Last month, there was an electrical fire in an old Bay View home. Fortunately all three residents and their pets made it out alive and well. Unfortunately, the flames and smoke damage claimed the majority of the tenants’ belongings. However, Boone & Crockett owner John Revord decided to step in to help by co-organizing a benefit for his employee Rob Maass and roommates Mary Oglesby and Michael Bischoff to help the displaced trio get back on their feet. “Burning Down The House”—an evening of music, comedy, raffles, and charity—was born.
To help fill in the comedy portion, the Boone & Crockett owner called upon longtime Milwaukee sketch comic (and ex-roommate of Maass and Bischoff in the ill-fated home) Nick Firer. Upon co-hosting the benefit, Firer enlisted the likes of local comics Christopher Schmidt, Ryan Lowe, Erik Koconis, Lisan Wood, and Jessie Mahne to help salvage humor from hardship. Before Firer and his cast of comedians take part in the inaugural Boone stand-up showcase Thursday night to benefit a great cause, we spoke with the co-organizer about the fire itself, how the comic community has responded, and the cathartic properties of laughter.
Milwaukee Record: So get us up to speed with the events of the house fire?
Nick Firer: The house was Mike Bischoff, Rob Maass, and Mary Oglesby’s, and I used to live there. When I moved out, Mary moved into my space. There was just an electrical fire because the house is 120-some years old. The John Revord, who owns Boone & Crockett next door—Rob and Mary now bartend at Boone & Crockett—contacted me to say he was trying to throw a benefit to raise money for them and he wanted some comedy. He asked if I could help out with the comedy. I know most of the comedians in town. That’s basically it. My side of the story isn’t much. It’s John’s idea, and it’s Mike, Mary, and Rob’s tragedy.
MR: What did they lose? Everything?
NF: No, I don’t think they lost everything. I think Mary lost the most because she had a lot of her stuff in the kitchen. The kitchen is gone. The living room is gone. There’s a lot of smoke damage and they need new beds. They had to tear through Mary’s bedroom to get at the fire. It’s been really cool, though, because the minute we said there were some people in town that needed help, everybody came out of the woodwork to help.
MR: How did you actually go about booking the show? Was it just people you already had in your Rolodex from working in the scene, or did you seek out people that you felt would be especially fitting for this event?
NF: I just went on Facebook and said “Who’s available for this day? You all know me, so you probably know Rob, Mary or Mike—at least one of those people. They need a hand up.” Everybody was really, really supportive. I wanted it to be a really solid showcase. All five of the people are really solid comedians, they’re really good, and they’re really accessible for a lot of different reasons.
MR: Yeah, it’s a really good gateway to the comics, too. They won’t be making any money, but I’m sure they’re eager to perform in front of a new crowd and help three people at the same time.
NF: That’s the coolest thing. It’s not even about the show and it’s not about exposure. I even feel kind of uncomfortable promoting it as a show because it’s a benefit and everybody has come out of the woodwork to do something they know they can do to help if they can’t write a check or build a house. We’re a bunch of comedians and artists, so what can we do? We can make jokes, make a showcase, a bring people out who can give money.
It almost feels like a celebration of how close our community is, not a tragedy. It’s really exciting. One of my favorite things about this town is how nice everybody is. When stuff happens, they rally around them.
MR: I don’t want to be inventing a narrative here, but what’s the importance of pulling laughs out of an all-around shitty situation?
NF: The closer you are to a tragedy, the more license you have to make a joke on it. If you’re not laughing, you’re crying. They’re both equally cathartic.
MR: That’s right. When you laugh really hard you can start to cry, and sometimes when things get so bad, all you can do is laugh. They’re connected.
NF: I feel like laughter is a catharsis that inevitably strengthens you. They’re both necessary. It’s kind of fitting that we’re doing comedy. It’s a shitty thing that happened, but we can do it because nobody got hurt, nobody died, and the animals that were inside all got out safe. It’s just stuff and it’s just an inconvenience. It’s a huge inconvenience, but almost everything is replaceable. It’s a shitty, shitty thing that happened, but everyone is okay, so we can laugh about how shitty it is.
MR: Are you hosting, emceeing, anything like that?
NF: I’m going to be emceeing with my writing partner from Variety Hour Happy Hour. I don’t do enough stand-up to be comfortable just doing that, so we’re going to do a couple bits to get things started. But again, it’s not about me and it’s not about the comedians…
MR: But we’re all—as a neighborhood or a city or whatever—banding together for a cause, but are also getting entertainment out of it.
NF: Exactly. You want to give back to the people that give, and the best way that I know how is to do a show. That’s all I know. [Mary, Rob, and Mike] are great people. They’re people about town, and you’ve probably met at least one of them. They’re the nicest people, and it’s really awesome that so many people agree.
Boone & Crockett’s “Burning Down The House” benefit is Thursday, February 5 at 8 p.m. In addition to the music of Jayk and Chimp Eats Banana, comedians Christopher Schmidt, Ryan Lowe, Erik Koconis, Lisan Wood, and Jessie Mahne will perform. All bar sales and raffle proceeds will benefit Oglesby, Maass, and Bischoff. Donations can also be made through their GoFundMe campaign.