Brett vs. Brett: Stand-Up Revengefuck

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Lameass Megalomaniac (Photo by Sue Mattson)

 

Brett Emerson claims to be a comedic genius, brilliant writer, and master storyteller. Personally, I don’t buy it. In all the years I’ve known this Frankensteinian scoundrel, I’ve been subjected to all manner of slothful and slovenly behavior, lewd anecdotes, sacrilegious tomfoolery, vulgar musicianship, and indecent exposure. Oh, but now he says he’s a stand-up comedian and he’s slithering back to La Crosse to do a big hometown hoopla for all his degenerate friends. How nice. I’m sure his act is appropriate for our fair community. People, this man is a menace to the frail fabric of society, and he doesn’t deserve to be within a hundred feet of a public forum. Unfortunately, as I am La Crosse’s go-to guy for interviewing the suburban rich and famous, I was tapped to hold a discourse with this loathsome specimen. What follows is, without question, the lowest point of my esteemed journalistic career.

 

Brett Emerson: You’re looking well.

 

Brett Emerson: Well, you’re looking amazing!  What are you doing after this interview?

 

Emerson: Cut the crap.  Just tell me about your stupid stand-up.

 

Emerson: Ask me nicely.

 

Emerson: Are you serious?

 

Emerson: (Makes kissing faces) Lick me.

 

Emerson: Fine, you idiot. Please tell me about your magical adventures in comedy.

 

Emerson: Wellll, since moving out of La Crosse in 2010, I’ve lived in beautiful Bellingham, Washington, located between Seattle and Vancouver and about as far northwest as one can get in the continental United States.  It’s only slightly larger than La Crosse, but there’s a massive arts and music scene out here that is really inspiring.

I’ve always been a huge comedy dork, even since I was a little kid. I grew up listening to Bill Cosby and George Carlin, and I’ve watched Comedy Central since its very beginning. I’ve always had this goal of being a comedian, whether it was in the format of stand-up, sketch comedy, or film. I have notebooks full of ideas that have never made the jump from theory to reality. The problem was that I’ve never been in a place in which I could regularly get all the ideas out of my head and into those of other people.

 

Emerson: Well, that, and you’re astronomically lazy.

 

Emerson: Well, yeah.

 

Emerson: So how was Bellingham any different?

 

Emerson: A lot of what’s happened in Bellingham seems like a series of deliberate accidents. During the four day drive from La Crosse to Bellingham, I listened to nothing but stand-up, pumping myself up to get here and start looking around for stand-up open mics. When I arrived here, Bellingham didn’t seem to have much in the way of open-mics, but when I looked around for venues I discovered the Upfront Theatre, which is a fantastic little improv theater full of brilliant people who make up comedy off the tops of their heads. Just genius, creative chaos. My first impression was that I had found my tribe.

I’ve spent three years studying and performing improv with these people, using stories and characters to figure out myself. They’ve also always held a monthly stand-up show at the Upfront, but I never got on stage enough to draw together any sort of confidence or material. Other forums popped up around town, but they were always on nights I worked, so I couldn’t go.

Yet blind, stupid luck would lead me to a particular bar on a particular night four months ago, when I randomly met a guy who was starting up a new, weekly stand-up night that I could make it to. And so a terrible beauty was born.  I had the good fortune of stumbling into the ground floor of Bellingham’s exploding stand-up scene, and things are getting bigger and better. I put it this way: for the first three years I lived here, I averaged five minutes of stand-up every six months. For the past four months, I’ve been doing up to thirty minutes per week. And I’m far from the only person reaping the benefits.

 

Emerson: I was at that awkward, shambling mess you refer to as your first stand-up show at the Casino.

 

Emerson: So was I, so that figures. When you have a leprechaun in the crowd heckling you, it makes you question your whole existence. Really, I just wanted to vomit every malformed joke I ever thought of out onto the audience that night, because I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get the chance again.  That was forty minutes of sheer stuttering embarrassment, but I’d have also severely regretted not doing it.

One of the best things that improv has taught me is how to fail. How to enjoy failure and keep moving forward. How to adjust to things not working out the way you envisioned them and still turning the situation into something amazing. I’ve failed, a lot, and active failure feels a lot better than passive failure.

I’ve done horrible improv shows and horrible stand-up sets, sometimes so badly that I’ve wanted to run away and never put myself out in front of people ever again. And then I come back the next time, and nobody remembers that I sucked but me. People seem much quicker to remember the times when you were awesome. Except you, of course.

 

Emerson: Of course. For you, what are the differences between doing improv and stand-up?

