I often open my own stand-up set by proclaiming my style of humor as “alternative comedy.” I go on to warn the audience that what that means is; “if you don’t laugh, “it’s not because I’m not funny, it’s because you’re not intelligent.” Of course I’m being snobbishly, sarcastic, but in reality, that is an all-too-often, accurate, description of the “alt-comedy” genre. Sure, the trend has been a welcome break from the frat-boy-mainstream, of overtly offensive, cheaply profane, I’m-not-afraid-to-yell-naughty-words-because-the-constitution-says-I-can-or- something, style of stand-up that still seems to titillate the masses, but overall, the “alternative comedy” moniker can usually be taken as a warning for a lack of genuine humor, covered up by a heavy dose of nihilistic, weirdness for its own sake.
“I’m no low-brow slob! I totally get it! I can see the Emperor’s clothes just fine! And they are hilarious!”
Every now and again however, someone manages to get it right. A great example of this is Baltimore’s Wham City Comedy. Founded by filmmaker Ben O’Brien and musician Dan Deacon in 2010, as an offshoot of the Wham City arts collective, Wham City Comedy doesn’t cater to the mainstream, but doesn’t suck either. Founding member Ben O’Brien told me, “My goal with Wham City Comedy is simply to make a great, weird comedy show. I strive to make it honest in a way that a lot of alt-comedy rarely is. I want it to be able to grow and sustain itself while holding onto its integrity. I generally believe that anyone who is working in comedy whose main focus isn’t just “being good” is probably in it for the wrong reasons.”
He’s not lying: the humor is genuine, the bizarreness is unforced, and the success is increasing.
Yes, that’s right. Success.
Apparently, humor that focuses on the art of crafting real comedy, that is creative and fresh, instead of shock and awe, or middle-of the-road yupster, blandness (I’m looking at you recent trend of nerd-comedy), doesn’t have to reside solely in the dusty rooms of local DIY shows. In fact, the Wham City folks have recently made it all the way to Adult Swim on Cartoon Network with the motivational, Ted-Talk, esque, Live Forever as You Are with Alan Resnick short, and the cynical, right-wing-extremist parody, Commencement Speech. The almost-disturbingly-surreal, Drinking Out of Cups (an audio recording of a sick, sleep-deprived, Dan Deacon rambling over a cheap-CGI lizard) has gained such an amount of Youtube-fame, that an episode of Family Guy is named after a line from it (Seahorse Seashell Party).
The Wham City comedy crew will also be taking the show on tour this November for those of you unfortunate enough to not live in Bmore. They close Bentzen Ball October 5 with Reggie Watts and Tig Notaro at the Lincoln Theatre and will kick-off at the Baltimore Fringe Fest on November 7 before spreading the love throughout the land. Click here for the tour dates at Wham City Comedy’s website. Check these guys out America!