Photo courtesy of Robbie Brooks.

There’s passion and then there’s “get in line at 2 for the open-mic” passion. The second one, that’s Robbie Brooks. While some people get into comedy for fun, some get into comedy for a career. Brooks  was born for comedy, quite literally. Brooks dabbled in stand-up from a young age, but it wasn’t until a chance conversation at a comedy club in New York City that he decided that comedy was where he was meant to be. You see, he looks like a comedian, and he decided at that point that he couldn’t possibly be anything else.

Since he was a kid, he was an admirer of Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Lewis and Gary Shandling. Like them, he says, “You don’t have to pity me, I’ll do it myself.” In 2014 he found himself in New York City, and “I wanted to go to Dangerfield’s,” Brooks says. “Comedy had always been in the back of my mind.” He was just excited to get in and see a show. “The guy at the door starts talking to me and says, ‘You look like a comedian’.” Brooks does look like a comedian— jovial, quirky, like a well-adjusted and sober John Belushi or Artie Lange. “I get everybody,” he says. “How am I supposed to feel about this?” The door guy insisted it was a good thing, he had after all been hanging out there since the ‘80s, so if there is anyone who is an authority on it, it’s going to be this door guy. Brooks decided to give it a shot, but had to get out of New Orleans, where he was living at the time. “I decided to move to Utah and found Wiseguys,” he says this was when he decided it was time to finally just do it. The first time he hit the stage was June 2016. “I’ve been sick ever since. It’s a sickness,” Brooks explains. Now, you’ll see him doing a variety of shows from Ogden to St. George, showing up in line to get on an open mic list at 2.

He currently works with high school kids as a tracker, a kind of mentor. But his sights are set on comedy full-time. “I want to do this as a career. There’s nothing else. I didn’t go to college.” He’s a man with a plan, and a passion to execute. “I’ll be happy if I’m just working clubs, touring. I want to keep it down-to-earth, keep it fun. I’d love to be on TV , but I can be happy doing on the road stuff. It’s what I love. It’s my passion,” he says. He’s learned a lot from that first step on stage to now. “One of the things I’ve had is that I have a speech impediment. I used to talk really fast. Now I kind of stop and take a breath.” He puts the work in and pounds the pavement when it comes to being serious about stand-up, “there’s no short cuts,” he says.

Comedy can be a little ugly at times, “a little two-faced,” he explains. But he’s found his comedy family— a group of great comics and as he describes “awesome humans.” His advice to all new working comics: “Find your comedy family. Don’t just look for friends.” The difference is while friends can help you get on a show, “it’s best to find your comedy family and grow with them.” This family of his consists of several long time hard-working local comics: Eric ‘EK’ Kepoo, Matt Turner, Allen Carter, and Bryce Prescott. Together they do a monthly show in St. George at the Hilton‘s Office Lounge. “I would’ve never experienced that without them,” he says. He says that the word “family” fits his group well. “I think it’s because some of the older comics feel like older brothers (or sisters). EK and Matt are like big brothers.” He says, “We go through a kind of war together. Like brothers in arms, we are brothers in mics.” His approach to a show is to just get up there and have fun with it. “We have a job to do, and that’s make these people laugh. But at the same time, you don’t want to take it too seriously. You want to enjoy it,” Brooks says, “for us, it’s about having fun.”

He doesn’t do serious topics, no politics. He’s all about Comic-con, being single, and his mom. “I want the audience to get their minds off of things.” He simply wants the audience to have fun. “I want them to enjoy these few minutes with me and I want them to laugh. I don’t want them to worry about something,” Brooks explains. “We have an oasis of comedy where we’re like ‘come laugh, come enjoy us, see what we can do and just have a blast. Have fun with us.’” Everyone in his ‘oasis’ brings something different to a show.“I bring goofy to it,” he says. “You always have to be yourself, you can always tell when someone’s lying on stage.” His self-deprecating humor is catharsis for him, not a cry for help, though. “Comedy comes with a lot of depressed people, a lot of us are depressed. But why beat yourself up over the one thing you can kind of use that depression as an anchor and use it as fuel for something good like comedy?”

You can see Robbie Brooks perform January 29th at Wiseguys From the Far Side of the Mic. The show is only $5 at Wiseguys, Downtown at the Gateway. Show at 7, doors at 6. 21+.  “It’s going to be goofy, it’s gonna get weird,” he says.

Clockwise: Hollie Jay, Joe Everard, Andy Farnsworth and Torris Fairley.

special SLUG Localized comedy night brings the laughter back to the stage at Urban Lounge. Thursday, Jan. 24, we bring together four hilarious voices, representing some of the best that the Salt Lake comedy scene has to offer. The show is free, the drinks are cold, and there’s no better way to kick off 2019 than finally saying yes to that Tinder match and figuring out what makes them tick by judging how much they laugh at a live stand-up show. Remember, a healthy sense of humor is sexy. That being said, this is a 21+ show, and we won’t hold it against you when you laugh a little too hard at that one, really dark-humored joke (there will be at least one). SLUG Localized is brought to you, as always, by our amazing local sponsors: Uinta Brewing, High West Distillery, KRCL 90.9 FM and Spilt Ink SLC.

This Localized brings together a “host of hosts”: Andy Farnsworth, Hollie Jay, Joe Everard and Torris Fairley. These featured comedians each have made their mark on the Salt Lake City comedy scene by running and hosting local shows and open mics over the course of the last eight years. They have since grown into several of the funniest, hardest-working comedians in the valley. All natural performers, they put forth their own unique brand of comedy, each with their different passions for doing stand-up. Yet, they each showcase what it means to be funny in every facet that stand-up comedy has to offer.

Farnsworth has been doing stand-up since 2004, but, as he says, “only really since 2010,” when he started out in Chicago. He has recently made his way back to Utah after spending several years in the New York City circuit, performing with an impressive “who’s who” of modern stand-up. “In New York, you get to be on shows with everybody,” he says. Farnsworth has performed at bar shows in both New York City and Los Angeles. He’s opened for Doug Stanhope, shared the stage with a name-dropper’s fantasy list and currently hosts his popular comedy podcast, Wandering the Aisles. This January, he’s recording a comedy album right here in Salt Lake City. If that wasn’t enough, he adds to his nerd credibility with the fact that he did a fellowship at the University of Utah for comedy fiction writing.

