In the world of stand-up, the producer is one of the more thankless roles involved with a comedy show’s execution. When an event goes as planned, kudos are almost exclusively allocated to the on-stage talent, with little-to-no acknowledgement given to the person or people who brought those performers to the stage and convinced the crowd to come in the first place. If a show flounders, the ax is prone to fall on the party who must’ve slacked in promoting or who led comedians into a “tough room” like lambs to slaughter. Yet without comedy enthusiasts’ willingness to spend their time and risk their reputation on a regular basis, Milwaukee’s comedy scene would operate very differently.
Had it not been for Matt Kemple, touring talents like Nick Thune, Godfrey, and, most recently, Neil Hamburger would’ve likely skipped Milwaukee altogether. Without Caste Of Killers, local and regional comics would have far fewer places to perform each month. Without Kaitlin McCarthy’s involvement these last 11 months, Caste Of Killers wouldn’t be operating at the level it is. Last November, the devoted comedy fan backed into a role with the Milwaukee comedy collective. Since then, McCarthy has helped usher an elevated sense of organization and consideration into the group. In that time, the group has added an open mic, developed its Prompt secret midnight show, and added another monthly showcase in a new venue.
Before COK’s SUBJECTIVE: A Comedic Showing takes the stage at Var Gallery & Studios Friday, Milwaukee Record asked McCarthy about her foray into producing, the theme of SUBJECTIVE, and how she deals with the highs and lows of great and bad shows, respectively.
Milwaukee Record: What was your introduction to producing comedy shows?
Kaitlin McCarthy: My introduction was when I was in college. I was part of the University Programming And Activities Committee and they had a special events committee that would bring entertainment to campus. They had a comedy show my freshman orientation week and I saw that there was a group of students doing this, and I wanted to be part of it. I started going to meetings, and throughout my college career, I became more involved. My sophomore year is when I met T.J. Miller when he was part of Second City. He and I became fast friends and he kept me tied to comedy, and I realized I wanted to make it part of my life. After college, I took a break from it because I didn’t know where to go with it, and I didn’t know anybody in Milwaukee comedy.
MR: When did you get involved with Jason [Hillman], Eric [Thorson] and the rest of the Caste Of Killers?
KM: What happened was I just needed to get involved, so I Googled “Milwaukee Underground Comedy” and it brought me to The Underground Collaborative and Matt Kemple. I sent him an email and asked if he needed any help with the Milwaukee Comedy Festival. I helped out with the Comedy Festival back in 2013. At that festival, I met [Caste Of Killers co-founder] Jason [Hillman] and we became friends, and it just kind of built from there. The end of last year at the Battle Royale, I showed up just to go and they were slammed so I just kind of jumped in to help. By the end of the year, Jason asked if I wanted to be a part of it.
MR: On top of just being part of it, with you it seems like there have been more shows implemented.
KM: Subjective is probably the newest one. We kind of re-imagined the showcase at Var [Gallery] because, you now, we have four showcases, and they’re all kind of the same thing: stand-up comedians going up and telling jokes.
MR: Yeah it seems like more of a sidestep. Based on the show’s description, the overall theme seems more inward facing. It’s not just , “Well, here’s my best 10 minutes” or whatever. You’re going to hear the same jokes in the same way you will at Karma or something.
KM: Right. We still want comics to bring their best jokes, but before that we want to hear something introspective. Why are you telling these jokes? Why is this your best 10 minutes? Kind of a background story. People get into comedy for different reasons. There’s a lot of self-loathing. There’s a lot of personal tragedy. There’s a lot of narcissism. This gives comics an opportunity to lay out why they got into it, this is why they’re here, and why they can’t live without it. At the end of the show, the crowd gets to do a Q&A and ask comedians anything.
MR: I know a few of the shows you’ve helped produce have gone very well, and a few—whether it’s just the night of the week, a competing event or some other factor—have not worked out. That’s like your version of when a comic bombs or when they do amazingly. How do you deal with the dizzying highs of a great show and the crushing lows of a bad one?
KM: Not well. I am incredibly hard on myself. I have the innate gift of taking everything personally. It’s always “What could I have done better?” and “What could we have done more of?” Looking at the SHOWCASE—the show I produce with Jason—specifically, I’m proud of every single lineup we have. We guarantee you a great show. But we can’t guarantee a huge audience, and I don’t know what it is.
We’ve had a quite a few this year that have been standing room only, and we’ve had two or three where not even half the room is full and that’s incredibly frustrating. I’m pretty hard on myself, but it’s just about looking at what hasn’t worked trying to fix it.
MR: As a whole, do you feel that the Milwaukee comedy scene is good at marketing itself? Or do you think there’s work to be done?
KM: I think there’s always room for improvement. I think there is an underlying sense of competition, when there really shouldn’t be. I would like everybody to get along and work together. I’ve learned that relying on comics to promote their own shows is not the way to go.
MR: Yeah, until the afternoon of the show, usually.
KM: I would like to move beyond the world of Facebook invites. We’re trying to work on more cross-promotional ideas, sponsoring, and getting more involved with local businesses. We know there are other opportunities out there, it’s just a matter of finding it.
SUBJECTIVE: A Comedic Showing (produced by McCarthy and Caste Of Killers Comedy Collective) returns to Var Gallery & Studios on Friday, October 9. Featured comedians include Marisa Lange, Ryan Mason, Nick Ledesma, Erik Niewiarowski, and host Tyler Menz. The show begins at 8 p.m. and costs $8 online ($10 door).