I think every comedian has that moment when they watch a stand-up set from a particular comic and think, “This is my life now.” “I always had an interest in comedy when I was growing up, but I never thought of it as something I could or would do,” says comedian Chris Thayer. “When I was 18, I heard David Cross' album Shut Up You Fucking Baby!, which was conversational in a way that made me think that maybe I could do stand-up too.” Thayer, who will be at The Guild (3405 Central Avenue NE) on June 1, moved to San Francisco, a city that has spawned such comedy legends as Robin Williams at Margaret Cho, at the age of nineteen but waited three whole years before trying comedy. He finally sat down one night and began to write; a week later he did an open mic, and “within a year I had done over 200 sets,” says Thayer. “Now I’ve been doing comedy for seven years.”
It’s this dedication that got him a writing gig on the Pete Holmes show. Thayer has a dry sense of humor and often talks about his life on stage. His uncompromising style is reflected in his ideas on comedy. “The thing that terrified me most when I started performing was the fear that an audience would hate me,” says Thayer. With time this slowly abated and Thayer began to focus more on what he thought was funny rather than appealing to any given crowd. “I'd like as many people as possible to like me without having to compromise myself or what I think is funny. I would drive myself crazy if I were trying to change my stuff to get 100% of people to love me, so if only maybe 67% of people are into me, I'm totally okay with that,” says Thayer. “Not sure if that number sounds too high or too low. I'm trying to be modest without sounding unambitious.”
It’s not an unwavering ambition though. Thayer sees comedy as something that needs to avoid stagnation. “My favorite parts of performing are the times when I'm present enough and comfortable enough to try or add new stuff,” says Thayer. “I enjoy doing my material that I've been working on, but there's always a danger of feeling like you're on autopilot when you're doing stuff that you've memorized and said hundreds of times before. Thinking of new stuff for old jokes or trying to talk out new bits lets me know that I'm engaged in the moment and makes it fun for me.” Thayer has a way of balancing his strong and steadfast ideas on comedy with being open and present in the moment so he can engage with the live audience. “I want the audience to think, ‘Wow that guy is really funny despite being boringly sincere in interviews.’”
Chris Thayer: No One Asked for this Tour
The Guild (3405 Central Avenue NE)
Monday June 1 10:30 pm $5
The Greeks had it right. Socrates searched for real knowledge untainted by pride, and Plato was so done with irrational humanity he just wanted to crawl out of a cave and find a friend. It’s been 2,400 years since the fall of Ancient Greece and we’re all still tragically surprised we’re flawed and yet there’s something hilarious about that. “I start with a flaw like narcissism,” says comedian David Koechner about his creative process. “We all have narcissistic tendencies, but there are some who are fully narcissistic. We all are afraid of things at times, but there are some who live their life in fear. I look at that and think, That’s annoying, so I’ll make fun of it.” Koechner, who performs at Santa Ana Star Casino (54 Jemez Dam Rd., Bernalillo) on Thursday, May 21, satirizes these defective human tendencies through rich and outlandish characters.
Initially a political science major, in his third year at university he visited a friend in Chicago, watched a show at Second City, decided then he wanted to be a comedian and never looked back. “Once I decided this was what I wanted to do, I never had any doubts,” says Koechner. “I know that’s not the sexy answer. I love show business and doing comedy. I have a proclivity for it. If I could build things I would do that. If I was smart I would do that.” Koechner looks at comedy as his vocation, and it’s the small things about it that draws him to perform. “The best part is knowing that I was successful at something. My experiment worked. Something I created worked.”
Part observational humor and part hyperbolic storytelling, his shows are an experiment in human behavior. “I start from a small piece of behavior I notice. Something universal. Something we all share but an individual might live by,” says Koechner, “and then I blow up that aspect of my personality and create a character.” Admittedly, this process seems to be second nature to Koechner. “For whatever reason I’m able to access those parts of me. It's like algebra for me. I got the formula, and I can just keep plugging in numbers and getting results."
Known best for playing Champ Kind in the Anchorman movies, Koechner puts a lot of himself into his roles. “Describing your act is kind of like describing your personality. I’m loud and my comedy is loud,” says Koechner. “My comedy is wet, as opposed to dry.” It’s Sophocles’ Greek tragedy intersected with jokes, but with fewer people dying. Koechner has the rare ability to be silly and bombastic but maintain an underlying satirical tone that is smart and cutting. “It all has a satirical center,” says Koechner. “We all have flaws. We all have to deal with institutions. Whether it’s a child or a parent or a school, or work, government, church—everything is an institution that we have to interact with. I think ‘What are the rules of that behavior?’ And then I break them.”
The Stage at Santa Ana Star Casino
54 Jemez Dam Rd., Bernalillo
Thursday, May 21, 7 and 9:30pm
$15-$35 Ages: 21+
I named this column Comedy Matters because I truly believe it does. It matters to the junkies and alcoholics who frequent open mics to work through their demons on stage. It matters to the headliners and road comics who travel from club to club each night for a living. It matters to writers and Hollywood execs who make millions off the laughter that rumbles in darkened theaters. It matters to cancer patients, widows and kids. Comedy strikes us over the head or starts slowly in our belly and bellows out of us warming our innards with a rush of happiness. So when a comic dies, we hurt. And today, we’re hurting because the world lost a great one.
Robin Williams started his career in San Francisco in the 70s and quickly became one the most absurd joy makers in the comedy world. His big break was when he landed the role of Mork in “Mork and Mindy” in 1978. He transformed into a prolific actor and comedian, appearing in films such as Dead Poets Society, The World According to Garp, Good Will Hunting and so many more; too many to list.
But this isn’t just about his qualifications or list of his films. He affected people in many ways. His fans loved him for his insane and wild energy. Comics loved him for how dedicated he was to comedy and how sweet he was despite his fame. He was a good man, a beloved man, who struggled with depression and an addiction to drugs and alcohol for the past forty years. On August 11, his struggled ended. Investigators believe his death may have been a suicide and to anyone who knew him or his history this would not be a surprise.
At the news of William’s death, Michael Ian Black tweeted, “We lose at least one great comic to suicide or ODs every year. Our jobs are to communicate, but we seem to not know how to ask for help.” Comedians don’t control the market on depression and substance abuse, but it seems to be a common theme amongst them. These issues manifest on stage to applause and laughter but they continue off stage and they grow and fester and strain relationships. And people die and then there’s nothing we can do.
Robin Williams brought a joy to the world that he couldn’t find internally. His family and friends are mourning. His wife and kids are shattered by his loss. And his fans will find it hard to replace this legend. Be in peace captain, we’ll miss you.
Genevieve Mueller is a writer and comedian. She performs all over the country and runs two monthly shows in Albuquerque: Comedians Power Hour and the Bad Penguin Comedy Show at The Box. More information can be found at genevievemuellercomedy.com or on Twitter: @fromthefloorup.