Jake Kornely joined Static Eyes in 2011. Roughly a month after joining the Milwaukee punk band, he attempted stand-up comedy for the first time. Since then, the art forms have jostled for position, but both remained in his life. Over the past two years, comedy clearly pulled ahead, as Kornely became a regular at open mics (eventually hosting Bremen Cafe’s Monday night mic), started his monthly Comedy Show Comedy Show showcase, co-starred in the live-form late night show Goodnight Milwaukee Show, created an innovative Halloween show, and got behind the desk for his Jake Kornely Show web series, and even opened for Kyle Kinane.
Still, the bassist remained in Static Eyes—until this weekend. Friday night, Kornely will play his final show with the long-tenured band, as his comedic passions will send him to Los Angeles next month to see if he can take his stand-up to the next level. Before the driven musician-turned-comic departs, Milwaukee Record asked Kornely about his shift in artistic priority, why he decided L.A. is the place for him, and the things he’ll miss about Milwaukee’s music and comedy scenes.
Milwaukee Record: When I first saw you at the Down & Over open mic—Rest in peace. Just kidding—a couple summers ago, you were a guy in a band who was dabbling in comedy. What brought on the priority shift?
Jake Kornely: After about a year into doing comedy, I knew that I was going to have to put more work into writing and getting stage time if I wanted to get anywhere as a comedian. There were weeks when I would be at band practice two nights a week, and then doing open mics on the other nights, and then seeing whatever comedy or music shows I could make it to on the weekend. When I started playing in bands, it was all about having fun with your friends. Everybody I was hanging out with was a little older than me so when my friends were getting married and buying houses, they went to less shows.
It got to the point where I felt my bands were getting better and better, but less and less people were going to my shows. So while I was getting frustrated with the fact that fewer people were caring about my bands, I began noticing that with comedy, it’s more important to have strangers at your shows, because they’re your target audience. When someone who knows nothing about you sits down and listens to you, and then reacts the way that you wanted them to react, that’s a really powerful feeling.
MR: Why did you decide now was the right time to move? Do you think your material at this point is up to snuff for a more dedicated and competitive comedy market, or are you just ready for a baptism by fire?
JK: I feel like right now is a good time to move because I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life and I could really use a change of scenery. Right now I just want to live in the exact opposite of Milwaukee, and I’m pretty sure that will be Los Angeles. As a comedian, am I ready for the move to Los Angeles? Definitely not. But on the other hand, I feel like you can only grow so much by staying in Milwaukee. I’m looking forward to starting over in a lot of ways in Los Angeles, I plan on taking improv classes and writing classes, if and when I can afford them, in addition to doing as many open mics as possible.
MR: Why Los Angeles instead of the closer comedic step up like Chicago?
JK: If I wanted to move somewhere purely based on getting better at stand-up, I’d probably move to Chicago, but I feel that wouldn’t be drastic enough of a change. I want to move somewhere that looks different, feels different. I don’t want to be the guy that complains about winter every year.
MR: You have a unique insight into both Milwaukee’s music and comedy scenes. How have both grown, and who are some comics, bands, and other aspects you’ll miss about both?
JK: The comedy scene has grown so much, even since I started just a few years ago. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like in a few years in the future. And my friends’ bands keep getting better and better. It makes me really proud that The Midwest Beat have toured Europe multiple times now, and that Holy Shit! is going to tour Japan for the third time. The greatest thing that Milwaukee has to offer a musician or a comedian is an available stage. Sometimes you’ll have to walk through a foot of snow just getting to the venue, and, sure, sometimes the audience will be lacking, but once you’re up on that stage you can do and say whatever the hell you want.
MR: Before you go, you have one last Static Eyes show, Friday at Circle-A. Why was it important to you to get one last show with them in the books?
JK: When my other bands called it quits, I wanted to keep going with Static Eyes because I had too much fun hanging out with Lee, Chris, and Lydia. We never were trying to make it as an entirely professional band, it sounds cliché, but we were just doing it for fun. We booked shows at Circle-A all the time, not because it draws such a huge audience. It doesn’t. It’s a tiny place, but because that was the bar that we liked to hang out at the most. Having a last show with Static Eyes is important because I think it’s always fun to have one last party before you quit one thing to start doing something else. I’m going to miss them a lot.
MR: And I see you’re being roasted at Art Bar on March 19. Why did you want to bow out like that? Are you nervous?
JK: It’s become kind of a tradition in Milwaukee to roast comedians before they move. I’ve always had fun roasting my friends. To be honest, I’ve been writing roast material about my friends months before I knew I was actually moving.