Farnsworth’s thoughts on being a comedian are answered best in existential ponderings: “I’ve tried to stop—I can’t,” he says. “Really, if I could not do it, I would … Why I do comedy is not funny at all—it’s actually heartbreaking.” It’s possible that he’s just being humble. However, he is known for his hilarious musings that border on neurosis. Farnsworth’s comedy  has been described as “autobiographical and conversational.” “I had someone tell me that it’s a fun meltdown,” he says. “Now I’m going to have to reproduce a meltdown every time, which is painful.”

Torris Fairley also started out in 2004, but again, “only really” since 2010, which appears to be a magical year. He bounces between gigs in Utah and Nevada and began his stand-up career in Chicago. He describes his comedy stylings as “universal,” which could explain how he can appeal to such vastly different audiences. Fairley developed a love for stand-up as a child watching the comedy legend, Richard Pryor, in concert. “He had me laughing to the point I couldn’t breathe, and he had me in tears,” he says. Now, Fairley can’t see life without comedy. “Quite honestly, I was just born to make people laugh. I have more opportunity to make people laugh with stand-up comedy, whether it’s an open mic or while at work, or home, or out grocery-shopping,” he says. Fairley has hosted a long-running, weekly open mic at Big Willie’s, along with other featured shows and comedy competitions.

Joe Everard has been hitting Utah stages for the last four years and has become a staple host in the open-mic scene, as well as and running feature shows. He’s a valuable player in the comedy game, as it takes nerves of steel to put on a weekly late-night open mic at a bar at the Ice Haüs, complete with a revolving door of drunken hecklers. Everard started young with the spark of confidence only a comic can really understand. Everard says “I was raised Catholic, and now, whenever I go into a church, I see Christ up there and say ‘I could do that,’” he says. He discovered his passion for comedy by feasting on some heavy-hitter stand-up specials, like Dennis Miller’s Citizen Arcane. With his witty, satirical one-liners, his comedy style is perfectly funny without being complicated. As far as figuring out the pulse of Utah comedy, he’s taken notes and formulated his strategy. He says, “The pulse is slightly off-tempo. I think you just have to find the right rhythm and just get in that groove, just like anything else.”

A newcomer to the stand-up scene, Hollie Jay hit the ground running a year ago and hasn’t quit. She’s hosting open-mic nights, performing on featured shows and opening for big acts right out of the gate. What she lacks in stage tenure she makes up for in dark, sarcastic humor. She’s found that comedy was a just a natural fit for her. “I’m super awkward offstage, so being onstage gives me a chance to practice not being super awkward,” says Jay. “I feel like literally no other form of therapy has ever worked for me—nothing. Therapy, drugs, family, friends, nothing else feels like it has worked for me the way that it should. Comedy feels like that one thing that’s life-changing and the thing that you use to get through life. That’s my one thing.”

Each of these comedians have different experiences within the different comedy scenes, but each share their thoughts about the uniqueness of our local scene. “The scene’s really great. There are a lot more comics here, and people are moving in from other cities,” says Farnsworth. “People are learning to kind of make it outside of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s growing I think.” Jay agrees and says, “People are shocked to know that Utah has a stand-up scene. And we actually have a very strong stand-up scene here. I think the myth from the outside perspective is that it wouldn’t be very big or very strong or important, but it totally is.”

The movement and growth within the comedy scene in Salt Lake City excites the comedians. “It’s definitely growing,” Fairley says “Salt Lake City has a great opportunity to stand out just by putting egos aside and just hoping they’ll make people laugh. If they do that, there’s a lot of talent—some hardcore talent.”

To each of these entertainers, comedy provides value and is much-needed as something that brings us together. Everard says, “I think one of the most fascinating things is listening to a crowd. You can sense the human gestalt emerging and where you can have a group of several hundred different people that come from different walks of life, and for that very brief moment, they breathe in rhythm, and sometimes they don’t even realize when they are responding to something and why they are responding to it.”

There is contemplation about what comedy offers audiences other than just a laugh. Fairley says, “We help people. The sound of the audience is the best thing, because all that is is the sound of you healing people. Laughter is the best medicine. So I feel like when people are laughing, that’s the equivalent to saying, ‘Thank you, you’re healing me, I’m better now.’”

While comedy is changing in the era of YouTube and Netflix, there are still one-of-a-kind perks to live comedy. Farnsworth explains the differences with the “old school” stand-up and the “new-school,” highly-accessible comedy. “The comedy I fell in love with is in a room with that low ceiling and that spooky, haunting thing. You can’t reproduce that on a Netflix special,” Farnsworth says.

Everard and Jay both see these new platforms making comedy logistically easier for comedians, but the downside is that there are now almost too many voices to choose from. Fairley doesn’t like the rapid changes to comedy as entertainment. “The quality isn’t there—Netflix really doesn’t understand stand-up,” Fairley says. “It’s watered-down now. I’m not saying the people aren’t funny, but I’ve heard funnier shit locally.” 

With live, local comedy, there are no edits and anything can happen. Farnsworth talks about the new type of emerging comedy fan. “There [are] so many people that like DIY comedy, comedy that’s not major-label comedy. This show is a great example of that,” Farnsworth says. He still can’t believe how many people want to come see his live shows. “People just want the experience of being out. They like that.” In fact, Everard points out that there are now multiple venues to see live comedy in the state, as fans begin to gravitate toward more of a genuine experience.

Moreover, Fairley passionately advocates for getting out to see live comedy: “Not only are people going to get good-quality stand-up, but we’re going to represent stand-up the right way.”

In 2019, there will be many opportunities to follow these highly talented comedians. Farnsworth launches the new season of Wandering the Aisles in February, which you can find on iTunes and Stitcher. Farnsworth’s comedy album will be recorded at Urban Lounge Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. doors at 7 p.m. and available for purchan on iTunes in March. Fairley can be seen on multiple shows within the Las Vegas and Salt Lake comedy circuit, and Everard will continue to host and run shows within Salt Lake City. Jay will be hosting an all-female comedy showcase at the Ice Haüs. At this point, live stand-up comedy in Utah is unstoppable and has these wildly funny comedians within the best of the best.

If you want to see stand-up the “right way,” hit up Urban Lounge Thursday, Jan. 24 at 9 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) for this installment of SLUG Localized, a free, 21+ show.

(L–R) Amerah Ames and Greg Kyte during Comedy Church sacrament. Photo courtesy of Greg Kyte.

Lord, give us this day our daily Greg—Greg Kyte, that is, and his one-of-a-kind Comedy Church. Recently Kyte, local comedy powerhouse, has become a breed of comedy pastor, priest, bishop and cult-leader wrapped into one with his new show running every other Sunday at Keys on Main. This Church service is for believers, doubters, non-believers and comedy fans alike, which ultimately makes it one of the most eclectic places to be anywhere in the valley on the sabbath.

