By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
‘It’s just chalk’
Former Council member cited for using chalk to promote comedy shows
Offline Comedy chalk advertising
Former city councilmember Andrew Nosrati received a cease-and-desist order from the Turlock Police Department for using chalk on public sidewalks and roadways to promote local comedy performances (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

You may have seen them while walking downtown: chalk stencils advertising a pop-up comedy performance — @offlinecomedy, which feature a logo that resembles an electrical outlet with a vine growing through it — that have been appearing recently on the sidewalks of Main Street.

However, you may not be seeing them much longer. 

Former city councilmember Andrew Nosrati, who promotes the comedy performances, received a cease-and-desist order from the Turlock Police Department.

According to city municipal code 4-14-403, graffiti is unlawful to apply.

“It’s just chalk,” said an exasperated Nosrati. “It’s fun and it’s supposed to be playful. And, as a person who lives here, I want to see more of that.”

A quick foot tour of downtown found one advertisement in front of Main Street Footers, 425 E. Main St.; one at the intersection of Main and Thor streets; another in front of Crivelli’s Shirts & More, 310 E. Main; one in front First & Main restaurant, 100 W. Main Street; and one in front of Bijou Boutique, 116 W. Main St.

According to the municipal code: “It shall be unlawful for any person to apply graffiti on any public or private structure located on publicly or privately owned real property within the City of Turlock.”

chalk hopscotch
Savannah Sullivan, 5, and Ava Bo Perez, 4, play a little hopscotch in downtown Turlock on June 5. Little Red Door co-owner Marissa Miranda has not received a graffiti citation for drawing the hopscotch grid on the sidewalk in front of her downtown shop (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

The municipal code goes on to say, “‘Graffiti’ means any form of unauthorized painting, writing, or inscription regardless of the content or nature of the material used in the commission of the act.” And, “a solid form of paint, chalk, wax, epoxy, or other similar substance capable of being applied to a surface by pressure, and upon application, leaving a mark at least one-sixteenth (1/16) of an inch in width.”

Cleary, Nosrati’s advertisements meet the definition of graffiti.

But, on the sidewalk in front of the Little Red Door, 340 E. Main, is a hopscotch grid, drawn in chalk, for kids to enjoy.

Little Red Door co-owner Marissa Miranda admitted to drawing the grid.

“I thought (the ad) was pretty creative,” said Miranda, who said she’s never been cited for graffiti. “And that’s what we need here — something that drives people downtown.”

The Journal polled seven random business owners about the guerrilla advertising. Only one business owner voice disapproval. The general consensus of the other six? Turlock has bigger problems than chalk stencils.

Stephanie Foster, director of district identity for DoMo (Downtown Modesto) First Fridays, said she uses spray chalk to create hopscotch grids and drawings of molten lava so passers-by can play the “Don’t Step on the Hot Lava” game.
“We’ve had opportunities to capture men and women, in business attire, hopscotching down the sidewalk,” said Foster. “It just creates a favorable environment of downtown. It’s like a street festival, or a community block party that celebrates the culture, cuisine and community of downtown Modesto.”

So far, Nosrati has had six comedy shows and all six have been held in downtown establishments. Here’s how it works:

Visit and sign up. When a comedy show is slated, you’ll receive notification on the day of the event. Then, when you arrive for the show, in whichever space the promoters can secure, you surrender your phone and go “offline” for the duration of the performance. 

“It’s just one of the rare spaces in the world these days where people are fully present,” said Nosrati. “At our last show, we had 80 people, who hung around downtown afterward and stimulated the local economy.”

Ultimately, Nosrati knows that his stencils, advertisements for comedy events, are different than a hopscotch grid for kids to enjoy. He just doesn’t see chalk as a big deal.

“I know it’s for a brand, but the whole brand is just trying to start a conversation with people and encourage a culturally vibrant community,” said Nosrati. “We’re just trying to create spaces and stages for people to gather and enjoy life.

“It’s just chalk. It’ll fade away with a time or water.”