 

Emerson: It’s the difference between forgetting and remembering, winging it and being very prepared. When an improv show is over, it’s over forever. Never replicated. I’ll maybe think about the show for the rest of the night, but the next day, it’s a past life. In contrast, I record everything I do in stand-up, and I listen to my show over, and over, and over, and over. I’ve largely stopped listening to other comedians since I became one. Not out of narcissism or arrogance, but because I became so obsessed with developing every nuance of my material that I never stop thinking about it. I’ve never been so absorbed in anything, ever.

 

Emerson: How do you go about developing your material?

 

Emerson: I’m learning the benefits of being prepared so well that you can throw the notes away. At first I had a basic idea for things I’d want to do in a set; then I’d get out there and bullshit my way through and listen to the recordings and hear what worked and what needed work. Very oral tradition. The aftermath remains the same, but when I’m working out new stuff now I’m much more apt to plot things out beforehand and bullet point each turn of phrase. I’m getting way better at memorizing my sets, which oddly frees me from the program. I was always a great test taker in school.

 

Emerson: Are you still a creepy little pottymouth?

 

Emerson: Oh, of course, but that’s not all there is. I’ve learned how to sneak in the shock rather than beat people over the head with it. Oddly, I used to be really afraid of telling jokes that were cleverly profane while wholly unafraid of verbally shitting everywhere, and yet the one joke which earned me the worst reaction, a full gasp, was a really mundane one about country music fans. To be fair, I told it like crap that night.

I’m really into terrible puns. I love silly one liners. I love conceptual comedy about ideas and inventions. I love talking about all my insane adventures and insane feelings and philosophies. I’m a filthy nerd, but I’m still a nerd, and I’m not so afraid of showing that off anymore.

 

Emerson: You sound happy.

 

Emerson: I am happy. Probably best ever happy. This level of satisfaction and ambition is completely alien territory.

 

Emerson: Sounds wonderful. Soooo, you wanna get out of here?

 

Emerson: Hell yeah, stud.

 

The grin of a man who just scored with himself.  (Photo Sue Mattson)

The grin of a man who just scored with himself. (Photo Sue Mattson)

 

Oh God, what have I done? Brett Emerson will play the Cavalier Theater & Lounge on Thursday, September 19th at 10pm. I, unfortunately, will be there.

 

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Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Jammin’ George’s Very Jammin’ Christmas

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Flag Day!

 

Film: Jammin’ George’s Very Jammin’ Christmas (2011)

 

It’s entirely in keeping with everything I know about the great Jammin’ George that he would send me a Christmas-themed video at a time nowhere near the holidays.  It’s both an absurd decision and a delightful one.  Very Jammin’ Christmas is a quick burst of Jammin’ George’s comedic genius largely infused with (though in no way limited to) Yuletide spirit.  While this 10 minute show doesn’t have the variety or the sheer mindfucking of George’s hour-long epic, Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun, it is a joyous bit of goofing around.

As opposed to the greater diversity of that epic, George’s tribute to Christmas largely sticks to quick impressions and snippets of song.  He does bring back a few classic bits from Land of Fun, one of which is appropriate for the Christmas theme and the other so weird that I’d watch it a thousand different ways.  The first is Jammin’ “George’s 12 Days of Christmas,” featuring George reading down a list of things that make the holidays great, including hot body poses, quenching Orangina, and falafels a-falafeling.  The weird bit is George showing his audience how to make toast.  There’s no swerve; it’s simply George putting bread in a toaster and buttering it when it comes out.  But he’s pumped about it, which sells the entire bit and makes it hilarious as well as bizarre.

His new bits are more or less Christmas-based, the most notable of which features George as the fourth wise man, late for the nativity and looking for a good place for falafel.  He also does a wicked impression of Ebenezer Scrooge.  Still, some of my favorite bits ended up being the times when he’d go off topic.  There’s a great joke about George’s dad being a hedge fund guy before it was cool, and he does a sweet impersonation of Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood.  Then there’s George’s weird, mild-mannered rant about going on a bus ride and not getting a tuna sandwich that was promised him, which would have been out of left field from a lesser comedian.

I do wish that George would have gone longer on this video and diversified his skits a bit more; there’s so much more holiday-themed gold that the man could have mined.  I am more of a fan of Land of Fun, but Very Jammin’ Christmas is a good introduction to those who haven’t seen that masterpiece, as well as a great companion piece for those who have.

Jammin’ George: LOCAL HERO.

