Standup Sonoma: Comic relief for fire ravaged area

A sold-out comedy crowd helped raise money and spirits Thursday night in the North Bay. The event at the Luther Burbank Center for the Performing Arts was a benefit for fire survivors, with some tickets also set aside for them, and first responders. 

"It's been a rough year, so it's good to come to come in and inject some 'ha ha' into the community," comedian Chris Porter told KTVU backstage before the show, which was billed "Standup Sonoma."

Originally 6 headliners agreed to donate their talents, but the lineup shrunk to 5 Thursday when Joel McHale came down with the flu.

"We flew here on a plane that had propellers," deadpanned Porter to the crowd, "to Santa Rosa, a town with great beer and great weed, and I'm enjoying both!" 

With all 1600 seats sold, the event was expected to raise about $100,000 for the King Ridge Foundation, a local philanthropy that distributes funds through seven non-profit organizations. 

"It's very local and very nimble, so we can respond to needs people have right now," explained Don Winkle of the Foundation.

"We want to give the money directly to victims, not landlords, and not vouchers, mostly it's cash grants between $500 and $1500."

The organization has already gifted funds to more than 100 families.

"A little comic relief is good," fire survivor Michele Rahmn told KTVU, alongside husband Steve.
After they lost their Coffey Park home, their children received free bicycles from the King Ridge Foundation.

The charity was co-founded by cyclist Levi Leipheimer, who lost his own house to the firestorm.
Buoyed mostly by sales of specially brewed "Sonoma Pride" beers, the foundation has raised more than $700,000 so far. 

"I can't say enough about our gratitude, and how people in this community have supported us, and everybody else that's lost their home," said Steve Rahmn, "and now it's not about the fire, it's about people coming together."

The venue was also a poignant choice, since the LBC is in the heart of the fire zone, and was closed for a month after the Oct. 8 blaze. . 

"There is room for the arts, and there is room for healing and there is room for levity," program director Anita Wigglesworth told KTVU.

The Tubbs Fire damaged or destroyed about a fourth of the performing arts complex: Including classrooms, a small theatre, and workshop and storage space. 

"We have co-workers here who have lost their homes, or volunteers, so it's all around us,and we have to make the most of it," said Wigglesworth. 

The comedy show was a way to escape those realities, if only for awhile.  

"Tragedy is the best time for comedy," observed Porter, who said the event came together easily with a phone call from Russian River lead brewer Jacob Totz.

"I like comedy, I know comedians, so I thought why not try it," said Totz. And "Standup Sonoma" has its roots in Pliny the Elder, the flagship beer of Russian River Brewing Company. 

The two men met a few years ago, when Porter, doing stand-up, spotted Totz in the crowd wearing a Pliny shirt. 

"You know in L.A. it's super hard to get, so I made a couple of jokes, about it's the holy grail, and I'm like Indiana Jones trying to find beer," recalled Porter. 

"We talked after the show and stayed in contact ever since, so Pliny is definitely to thank for all of this, it's how it started," said Totz.  

The LBC waived its rental fees, and will receive $6 per ticket for its own rebuilding fund.

"If we can fly up here, tell a few jokes and it helps people, that's a no-brainer," said Porter.