Given the daunting task of stepping on stage armed with only a microphone and a batch of deeply personal thoughts, feelings, and past experiences in effort to make a room full people laugh against their will, stand-up comedy is widely considered to be one of the—if not the—most difficult forms of expression. Doing it without a shirt or pants on brings this already-intimidating art form to an even greater degree of difficulty. Friday night, nine brave, body-secure local and regional comedians will shed their inhibitions along with their clothing to join Atlanta-based comic Joe Pettis on stage at Hybrid Lounge to partake in the Milwaukee leg of his Underwear Comedy Tour.
This weekend’s show will mark the 20th such pants-free party Pettis has hosted this year (not counting his monthly show at a theater in Atlanta) and the 10th state in which the exhibitionist-oriented event has occurred in the last four months. After the host introduces the performers, all comics disrobe for the entirety of the evening. The previous Underwear Comedy Party in Milwaukee took place at Art Bar last March.
Liza Marie, who will partake in Friday’s show, performed in last year’s show. She says she had fun the first time, despite it being one of her most challenging stand-up comedy experiences to date.
“No, it definitely didn’t make it easier, and it absolutely added an extra layer—if that’s possible—to how nerve-wracking it can be to get on stage by yourself and attempt to make a room full of strangers laugh, but that’s why I did it,” Marie says. “I didn’t think I could do it, but any self conscious feelings I had disappeared the minute that first joke landed, just like it does when I’m fully clothed.”
Sammy Arechar (pictured above) also took part in last year’s show. Though he claims the Art Bar gig wasn’t the first time he’s taken his clothes off on stage, Arechar, too, admits he was slightly thrown off initially by the show’s intimate theme. Though he forgot a joke of two early on, he quickly eased into normalcy as his set wore on.
“I’ve never felt more confident, to be honest, than when I was telling jokes in my underwear,” Arechar says. “It’s one of those things where you’re thinking about it, but as soon as you start talking, you don’t realize it anymore.”
Besides his self-diagnosed inability to say no to a show, he says he decided to participate again—while wearing his “nicest pair of boxer briefs from the Gap”—because he had fun.
“I really enjoyed it the first time I did it,” Arechar says. “I like trying to put myself in a loop that’s unfamiliar.”
While this will be Gary Zajackowski’s true Underwear Comedy debut, he’s not exactly new to the concept.
“I mean, I’ve pulled down my pants on stage before, but it’s never planned,” Zajackowski says.
Even if he’s prone to disrobe from time to time, the oft-unpredictable comedian admits he’s a little nervous for his scantily-clad set Friday night.
“I imagine in the first minute there will probably be a level of anxiety, but I’ve thought about [what I’d do] if I forgot my jokes—and I probably will—I will probably lean back on some older material,” Zajackowski says.
West Bend-based comic Matty Field was scheduled to perform in last year’s Underwear Comedy Party, but had to back out due to a family commitment. He says he wanted to be part of this year’s edition because appreciates the absurdity of the event.
“The tone of the show is already going to be heightened because people are in their underwear,” Field says. “Of course there’s going to be material that I can base on it that I couldn’t normally do because, you know, I can point out things on my gross 35-year-old body and make jokes about that.”
Assuming he has time to do laundry beforehand, Field says he plans to don a pair of boxer shorts with a pattern featuring other pairs of boxers (his “Underwear Underwear”), which is more than some performers wore when Field appeared with Pettis at a Chicago comic book shop last weekend. One came out topless. Not to be outdone, another comic performed completely in the nude. Though Field doesn’t anticipate any full-on nakedness Friday, he wouldn’t completely put it past some of his comic cohorts.
“Knowing the people that are going to be in this show, you never know what you’re going to get,” Field says. “If you like jokes and you like skin, you can’t get a better deal than this show in particular.”
Hybrid Lounge’s Underwear Comedy Party features Christopher Schmidt, Liza Marie, Sammy Arechar, Matty Field, Ashley Huck, Gary Zajackowski, Liz Ziner, Stephanie Hasz, and host Joe Pettis. The show begins at 8 p.m. (7:30 p.m. doors) and costs $5.