Jammin' George

The first thing I noticed when I met up with local comedian and surrealist Jammin’ George was that he had a bobble-head of himself sitting on his table. It wasn’t a total likeness; the sculpture reminded me of Harry Caray whereas George, a big man with close-cropped white hair and rectangular black glasses, looks more like Drew Carey. But the fact that Jammin’ George commissioned a bobble-head to be made of him is stunning. It’s one more way by which he crawls into one’s head and wreaks havoc.

My relationship with Jammin’ George is full of such brain-melting incidents. Earlier in the year, my cohort Shuggypop Jackson got a hold of me and delivered an urgent message: he had something he had to show me. His offering was Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun, an hour-long video in which George dances to music, reads poetry, does impersonations, and films his television. It’s one of the most bizarre videos I’ve ever seen, but the strangest thing is that I’ve watched it so many times that I’m no longer fazed.

The Sweet Shop janitor known on his paychecks as George Haug is a joyous man, quick to ham it up and not given to extensive self-examination. The one thing he isn’t is a one trick pony. Land of Fun, which was made circa 2006, is his newest project, but Jammin’ George has been around for decades. In that time, he’s also been a stand-up comedian, written his own newsletter, and released three comedy albums. His current goals are to get some of his videos up on YouTube and perhaps make it to the Twin Cities to do a few shows.

“I’ve been a comedian since the early 80s,” said George. “I started out writing newsletters, these ‘Jam Reviews.’ Then at Popcorn Tavern’s open mics I would get up and do a little schtick, little jokes, and they asked me to do more and more. [I usually perform] once a month, maybe once every other month. I haven’t done it for a while.”

George described his stand-up as such: “I do one-liners, but I also do impressions or lip-sync somebody, like Roger Whittaker’s ‘Wind beneath My Wings.’”

His influences, both in comedy and beyond it, range from the obvious to the surprising. George is a big fan of Chris Farley, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Bill Murray, but he’s also into surreal artists such as Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso. In reading his newsletters I picked up an affinity for Tracy Chapman and the Grateful Dead. The fact that he likes the expectation-shattering Andy Kaufman is no surprise.

He LOVES Alice from The Brady Bunch.

George’s newsletter, The Jam Review, captures the full spirit of Jammin’ George. The volumes which George brought to the interview ranged from 1989 to 2001, and were filled with one-liners, poetry, photography, and strange stories. One story described “The Weekend from Hell,” in which George had to deal with his shiftless brother-in-law, who drank heavily and stuck George with the bills. In one edition there’s an autograph from Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. Her picture next to the autograph is in negative, giving the whole exhibit a disturbing quality.

“I had my dad’s secretary type them up, and I took them to the printer. I was taking them to RC Printing, down by WKBT. I had about 12 issues, about 100 or so [copies], and they’d have them at the Co-Op or Deaf Ear. It was kind of fun, but my brother goes: ‘You don’t think people are actually gonna read these?’ They were very odd.”

The Jammin' George Audio Collection

Jammin’ George followed this project up with audio recordings, beginning with a series of tapes and resulting in three comedy albums. In chronological order, they are Giving the Fans What They Want, The Joke’s On You, and Jammin’ George’s Buffet. The old tapes were mostly helmed by Chris Zobin or John Boyle, frequent contributors to Jammin’ George’s misadventures. Boyle also helped produce Fans, whereas Ken Eisler helped create the two latter albums. Though much of what I heard on the audio recordings consisted of one-liners, Jammin’ George attempted to translate his entire act to the albums. “At the end [of Buffet] I sing ‘Cheer Up, Charlie,’ and I’ll sing that song by Barry Manilow, ‘I Write the Songs,’ except it’s ‘I Write the Jokes.’”

A few smaller videos followed, filmed by George’s neighbor John Ross, before the pair created Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun. On the differences between recording an album and a video, Jammin’ George said: “When you’re doing a CD you can read the whole thing; you almost have to wing it in a video, but it’s the most fun.”

Jammin’ George isn’t in this for the money. George has released roughly a hundred copies of each newsletter, album, and video, and most of the time he gives them away for free. With his video, the reason is partly because he’s playing copyrighted music and filming television shows, so there would be an easy infringement case if he tried to turn a buck. But the greater truth is that he would rather someone find his work for free than not find it at all. An example came during my interview as George gave me a t-shirt featuring the Jammin’ George bobble-head, with no thought of repayment.

It’s one more way in which Jammin’ George sets himself apart from typically safe and fantastically average comedians. The current state of comedy doesn’t impress George much. “It’s pretty lame. Most [comedians] always tell the same [jokes],” he explained. The problem, in his estimate, is that it’s too easy to predict what a comedian will be like.

