Tag Archives: Comedy

Comedian Tim Heidecker Walks Us Through Seven of His Bandcamp Releases

tim heidecker

Photos by Cara Robbins

It’s the oldest, most universally understood law of the internet, just behind “Never read the comments” and just ahead of “Never Google a symptom:” Don’t feed the trolls. Like all bullies, internet trolls thrive on attention and negativity—which makes them categorically immune to reason. Empowered by anonymity and distance, they harass their targets with the dim persistence of mosquitoes; should the victim swat back, the swarm grows bigger, nastier, and more reckless, and their noxious life cycle rolls on.

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George Chen’s Cynic Cave was a Secret Home for Bay Area Comedy

Cynic Cave hosts

Cynic Cave hosts (left to right) Nato Green, Allison Mick, George Chen, Natasha Muse, and Kevin O’Shea. Photo by Ahamed Weinberg.

In some stand-up circles, the idea that comedy is “punk” is currently popular. Open mics in L.A. are two minutes long, the average length of an ‘80s hardcore song. And sure, there’s certainly a comparison to be made between DIY comedy shows that take place in houses or alleys, to punk and indie shows that take place wherever space can be found. Some comedians, like musicians, have a burning need to perform whether or not there’s a traditional venue, though DIY musical venues have more of a sense that they sustain a community rather than a profession.

Sometimes, though, the two subcultures intersect in truth. One such instance was Cynic Cave Comedy, a basement-turned-comedy venue in the basement of Lost Weekend Video, in the Mission District of San Francisco. From 2012 to 2016, it was a vibrant stop for stand-up comics, all due to producers (and comics) George Chen and Kevin O’Shea.

According to Chen, the video store—which started after the dissolution of Jawbreaker by band associates Christy Colcord, Dave Hawkins, and Adam Pfahler—was initially greeted by some Mission denizens as a sign of the neighborhood’s changing atmosphere. Through Chen’s visits to the store and his position as a local musician with a nascent interest in stand-up comedy, he was invited to produce in their newly-created basement venue.

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A Look Back at Mouth Congress, the “Kids In The Hall” Fringe Punk Band

Mouth Congress

Performers are very often creative polymaths—it’s not rare for them to have talent and acumen in several arts relating to their main craft. The classic narrative is the one of people like Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, or Juliette Lewis, talent whose success and celebrity helped buoy their musical endeavors. However, comedy troupe The Kids In The Hall alums Paul Bellini and Scott Thompson—and their music group Mouth Congress—was a different beast entirely. Formed almost concurrently with their groundbreaking work as sketch comedy innovators, the band represented the artistically burgeoning duo’s shared discovery of creative expression and new musical formats, primarily punk and industrial acts like Alien Sex Fiend and SPK.

The pair met in university, bonding over being “weird gay guys who had a lot to say,” according to Bellini. It was in this pot smoke-wreathed creative renaissance that they collaborated with key players Tom King, Rob Rowatt, Steve Keeping, and Gord Disley (with contributions from fellow Kids Kevin McDonald and Mark McKinney, with cover art by Randall Finnerty) to create Mouth Congress, an art-damaged, genre-bending, and very ’80s collective.

The band eventually graduated to live shows after initially starting as a studio project. “We performed from ’86 to ’90, almost always to KITH crowds. We were a KITH fringe act. You can’t say Mouth Congress had fans because we didn’t do anything to merit it,” says Bellini. “There was no consequence because there was no audience. No barriers. If Scott wanted to do something ridiculous, I was like, ‘Do it.’ I was actually interested in the results of a fiasco. And I think sometimes people forget that. Because [some people] want so badly to be successful, they forget that being creative is successful.”

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Album of the Day: Band Practice & Catherine Cohen, “Friends Live #1”

The most important question a live album answers isn’t “What’d they play?” or “How’d they sound?,” it’s “What was it like to be there?”

When it comes to documenting a moment, to creating a record that prizes spit as much as shine, this new split release — the first in a series from “holistic” NYC publisher and promoter JMC Aggregate — nails the feeling of being a small club watching working artists do their thing.

Throughout Friends Live #1, comedian Catherine Cohen and singer/guitarist Jeanette Wall (aka the surprisingly Googleable Band Practice) ride a wave of giddy, nervous energy. The applause is enthusiastic but sparse. The mood is loose and friendly, raw and real. It’s not lo-fi, but it is distinctly, proudly no-frills.

Wall goes first, juxtaposing her dry one-liners with vulnerable asides and disarmingly sincere love songs. The unsettlingly pretty “Freddy” imagines romance on Elm Street. “Put Up a Fight” is a peppy little anthem for adorable fuckups. “I want to get real lost,” she sings over a casually strummed guitar on the brooding standout track “I Wanna Die Like Elvis.” “I’m gonna make you love me and see how much it costs.” Wall’s style is charmingly funny, genuine, defiant, and coy—all at once.

Wall introduces Cohen by saying things are about to get weird, and she’s not wrong. “I’m fun, I’m chill, I’m a guy’s girl,” Cohen says before unleashing a laugh that teeters on goat-ish. “I say that because I have a tilted uterus.” What does that mean? No idea. But it works. Cohen’s comedy moves quickly, sometimes switching from millennial NYC vapidity to absurd non sequiturs so quickly your mind may start trying to connect dots that aren’t there. “I keep doing this weird thing where I forget that nothing matters,” she says early on, and that’s pretty much her in a nutshell.