Kyte comes from a “super hardcore evangelical” religious background and is a transplant into Utah Valley.  Starting out as a student at the University of Washington he transferred to BYU to be a “light of the true gospel unto the Mormons”—but makes it clear he “wasn’t a dick about it”. During his process of playing missionary to all of the return missionaries, at one point he realized “oh wait, we’re both wrong”. When he gave up Christianity thirteen years ago, he quickly transitioned into stand-up comedy. Though he was not missing the religion, he did realize he missed the close-knit community he was once a part of. “When I was a hardcore Evangelical Christian, I was really good at that. I was really good at church,” Kyte says “That was really my place to tap into a community.” After leaving religion behind him, the comedy community ended up being the closest he had gotten to filling the same position that going to church once held. Kyte now labels himself as a “doubting atheist”. Kyte says, “It’s like I’m pretty sure there is no God, but I’ve been wrong about so many things that I could be wrong about that, too.”

But what if there was a comedy show that was like a church service? Kyte says, “It was brewing in my brain for years and I just needed to have a deep enough existential crisis or dread to make it come about.” There aren’t too many dissimilarities between church and comedy, if you really think about it. There’s less singing, not that he hasn’t ruled it out. “My ulterior motive is to build this community,” Kyte says. “A comedy show is what we’re putting on, but my bigger vision is that it would also kind of end up being like a church where people who are like me, who used to be religious and who miss the camaraderie of a place like this, that you go to once a week that you felt like you belong.”  He envisioned a comedy show that, at the same time, could be a good excuse to become a place for people to congregate and belong. The added benefit is that people can come back every week that he does the show, as if their mortal souls depend on it.

During the “service”, Kyte is the host and emcee. Each service brings on a a different guest comedian and featured comedian. “The focus of the show,” he says, “is definitely for comedians to do their material on religion or religion adjacent material.” As he explains it, religion is supposed to be an all encompassing thing that guides all of your choices in life—it’s not that hard to tie it all back to religion, somehow. “Ethics, meaning of life, even relationships, it can all tie back to religion,” Kyte says. After the comedic sets, Kyte then interviews the comedians about what their experience was in religion. If they weren’t religious what would that be like? If they were, what has that transition been like? And, if they still are religious how does that impact their stand-up and where are their doubts? Kyte was surprised with the initial feedback from the show. “People really liked the interview part,” he says. Kyte essentially  just wants to know the answers to the questions and just have a real conversation about it. He muses that he has always been fascinated with the whole journey of it all. Past featured comedians have included local greats like Aaron Woodall from The Mormon and the Meth Head Podcast, and Abi Harrison from The Bob & Tom Show, Comedy Juice.

As Kyte explains, the audience member that the show is designed for is for someone like him: A person who used to be religious but isn’t so much anymore. “That’s what I’m still struggling with even though it’s been thirteen years since I got out,” Kyte says. He realizes that comedy and religious faith aren’t typically friends, but “so much of comedy is that you’re analyzing stuff for bullshit,” which he theorizes as to why many comedians claim to be unaffiliated with religion. But, no matter where someone is in their journey and beliefs, he aims to create a communal, welcoming place for all. “We’ve had two members of the LGBTQ community do sets at comedy church, everyone just goes ‘that makes sense here,’” he says. He’s had audience members range from atheists to his former Bishop’s wife. “I’m not there to convince anybody they are wrong or anything like that, I want to be able to have the freedom to tell people why I do or don’t believe the things that I believe, and I want the other people who are there to have that same freedom,” Kyte says. The two groups of people that he doesn’t think would feel necessarily comfortable are either hardcore religious people or militant atheists. However, he states he is not trying at all to offend but to open up people who are not at either of the extremes to different experiences. Kyte is interested in the sharing of stories or as he says “a guided testimony of non-belief.” “It’s nice to hear from other people who reflect my story” Kyte says.

As with any great themed comedy show, he says that there are some gimmicky things that they will do—like the “church bulletin” designed show program with information on the comedians and upcoming shows. He also throws in a convocation at the beginning where he reads a verse from a holy book, which he says will always be “something outlandish and a little bit nutballs—straight from scripture with very little commentary.” His Comedy Church communion will end all services with a toast in which a mystery Latin phrase is recited, then he will let the audience know the likely humorous translation. “Participation helps build the sense of community,” Kyte says. Every service will also contain a “message”. Sometimes there are themes, such as a testimony meeting (open mic), funeral of the living (a roast) and a book club where they will read through Fight Club and do a comedic discussion about the existential novel. “Church is kind of the Bible book club, when you think about it,” he adds. Kyte has paid special attention and really has put thought into having fun without making the service blasphemous to people who still participate in church culture. He says it is “not for the sensitive, but not insensitive.” He tries to avoid anything that would have been ‘too far’ for him when he was very religious. “I don’t want it to be like church just for comedians, but want people to come that like comedy,” says Kyte.    

Keys on Main has been accommodating to open up just for Comedy Church, where those coming to ‘worship’ will not have to deal with any other distractions so typical for other ‘bar shows’. The services are just an hour long—7:30 P.M.–8:30 P.M. Afterwards Keys on Main generously stays open for everyone to spend time together, continue talking and drinking. They also offer a special Comedy Church shot for $4.00 or less, to help with that communion toast. The cover is an affordable $3.00 which, for the average person, is less than tithing and for everyone else is an unbeatable price for Sunday night entertainment.

Photos by Logan Sorenson | LmSorenson.net

Now that the holidays are behind us, everyone most likely needs a good drink and an even better laugh. A special January SLUG Localized brings stand-up comedy back to the stage at Urban Lounge. Greg Kyte, Marcus Whisler, Trevor Kelley and Amerah Ames cure the holiday hangover with a heaping dose of hilarity. SLUG Localized is brought to you by our fantastic sponsors: Uinta Brewing, High West Distillery, KRCL 90.9 FM and Spilt Ink SLC. Grab some friends, coworkers and the family that you’re still speaking to, and hit Urban Lounge on Thursday, Jan. 18, for a free, funny, 21-plus show.


It’s a new year with new resolutions, and most of those won’t last longer than the next 30 days. Here’s to hoping that you and everyone you know had this one on your list: “Laugh more with all of your friends.” Even if you didn’t have it on there, we can all pretend like we did, because SLUG Localized has just the thing to kick off your 2018 right. Ames, Kelley, Whisler and Kyte clock in nearly three decades on comedy stages between them—which is almost one-and-a-half Amerah Ameses. They each have diverse styles, and all have some side-splitting things to say (or sing).

