Why you should care
San Francisco does corny as well as anyone.
Easily one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country, San Francisco has the reputation of being inhabited by some of the most urbane human beings ever to stride planet Earth. And yet the city also hosts some of the campiest events you’ve seen in your life. While you’ll seldom find these attractions featured in the city’s promotional literature, San Francisco’s favorite guilty pleasures claim legions of its oh-so-chic denizens as loyal followers.
The 2004 Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn outing lives on to this day in the form of DodgeballSF. We’re talking real live adult dodgeball, just as portrayed in the film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Renowned for being both passive and politically correct, San Franciscans check those traits at the door every Monday night from April to June to fling large inflated rubber balls at one another. “Most people like throwing stuff at other people, for some reason,” says Cliff Thomas, general manager of DodgeballSF, laughing. “The film is definitely a factor too. There are ‘friendly rivalries’ — many team names reference the movie, and every week you’ll hear somebody say, ‘If you can dodge a wrench …’ ” The league (that’s right, the league) holds seven weeks of regular season games, culminating in a playoff series and the crowning of the (we kid you not) Dodgeball Champions of San Francisco.
Imagine 1,400 people dressed like characters from The Sound of Music, all singing along with Julie Andrews.
Castro Theater Sing-Alongs
Columns of doppelgängers stretch around the block for the Castro Theater’s sing-along events. Imagine 1,400 people dressed like characters from The Sound of Music, all singing along with Julie Andrews as she works her way through her ode to the tonal scale: “Doe, a deer, a female deer …” The sing-along treatment is also applied to contemporary fare like Moana and La La Land. Wholly enthusiastic San Franciscans show up in character angling to win the costume contests. “One thing we love in this city is shared experiences,” says Brooke Reed, publisher of the San Francisco blog ILeftMyHeart.com. “The energy in the sold-out theater was palpable. There were a few kids, but mostly it was adults like us who couldn’t contain their excitement.“ Lyrics are projected onto the screen like subtitles, so even if you don’t know the words by heart (though the regulars always do), you can sing along too.
’80s Night at the Cat Club
Madonna still holds court as the Queen of Pop every Thursday night at the Cat Club’s Class of ’84 event. But ’80s pop is just the touchstone; the walls also vibrate in sympathy with new wave, rock, synth pop and industrial jams from the Reagan era. Sustained by a loyal group of regulars — who know the words to all the songs and gleefully sing along — you’ll find San Franciscans all decked out in ’80s garb, complete with Flock of Seagulls hair and Thriller jackets. Artists most often seen on the then-nascent MTV (back when MTV actually showed music videos) rule the front room. The back room caters to the harder, grittier fare of the period. Show up before 9:30 p.m. — you’ll get in free.
Beach Blanket Babylon
Playing to sold-out audiences for decades, pop culture musical review Beach Blanket Babylon is a genuine San Francisco icon. While it’s seemingly aimed at tourists, a huge percentage of the audience is local — though you’ll seldom hear them boasting about it the next day. “I’d lived in the Bay Area for 20 years before a friend took me to see it,” says Manzel Custer, who works in San Francisco’s financial district. He’s seen it three times since and “it’s been different every time.” The ultimate San Francisco guilty pleasure, Beach Blanket Babylon’s longevity is readily understood once you’ve experienced the dazzling spectacle of extravagant costumes and headdresses.