops this weekend -- his stand-up sets are high energy, blazingly smart expeditions into the mind of one of the country's brightest comics.

When you come to San Francisco -- as you often do -- you must have certain rituals that you carry out, having lived here for so long and knowing the place so well.

Oh, yeah. My wife and I have our regular restaurants. If I'm lucky, I visit Will and Debi Durst and go to a ballgame. I'll go to Tosca for a drink. I love Boulette's Larder down at the Ferry Building -- my favorite place for lunch in the world, and breakfast, too. If I'm on my own, I'll go to the old school places. I even went to Tommy's Joynt last year when I was there for a couple of days with the Whose Line guys. Had a brisket just for old time's sake.

When did you adopt the suit as your preferred onstage wear?

I was in an airport and it was '92. I was wearing giant tennis shoes with big red tongues on them, skull shorts, a skull shirt, and all this jewelry. And I saw a guy about 20 years older than me wearing the exact same outfit. He looked like one of Ratt's roadies or something. And I thought, "I can't do that." Then, when I moved to England [to do Whose Line Is It, Anyway?] there were so many great clothes, so I decided I'd always wear a suit. One reason: Because I think it looks sharp. And another: I can grow older -- I have grown older -- in a suit. If you have a funny costume, you can't really wear it when you get older. I see guys dressing like they're in college -- and they're not. I don't want to be that guy.

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Where do you get your suits?

Oh, different places. I got a suit at Holt Renfrew in Montreal last year. I got a couple from the True Jackson, VP show I was on, on Nickelodeon. They were made for me, so they fit better than many of my other suits. I'm whorish; I'll wear anything. I have a suit from Banana Republic -- quite a good suit, actually, for $700.

You're pretty media savvy -- you stay on top of the news and there's a lot of topical stuff in your act and on the podcast. Yet you're also very critical of the major media. Where do you get your news? Are there particular sources you trust?

I go to Truth-Out.org. I go to Amy Goodman. I go to The Huffington Post. But I read all the news sources. I read the Guardian and the Los Angeles Times. My wife is extraordinarily well-rounded. She's really up on all the news. She gives me a lot of articles that help me.

It seems like most people are content to just receive news from one or two sources, but if you do that, it's kind of the same as not reading anything at all.

I know. And people don't. People -- in L.A. particularly -- say things like, "How do you know that?" And I always think, "Well, you read it." Hilariously, or sadly, with everyone on their phones every second of the day, appearing to pore over shit, no one appears to be reading any news. Because I'll talk about a story I thought was well-known, and everyone's like, "How'd I miss that?"

I don't think a lot of reading is done by people who spend inordinate amounts of time with electronics. They get all excited and buy e-books, but I don't think they're being read.

I think you're right. I have a Kindle. But I quit carrying it lately, because I like holding books in my hands. So I was reading one of the Flashman books, a hilarious series by George Macdonald Fraser. They have intense footnotes. With some authors, like Flann O'Brien, the footnotes are the book, you know. The point is that you've got to go back and forth. Or, if you're reading a book like A Clockwork Orange, there's a glossary, and you've got to go back and forth. And you can't fucking do it on a Kindle. It drove me mad. Anyway, I have one, but I haven't been [using] it lately. Sometimes I take it on a really long flight. I read Willie Mays' biography on it, but then I went out and bought a copy anyway. Because I wanted it, and I feel like having the e-book's not really having it. I know that Maurice Sendak, who just died, said they're not fuckin' books at all. He was serious about it.

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Proops performing with very close friend Drew Carey

Last week, you tweeted a list of favorite books, and one of them was Dancing Bear by James Crumley. That was the only one on the list I hadn't heard of.

Yeah, he's obscure. He was a hard-living dude from Montana. He was a Vietnam vet. He wrote a book about that called One to Count Cadence. After that book, it was all detectives. He's got two detectives; they're both in Montana, although they move around a little bit. It's very Northwest. And they're full of coke and drugs. I really love them. In Dancing Bear, he's hired to find a guy. It's the oldest premise in the world. Two ladies hire him to find a guy and he finds a guy but it's not the guy. And it all goes to shit, as it would. He's had sex with one girl and he's got scratches all over him. So he's with another girl and takes off his shirt, and she says, "You must live an exciting life." And he says, "Or sordid, I thought." [Crumley's] got all these ingenious lines. "You look like trouble." "And you, lady, look like a hell of a lot of fun."

He's my favorite detective novelist. Although I love Charles Willeford and Jim Thompson. The fun part of going to Musso & Frank's in Hollywood is knowing that Jim Thompson drank at the bar there and wrote all his screenplays there. Mitchum used to love him. But I also love Charles Willeford, especially the Hoke Moseley novels. My wife turned me onto Ross McDonald, and I've only read a couple of them, but I think Ross McDonald might be the master of everybody.

Crime fiction got away with a lot of stuff in the '40s and '50s that wasn't discussed anywhere else in the culture.

Oh, yeah. It's amazing. The Big Sleep has heroin addiction, porn, nymphomania -- it's got it all, including rare book swindling.

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Greg Proops appears at Punch Line at 8 p.m. Aug 2-4. Admission is $18.50.

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Punch Line

444 Battery, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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