Ten years of comedy in Mill Valley are being celebrated this month courtesy of “Mark Pitta and Friends.” Getting its start in November 2004 at the then newly renovated and reopened 142 Throckmorton Theatre, the show began drawing crowds right away — thanks in part to frequent unannounced guest sets by Pitta’s friends (and fellow Marin residents) Dana Carvey and the late Robin Williams. Pitta has been the consummate host for the show, having been a stand-up comedian since the early 1980s, a guest star on TV shows like Third Rock From the Sun, and the entertainment reporter for five years on KTVU’s Mornings On 2 program.
1. What gave you the idea to do the “Mark Pitta and Friends” show? Panic. I had just lost my job at Channel 2. I saw that Will Durst was performing at this theater five minutes from my house. So I asked the owner, Lucy Mercer, “Can I do a show here?” She said yes. After I did my show I asked, “Can I do a weekly show?”
2. What is your relationship with Lucy like? I’ve called her my guardian angel because her giving me the opportunity to host a show saved my life. At the time, I’d just bought a house, and I had to pay for it.
3. Why Tuesday night? I did that on purpose. Local comedians are either back from a gig or they haven’t left for a new one yet. Comedians coming into the Bay Area for a gig have to come in a day early, to do radio promotions.
4. What were your expectations for the show? As I have in life: None. And no planning. I’ve ended up here. So be it.
5. In the 10 years you’ve been doing the show, what’s a high point for you? When Albert Brooks walked into our green room, and Robin (Williams) was there, and Mort Sahl. I looked at my wife, Jocelyn, and said, “This is really important!” And I just got to hang with those three guys at the same time.
6. And the low point? The day that Robin died. That next day was a Tuesday and it was the first show I’ve ever canceled that wasn’t a holiday. The first show canceled because of grief.
7. What’s a favorite place in Marin where you like to hang out and unwind? Coyote Coffee in Tam Junction is a place I like to go to have coffee and talk to the locals. I love Greg and Leslie, who run it. And it reminds me, at my age, that wow — I really am living life like Petticoat Junction or Green Acres.
8. Is there a place that you and your wife enjoy going to relax? Don’t laugh — this is absolutely true: we bowl. We just head to Country Club Bowl in San Rafael and bowl. We blend right in. I want to go to the pro shop and get her a ball for her birthday but it has to be sized. How do you do that as a surprise gift?
9. You keep who’s going to be on “Mark Pitta and Friends” a secret — why? Because I like the audience to be there to see comedy, not to see a famous person who has a TV show. That’s why, whether they see Richard Lewis, or they see funny comedians who aren’t famous, they go, “Holy cow — there are a lot of funny people out there.” So you get a pure comedy audience instead of just people who are lured by fame.
10. Is there anything about Marin that is missing? When I see a vacant store in Marin I think, Why didn’t they just combine the places that went out of business? We should have Yogurt Yoga. You do an hour of yoga and then get a tasty treat.