Do people know what to expect from Jammin’ George? After laughing long and hard, he answered: “Maybe, sometimes.”

Oh yeah. He has a bobblehead.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun

Jammin' George

I don’t know what the hell I just saw. I just know that it’s Shuggypop’s fault. He got a hold of me today, saying that he had the perfect movie for me to feature in Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre. Intrigued, I invited him to my house, where he proceeded to show me the most mind-blowing thing I’ve seen since Trailer Town. I can best describe it as a home video variety show for the insane, hosted by a man with the body of Drew Carey and the rockin’ soul of Wesley Willis. And best of all, this guy is local. Jammin’ George found Shuggy and gave him one of the only copies of his Land of Fun, and our lives are forever changed by its majesty. I made a list of all the crazy shit that happens in Jammin’ George’s hour of power. That list is three times as long as this review is going to be.

Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun is roughly divided into a few themes: where George rocks out to music, where George talks to the camera and tells jokes, puppet shows, poetry reading, impersonations, long musical numbers, and bits where George just films whatever’s playing on television. As could be guessed, it’s roughly made and even more roughly edited. There are multiple times where George tells the cameraman to stop filming, the camera occasionally shows the time and date, and those long musical numbers get uncomfortably Kaufmaneque toward the end. But similar to the music of Wesley Willis, you have to take the rough to get the diamonds – and the diamonds are many.

Immediately, Jammin’ George takes no prisoners. He gets things started by wearing a purple beret and whirling around a countryside while “The Sound of Music” plays. The opening sketches are great, but the first one that really knocked me on my ass what when George wears a hot pink shirt and a hot pink feather boa and sashays around to the theme of “The Young and the Restless.” After a series of sketches in which his gray t-shirt gets progressively sweatier, he launches into a puppet show based on the Land of Make-Believe from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, where the cats get jobs cleaning King Friday’s bathroom. After a Manilow-inspired musical tribute to Oprah, George begins a few of those lengthy music and television phases, the most surprising two being a performance by Billy Corgan on the Bozo the Clown Show, and George filming a video of himself singing “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” A robot would have died from paradox at that point.

And then, there’s much, much more glorious ridiculousness.

Jammin’ George. LOCAL HERO.

The Land of Fun!

Here are the notes I compiled as I allowed Jammin’ George to destroy my fragile little mind.

* * *

A variety show for the insane.

A cross between Drew Carey, Jim Gaffigan, and Wesley Willis

* * *

*George dancing to the Sound of Music in a purple beret

*Foxworthy Redneck joke.  Bambi is the bible for hunters, and apparently Bambi is the story of the birth of Jesus

*“What would Alice from the Brady Bunch do at a time like this?” and then proceeds to sing.

*George provides rim shots to George Burns doing jokes at a Friar’s Roast while filming a picture of a rubber chicken.  Then, a rim shot to “Get your damn hands off me, you damn dirty ape!”

*A creepy 12 Days of Christmas “Three burritos farting…”

*In a pink blazer and boa, swishing around to the theme from “The Young and the Restless.”

*Rock music playing over a pic of George and his mom (I think)

* * *

THE PROGRESSIVELY SWEATY GRAY SHIRT PHASE

*Gray shirt phase one: Interpretive dance to “Memory” from Cats, wearing a Pikachu coonskin cap, wearing a gray t-shirt that gets progressively sweatier as the sketches wear on

*Gray shirt phase two: stop motion to a rock out to the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.”

*Gray shirt phase three: “Hello, Clarice,” into the phone.  Then asks for milk from Kwik Trip and promises loving.  Then hangs up and stares at the phone for an uncomfortable amount of time.

*Gray shirt phase four: Flailing and dancing his heart out to “She’s a maniac.”  Kicks the air.

*Gray shirt phase five: Reading inspirational Maya Angelou quotes off a card.  Offers his own inspirational quote about being wasted in Ambrosiaville

*Gray shirt phase six: Lady across the hall? Getting a pet rock neutered

*Gray shirt phase seven: Whistling to upbeat tropical guitar rock.

*Gray shirt phase eight: Playing with nun dolls and wearing a flying nun hat, while singing to “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”

* * *

*Daniel Tiger and Henrietta Pussycat sitting on a couch eating Funyuns and drining orange drink, then watching an episode of Mr. Rogers.  George FILMS the actual show as it plays on his TV.  Then he enters the Land of Make-Believe.  King Friday interviews the cats, who get the jobs cleaning the toilets because nobody else applied.  They go to dinner with everyone, and Daniel, a vegetarian, orders pasta and chicken, but gets ham.  King Friday then fires them, and then Daniel shows off his truck to Henrietta.

