There’s a new Bushman in town — with a far better costume and a powerful Youtube presence — resurrecting a legendary SF street performance act that dates back more than 40 years.
Bay Area children of all ages from any period between the 1980s and the mid-2010s will remember the street busking, prankster antics of a longtime Fisherman’s Wharf figure known as the Bushman. Milking a decidedly low-budget gag for decades, and spawning a rival Bushman doing the exact same schtick, the Bushman would use large leaf fronds to disguise himself as a bush, then jump out yelling “ugga bugga” at tourist passersby, and hope to get a dollar or two in donations for the act.
There has been no Bushman sighting at Fisherman’s Wharf since 2019. But just when you thought it was safe to go back near the waterfront…
KGO initially discovered a new Bushman working the sidewalks at San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose, about two weeks ago. In that report, he identified himself simply as “Bay Area Bushman,” and acknowledged the act’s historical roots.
"That was part of the regular trip. Like, walking the wharf and seeing the bushman," he told KGO. "I've even kind of taken his technique of using the bush leaves to scare people."
But SFGate reported Tuesday that the new Bushman has resettled in those fertile grounds at Fisherman’s Wharf. They got an exclusive interview with the new Bay Area Bushman, who is actually 33-year-old San Jose native Cory Barnette. And the new nature boy ids a little more good-natured about the prank than his predecessors.
“People you’d never talk to or interact with, you’re getting reactions out of them, you’re getting a piece of their personality,” he told SFGate. “You’re seeing that everybody’s friendly, so there’s definitely a social element to it as well.”
The whole Bushman tale is Shakespearean, as explained in a lengthy SFGate historical piece from 2021. It all started in 1980 with the World Famous Bushman David Johnson, who sprouted the act at Fisherman’s Wharf. He took on a partner Gregory Jacobs in the early 1990s, who acted as a sort of bodyguard-slash-donation collector. But the two split ands became rival Bushmen, until Jacobs’ death in 2014. Johnson also left for greener pastures, apparently around 2019.
But this Bushman 3.0 definitely comes with a number of upgrades. He’s got a vastly better bush costume than his predecessors, and he does the act in a much friendlier way. His Bay Area Bushman YouTube channel has a staggering number of views, so he may end up making more money off YouTube ads than off donations. And in that sense, the Bushman schtick is growing sustainably.
Screenshot: Bay Area Bushman via Youtube