Last Friday, Bay View bars, restaurants, shops, and, yes, even galleries fostered the work of various Milwaukee artists during the neighborhood-wide gallery night. One Friday later, Bay View’s year-old Var Gallery & Studios is paying it forward and allowing its space to serve an art form not traditionally associated with the gallery setting: stand-up comedy.
The first Var Comedy Show will find two seemingly divergent forms of expression existing in one space, as six local comics will perform amid two- and three-dimensional pieces, produced by area artists. The unorthodox showcase was spearheaded by comedian Adam Loeding, who approached his former co-worker, Var Gallery’s Josh Hintz, with the idea of bringing comedy to his site.
“I think being a comedian, he might have been joking at first,” Hintz says. “After a while, he became more and more serious. I was never really opposed to the idea, but as he got more serious, I got more serious.”
Loeding wasn’t joking. In effort to continue the growth of local comedy, he felt bringing stand-up to a new, refined setting would help bring the scene to a new audience, while giving comics another place to perform.
“I think as soon as you start accepting what’s around, you get stagnant, and stagnation is the killer of all creativity,” Loeding says. “Any room I get a chance, I’m going to go for it and try to get a showcase going.”
Currently, local showcases routinely take place in bars and venues, with occasional events at bowling alleys, cafes, micro breweries, and movie theaters. Yet the prospect of pairing high art and comedy seems like an odd match on paper. However, those involved see parallels in the mediums.
“I think that could bring an interesting dynamic to both the comics and the audience because everybody will have to look at the room as a whole in a new light,” Loeding says. “The audience is going to have to look at the comic as an artist, and the comics are going to have to view the audience as one who is there to witness art.”
Hintz, who is a process artist—he built and designed Var’s interior—says he’s fond of comedic arts. He, too, notices the connection between the forms of expression, and hopes it translates to Var’s existing audience, while bringing new people into his 14-studio, two-level gallery.
“I love the passion comedians bring to it off the stage,” Hintz says. “It’s something that I’ve found that artists and comedians share. I wanted to see what the dynamic would be if we brought comedians in here and had them perform in front of our sort of audience.”
Sammy Arechar is one of the six comedians that will be flanked by paintings and sculptures on Var’s intimate stage Friday night. (The lineup includes Loeding as well.) He wanted to be part of the event because it’s a rare Bay View showcase, and an opportunity to perform in a new setting.
“It’s performance art,” Arechar says. “It’s still considered art, so I’m sure it will vibe with those people. I’m pretty excited about it because it’s not a club, it’s not a bar, it’s nobody’s basement, so it’s going to be a nice change of pace.”
Like Loeding and Hintz, Arechar sees stark similarities between comedy and fine art, saying he’ll approach the show the same as always, except he will “probably dress up a little nicer for it, I suppose.”
Hosting performers isn’t a new Var venture. In its short history, Hintz’s gallery has played (or will play) host to Ugly Brothers, Calamity Janes And The Fratney Street Band, Ladders, and other acoustic acts. Hintz says he hopes to host at least one performance each month, ranging from acoustic shows, comedy events, and even lessons and group discussions. Between shows and exhibits, Var Gallery is a transitional space, which can be cleared so that artists may utilize it for woodworking and the like.
“We try to utilize the space as much as we can,” Hintz says. “I’m very fond of watching things happen and seeing how they go, so I’m not opposed to having an impromptu comedy show, or building a piece of artwork. It’s all the same, interesting process.”
Hintz says he’s already seen some unfamiliar names purchase advance tickets for Friday’s event. He feels performing in a climate usually reserved for analysis and critique might force the comics to work through extra scrutiny, which will ultimately help develop their craft. “If you can get a room full of serious artists to laugh, you’re well on your way,” Hintz says.
Somewhere in the immense creative chasm between beret-wearing, judgmental wino, and rubber chicken-toting, Viagra-joking hack, there’s a vast artistic middle ground in which both comics and fine artists can reside and co-exist. It’s an overlap that’s rooted in passion, careful creation, and an inherent desire for an audience.
Whether the gallery is conducive to comedy is unknown, but the room Hintz meticulously fashioned, the sculptures, paintings, and etchings, along with a heap of one-liners, puns, and dick jokes will all coalesce into a mixed-media assemblage that’s sure to render Var Comedy Show unlike any other showcases in town.
Var Comedy Show takes place at Var Gallery & Studios (2627 S. Greeley St., Milwaukee) Friday, June 13 at 8 p.m. Performers include host Suze Bischoff, guest Jay J Harris, featuring acts Josh Ballew, Adam Loeding, Sammy Arechar, and headliner Kyle Warras. Cover is $5 (down from $7).