*“An Opera of Oprah,” George dresses up as Oprah, and then Dr. Phil, who then serenades the camera to the tune of Manilow’s “Mandy.”

* * *

THE UNCOMFORTABLY LONG MUSIC AND TELEVISION PERIOD

*Films the TV as it plays HR Pufnstuf

*George teaches us to make toast.  He does nothing unusual during this.

*Story Time: George reads his own episode of “Curb your Enthusiasm” to two guys on the couch.  Classical music plays in the background.  Excessive detail.

*Films the TV as Billy Corgan performs at the Bozo the Clown Show and a kid-filled montage plays.

*Films the TV as the opening to the Brady Bunch plays.  George shouts “Alice!” when she shows up at the end.  A slow burn with a big payoff.

*Films the TV as Jammin’ George sings “Wind Beneath My Wings” at a bar.  Lives the lyrics.  This would be the part where a robot’s head blows up from all the surrealism.

*A still photo of George on a couch, overlain by a touching acoustic guitar song titled “Don’t Laugh at Me.”

* * *

*A remake of The Flying Nun

*In a bunny suit, saying “Trix are for bunnies” before he hops around.

*In a curly red wig, pretending to knead dough.  Wasted in Ambrosiaville, again.

* * *

THE LONG, UNCOMFORTABLE PHASE, PART TWO

*A long, uncomfortable shot of what I think is George pretending to be on life support in a bed, wearing an oxygen mask.  He tries to pretend he’s in a coma, but occasionally twitches.

*White Balance Hell.  George holds up a doll, doesn’t move at all, and blinks repeatedly into the camera while a Sinatra song plays in its entirety.  The top of his head and the white wall behind him are indistinguishable.  At the end, he grabs a pie and smashes it into his face.

*Wearing a cheesehead top hat, twirling a cane around and kicking to “New York, New York.”  Occasionally his kicks run out of steam.

* * *

IMITATION HOUR

*Wearing a blond wig, possibly making fun of a Toyota dealership.

*Holding a bible and singing Alleluia.

*“As David Letterman would say, “’Here Kitty Kitty.’”

*I don’t want pancakes

*His country song, while wearing a cheesehead cowboy hat

*Dr. Phil, get excited about your life!

*Imitating the guy from Sling Blade.  Grunting.

*Reading a poem – “A Filet of Aspirin”  “Slow dancing with Charo/ Give me the simple life.”

*In the car joke.

*Singing about biscuits

*Imitating Lucille ball by crying loudly in a red wig

*In another wig, singing

*Flo from Alice “Kiss my grits!”

*Saturday Night Fever

*Wearing a curly wig and imitating John Legend

* * *

HOT PINK SHIRT

*In a hot pink blazer and shirt, saying that if you crossed Howie Mandel with Nathan Lane, you’d get Annoying Olympics

*Singing about how great life is

*Getting serious: “You will never go down the drain.  You’re bigger than all the soap and all the bubbles.”

*Pretending to vacuum

*Getting a phone call from himself, in a wig

*Imitating Aunt Bee and Andy Griffith

*Save big money at Menards.  “A 15 Inch tape measurer…”

* * *

*Filming the end of John Travolta’s Bubble Boy.  “They don’t make songs like that anymore!”  As Travolta rides away with a girl on horseback, George cheers that Bubble Boy got the girl.

* * *

THE FINALE

*Wearing a bunch of wigs and acting like a lady

*Dressed up as an old veteran who thinks George is disturbed.

*Audition for Wheel of Fortune: clapping a lot.

*Being “On TV”: wearing a TV on his head.  Imitates Mr. Brady, has a nun on TV, then sings the Down the Drain song again.

*Sings “Ebony and Ivory” to bring the whites and blacks together.

*Bothers the Curb Your Enthusiasm guys as they walk down the hall

*Two dolls eating dinner

*George in a car, saying that he has a reason to live

*Playing the guy in the sweet shop, as well as the customer

*An appeal for a job

*Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun – sponsored by Jean-Claude Van Damme (Films Bloodsport commercial)

*Wearing a Cubs jersey, reading a poem that begs God to kill him.  Waits for God to kill him for a minute of silence.  Continues the poem, which gets progressively more ridiculous.  Concludes that simple things in life are best.  Then sits there for another minute.

*Walks off to the forest in his purple beret, turns and waves goodbye

*One last thing to say: “Adios!”