Photos by Logan Sorenson LmSorenson.net
Amerah Ames  | Photos by LmSorenson.net

Freshest among them is the young, witty host of the weekly Comedy Open Mic at the University of Utah, Ames. Her smart and quick humor is the kind that we would typically see from an established comedian twice her age. She’s soft-spoken and quirky, and wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of the cast of Stranger Things. She’s a hardworking comedian and is frequently one of the few women in a room full of dudes at any comedy show or open mic. At every one of her shows, she does more than hold her own. She says she would someday like to impress “anyone over the age of 35. They’ve never laughed at anything I’ve ever said.”

Starting his foray onto the stage in both improv and stand-up, Kelley has performed with a variety of talented comics, even doing an opening set for Anchor Man’s David Koechner. Mainly implementing a storytelling type of comedy, Kelley offers an insight into a world most people are unfamiliar with. As he puts it, “Come out and I’ll teach you how to do sign language—with backwards hands.”

Trevor Kelley | Photos by :LmSorenson.net
Trevor Kelley | Photos by LmSorenson.net

One-third of the infamous Jokers Gone Wild and a proud Ogden native, Whisler is best known for being the “other” guitar-playing comedian in Utah. He does musical comedy because, as he says, “I can’t do stand-up comedy.” While no one may ever know about the quality of his jokes while literally standing up, he’s more than A-OK sitting down with a guitar and singing about some dark albeit hilarious subjects, like morning-after regrets, stalking and beta males.

CPA by day, comedian by night, “angry-accountant comedian” Kyte has been doing stand-up and yelling jokes at crowds for about 15 years. He’s intense, funny and has probably accidentally taught more comedy fans about the finer points of tax law than any college professor. Sure, there are other accountant-comedians, but as he puts it, there is only one angry-accountant comedian.

Ames started out at 19, which gave her a unique view into some of the complications of doing comedy in Utah. “One thing that I noticed when I first started was that Utah has restrictive liquor laws, so you can’t even go in an area where alcohol is being served without food, and that was kind of problematic,” she says. She also points out that in other states, being under 21 and wanting to do comedy at a bar is a little bit easier. “I just wanted to talk at people in bars. That’s it.” She’s of age now, though, but Utah’s liquor laws do put a kink in what’s normal to comedy scenes in other states. Kelley is on the fence and says, “I don’t know if that’s the driving reason, but it definitely doesn’t help.” 

A downside to doing shows at bars? The hecklers. Of his bar shows all over the Wasatch Front, Whisler says, “There was never not one without a heckler. You’ve just gotta hurry and have the edge.” Whisler says that during one of his songs—which has an over-the-top take on “loving you so much you’re chained to the radiator”—one of the audience members got offended and started yelling at him. “He goes, ‘When was it cool to sing songs about degrading women?’” Whisler just looked at him in awe, and the first thing that came to his mind was, “Well, ever since the second day in Canada in 1892, right after mayonnaise got invented, and Bill Cosby was actually white. That’s when it first came about.” Whisler says that once the heckler got it out of his system, he did apologize after the show.

Greg Kyte | Photos by LmSorenson.net

Ames adds to that, sarcastically saying, “That guy was a feminist icon, standing up for women everywhere. That’s so brave.” It’s not uncommon, and it’s not the first time a heckler felt like they were adding to the show or putting a comedian in their place. “I would like to thank that man right now for speaking for all of us,” Ames says dryly. At this moment, Whisler wants to point out that in no way does he think that chaining women to radiators is acceptable.

Ames is actually sad that she’s never really had hecklers. “I wish I was good enough to have a comeback ready,” she says. Then she quickly changes her mind.“I think if I got heckled, I would start crying and give them the microphone.” Lamenting, Kelley says, “I wish I got heckled. I never get heckled. This guy kinda heckled me one time. He said, ‘What’s wrong with your hands?’ And I was like, ‘What’s wrong with your fucking face?’”

An even more epic heckler story is the one that Kyte reminisces about from years ago, when he was hosting at a comedy open mic night at Wiseguys in West Valley. “It was the weirdest thing because he wasn’t ‘heckling’ heckling; he just wanted to chat,” Kyte says, laughing. “I would do a joke, and it was something about taxes, and he’d say something like, ‘Yeah, I did my taxes last year.’” When it continued with every other comic, Kyte got back onstage and made an announcement: “You guys are a great audience because ALMOST all of you know that you’re not supposed to fucking talk to the comedians onstage.” Eventually, the “heckler” was told to leave the room, but at the end, the comedians found him drunk and sleeping in the very back. Then there was only one true and appropriate response by any real comic: to take selfies with the drunk, sleeping heckler. Kyte gives advice to every potential audience member out there: “It’s not a dialogue. It’s a monologue.”

Marcus Whisler | Photos by LmSorenson.net

Kelley has insight to the heckler problem, given to him by Koechnor. “He told me that it’s been [his] experience that people who heckle shows usually just don’t have the social awareness that we are all listening to one person talk,” Kelley says. For some, it just doesn’t click. Just to be clear: Comedians hate hecklers and would like to invite everyone never to be “that guy.”

With the rise in popularity of dark comedy and more somber topics, there are ways to go about performing more delicate material and social issues. Not one of the four comedians thinks that there are ever jokes that are completely off limits, if it’s done right. Kyte says, “With those delicate topics, it’s really easy to go in there and—what’s the phrase? Fuck the terrier? No, screw the pooch.” He gets rid of old jokes that he realizes were never done mean-spiritedly but might come across as insensitive. “I’m more aware of the situation and want to be part of that change,” he says. It’s not that he won’t do jokes about those subjects anymore, but he re-evaluates how to handle them the way he wants to. 

There are some things that are getting harder to joke about because they used to be considered over the top, but now it seems like some people really do think in these “over the top” ways when it comes to race, sex, religion, etc. Ames says, “Like when the audience cheers in the wrong way.” Whisler yells, “NO! Uncheer! Uncheer!”

Sensitive topics have to be done right, and they have to be right a lot faster than jokes that can grow and get better over time. “Context is everything,” says Kelley. He talks about a controversial joke he wants to do, but he realizes that the stakes are really high. “I would have maybe one fuck-up with that joke, and I would need 50.” Without really getting it right through trial and error, he says, “You’d have to golden-gun it. You’d have to get it perfectly right the first time.”

Because of this dynamic, Whisler says he always runs his jokes past his parents. He says, “I figure if they laugh: One, I have the moral vote, and two, I’ve got the senior citizen demographic that I can go to.” With one of his jokes about trying to creepily get a woman’s access alarm code, Whisler says, “Just seeing my dad chuckle, it almost brought a tear to my eye—because my dad is a pastor.”

