After what he justifiably called “a weird, shitty year” in which his mother passed away and his girlfriend moved out, Cudahy comedian Adam Loeding is ready to get back on stage in 2016. Following the lengthy hiatus, Loeding is trying to move away from his acerbic, character-driven style and take his humor to new places. Tonight at Var Gallery, he’ll take that first step in a new direction with the debut staging of Harsh, “a sort of civil debate show” he co-produces with friend and former Midwest Real co-host Hansem Castillo.

Before tonight’s show, Milwaukee Record spoke to Loeding and Castillo about the unique showcase, blurring the lines between comedy and serious conversation, and where they hope to take Harsh going forward.

Milwaukee Record: Adam, what have you been up to since our Cudahy bar crawl? Since then, I think I’ve only seen you do one show. I know you’ve had a few, but as a whole, you’ve been doing fewer shows. What’s the reason behind that?

Adam Loeding: Well, last year was kind of a crazy year with a lot of life changes. I moved in and out with a girlfriend. My mom passed away. It was a weird, shitty year, and I just felt like I needed some time off. I was doing the same stuff for so long and I was kind of just rehashing the same things over and over again. I was think I’d take month or two. It turned into a year with just a sporadic show here and there. Now I’m getting back into it with this show and I’m looking at starting a bringer-style show somewhere in Bay View.

MR: Once you got back, was your material any different?

AL: When I started to get back in the ring again, I decided I’d go in a different direction with my writing and see kind of where that could take me. I went back, looked back at my older stuff and picked out what the best of it was. So I’m going to go through to re-write some of my old stuff while adding new stuff. I want to polish my act up a bit so it’s a little bit cleaner and I would like to be a little more relatable. I want to hone the things I do right and turn that into something that’s not quite as much of a character as it was before.

MR: So not quite as many incest jokes?

AL: Well, it’s going to be edgy still, but a different style of edginess. It’s not going to be as character-driven as it was before.

MR: So you’re doing this new show, Harsh. Rather than going right back to stand-up why did you want to do this, and how did Hansem get involved?

Hansem Castillo: Adam came to me with the idea. It was something he was kicking around at first.

AL: I had an idea for a similar show about two or three years ago. Me and Hansem had so many projects in the works.

HC: The appeal to me is you get to have a debate like you would with your friends, except it will be on stage.

AL: And I think the idea has kind of evolved. At first it started as a serious style show, but I think the original idea has changed. I don’t think a lot of people are going to expect what’s going happen and think it’ll be a good show.

MR: Are there elements of stand-up involved? Like, are there bullet points where people can incorporate parts of their set in? Will people know the overarching topic going into the show and pre-established sides?

HC: We’ll have our topic presented at the beginning and have our debate, but we’ll be breaking in with as many naturally-occurring bits as possible.

AL: Spoilers aside, the idea is that we’d like to talk about some serious things. A lot of comedians do it on stage and some don’t, but I think it puts the tone of the conversation a little more in everyone’s shoes. It’s a conversation you’d have among friends where not everyone has their back against the wall trying to defend their point like it’s The Alamo. Those are more productive conversations, and I think by making it entertainment style, you keep the atmosphere light enough where people can have an open discussion about that topic.

MR: Are you going to have other comics on the show or will it just be you two?

AL: Well, I’m mediating the debate. Hansem is participating in it and Ryan Lowe is the co-participant.

MR: And what’s the first topic?

HC: The limits of free speech. Where does free speech turn into offensive speech? Where should that line be drawn?

AL: And should that line be drawn?

MR: Are you basing this off any existing shows?

HC: It started off as a formal debate, but the format has changed a little. As far as any existing shows… What’s that old school Colin Quinn show?

MR: Tough Crowd?

HC: Yeah, it’s like Tough Crowd without the panel.

MR: Is there any opportunity for audience integration or participation?

HC: Yeah, that was actually one of the first things we had in mind, how to we make it as interactive as possible without derailing the show.We want to have a Q&A after the show to let people ask the debaters questions, serious or not. We also want to see if people are willing to give us their take when they come in to see which side of the issue they fall on. Then at the end, we’ll see if anybody swayed their opinion.

Harsh starts tonight at Var Gallery & Studios. The show begins at 8 p.m.