Not unlike having sex or driving, performing stand-up comedy is something that’s the most exciting for the person doing it when they’re new to it. Unfortunately, for those in the bed, in the passenger’s seat or anywhere within earshot of the stage, that’s also the time said person is at their absolute worst. Fortunately for most of us, there’s (hopefully!) not video evidence of the first two. Sadly, that’s not always the case for one’s foray into funny business. Instead of erasing those shaky videos wrought with insufferably bad puns and half-hatched premises from existence, six of Milwaukee’s funniest comedians (now, at least) will take the stage at Hybrid Lounge on Saturday to bravely broadcast some of their earliest and worst sets and provide comedic critiques during the inaugural installment of Bad Comedy Theatre.
Inspired by DVD director’s commentary and, of course, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Milwaukee comic (and one-time Funniest Comedian In Vermont titleholder) Phil Davidson hatched the idea for this unique showcase.
“For some reason, I was looking through old YouTube videos of me and I found one from my very first showcase. It was so painfully awkward, and I guess my comedy tends to be vulnerable,” Davidson says. “I like being exposed and having no shame on stage, so I thought it would be really funny to show my old videos and just comment on it to show how bad and how tough it is when you just start doing it.”
After approximately six months of soliciting videos depicting some of worst bombings imaginable from his comedy cohorts, Davidson—with his deeply-hidden, private YouTube link of a particularly terrible 2011 set—found five of the city’s best comics willing to show an audience what they look like at their worst…again. Joining Davidson, Sammy Arechar, Lisan Wood, Ryan Mason, and Josh Ballew in this unorthodox and exposed event is reigning Caste Of Killers Battle Royal Winner, Christopher Schmidt. Now one of the city’s strongest and most active comic voices, Schmidt is quick to acknowledge his misguided start in stand-up. Unlike many of his counterparts, the three-year vet has ample evidence of his early entertainment attempts as a hacky, suit-and-tie-clad pun-machine.
“I have a lot of footage to go back to,” Schmidt says. “It’s sort of like watching a horror movie where you’re like, ‘Stop! Don’t do that! Why do you keep doing that? Why did you do that on stage? It should not have gone past Twitter!’”
Though the on-the-spot dismantling of those regrettable recordings is the primary focus of the show, each comedian will perform three to five minutes of new material to, as Davidson says, “show they’re at least kind of funny” before tearing their less experienced selves apart. In addition to the catharsis that surely comes along with squeezing belated laughs from lemons, comics are excited to look back to see the development of fellow comics, some of whom they’ve shared the stage with for years.
“You don’t realize how the time passes, but I watched some of these people do this material at open mics for like three years now, so to me, they’re all kind of always at the same level,” Schmidt says. “It’s hard for me to imagine how much they’ve grown. It’ll be interesting to see.”
Davidson hopes to make Bad Comedy Theatre a quarterly event, and he’s considered the possibility of bringing the showcase to other cities as well. Fortunately, any good comedian is never fully satisfied with his or her set, so there will always be old, cringeworthy material to look back upon and use as source material for new punchlines.
“I guess there’s probably a few people in the world who can just get on stage the first time and be hilarious, but it’s tough,” Davidson says. “It takes a while. I’m still learning.”
Bad Material Theatre debuts Saturday, June 13 at Hybrid Lounge and features Phil Davidson, Christopher Schmidt, Sammy Arechar, Lisan Wood, Ryan Mason, and Josh Ballew. The show begins at 8 p.m. and costs $5.