Edgy folk singer wants to turn you into a Phranc-ophile

Usually, the annual Bay Area comedy show Funny Girlz features an all-female lineup of stand-up comics. This year, one of the headliners will stand up and sing.

Phranc calls herself the “all-American Jewish lesbian folk singer.” There are probably more than a few good jokes embedded in that label, and Phranc intends to spill them all at the San Francisco event May 10.

Also on the bill are Diane Amos, Gina Yashere, Matthew “Peggy Lee” Martin and Samantha Chase, along with Funny Girlz host Lisa Geduldig.

If the name Phranc sounds familiar, it’s because she recorded several albums in the ’80s and ’90s. Two of them — “I Enjoy Being a Girl” and “Positively Phranc” — were bona fide hits, sparking national tours and chart success.

But her elbow-sharp humor, punk style and in-your-face GLBT activism clashed with the Mariah-Celine-Whitney sensibilities of the times. She might have dropped off Billboard’s radar, but Phranc never stopped making music and art.

Or comedy, for that matter.

“Maybe it’s my hair,” says the spiky-coiffed singer by phone from her Santa Monica home. “Some people think I’m a comedian. There are some punch lines in my songs, but it’s very different timing to be performing with a bunch of people who do stand-up.”

As for “Jewish” in the Jewish lesbian folk singer, Phranc is as out Jewishly as she is sexually. She grew up in Los Angeles attending a Reform religious school. But she says she was far more impacted by her grandfather, a dentist who eventually became the cantor of a local congregation.

She remembers attending High Holy Day services with an overflow crowd at L.A.’s El Rey Theater on Wilshire Boulevard, with her grandfather on the bimah. “That was a big influence on me,” Phranc says. “I still have the records of the cantors he used to listen to.”

As a teenager, she attended L.A.’s Feminist Studio Workshop, where she focused on songwriting and silk-screening. In the late 1970s she was a member of bands such as Nervous Gender and Catholic Discipline in the local punk scene. As a solo artist, she later toured with bands like the Knitters, the Smiths, the Pogues and Morrissey.

Over the years, Phranc developed her fine art skills, and today is an accomplished artist. Calling herself the Cardboard Cobbler, she creates lifelike pieces out of cardboard, anything from a box of chocolates to jewelry. “I’ve made art out of cardboard since I was a kid with the first refrigerator box,” she says. “I never stopped.”

Music remains important to her. Last year Phranc won a City of Los Angeles arts fellowship for which she is writing songs about L.A. She’ll premiere them later this spring.

But even music and art take a backseat to family. Phranc and her partner have two children, ages 7 and 11. They are raising the kids as Jews.

“I love all the traditions of Judaism,” Phranc says. “I don’t agree with all of the Torah, but I don’t know anyone who does. We light Shabbat candles with my family and we say thank you for the week. I try to share with my kids the values and traditions.”

The singer has long argued for greater access to Jewish life for gay and lesbian Jews. She is on board with changes such as the Conservative movement now allowing LGBT Jews to become rabbis. “Any time the religious hierarchy can get off their high horse and deal with real people, it’s a blessing.”

Regarding her unusual talent for making lifelike toast and chocolates out of cardboard, Phranc simply says, “I’ve always had a fake-food fetish.”

“Funny Girlz: A Smorgasbord of Women Comedians” is at 8 p.m. May 10 at the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F. Tickets: $25-$40. Information: (415) 522-3737 or online at www.koshercomedy.com.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.