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This San Francisco April Idiot’s custom refuses to die

According to Ed Holmes, the Bay Area is home to the world’s fastest growing “snack religion”: the First Church of the Last Laugh.

“150% less dogma, it’s a light religion,” said Holmes, who also goes by the moniker Bishop Joey, the “seminal and secular head” of the church. The group celebrates only one holy day, April 1, which they’ve dubbed Saint Stupid’s Day. In addition to the fastest growing low-cal religious organization, Holmes also claims that they’re the world’s most dangerous church (because they dare to tell the truth) and also the largest.

“Our religion is based on the DNA that we share with all humanity. Seven and half billion people share a little link, and that is a stupid gene. Everybody’s a member of the church, they just don’t know it,” Holmes said.

Bishop Joey aka Ed Holmes, middle, from Berkeley has been leading the annual Saint Stupid’s Day Parade in San Francisco for the past 35 years on Monday, April 1, 2013. Holmes was in a mime troupe for 26 years.

Hearst Newspapers/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Beginning in 1979, Holmes has gathered a motley crew of pranksters at noon on April 1 at Embarcadero Plaza and inducted the crowd into the church before embarking on the Saint Stupid’s Day Parade, soundtracked by drummers, horn players and lots of chanting. An Associated Press story published in the Midland Reporter-Telegram in 1983 summed up the ethos of the attendees: “’What you’re doing is totally stupid,’ a woman yelled at [a man] who was wearing a business suit and sandals while hauling his dollar-sign cross. ‘Thank you, that’s a compliment,’ he said.”

Over the years, the event has developed a set path through the Financial District. Paraders take part in a series of elaborate rituals like throwing lottery tickets up in the air outside the Federal Reserve Building or banging on a utility door at 101 California dubbed the “Tomb of Saint Stupid” to see if he’ll come out. There’s a “union-mandated” parade resting at the sunken Hallidie Plaza, and a tradition of screaming at people looking down from office buildings, compelling them not to jump or calling them slackers that need to go back to work. Along the way, pennies are tossed on the ground as tribute to the city’s temples of commerce.

Back in 1985, Holmes told the San Francisco Examiner that the vision for the event came to him while he was high… on dessert.

“One day I was overdosing on frozen yogurt right down here on the Embarcadero when I had a vision: It was a 600-foot Saint Stupid trying to panhandle me for $249. My sinuses started thawing out as I realized there were big bucks in religion. Immediately I appointed myself head of the First Church of the Last Laugh.”

Holmes, who has lived in Berkeley for the last 32 years, first arrived in San Francisco in 1969 by way of the US Navy. For seven years, he was a mechanic on submarines and an aircraft carrier stationed in Alameda. The GI Bill funded his education, but then he fell into theater “by accident” and has been a physical performer ever since in groups like the Fratelli Bologna (which appeared in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff”) and the San Francisco Mime Troupe , where he worked from 1986 to 2014 until he retired because of back and knee problems. He still teaches occasionally but identifies as a retired physical comedian, making an exception to head back into the office every April 1 to carry on one of San Francisco’s silliest rites of passage. Pre-pandemic, the event would draw a few hundred people when it was held on a weekday, and a thousand on a weekend.

Professor Violet from San Francisco holds his sign during the 35th annual Saint Stupid's Day Parade in front of 100 California St. in San Francisco on Monday, April 1, 2013.

Professor Violet from San Francisco holds his sign during the 35th annual Saint Stupid’s Day Parade in front of 100 California St. in San Francisco on Monday, April 1, 2013.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst N/San Francisco Chronicle via Gett

The event channels the attitude of San Francisco’s Merry Pranksters, an absurdist ’60s collective influential in the Summer of Love, and even counted founder Ken Kesey as the parade leader one year in the mid-’80s. As far as beliefs are concerned, main tenets of the church seem to be simply poking fun at authority and relishing in the absurd, with their main gathering space being a meme-filled Facebook group. But in addition to falling into the legacy of San Francisco counterculture, Holmes sees the event as a modern day extension of ancient traditions like Europe’s blasphemous Feast of Fools and rebellious archetypes that exist in every society.

“Around the world in every culture there’s this character called the trickster,” Holmes said. “For American Indians, it’s the coyote or the raven. In the South, it’s Br’er Rabbit. In China, it’s Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. In Africa, it’s Anansi, the spider. These are all characters that criticize and comment on culture and people. They teach lessons through these stories and events. Saint Stupid is just an update on this ancient tendency that happens in society.”

Geoff Walker, left, from San Francisco, weed man, middle, and Kelly Moore, right, from Marin meet at Justin Herman Plaza for the 35th annual Saint Stupid's Day Parade in San Francisco on Monday, April 1, 2013.

Geoff Walker, left, from San Francisco, weed man, middle, and Kelly Moore, right, from Marin meet at Justin Herman Plaza for the 35th annual Saint Stupid’s Day Parade in San Francisco on Monday, April 1, 2013.

Hearst Newspapers/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Unfortunately, the event has been on pause since 2020, and won’t officially return this year due to lingering COVID concerns and Holmes’ health problems. However, based on how active the community is online, the future of the parade seems to be in good hands. You can find countless videos of the parade on YouTube, and even a 33-minute documentary uploaded to Vimeo last year. There’s been talk of a last-minute Zoom edition of this year’s rituals (check the Saint Stupiders page for updates). And despite the fact that the bishop will be on the sidelines, Holmes has heard reports that some followers of Saint Stupid will still crawl through the Financial District flash mob-style, something that gives him hope that San Francisco hasn’t lost its counterculture charm .

“There’s still this wild spirit happening in San Francisco,” he says. “It’s getting squeezed out, it’s getting shut down, but there’s folks still doing it. I haven’t given up, San Francisco is still my favorite city.”

Lars Adams from Oakland takes a break during the 35th annual St. Stupid's Day Parade through the Financial District in San Francisco on Monday, April 1, 2013.

Lars Adams from Oakland takes a break during the 35th annual St. Stupid’s Day Parade through the Financial District in San Francisco on Monday, April 1, 2013.

Hearst Newspapers/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

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