Local laugh master Pete Munoz harnesses laughs for a good cause.

Local comedian Peter Munoz spearheaded a program to use proceeds from standup comedy performances to help the homeless in the Bay Area. (Image by Danny Acosta)

Eastside San Jose native Pete Munoz always wanted to be a comedian.

Thirteen-and-a-half years ago, he got on stage for the first time at Rooster T. Feathers in Sunnyvale. For the last seven years, he’s put out the “sign up” list for comedians from all walks of life to take the mic for a few minutes at Woodhams Sports Lounge on Stevens Creek Boulevard in Santa Clara every Monday night. And whether the bar patrons have a good laugh or take pity on the comics, they can leave cash appreciation in the tip jar for the performers.

Divided up at the end of the night, the tips help to keep the comics going: gas money to the next gig, a much-needed late meal or the purchase of a drink to let the bar know their comedy nights are worthwhile — it all goes a long way. Four years ago however, Munoz decided to give the tip jar new meaning: he recognized that the comics—typically known for their own varying states of distress— could acknowledge their own privilege and pass on the week’s tip jar to help the homeless. The goal? Make winter less harsh for the homeless in Silicon Valley. Since then, buying sleeping bags for people living outside in the Bay Area has become a seasonal driving force behind Munoz’s Monday night open mic at Woodhams.

He first tested his idea with a few sleeping bags purchased by their laugh-inspired fund, distributing them out to individuals in need around the community. “I wanted to show what the bar could do,” Munoz says. “The place we’re at, it’s just a little dive bar. It’s not like I’m at Santana Row and I’m getting thousands of dollars — ‘let me write you a check.’ … This is something small. That’s what I like about it. I wanted to see what this little tiny spot in this place could do.”

Scenes from a Munoz-produced comedy show in Hollister, CA. (Images via Pete Munoz’s Instagram)

Munoz, who has performed at the San Jose Improv, Comedy Store and gone on the road with Last Comic Standing winner Felipe Esparza, felt the need to follow up on the first year to see how far this homegrown initiative could go.

“People were matching what we made,” he said, “someone matched six hundred dollars in one night.”

Munoz typically gets ten-dollar sleeping bags from Walmart or Target, but as the giving has evolved over the years, he’s also invested in better quality, more expensive sleeping bags. Despite the project starting from spare cash, now that word has spread, Munoz prefers people send sleeping bags instead of cash. The less cash to handle, the better, and he’ll deliver the donated sleeping bags, which now come direct to his doorstep from supporters that order online.

“We’re all doing this together,” he said. “I’m not doing this by myself.”

In fact, as Munoz’s time became tighter with the arrival of his first son, the local comedy community rallied to pick up the slack. Comic Jorge Sanchez had a comedy night at Caffe Frascati in San Jose and started raising money the same way.

Munoz has noticed the homeless crisis escalate in the time he’s been doing this. Now when he encounters the unhoused, there are typically bigger groups. Recently, people began living in their car parked outside his house. He believes the crisis will only get worse, yet that doesn’t deter him. He wants to set an example for his son that it’s important not to forget the downtrodden or feel above helping others.

“We’ll do it every year, even if it’s just one bag,” he said. “I’ll probably keep doing it even if [Woodhams is] not doing it.”

Initially, Munoz would ask to take pictures with the sleeping bag recipients and post photos on social media with the hashtag #Woodhelpers since that’s been the quickest way to spread the word. However, he has eschewed this of late because, he explains, the people he’s giving them to “are probably in a low state” and he respects their wishes for anonymity.

(Images via Pete Munoz’s Instagram)

The interactions are always brief and the exchange rarely goes beyond, “Would you like a sleeping bag to stay warm?”

Since the effort is collaborative, people have added more essentials to give: beanies, female hygiene bags, rain ponchos and hand warmers.

“We’re just pushing in our own little way,” he said. “Sometimes you see stuff on the news, someone took a homeless guy, gave ’em a haircut and all of a sudden, you see the guy, he’s a different person. Hopefully…some confidence builds there.”

One instance stands out to Munoz that best exemplifies why he’s so committed to it. A man who was sleeping on the sidewalk sprung up and quickly power-walked away once he took the sleeping bag.

“Rather than him just lay there in the dumps — you see this attitude, he’s in a better mood just from the second I gave him the bag,” Munoz said. “He came to life. That’s why I do it.”

(Image via Getty)

The weekly comedy open mic on Mondays starts at 8:30 p.m. at Woodhams Sports Lounge, 4475 Stevens Creek Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95051. Drop money in the tip jar there or contact Pete Munoz on Instagram to send sleeping bags or other items for the homeless.

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Danny Acosta

100% Mexellence. Filmmaker. Writer. Photographer. www.dannyacosta.net

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