Ames’ dad doesn’t have a pastor background like Whisler’s, or any moral high ground, as she puts it. She says, “The look of terror on his face when I said that I wanted to have sex with a cactus onstage—it kept me going, I think.”

Kelley’s parents have never seen him do standup. “I would be terrified for them to do that,” he says. His mom asked him if he did any jokes about her, and he told her no. “The very next week, I made a joke about how my mom drank when she was pregnant.” He knows she’d hate that.

The Localized Comedy Showcase is a free show at Urban Lounge on Jan. 18. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the show starts at 9 p.m. The show is 21 and older because, more than anything, things might get weird. In one final plea, Ames says, “I would one day like to make a friend, and if you are that friend, you should come to the show.”

Colin Williams | My Suicide Note Charity Event

Few comedians can take their own, deeply personal, dark subject matter and transform it into an art form. Collin Williams has been traveling the world doing just that with his full-length, stand-up comedy special, My Suicide Note. A local himself, Williams has been doing stand-up since he was just a teenager, from Las Vegas to California, and then back to Utah. The old saying is that tragedy plus time is the formula for hilarity. Williams has over 10 years to his name doing stand-up, and, well, his whole life being himself. The show comes from Williams’ dark past, and the multiple suicide attempts he survived, which culminated in the titular suicide note.

It hasn’t been an easy process for him, opening up publicly about his pain and turning it into a comedy show. Williams’ comedy never started out this raw—his jokes were about the typical ex-girlfriends, observations and other mainstream topics. “I was trying to protect people that had hurt me,” he says. He held back but sometimes made a few short jokes here and there about his past. Williams never had a great chance to pitch the show on a “normal” comedy show in Utah, as a courtesy to other comics who have vastly different material than his. “If there is one thing that the state of Utah has, it’s the culture of repression,” he says. Where Utah audiences typically flock to see good, clean fun, Williams never found the right moment to break away from the typical comedy-club material into his dark tell-all stand-up. Then, last year, there was a turning point in his life.

At the time, he was actively trying to kill himself. He had a pretty fail-proof plan that he was determined to go through with. Just before he did, he had a “little voice” pop into his head and thought to himself, “Awesome plan. Sounds great. Love this all. You could do this, or, what if maybe you don’t and check yourself into the psych ward right now? You can always come back and do this next week.” He checked himself into a psychiatric ward instead. He was still so sure that he’d get out and go through with it—in the hospital, he wrote a 12-page suicide note detailing why he felt like he needed to. When he got out, he published it online on his own personal blog. “Every single secret was out there,” he says. “There was no one left to protect. I’d already told everything publicly. It was so mentally freeing.” He had nothing to hide anymore. “It didn’t solve everything, but from there, I ended up developing the show off of that.” The show he developed was taking that suicide note, secret for secret, and turning it into dark, delicious, comedy gold.

Collin Williams | My Suicide Note
Collin Williams | My Suicide Note

As a comic, his coping skills were to make jokes of everything around him. He has seen the other side of suicide, too, as he’d been at the bedside of a friend who attempted it as well. He was thinking, “I can keep trying to kill myself, or I could turn this into a show. And then I tried both.” After he published his note about his trauma, no one really freaked out, which surprised him. While writing the show, he had other dark moments, though. One in particular was a night where he thought he started out making art, and ended up writing another note in blood, which he felt was an emotional release. This actually did make a lot of people panic, as he also tried to self-medicate with alcohol. Spoiler alert: He survived that night. That second note is now the inspiration for his show poster. Writing about it, for him, is a way to help his healing process. “It’s the way I work through things,” he says, “but I understand that not everybody does.”

Williams’ show was initially set to launch in January 2017 at Sandy City’s now closed Sandy Station, however, as he puts it, “even my venue committed suicide,” he says. “What the hell is happening?” When his show was canceled due to the sudden closure of the venue, he had to regroup and decided to take the show

on the road nationally, and then—as it happened, by chance—around the world. “It was a rough week,” Williams says. He actually ended up back in a psychiatric hospital in Pocatello, Idaho—“the worst psych ward I’ve ever been in my life.” He recalls that at this hospital, they would Skype in the therapists. “Watching Dr. Phil at home would have been better,” he says. He checked himself out and took his show on the road. Once he got out there, he “technically” got to workshop the show at Second City in Chicago, as well as Improv Olympic, stateside. It’s a big “technically” because he was there on a night they were running shows, and not the improv they are known for. Although, to be fair, “if it comes down to a dick-measuring contest,” he still has bragging points. Not everyone can say that. He found a cheap plane ticket to London and decided to spend some time in Europe with the show. As he puts it, he’s got a credit to his fame for “breaking down crying in every major transit city” that hen was in. “London buses, check,” Williams says. “Scotland’s underground metro—they have one subway that runs in a loop in Glasgow—and I’ve cried on that.” They would remind him of the time his ex-girlfriend mentioned that she liked the city he was in. “I’d be in Paris [sobbing], ‘I wonder if this was the bakery she told me about!’” He notes that Paris is a beautiful city as he was looking around, thinking, “Look at all of these happy people. Fuck ’em.” His show was received well at all of the locations he performed. But, surprisingly, he’s only ever “walked” an audience member at a bar show in Dublin, Ireland. “With all of the material and everything I’ve done, it was Dublin. I know! I was surprised.”

As we mentioned what it would take to kill yourself in style, now that he’s getting notoriety, we determined that going out with drugs and hookers would be easier abroad. “If only comedy paid enough for coke and hookers,” Williams says. “They do pay enough for hookers in Athens. Ten Euros.” He realized when he was sitting in a bar that his bar tab was “One-and-a-half hookers.” There just aren’t a lot of well-paying jobs since the economy collapsed in Greece. “Kudos to them for legalizing [sex work] so those girls don’t end up in worse situations. Kudos to Greece for promoting safe sexual health,” he says, applauding.

Now that he has tested his show in multiple cities and countries, it was only fitting that he brought it back to where it was all supposed to begin. Returning to Utah, Williams will bring the show to Club 50 West for a one-night performance that will benefit charity. The return promises to be bigger, better, and bolder than its stunted beginning and closed venue.

