Funny to the bone
TV You Can Heckle
So far, the comedy sketch group TV You Can Heckle has only endured one official incident of heckling. If the crowd’s welcoming response to the act before them—a black-clad Emo Nixon on his knees, reciting a furied homage to celibacy: “Hell no! Don’t want none!"—is any indication, Java Jungle’s open-mic-night audience is wide open to experimental performance.
The group hopes for a little more audience feedback when it takes its short, Comedy-Central-ish episodes of the Bullwinkle-like “Mr. Moose” to Brüka Theatre this weekend.
“There are places in the show where people are kind of supposed to heckle us,” explains group member Tim Dufrisne. “There’s a press conference, and I’m the secretary of defense, and I’m taking questions and whatnot, and if anybody in the audience raises their hand, I’ll absolutely call on them. And they can ask me anything they want, and I’ll try and answer it.”
Dufrisne’s dry-as-toast delivery, punctuated with newscaster-serious nods from his collaborators, each sporting the traditional uniform of the clean-cut-punk (white button down and narrow necktie), had me cracking up as he described the scenario over coffee. But does it sound all that funny when you read it in black-and-white newsprint? Probably not. The group’s brand of intonation-heavy comedy doesn’t necessarily translate to the written word. And vice versa.
That’s a problem the group’s been contending with since its transition from independent publishing to stand-up. Dufrisne, Nick Delehanty and Alex Falcone were among the perpetrators of the comedy zine Legal Underage Pornography and are now among the co-bloggers of Anarchy Golf Balls, a Web site where they post quip-length observations on just about anything. Ryan Stark is the proprietor of the book label Slander House.
“All of our jokes were written. We wrote jokes to be read. It’s a vastly different type of joke that you have to write,” Dufrisne says of the ‘zine publishing days. “Our idea was just to take all our columns and make sketches out of them. But after the first two, we realized that wasn’t going to happen. Because it’s just not very funny. So what we had to do was banish that whole thing, just work on that whole thing and come up with interesting characters.”
Their message remains constant. As Delehanty puts it, “Most every comedian in the world has a similar main message, which is, ‘Look, you guys are acting pretty silly.'”
Their influences, according to their YouTube page, are “Sartre, Nietzsche, Kant, the Bible, the everyday world, Abbott and Costello, Brad Pitt, sex, working retail, going to college, being white, being half Asian, and being tall.” (Delehanty has a master’s in philosophy. Stark is 6 feet 9 inches tall.)
Their skits are like late-night cartoons in tone, milking nerdy/cool existential goofiness for all it’s worth and folding it into a self-referential, self-aggrandizing, self-deprecating swirl. TV You Can Heckle is more likely to mine the meaning-of-life-type questions than, say, make fun of the president or whatever’s in the headlines.
Their method: Just keep churning out content. They write, animate, blog and perform until practice makes perfect—which, they confess, is probably never.
“It’s like they say about comics,” says Delehanty, “that you have to do it badly in front of people for 40 years before you can be any good at it.”
Hence, perhaps, the invitation to heckle.