Alibi V.24 No.9 • Feb 26-March 4, 2015 

Arts Feature

Brothers in Smarm

Comics Bryan Cook and Derek Sheen transport odd-couple dynamic to the Guild

Alpha-grump Bryan Cook
Alpha-grump Bryan Cook
Shereen Younes
The onstage personas of journeymen comedians Bryan Cook and Derek Sheen are as diametrically opposed as oil and water. In their case, perhaps diesel fuel and honey-balsamic vinegar would be more fitting descriptors.

Cook’s routine is that of a brash, adrenaline-filled outsider whose vitriolic distaste for modern society conjures thoughts of Bill Burr on PCP. Sheen, meanwhile, is a foul-mouthed, huggable teddy bear of a comic—akin to a more congenial version of the titular character in Seth MacFarlane’s Ted.

Delightful mess Derek Sheen
Delightful mess Derek Sheen
courtesy of the artist
Hailing from the harsh climes of rural Maine and now based out of Los Angeles, Cook rages through sets with veins protruding from his forehead. He finds ways to link Klondike bar commercials to domestic violence, and explains why letting one’s baby die of typhoid would be the ultimate act of ironic hipsterism. Born and based in Seattle, Sheen prefers to riff on the glories of “gay male yard sales” or his destructive love for medicinal marijuana and blush-colored boxed wine.

The two will headline a 90-minute show on Thursday at the Guild Cinema (3405 Central NE, 10:15pm, $7, 18+). It’s part of their Pains, Complaints and Comedy Clubs tour and just another leg in eight years of comedic kinship and endless buddy road-tripping.

While touring, Cook and Sheen have learned to love, loathe and understand one another. Both comics point to their combative comradery as one of their strongest bonds and a shared quality that keeps their material sharp. “What’s fun is [that] Bryan and I push each other,” Sheen says. “It’s very fun to get Bryan upset about things and listen to him rant. It’s also even more fun to not give him the energy that he wants, because to hear the wind go out of his sails—it’s almost like a small victory.”

Sheen relates an anecdote of one of their first comedic voyages together. For the entirety of a tour, Cook was hellbent on verbally accosting Sheen to the point where blows would be thrown. Instead of retaliating, Sheen responded by killing his companion with kindness. Naturally, Cook fumed. “It’s literally like Ren and Stimpy in the car,” Sheen says.

[T]heir sets are infused with socially and politically motivated material. The ape-brained politics of homophobes, for example, are a common theme in each performer’s routine.

When interviewed, Cook is notably more reserved and polite than his onstage persona would suggest. Still, he wastes no time going to town on his mic mate. “The funny thing about Derek is that he comes across as very sweet, but he’s a miserable sack of shit,” Cook says, affectionately referring to Sheen as a “tiny idiot” and “a delightful mess.”

Their friendship began about eight years ago in Seattle. Amid a dwindling music career in the Emerald City, Cook was working as a beer rep for Pabst, which sponsored events that Sheen would perform at. Sheen says he admired Cook for being one of the few people at stand-up shows who had no problem calling bullshit on sub-par acts—a forthright trait that would inform his comedic trajectory. “People use the word edgy too much, but I’d say it actually applies to Bryan,” Sheen says. “He talks about things that I don’t think I would ever have the courage to.” Two years after he met Sheen, Cook quit music “cold turkey” and made an abrupt transition into stand-up.

For everything they don’t have in common temperamentally, the pair share a mutual tendency toward unabashed liberalism; their sets are infused with socially and politically motivated material. The ape-brained politics of homophobes, for example, are a common theme in each performer’s routine. “From a liberal standpoint, it’s funny to hear how people misconstrue [Cook], because he’s so smart, but I think people just take the sort of alpha grumpiness as being aggressive—and it’s not at all,” Sheen says. “I think we both have the same endgame, which is to make people laugh first, but also to make people think and not just agree with us.”

Cook’s risqué persona bleeds into another endeavor he’s well-known for—his popular weekly Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction podcast, which began in the Pacific Northwest in 2012. He also worked as a writer on Joan Rivers’ “Fashion Police” show and freelances his comedic penmanship across Hollywood. Eight years Cook’s senior, Sheen has committed to a full-time career in stand-up and has become a go-to opener for his idol, Patton Oswalt.

As for what to expect in Albuquerque, Sheen says he has a fresh bit for audiences who caught him at The Box last year. Cook, of course, will be up to his usual acerbic hijinks. “I’ve got a nice, long chunk about serial killers and kidnappers—that’s always a real crowd-pleaser,” he says. “But who knows? I’d like to spend the whole time talking about Derek’s terrible driving abilities.” Genevieve Mueller will open the Guild show, with fellow Albuquerquean Danger K Varoz acting as emcee.

Pains, Complaints and Comedy Clubs Tour

Thursday, Feb. 26, 10:15pm

Guild Cinema
3405 Central NE
guildcinema.com / 255-1848
Tickets: $7, 18+
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