Collin Williams | My Suicide Note

A few disclaimers up front: This show is not going to be for the easily offended and is not family-friendly due to the blatantly stated subject matter. With the name My Suicide Note, you’ve been forewarned. “A lot of people don’t do research before going to a comedy show,” Williams says. “They just go.” He adds that it’s “equivalent to just showing up to a movie theater and buying a random movie ticket, then being angry that Quentin Tarantino has way more violence than A Bee Movie.” He advises always to research a comedy show. “I would rather have an audience of happy people than an audience that is half-happy and half-debating about walking out, because that’s not good for the room as a whole.” Williams points out that “you will still get plenty of people that will walk out that will say there are things that shouldn’t be joked about. I think we that now hear that on an almost weekly basis.” He adds, “What’s amazing to me is that you watch the news and you think, ‘Those are our problems? The jokes?’”

Williams cites a statistic: “There have been 5,224 people killed by terrorists so far in 2017,” he says. “There’s an estimated yearly average of 14 people that have been killed by cow attacks. How many people died this year from jokes? My suggestion is go to a comedy show, order a burger and fight back.” He adds in a somber tone that he’s not going for any sort of shock value. “I realized that I can’t make a good honest joke off of someone else’s trauma,” he says, adding that there’s a line that can be drawn in comedy on what is or isn’t OK to joke about. “Is this something where you’re attacking a victim? Or are you expressing your own pain, your own emotions, or your own thoughts on an issue? Just because you are talking about something doesn’t mean it’s wrong, even if it’s a controversial topic.” For clarification, he divulged his set list and went over some of the topics he will cover (in no particular order): school shootings, cereal, suicide by multiple methods, Casey Anthony, abuse, the NFL, a couple of dick jokes (by his count, 12), vegans, child molestation, the Chinese (but in a good way), his religious upbringing as a Jehova’s Witness, Oompa Loompas, ex-girlfriends, infidelity, both god and money, cutting, men who like cats, the Unabomber, alcoholism, cold cases, suicide (as a side note) and psych wards. He will also be defending Louis C.K.’s past jokes.

Understandably, the nature of the show is incredibly dark, but it is also very real. Williams calls it a “10-percent show.” He does the show for his own catharsis. “Ten percent of people will really lov

e it,” he says. “For 10 percent of people, that’s the way that we embrace dark times. It’s through humor. Then there’s another 10 percent of people that it will traumatically scar them, if it’s their immediate way to try to deal with it. There’s no one-size- fits-all to depression.” He ultimately wanted to use this Salt Lake City show as a way to help other people, so he decided that he would donate every single dollar of this show to local suicide-awareness charities. While this is his outlet and his process, he wants to help people “who heal in different ways as well.” He points out that sometimes even people who want to use comedy to help themselves may still need help from other avenues and medication, too. “You should definitely not try to replace medication with jokes,” he says.

After he wrote the show, Williams unfortunately did end up attempting suicide again. “Even I don’t exactly know what the ending is,” he says. “This is how I keep. This is a motivation for me. This is a way that I have therapy. Honestly, the show is the one thing that keeps me from dying.” By the way, he does add that his girlfriend hates it when he tells her this. But he points out that he has some justified trust issues.

My Suicide Note will have its Utah premiere on Friday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m. at Club 50 West. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door, ages 21 and up only. Proceeds from the show will be donated to Utah suicide-prevention charities, including the Utah Chapter of the National Association of Mental Illness. Even if you cannot make it to the show but want to support mental-health awareness and suicide prevention, Williams asks that you please donate to a suicide-prevention organization of your choice, NAMI or an organization that helps children who have been abused. Hopefully, he says, this show will cease to be necessary. You can find out more by checking the Facebook page for My Suicide Note or suicidenote.me.

Free Kittens is a comedy show as random as its name—and just as sure to fill you with as much glee as a basket full of free kittens. The bad news is that, currently, no kittens are actually involved. The good news is that this is a completely free (21-and-over) show that is put on once a month at The Urban Lounge featuring some of the best stand-up comics on the Utah comedy scene hosted by the one and only Jason Harvey.

Harvey is hosting not only this new monthly show but also the weekly Comedy Open Mic Mondays at the Ice Haus in Murray.  You might also recognize Harvey from his other randomly named comedy show: the long running Comedy and Other Opinions. As he puts it, his ADD keeps him pretty busy. “I used to do Comedy and Other Opinions,” he says, “where there was a set and then there were questions afterwards. I like doing things that aren’t just like, ‘Well, here’s your next comic.’ It kind of changes things up a little.” With Free Kittens the element that is different is the cards the comedians will draw subject matter from. Harvey says: “Comics come up onstage and immediately draw three cards, which are the suggestions from the audience that night or the internet on Facebook.”  So, they aren’t actual “free” kittens, per se, but they can be completely random. “The cards just say ‘free kittens,’ and I hold them out, and they can only see the backs of them, and on the other side are the suggestions.” 

The show’s element of surprise blends live stand-up comedy with a heavy dash of improv. It is a one-of-a-kind experience, even for diehard local comedy fans who have seen his guests many times. “Then, if you want to go see them later on,” Harvey says, “you’re still seeing something different from that comic. If you’ve seen this comic before, you can come and see them again at this show because they are going to have an odd challenge where they have to either write a new joke about this thing or incorporate something into their older material.”

Why Harvey gravitates toward such unconventional styles for his shows is actually pretty simple: “I think it’s all a big part of having ADD,” He says. “It’s how a lot of the time I write jokes.” Essentially, the audience gets to step into the thought process of a comic, with entertaining results. “If something’s not working in a joke, I can’t help stop tinkering with it,” Harvey says. “I might just hear a weird statement or something, and I’m like, ‘Oh shit, I can put that in my joke!’ So having to have a comic do it right then, it’s just funny to watch them out of their element a little bit. It’s forcing them to have to write onstage in front of an audience, and it takes them out of their comfort zone.” It’s all by design, and anything goes—or as he puts it, “It’s almost like you get to see the inner workings of comics’ brains—like, how will they incorporate this thing into their jokes. You get to see basically the gears in their brain turning a little bit to see where this goes.”

Free-Kittens copyNo actual comics were harmed in the making of this content, though. From seasoned veterans of the stage to newcomers, Harvey explains why he brings on the local comics that he has on the show: because they are all strong enough to handle the pressure. “On the last show, I had Nicholas Smith, Natashia Mower and Christopher Stephenson.” With the inaugural show, he wanted to make sure that he knew how their minds functioned, so he chose people he had worked with over the years extensively. “On this next show, I have Amerah Ames, Tanner Nicholson, Aaron Orlovitz and Levi Rounds.”  Rounds is one of the most seasoned comics in Salt Lake, and as Harvey puts it, “He’s just a fun guy to watch do comedy,” he says. “He’s someone that always tinkers and reworks things and does stuff like that. It’s going to be fun to watch someone who’s been doing comedy for a long time tinker with this new format of a show, where Amerah and Tanner are both newer to the scene.” With four comics of varying styles and experience, there is going to be a little something for everyone in the balance. “The flow of the show will be good,” says Harvey. “They are all very different but still all have themes similar enough, but at the same time, they are all different enough that it’ll be a good show. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching the same person do comedy.”

