AI art, standup and sketches play tech for laughs at Hack Comedy Night

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Just four months into its run at Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, Hack Comedy Night is featuring some big names, from a lovelorn Planet Earth feeling lonely on Valentine’s Day to ChadGPT, who is ChatGPT’s little brother fresh out of business school. Even U.S. President Joe Biden — or at least his voice — seems to have been on hand.

The show takes place monthly, with the next show on April 22, with Orion Levine as the featured comic. There will be standup, but audiences also can expect some sketch-style elements that take inspiration from “Saturday Night Live,” including a “news” segment skewering tech headlines, said Victor Treviño, who founded the event and currently co-presents it with fellow techies and comedians Richard Barney and Ryan Sudhakaran.

Lately, AI art generators have also been making an appearance at the comedy nights, and changing the face of the event (or at least that segment of it).

“A comedian goes up and does their set and then we have the words from their set digested and put into an AI generator. So it will create images from the stories the comedian was telling,” Treviño said, noting that the generator also is given images of the comedian’s face.

At the end of their set, the artistic results of the AI’s efforts are revealed to the comedian and audience alike.

“One of the special things about doing standup is being able to paint a picture for people verbally and so it’s fun to see their stories come to life,” Treviño said.

And as he points out, AI art generators already have potential for comedy— as anyone knows who’s ever been surprised by, say, an AI portrait that bestows on its subject additional limbs, or perhaps especially creepy-looking hands.

“It’s also funny to see where the limitations of the AI art are — we purposely aren’t using the most sophisticated (generator),” Treviño said.

Treviño has had a foot in both the worlds that make up Hack Comedy Night, with a background in tech as well as experience in comedy — and in using technology to get laughs.

“I was a software engineer. I recently quit to do comedy and comedy production full time. But I also just was a hacker. I have Raspberry Pi projects,” Treviño said.

Among those projects was an animatronic piñata, an upgrade to the traditional party game that also upped the stakes, because this piñata tracked hits and misses.

“It was really funny. It had vibration sensors, where it could tell how hard you hit it and say a certain quote, based on how hard you hit it. And if you went a certain number of times, it would taunt you,” he said.

Projects like the back-talking piñata were frequently seen at the early days of Hack Comedy Nights, which began at Noisebridge Hackerspace in San Francisco in 2018, where the event is still also regularly taking place.

Since then, the comedy night has evolved from a more strictly hacker-focused event.

“It was a very project-based comedy show, where we wanted people to hack and make things to bring it to the show versus a straight stand and deliver,” Treviño said of its original format.

In addition to its performances in San Francisco and Mountain View, Treviño said that Hack Comedy is available for private events.

The comedy nights are among a variety of events that aim to foster a sense of community at Hacker Dojo, which offers a combination of makerspace, workspace and educational support events, according to Hacker Dojo Community Manager Tiyanna Calderon.

“Explaining what a Hacker Dojo is, is one thing but experiencing it for yourself is another. Hacker Dojo is a community that we are trying to build in hopes of supporting entrepreneurs that are local to Silicon Valley or also traveling temporarily to Silicon Valley,” she said.

The Dojo aims to help give people access to knowledge and tools for their startups or polish their skills. That includes other events where people can brush up for interviews or pitches in 15-minute one-on-one sessions with professionals such as recruiters or developers. Lightning talks offer the opportunity for people to share ideas, including startup pitches, in quick five-minute presentations.

The space also offers two maker labs: a laser room and an electronics lab.

“One of the requirements to become a member is you have to be okay asking people questions and be okay with them asking you questions. And it’s about having that energy around you when you’re working,” said Hacker Dojo Executive Director Emily Johnson.

“It’s not only work, you don’t go in, put your head down to work and then leave. You actually make colleagues and friends in different ways,” she added.

Hacker Dojo also partners with groups such as the all-volunteer nonprofit Code San Jose. The group will host a hack-a-thon for high school students coming up this weekend at the Dojo.

Hack Comedy Night and many other events are open to both members and the general public, with the aim of building the community and making everyone feel welcome, Calderon and Johnson said.

Not only will visitors to the comedy night see what the Dojo has to offer, but they’ll also get a taste of what’s going on with various tech tools, Treviño said.

“I think one thing they’re going to see is the state of the art, because we’re playing with different tools every time — different AI bots or whatever. So they’re seeing what people are making with these AI tools out there and then also just laughing a lot.”

Hack Comedy night takes place April 22, 8 p.m. at Hacker Dojo, 855 Maude Ave., Mountain View. Tickets are $15-$20. For more information, visit eventbrite.com or hackerdojo.org. Instagram: @hackerdojo.

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