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36 Hours in Sacramento

The Fourth Wall!

The Fourth Wall!

By: Katie Rubin

Thanks so much to our generous sponsor LRG Lending for making this article possible!!

Brian Crall runs the Comedy Spot in the Mars Building in Midtown, but he is not your average Comedy Club Owner/Manager/Performer.  In an industry that is usually driven by alcohol sales, hierarchical cool-guy behavior, and exclusivity, Brian Crall is all about inclusivity.  Well, that and making excellent comedy shows.

“Our mission,” Brian tells me “is to give comedians a place to learn, experiment, fail, and thrive.  Our mission is NOT ‘just let white dudes with beards be in charge of everything, say crude shit all the time, and be mysoginist onstage.’  Our attitude is ‘if you come to our space, we want you to see yourself represented here. So it’s important to me that we are always doing things that open the doors for everyone to be a part of our community.”  

A comedy guy who CARES?!  What’s happening here?

Brian was paying the rent for The Comedy’ Spot’s first space, from his own wallet, back between 2001 and 2005, using the tips he made as an airport skycap.  (Note: those guys don’t make a lot in tips). And he was doing that with three kids to raise!

Brian Crall shares a laugh centerstage at The Comedy Spot.

Brian Crall shares a laugh centerstage at The Comedy Spot.

Their space was tiny, (just 20 seats), but they felt good because they were developing their craft, and growing their audience.  Plus, Brian always had faith in his vision for what he knew the Comedy Spot could be.  “I knew if I could just get us through that hard time, we’d eventually start making money.”

“Everything in my life happens by chance.”  Brian tells me.

“Chance?” I wonder silently to myself.  “Or super positive karma cuz you’re actually quite a rad dude?”

“When we needed 10k to buy our first tiny space, I randomly mentioned that fact to my landlord at my apartment building at the time and he said ‘Oh, yeah.  I’ll back you. So we got the money. Which was like… WHAT?!”

“A few years later, in 2009,” Brian says, “one of the comedians working with us knew Edie Lambert from KCRA, and invited her to a show.  She came and really enjoyed herself, so we ended up going to Tower Cafe for dessert afterwards.  She said ‘I have a friend who has a space in mid-town and they might be interested in having you guys there.  This was during the recession, so they gave us a one year lease and a really good rate. I’m sure they were thinking ‘The economy will come back and then we can get rid of these guys because they probably won’t be able to afford this anyway.’  But, gratefully, November will be our 10 year anniversary in the Mars Building. So. That’s pretty awesome.”

The Comedy Spot is located at 1050 20th Street, Suite 130 in Sacramento, CA!!

The Comedy Spot is located at 1050 20th Street, Suite 130 in Sacramento, CA!!

Pretty awesome indeed.  Also awesome was the quality of the work that was happening (and continues to happen) at the Spot.  The shows were solid, word of mouth began to spread, their classes grew in size, and eventually they got their liquor license.  

“Because the space was created to get away from the worst parts of bars,” Brian tells me, “I didn’t want it to be a comedy club that existed just to sell drinks.  I also didn’t want the shows getting interrupted by drink service. I wanted the quality of the work to stay high. But, the liquor license really did help us out financially, so we decided to do it our own way.  No drinks are served during our shows, but you can buy beer before and after. And people seem to really dig that.”


I tell Brian that it seems like he really cares about all the important stuff that really matters.  And he’s honest with me.

“The truth is, the point for us was we always want to support comedians.  We want comedians to get paid.  So, what started off as a way to get our own space, really sort of accidentally became a community.  Somewhere along the line, we all sort of realized that we’re all a bunch of misfit toys, and we’re all in this together, you know?  And so I try to make sure that we are not a place where people are just out to get theirs.  But more like we’re all there to be a community and we all take care of each other.”

I’m interviewing Brian from the Dallas airport and I tell him “Dude.  You’re gonna make me cry at this Panda Express right now.”

He laughs.  Then he continues to elicit fluids from my eye holes.  


“I tried, for a while,” Brian says, “to get investors, but people literally laughed at me.  And I understood. I mean, it’s not a traditional business, that’s for sure. So, eventually, we formed a non-profit and I just donated the Comedy Spot to the non-profit.

“The coolest thing is, the more involved we’ve gotten with developing our board, the more involved in the community we’ve gotten.  Like, we started a kids improv program:  We do drop in classes for that now.  And we’re working with this charity called “The Center.”  With them, we are gonna do after-school programs, and school assemblies that deal with being confident, and empowering creativity in kids and cool stuff like that.”

We also have this great program called Fundraisers for Charities.  We curate all the acts, so all the charity has to do is sell tickets to a comedy show.  We’ve worked with Heroic Girls, the LGBTQ, Rainbow Fest, Women’s Empowerment, Weave, and a bunch of others.  It’s really cool.

“Do you know how amazing it is for me, a female comedian, to hear how much you guys care about people and the planet and giving back?” I ask Brian.


“Here’s the thing…” he pauses to gather his thoughts.  “Like, we’re not good at feeding the homeless. We’re good at comedy shows.  So, we’re just using what we’re good at to benefit our community. We’re know we’re probably not gonna save the world with jokes, but we’re trying to really help people out doing what we do best, you know?”

I do know, bro.  I do know. “How did you get to have such healthy and generous priorities,” I ask Brian.  “It usually takes folks a while to learn that in life.”