Harvey is always switching it up a little bit from show to show. “On this next show, I think I’m going to have people send me song lyrics. Just give me a line from a song, and I’ll try to see if they can somehow seamlessly incorporate that without them singing the song, or having the song be part of the punch line.” He’s had some previous moments that worked because they were so randomly unique. “On the last show, Jonny Brandin came on as Juan Knudsen.” Brandin’s onstage character started out as him in costume, doing other comic Tommy Milagro’s jokes about his mixed heritage. “Now, when he does Juan Knudsen, he does other people’s jokes from that night, just a little bit different.” The audience may not be in on the joke at first. Harvey announced him as “someone who just performed for the queen” and “an international comedy superstar.” And then at that point, “He redid Natashia’s set for five minutes. It was pretty funny.”


This is not the first time that he’s played with these themes onstage. Harvey loves the element of confusion and then the realization that comes with it. “It’s almost like a joke on the audience until they are in on it,” he says. This is similar to his “comic interruptions” that he used within the workings of Comedy and Other Opinions. “I’ve had Aaron Orlovitz try to get people to boo me one time onstage. It’s just really funny to try to see what I can do with some random audience interruption where it kind of brings the audience into the show, and I think it’s something I want to try to incorporate into it even more with Free Kittens.” Whether he’s implementing an improv gag, audience interruptions, or even the potential of T-shirt cannon giveaways, “It’s something funny that’s just a lot of fun and makes it worth coming out,” he says.

Free Kittens is a show designed to be experienced live for a reason. “You can watch stand-up on YouTube,” he says. “You can see stand-up on Netflix.” Between online content, specialized channels and now apps that can feed comedy directly to the fan, there is no shortage of where to consume stand-up these days. Harvey says, “You can see so much comedy without leaving the house now. My whole idea with the show is writing it for the audience. The comics have written their material that they’ve taken from their lives, and they are creating it for that audience. So I think the show should also be for that audience.” It’s not what one would normally see in a live stand-up show but more akin to the leaked online viral videos of moments that can only happen candidly, like comic meltdowns and drunken hecklers- but with more purpose. “I’ve had so many drunk people just ruin shows because I let them; because I was focused on them being loud and annoying instead of just being more present in the moment. I sometimes get too much into formula.” This is why Harvey makes his comics break that formula and stay on their toes. “That’s what’s amazing about a live thing: You have to adapt—any live performance, because you don’t know if Lincoln’s going to get shot in the back of the head, you know? Anything can happen, unlike when you’re watching something on TV. When you’re seeing it live, you could watch someone have a full meltdown.” No meltdowns guaranteed, but the rest is to be determined.

Harvey’s goal is to offer a night of pure escapism and fun. “It’s a free show, and it’s early enough in the night,” he says. “It starts at 7. Doors open at 6 p.m. We’re done by 8:30. Come and have a few drinks—get a few laughs in.” The chance to see and support local comedy at a great local bar is something very needed right now in our divided climate. “It’s nice to see people out and being communal—where people have a sense of pride in their community and we are going to take power in our own hands and have our voices be heard.” Harvey says that there’s nothing to lose— “It’s the beginning of the weekend, who wouldn’t want to start their night off with being able to come to a good comedy show that’s free, when there’s no cover at the door? That’s at least another beer inside. So come get your drink on.” Anything could happen, as the show is completely unrated and almost completely unscripted. So, if you are tired of the same thing on the news and on your Facebook feed is bringing you down, “come watch someone,” Harvey says. “Let them give you that moment of laughter. It’s a good escape, it’s free, and there’s drinks. Get out of your house and come laugh.”

SLUG-Magazine-337-January-Issue-Comedy-Localized

Photos: LmSorenson.net

SLUG is bringing back comedy to the Urban Lounge with an all-local-comic showcase on Jan. 19 with headliners Abi Harrison and Levi Rounds, and featuring Shayne Smith and Christopher James. These four amazingly funny and incredibly talented stand-up comedians will share the stage for one night only, filling the concert venue with a new kind of music: the sound of unbridled laughter. This show is 21-plus; doors at 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m. As always, Localized is free, thanks to sponsors High West Distillery, KRCL 90.9FM, Spilt Ink SLC and Uinta Brewing.

These jokesters have a combined 32 years of stage time between the four of them, with performances throughout Utah and all over the U.S. The Utah stand-up comedy scene is rich with talent, and these four prove that at the heart of it all are hardworking and fearless people who have stuck it out through horrible gigs, rampant hecklers and thrown beer bottles to pursue a life on the stage.

Being a stand-up comedian is about taking the punches with the laughter, and it hasn’t always been an easy ride for any of them. In fact, even hardcore veteran comedians have little-known quirks. Rounds, who started his career over 11 years ago right here in Salt Lake, muses about his number-one fear when he’s on the stage. “I have to pee every single time before I go onstage,” he says. “Even if I didn’t have to pee three minutes before, I really have to pee then, and it’s at a very inopportune time, like, ‘You’re on in 30 seconds.’ ‘Alright. I’ll be right back.’”

Smith laughs in agreement. He says, “Anytime I do over 30, I’m not thinking about my set list. I’m thinking about how close can I pee before I go onstage. Because I’m gonna have to go when I get up there.” Smith, the new kid on the block with two years of comedy under his belt, says confidently, “I don’t have a lot of fears. Maybe I’m too stupid to be worried. Sometimes I worry about someone coming up on to the stage and attacking me.”

Rounds laughs at the idea and consoles him that it’s more of a reality than a fear in his case. “I’ve been punched onstage,” Rounds says. “I’ve had a knife pulled on me after a show, and I had to be escorted out of a city, and none of those ever scare me when I get up onstage. But I do have to pee right before I go onstage—every single time.” It’s not surprising to hear—Rounds is known for pushing the audiences’ comfort level with raw topics.

Another decade-long veteran of the comedy scene is James (@FatGuyPunchLine), but he confesses that he has a pretty natural concern to be nervous about when he’s onstage: “… If I was up there and I was confident in my set, and then everybody just periodically got up and left to the point that where everybody was just dissipated, and they were gone.” However, James tends to hold a crowd pretty well after all the years of practice. He landed a killer opening act for David Koechner last spring, who also kindly recorded the theme song to James’ local podcast, In Movie Nerds We Trust (@trustyournerds).