Patrick Rapa

Why You Shouldn’t Want to Party with Jen Kirkman

Jen Kirkman

Jen Kirkman by Robyn Von Swank

Jen Kirkman is a hard-working presence in the contemporary comedy scene. The Massachusetts-born comedian and writer has a resume that includes years spent writing and making panel appearances on Chelsea Lately, voicing a character on cult classic Home Movies. She’s written two books and starred in two Netflix specials, the first of which is available via Rooftop Comedy on Bandcamp. Kirkman’s standup is exceptional—her timing is great, her style is conversational, and her Massachusetts roots add a blunt bristliness that keeps audiences on their toes. She draws her material from whatever happens to be orbiting her life—street harassment, experimenting with meditation, or society’s expectations of independent women.  She took time out of her presumably busy day to talk about her newest special, the benefits of nonstop touring and her one-person podcast, I Seem Fun.

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W. Kamau Bell Wants to Make “‘Sesame Street’ for Grownups”

W Kamau Bell

Photos by John Nowak

W. Kamau Bell is a powerhouse—an excellent standup who brings up potentially difficult subjects with grace, wit, and intelligence. He’s a TV host; audiences first became familiar with him on FX’s Totally Biased, and he now hosts the CNN show United Shades Of America, the second season of which is slated to air starting in April. He does radio as well: he hosts the talk show Kamau Right Now! on San Francisco’s KALW, and has a podcast with his pal Hari Kondabolu called Politically Re-Active. And he’s now an author, as well.

Given his busy schedule, it was a treat for us to speak with him as he tours colleges in the wake of Trump’s inauguration. He had a good deal to say on free speech, as well as how it feels to be labeled a ‘political comedian’ and the historical role of politics in comedy.

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Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler are Sitting in a Hot Tub at the End of the World

Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunholer. Photo by Mandee Johnson.

Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunholer. Photo by Mandee Johnson.

As odd as it may seem, an upbeat attitude is actually kind of a rare thing in comedy — which is part of the reason why Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunholer stand out. Where their peers might complain and mutter for laughs, these two opt in their performances for a kind of high-energy, wide-eyed enthusiasm. It’s a giddy, infectious caffeine rush.

In addition to their solo standup and acting gigs, Schaal (Bob’s Burgers, The Last Man on Earth) and Braunohler (Bunk, The K Ohle podcast) have been burning their seemingly limitless adrenaline together for the last 13 years and counting by co-hosting the weekly comedy variety show Hot Tub. It started in New York, and continued in L.A. when they moved west three years ago.

Now, the always-excitable duo has a new reason to smile: the release of Hot Tub with Kurt & Kristen Live at the Virgil by Kill Rock Stars — the legendary punk/indie label that’s been making serious in-roads into comedy in the last few years with albums by Hari Kondabolu, Cameron Esposito and more. Like the live shows, the album features Schaal and Braunohler riffing off of one another in planned and unplanned bits, in between short sets by their funny friends. Hot Tub includes appearances by Eugene Mirman, Aparna Nancherla, Karen Kilgariff, Kyle Kinane and many more. The hosts’ positivity seems to rub off on their fellow comedians. Even lovably manic grump Eddie Pepitone sounds like he’s having a good time.

Coincidentally, we spoke with Schaal and Braunholer at a moment when this country appeared to be reaching peak optimism: election day.

Schaal was sitting in her car in a supermarket parking lot. Braunohler was in his garage. She’d already voted by mail. He was planning to drop by his polling station once the morning rush died down. It seemed like a good time to talk about looking on the bright side of things.

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Perry Shall’s Sincere Analog Aesthetic

Hound. Photo by Dawn Riddle.

“Visually, VHS looks better to me than HD or digital,” says Perry Shall, Philadelphia-based artist and musician. “I tried rewatching E.T. recently on an HD super fancy TV, and you can tell it’s a movie set. Not that I didn’t know that before, but it took away the illusion.” Shall is explaining the aesthetic root of his attraction to analog culture, which he’s so embedded in that its techniques have become part of his creative toolbox. Make no mistake, though: Shall’s love for the things we made before personal computers (and digital connectivity) became such an integral part of our lives is no retrogressive kitsch, no attempt to ride novelty or trend into some sort of viral fame. He truly loves the actual look and feel of pre-digital ephemera.

Through the music of his band Hound, the visuals he’s created for Waxahatchee, Jeff the Brotherhood, Obits, Kurt Vile, Diarrhea Planet, and his new clothing line, Cherry Cola, Shall has crafted his own aesthetic language that pops, cracks, and often requires tracking adjustment. There’s just enough fuzz, hiss, and distortion in his work—both aural and visual—to be charming and familiar without being nakedly nostalgic. Shall goes big in everything he does, whether it’s collecting vintage toys, t-shirts and other ephemera in bulk, or the 5’ 7”, 30-pound foam ice cream cone named Terry that he built, “just because.” Even when he’s assuming the role of frontman for Hound—backbeat booming, down-stroked riffs that channel the big rock of Danzig, Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top, Motörhead, and early Rush—there’s an innocence and humor to the work that gives the glow of authenticity, rather than retro irony.

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