Sexy granny panties? Up-and-coming San Francisco comedy troupe Granny Cart Gangstas recently proved this isn’t an oxymoron. Taking a cue from the Kids in the Hall — one of member Ava Tong’s biggest inspirations — who were once photographed wearing bras over suits, the troupe decided to do something similar (one member flaunted a pair of leopard-print granny panties) for a photo shoot ahead of its Sat/28 show, "No Happy Endings," at SF's Little Boxes Theater.
Founding members Tong and Aureen Almario dreamed about creating their own comedy troupe since 2006. The two met at San Francisco State University, where Tong was Almario’s teaching assistant in an Asian American studies class. “Then she ended up being one of my friends’ girlfriends and I was like ‘Oh ... hey!’ and I saw her at Bindlestiff [Studio] and it was like … ‘Can’t get away from you, Aureen!’” The two finally created the troupe in 2011, with five total members, and continued to expand by inviting women associated with Bindlestiff that they worked well with.
The name of the comedy troupe, Granny Cart Gangstas, juxtaposes two contrasting concepts. Tong said Almario, who came up with the name, was inspired by the pedestrian lifestyle of granny-cart owners in the midst of the hustle and bustle of certain SF neighborhoods. “That’s like, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to do my thing and I don’t care what anyone else thinks,’” Tong explained.
Lauren Garcia, who joined the troupe last October, expanded on the name’s connotations. “If you have a granny cart, you know, you can’t politely, say, go through the bus or the street, and go ‘Excuse me, excuse me.’” (Tong interjected, “You’re just unapologetic.”) Garcia continued, “You just run over those people’s feet.”
When it comes to the troupe’s material, this mindset is always relevant. Its material is solely comprised of things that make its own members laugh. And even though members grapple with worries that no one else will find certain things funny, they’ll keep them in anyway.
“No Happy Endings” opens with a piece that pays homage to grannies — one of the first pieces where the members assume the role of grannies. “You’ve got to respect grannies,” Garcia said. “They’re grannies — they’ve been through shit.” In the sketch, the troupe members are nursing home residents (sans granny carts, unfortunately), comatose as a nurse administers their daily medicine. Before the nurse leaves, she switches on a radio, which starts playing classical music. But one of the grannies won’t have that and slowly trudges to the radio — with the assistance of her walker — and changes the music to something more modern: Beyoncé’s “Grown Woman.” Instantly rejuvenated, the grannies begin to dance.
The troupe returns to this scene later to close the show. “Grown Woman” is still playing. “We actually bust out into our younger selves and we do a short synchronized dance,” Tong said, “kind of saying that every granny is young inside them. They have that young person that lived there before.” Combined with the young souls’ dance, Beyoncé’s lyrics “I’m a grown woman / I can do whatever I want” only serve to further drive this message home.
“I feel like so many people forget that older people were young once and they are people — they’re not the sacks that people treat them as,” Garcia said. As a nurse, she said she constantly witnesses incidents of verbal elder abuse where nurses and other people in the hospital condescendingly speak to elderly patients.
Besides the geriatric piece, the group likes to write about womanhood. For their first show, “Rise of the Red Dawn,” the group performed a sketch titled “Look At This Betch.” “We’re making fun of the idea that women sometimes ... have this competition with each other,” Garcia said. “They’re cutthroat and catty and will cut other women to get ahead when they should be helping other women. They know what it’s like to be a woman in this world.”
However, Tong said the group noticed that much of the last show focused on the negative aspects of womanhood. To depict women in a more positive light, it included a sketch titled “Vag Save” in the upcoming show, which also includes films and stand-up. Garcia introduced “Vag Save” to me through a mock movie trailer voiceover: “Save your best friend’s vagina. Coming soon, this Saturday, June 28, we will be saving … your vaginas.”
The sketch follows a group of women at a club banding together to protect each other from the unwelcome advances of creepy men. “Not everybody sees that world,” Tong said. “Guys definitely don’t know when other guys are being creepy — or when they’re being creepy — and this is how women see it.”
The troupe is entirely comprised of women of color. Members write cultural references sparingly — one of the lines in sketch “Spanx” plays with how similar the word “backpack” and the Tagalog word for “vagina” (pekpek) sound: “Reach into my pekpek” — because they don’t want to alienate any audience members. Sometimes they’ll include references if a character has an accent (the references are usually improv ad libs), but they stray from writing references that aren’t obvious or explained.
At the same time, Tong and Garcia appreciate San Francisco’s diversity and open-mindedness. “I think we take advantage of that,” Tong said. “We almost take it for granted. We don’t think about having to be sensitive.” The two joked that they might have things thrown at them on stage or their citizenship papers checked in more conservative states. Most of the members are Bay Area natives, but live in cities as spread apart as Walnut Creek, San Francisco, and Hayward, which Tong admitted makes getting together for rehearsal tough.
Inspiration can hit the troupe at any time — sources range from people, such as Beyoncé, or the minutiae of daily life, such as putting in a Diva Cup. (A Diva Cup is an eco-friendly alternative to a tampon. Garcia shared some tips from a YouTube how-to video she watched, where an upside-down wine glass served as a model vagina: improper nail length can quickly make the experience unpleasant and one of the tricky things is “getting it into a little ball and making sure it goes in before it pops open ... because then that’s painful and you don’t want to do that, let me tell you.” Tong was a little hesitant about this sketch idea.) Throughout the interview, Tong and Garcia effortlessly bounced new ideas off each other, assuring me they could even parody the interview we were having. “You’ll be in this,” Garcia told me. “Come watch our stuff; you’ll see yourself.”
Six days before the show, at least one troupe member’s grandmother was confirmed to attend “No Happy Endings.” Garcia’s mother purchased tickets for several family members — before her daughter explained that the not-so-family-friendly show was “mature, sexual, and raunchy.” Garcia complained that her grandmother would simply have to sit through performances such as “Octopussy,” where she sings “I’ve tried everything / You could possibly do / When you’re in bed with two / Wheelbarrow, doggy style / Missionary, 69 / It feels so fine / But he can’t make me cum.”
“We’ll apologize later if you need us to,” Tong reassured Garcia.
Emphasis on “need.” After all, a true granny cart gangsta is never apologetic if they can help it.
Granny Cart Gangstas’ “No Happy Endings”
Sat/28, 8pm, $15
Little Boxes Theater
1661 Tennessee, SF