The Harbor Theater comic had a tragic and ‘boring’ weekend in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD — John Basinger takes his stage name from a 1962 cartoon that few people remember, and began his acting career after watching a mediocre comic book whose name he can’t remember.

“I thought, I’m better than him, and he’s on TV. Maybe I can do that,” said Basinger, who adopted Honest John as his stage name after the villain, Dishonest John, in the “Benny and Cecil” cartoon.

“I did my first open mic in 1987, I believe it was, and I wasn’t very good at it. . . But I didn’t let that stop me,” Basinger said.

He said he would go out and sign up for a first show at one club, rush to a second to get on his open mic list, and find a spot at a third club late at night.

They were mostly urban Los Angeles clubs, so he was heavily influenced by black comedians, although he most admired artists who were funny and had something to say: comics such as George Carlin, Lenny Bruce , Richard Pryor and Mark Saul.

Many of his early routines were based on current events, and he gained notice for a parody he did of the beating and trial of Rodney King using the tune “Old MacDonald had a Farm”.

Since then, Honest John has built a career spanning some 35 years that includes appearances on BET’s “Comicview,” “Showtime at the Apollo” and a two-year run on the Def Comedy Jam Tour.

Honest John will headline the opening night of two shows of the new monthly comedy series Phat Saturday on Saturday at the Harbor Theater in Suisun City. Regina Givens will open the shows.

This isn’t the comic’s first appearance in Solano County. He previously performed at Pebberybelly’s comedy club in downtown Fairfield and was scheduled to perform there again the weekend of January 25, 2013, when the club burned down.

Honest John’s name could be seen on the marquee as flames engulfed the club.

“It was one night,” Basinger said.

“I was staying at a hotel near the club, and the owner (Dave Wayne Mayhew) had a good relationship with them and someone (at the hotel) drove me to the club,” Basinger said. “And as we got closer, we could see the glow in the sky, and I said, ‘Wow, someone’s got a problem. daytime.’ The driver said, ‘it could be the club’, and it was.

Basinger said it would have cost him too much to change his flight to Los Angeles, so he stayed in Fairfield for the weekend.

“And I didn’t know anyone, so it was a pretty boring weekend,” he said, adding, however, that Mayhew had paid him half his show salary, although Honest John told him that this was not necessary.

Acting was not a career Basinger had thought of. He said he wasn’t even a class clown in the sense of one of those students who was a cut-up or an overt joker and sought attention while being funny.

In fact, Basinger worked in the field of mental health and even earned a master’s degree in psychology before burning out.

However, he learned early on that there was power in making people laugh, and it served him well when he worked in mental hospitals and other institutions.

“Let me tell you a little story, and it happened when I was in high school,” Basinger begins.

“My parents were trying to stop me from smoking and they caught me smoking, and it was a few days before Thanksgiving,” he said. “So we had this big Thanksgiving dinner, and we sat at this big table and we said grace.”

That’s when her mother got a little wild, complaining that there was someone at the table who hadn’t done what she was told. She never mentioned a name, but the whole family knew who she was referring to that night.

“And I was looking at my plate, and when she finished, I said, ‘At least she didn’t use any names, and everyone fell out. ”

Basinger became a licensed psychiatric technician out of high school and went to work in a mental health hospital where sometimes patients had to be tackled to the floor and given sedatives and ultimately restrained.

“But I found that if I could make patients laugh, I could calm them down and take them back to their room without having to give them a chance,” Basinger said. “We could just give them a pill, and they usually took the pills.”

Basinger had just finished his master’s degree when the pressure of work overwhelmed him, and he watched a mediocre comic book on television.

However, never was the power of comedy more evident than when he spent a month entertaining troops in Iraq. He said they are the best audiences in the world because they appreciate when an artist comes there.

Basinger remembers that after a show, a soldier came up to him and thanked him.

“I lost a friend. . . “, said the soldier, explaining how this friend had been killed in action, “and this is the first time I have laughed since then. “

Bassinger remembers thinking, “Wow, I’m really doing something big.

Honest John won’t say his time in the mental health field gave him any particular insight into human nature and what people might find funny, but he said it taught him something very important: how to listen.

“A (one) piece of advice I give to young comedians is to keep writing and let the audience edit you. Some comedians get so carried away with what they do on stage that they don’t listen to the audience,” a he declared.

Over the years, Honest John has developed a number of routines from a variety of sources – current events, anecdotal, etc. – and when a subject does not work, he has learned to adapt and move on to another.

“But you have to listen to the public,” he said.

The lack of public feedback is what has made performing on Zoom so difficult during the pandemic.

“Zoom broadcasts are just awful, but it’s a way to keep your hands on it,” Honest John said.

The shows at the Harbor Theater will be among his last on the West Coast for a while. Due to work on his building, he is moving with a friend to upstate New York for a while, so most of his performances will be on the East Coast.

How to see the shows

• Tickets for the Saturday shows are $45 for general admission and $55 for VIP seating, which includes a free goodie bag. Shows will be at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are available at or by calling 707-416-3774. The theater is located at 720 Main St.

Daniel K. Denny