“I had a really awesome Mom, you know?”

“Jesus, dude.” I think.  “Now you’re praising your MOM?!  ARE you Jesus?”

“And I seriously think she would probably punch me if I did anything to anyone.  So, I can’t mess around.”

He laughs.  I laugh. “That’s awesome,” I say.  

improv 101.jpg

“Honestly, though, and I mean this very much for real: This place would not exist if it wasn’t for everybody who currently performs there, and people who have performed there in the past, but have now gone on to LA, and people who were there for a while and don’t want to do comedy any more, everyone, I mean…  The Comedy Spot is a huge group effort- and if we didn’t have employees, theater assistants, bartenders, volunteers, interns, then none of this could work.  I’m very aware that this is not a one man show. It’s just a group of awesome people all working together to make awesome comedy.”

I tell Brian I have to go because my plane is boarding and he’s probably gotta go do more amazing, life-giving, heart-opening, community-building, wonderment-creating things.

He laughs.  I laugh.

And for a little while, I feel really good about human beings, and the kindness and joy we have the capacity to create.  

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Binchoyaki: Little Space, Big Taste


Binchoyaki: Little Space, Big Taste

By Jamie Worrall

Today you’ll find a much smaller Japantown here in Sacramento compared to what stood pre-WWII. It was relocated in 1957 after bulldozers and the Sacramento City Council moved forward with The Capitol Mall project and, in the process, uprooted our once-bustling 6-square-block Japanese community. These days, along 10th Street in Midtown Sacramento, mostly between T and W, a small cluster of Japanese owned businesses include Osaka-Ya, Sakura Gifts, June’s Cafe, and a new favorite-- Binchoyaki. This new eatery and small bar has caught the attention of many, including Michael Glascock who came in after noticing how crowded it was inside and then soon after reading about their chart-topping Duck Ramen plate in the Sacramento Bee. Learning that a Pocket-Greenhaven native, Craig Takehara and his wife Tokiko Sawada are behind Binchoyaki made him all the more proud of their success and we were eager to spread the word!

Binchoyaki is an Izakaya-style dining experience, or what in Japan would be your go-to after work gastropub where you meet up with friends or co-workers after a long day. Everything here is moderately portioned, but a plate or two per round of drinks should keep you more than satisfied. Binchoyaki seeks to be a Northern California bent on an Izakaya, so while it most definitely keeps Japanese beer on tap, and the authentic Binchotan (maple charcoal) is fired up on the smokeless grill, at the same time they are not afraid to throw some soul music on the speaker system and use French or European influences in a dish. Plus, they are using locally sourced and organic ingredients whenever possible, which here in our farm-to-fork capital is very much appreciated. The food is delicious and the sense of shared experience is too.


Here in Sacto we have great Japanese food, but admittedly, mostly sushi. At Binchoyaki you get more eclectic Japanese offerings, ordered either from their grill menu, which burns between 1000-1500 degrees, or from their kitchen menu. If you need help ordering, Faith, our super knowledgable server, offers suggestions and answer questions about the dishes, happy to share methods, ingredients, and history when asked. You’ll also get a little insight into the preparation of your food watching the barbecues just on the other side of the low bar being expertly fanned while the various skewers of meats and veggies are flipped, added, and removed, some after 30 seconds and others not for 20 minutes. It would take a minimum of 6 months, Craig later estimated, to become merely a proficient Sumiyaki chef using those high-heat binchotan charcoals.

Owners Craig, originally from Sacramento, and Toki who is from the LA area, have been in “the industry” since even before the two met at the California School of Culinary Arts. In high-school Craig worked at Oto’s Maket on Freeport Boulevard as a fishmonger, butcher, and deli manager. Both Craig and Toki have culinary degrees, impressive resumes, and years of experience which give them a great depth and breadth of understanding in Japanese cuisine. After meeting 16 years ago they continued gaining experience in various fine dining restaurants, large hotels, and clubs, even serving celebrities such as Tom Cruise among others. Their lifestyle changed, however, in 2009 when they moved to Sacramento to start a family.  After having been headhunted to open 300-seat restaurants, world travel, and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, he is happy here in Sacramento with his comparatively smaller locale. The goal is now to bring alive a variety of food and culture that has not been available to Sacramentans since the disappearance of a prosperous Japantown. And we are happy they have!

Binchoyaki is closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch is served Tuesday-Saturday 11am-2pm with Dinner from 4pm-10pm. They are open late on Friday and Saturday until Midnight!

Binchoyaki is closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch is served Tuesday-Saturday 11am-2pm with Dinner from 4pm-10pm. They are open late on Friday and Saturday until Midnight!

For Craig, one of the greatest revelations after having been in business for almost a year here in Sacramento is how supportive other restaurants and managers from other places have been. “This is my first restaurant; my first time around,” muses Craig, “And it’s nice to have a group of people in Sacramento where not everything is competition.” He recognizes that our cultural identity here is different from that of the Bay Area, and that of LA, and believes in helping Sacramento create great food, whatever the variety, with a strong sense of camaraderie. At Binchoyaki, the expert ownership and the importance placed on countless tiny details amount to a concept as bold and basic as “Good food made well”, which, when it comes down to it, is as authentic here on the corner of 10th and W as it is novel.