Stupid-in-place for St Stupid’s Day with the First Church of the Last Laugh (originally written in 2020)

Cassiel Cardinal MacAvity and friends at the St. Stupid’s Day parade.

Founded in the 70s in an attempt to infuse the North American, dad-joke-centric “April Fools’ Day” with the more anarchic spirit of the European “feast of fools,” the St. Stupid’s Day parade is, hands-down, one of San Francisco’s most colorful spectacles. Led by Ed Holmes aka Bishop Joey, a long-time mischief-maker and raconteur, the parade invites a broad interpretation of stupidity, so broad, in fact, that in includes all of humanity under its holy umbrella—the First Church of the Last Laugh.

Ed Holmes aka Bishop Joey leads the St. Stupid’s Day parade in 1988.

Although there are no set rules to attending this most stupid of events, as with any high holy day there are proscribed rituals and recitations to look forward to. Depending on whether April 1 falls on a weekend or a weekday, there are two different routes. Weekends wind up in North Beach, where the clownish garb and antics of the assembled against the neighborhood’s sedate, European pastiche gives them the appearance of a ragged commedia dell’arte troupe come to storm the gates. But it’s weekdays marching through the financial district that the parade really comes into its own.

St. Stupid’s Day revelers in less socially-distant times.

It’s here that the rituals take on a decided anti-capitalist approach, whilst visiting the “stations of stupid.” These include a stop at the Federal Reserve Bank on Market to bestow losing lottery tickets on its front steps, a visit to the old Pacific Stock Exchange for the ritual of a Pacific Sock Exchange, and a march to the so-named “banker’s heart.” A giant black granite sculpture squatting outside the Bank of America on California Street (née “Transcendence,” by Masayuki Nagare), where the faithful toss pennies and chant nonsense. Chanting nonsense is another hallmark of the parade, as are signs bearing all sorts of unserious slogans. As the parade wends its way through the heart of the FiDi, its not uncommon to see curious worker bees hanging out of their high-rise office windows, or snapping amused photos to share with their fellow worker bee friends later on.

“Go back to work,” the assembled goofs might chant up at them gleefully. But in all honesty, anyone is welcome to join the parade, and many do.

Dum is Sexy.

Defining “stupid” is not what the First Church of the Last Laugh is all about. So people are free to come up with their own varied interpretations. And if a lot of those interpretations are blatantly political in nature, well, it is San Francisco after all. Even in less politically-fraught times, there’s room for critique, and sometimes that critique comes in the form of a companion cardboard cutout, a dunce cap, and an “I’m with Stupid” t-shirt. Counter-cultural celebrities and touchstones such as Wavy Gravy and the Doggie Diner heads are generally found in attendance, and while a decided demographic of the parade skews older and retired, there’s a pretty large contingent of families who turn out too—indoctrinating their littles with a healthy dose of civic irresponsibility and playful irreverence.

St. Stupid’s Day celebrities, Wavy Gravy, Doggie Diner Heads, and friends.

But as with all other celebrations this month, this year’s parade has been cancelled, and all Stupids not deemed “essential” to their jobs must stay home. So how will the Stupid community celebrate their one high holy day? I reached out to a few for comment. As you might imagine, getting a “straight” answer from a bunch of proud idiots is not easy. One communiqué read in part as follows:

“There will be

  • no April 1st stations-of-the-cross/sock exchange in the FiDi. Save your pennies, the banker’s heart will be encased in carbonite and launched into geostationary orbit where it will be used to deflect wayward asteroids and comets.
  • no let-them-eat-cake/drink-Coronavus-beer in Dolores Park
  • no cameo appearances from Bay Area plutocrats Dianne Feinstein (DiFi!), Willie Brown (Esq.), Ron Conway (or the highway)
  • no a capella karaoke with patron of the arts philthanotite Dede Wilsey, and techbro oligarchs Travis Kalanick and Jack Dorsey
  • no high-fiving noogies from pleb-euthing pals Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Ellison
  • no spittoon splosh with Anne Wojcicki at the zoo’s Civet Center —where viral hosts gather with bats, pangolins, and other interspecies partners to mutate and exchange lethal ribonuclear payloads!”

Which, ok, sounds pretty stupid but without immediately practical application.

Frank Chu is a faithful observer of St. Stupid’s Day.

More tangibly, Bishop Joey intends to stream a zoom “parade” from his East Bay HQ, a Facebook thread proposing posts of people’s costumes has emerged, and a “postpony’d” parade at an as-yet-undetermined future date has been promised. As for myself, I’ll probably toss a couple of orphan socks and pennies in the air to see where they land and console my stupid spirit with a couple of kazoo anthems and a bubble wand. I know in my heart that it’s not the parade that makes the stupid, but the stupid that makes the parade, and I can take comfort that I can still play my part. Stupidity lives on. Viva Stupid!

Stupidity, our most abundant resource.

(some of the above photos were first published by the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 2011. Photo credits Nicole Gluckstern and courtesy of Ed Holmes/Bishop Joey)