Beginning in 1999, the Heuristic Squelch put on comedy shows at UC Berkeley. By 2001, the shows had gained momentum, and the Squelch had ended its contentious partnership with ASUC SUPERB, the arm of student government in charge of putting on entertainment, and the same people who paid Uncle Joey 10 grand to perform on campus. We had up-and-coming comedians lined up to perform, and we had a great venue to put on show's in Blake's on Telegraph. Our first show would feature comics Jim Short and Rob Cantrell, along with future expatriate Luke Filose. It would take place on a night free of competition from other comedy clubs, and early enough in the semester that students weren't swamped. Yes, September 11th, 2001 would be a big day for comedy in Berkeley.
I went to bed on the 10th after staying up late, furiously re-writing jokes and practicing my Young Sean voice. I woke up to early knocking on my bedroom door, with my roommate warning that I probably wanted to get up and watch CNN.
There's nothing profound for me to say about the actual events. I didn't know anyone in New York at the time, so there were no frantic phone calls. What I remember was how quiet everything was. No one was out on the street, no planes flew overhead, and even the guys next door had stopped revving the broken-down Camaro in the back yard.
We didn't know whether to cancel the show or not. Ultimately we decided to go through with it, partly because there was no real way to cancel at that point. At Blake's, the crowd was surprisingly large, albeit shell-shocked. I had some snarky material about the day's events, Bush's competence, and TV coverage, but ultimately, I decided to start the show with a simple disclaimer. I told the crowd that the day had been terrible, everyone was confused, and we all felt nothing but sympathy for the victims. But, no disrespect, we were still going to do the show, and we hoped no one thought we were assholes.
And then I started to do my act. When you go first at a comedy show, it's called "taking the bullet". I would say that talking about a massive terrorist attack is one of the toughest intros you can face as a comic, even worse than following a guy who rants incoherently about his blind bluesman friend. The first joke I told didn't go over all that well. But a strange thing happened once I got going. When a joke succeeded, it got a huge reaction. It was as if all of the twelve hours of stress, fear, and compulsive CNN-watching had built up, desperately wanting some kind of outlet. And, damn it, jokes about little girls with T. Rex arms provided that outlet.
It also helped that the pro comics went out and kicked ass. Rob Cantrell was his usual stellar self, and Jim Short was flat-out amazing, doing a good fifteen minutes he must have written that afternoon, all about CNN and planes and racism. I eventually felt confident enough to assert that Blake's might eventually become a terror target - there's good beer, the music rocks, and you just know Bin Laden hates that shit.
Everyone felt a little better walking out, or at least until they got upstairs and saw the footage of the planes hitting the towers playing over and over on the bar televisions. So we yelled, "Let's roll", charged the bartender, and changed the channel to Comedy Central.