Rounds acknowledges James’ fear of the crowd abandoning you at the peak of your performance. “Oh, shit,” he says, “you get used to that.” Smith interjects in agreement: “Yeah, you go to Wyoming enough times …”

Yet, when it comes to Abi Harrison, who also has an 11-year run onstage, her fear is more focused on a specific situation and not the audience as a whole. “If there’s somebody I want to impress in the audience, sometimes I’ll be afraid,” she says. “It depends on whether I like them or not.”

James concurs: “I stopped bringing dates,” he says. “One time, a girl said it was ‘too much of a culture shock’ for her. That was a direct quote. She said, ‘I don’t think I can come to comedy shows with you anymore because it’s too much of a culture shock.’” Harrison nods in agreement. “There is a culture there, too, though. We’re the lowlifes, the underlings.” Comedians aren’t really known for their ability to keep it P.C. “We say a lot of horrific stuff,” says Smith. “Sometimes I forget how horrific it is, and then you get around normal people, and you start saying random things, and they’re like, ‘What?’ And, then you remember, ‘Oh yeah, I can’t talk about everything.’”

Rounds gets into the detail of the “shock” someone new to real, raw comedy would feel. “We get so used to each other talking about how we were molested and shit like that,” he says. As rough as that sounds, his fans have complimented him on that exact set being hilarious—“but you say that shit in a Chili’s bar or something, and they’re going to ask you to leave. So yeah, culture shock.” It should be pointed out that Rounds can sometimes go into some dark yet funny places with his comedy, which makes him a usual crowd favorite in the bar scene.

Smith one-ups Rounds on that thought: “Or, you’re talking about your stepdad beating you, [and] it’s ‘not appropriate in mixed company,’” he says. “But somehow, it’s appropriate onstage in front of strangers?” Smith and Rounds both laugh, and it’s apparent that they’ve all had this conversation before.

Each of them have been doing comedy for so long now that their lives have leaked into their sets and vice versa. As Harrison puts it, “It’s all one thing now. It’s just one thing.” It does help that she has an amazingly interesting life that she routinely talks about onstage, including material about her child and being married in the Mormon Church, but also being gay.

“I feel like my life leaks too much into my comedy,” says James. “The universe wants me to fuck up, so I have something good to talk about onstage.” As a comedian who is most known for his self-deprecation (and a Twitter hashtag, #Cjjokes, which took on a life of its own), he knows that there is always an upside to having a rough patch: In his case, it makes for good comedy.

“I feel like my career—heavy quotation marks around “career”—started officially, and it felt like, ‘Oh, this is a real thing, and I’m really doing it,’” says Smith. “Comedy was my life, and life was my comedy.” A frequent regular on the comedy club scene in and around Utah, it does seem that Smith’s life has become all about comedy—and really entertaining comedy at that—in his budding career.

“I said I switched religions to comedy,” says Harrison. “Like, comedy is my new god. I was thinking about the same thing, showing up to church like, ‘Is this open-mic tonight?’ There are three people here, and it’s fast and testimony meeting, and there are ‘investigators’ there.” She started her career at BYU and has a dedicated fanbase in Utah that can relate to her quick, clever jokes about Utah culture and deadpan delivery, because that is genuinely Harrison.

Sometimes, however, the comedy can leak a little too much into life. Smith shares an awkward moment where his comedy may have been inappropriately timed: “My aunt was dying of cancer, and we said goodbye to her. It was the very last time I’d ever see her,” he says. “We were walking out into the hallway, me and my family, and we were holding each other and crying. The man in the room next to us was going through his death throes, and he had a death croak and made that crazy sound. As we were holding each other crying, I said, ‘I’ll have what he’s having.’ Then I was like, yep, inappropriate.”

Since 2017 is a new start, a new year and all about new beginnings, each of the four actually wants to do some good with their comedy. Smith thinks his comedy is already trying to change the world—at least on a local, personal level. “I use it to make people happy that aren’t happy,” he says, “and that is the reason that I do it already.”

Rounds laughs and pokes fun at the positivity. “That should go in a Christmas song,” he says.

Comedy is a rare art form that has had a lot of impact on culture in general. James brings up a more down-to-earth observation. “I was listening to this random podcast, and someone said something that I thought was pretty awesome,” he says. “That comedians—we’re the kind of people that are actually brave enough to say things that normal people wouldn’t. Maybe that’s, in a sense, our way of changing the world. I don’t think that my comedy in particular is going to do anything groundbreaking [though], where it’s like, ‘Oh hey, you cured cancer with your dick joke. Congratulations!’”

Rounds has a slightly different take, though. “Seventy percent of the reason you do [comedy] is to make people laugh … I’m not going to begrudge anyone if they say 100 percent of the reason they do it is to make people laugh. That’s not for me to say for other people,” he says. “For me, it’s 70 percent—and then 30 percent is to make them think about something and to make them realize that they’ve been through some garbage, and you’re up there being very vulnerable about the garbage that you’ve been through and the garbage that you’ve seen, and you’re comfortable talking about it. So, maybe they can talk about it, too. And maybe there can be a little bit of change while they’re laughing about it. That I really like. That’s my favorite thing about comedy.”

Harrison pauses and thinks about it for a moment—“The same?” she says with a laugh. “I’m going to fight racism, I’ve decided.”

Smith agrees that stand-up has an important place at the table, especially for those who can relate to the darker, rawer style of comedy. “You’re arming people with the tools to deal with horrific shit that they might not otherwise have,” he says. “Being able to look at something in a funny way is a skill, or else everyone would be doing this. Then, they see it from your mind, and they can move on from there.”

In the end, James sums it all up perfectly: “People go to support groups to cope with horrible things,” he says. “They go to comedy clubs to finally be able to laugh at them.”

Photo: Cody Moore Photography

Since 2009, there has been one holiday event in Salt Lake City that raises hundreds to thousands of dollars in Christmas cheer for those in need while allowing participants to drink, laugh and be merry. Comedy Cares is an event like no other, which has become bigger and bigger every year to the point that it is now giving Saint Nick a run for his money, and it’s all for a great cause. It is organizer and local comedian Guy Seidel’s personal favorite night of the year, and people can get involved in one of the most fun, most funny and most talked-about Christmas fundraisers in town.

Now on it’s eighth year, Comedy Cares started as an unofficial event back in 2009 when Seidel — who, at the time, was still a fairly new comic — got the idea while promoting a show. Seidel says, “I went into KBER to promote a show a couple of weeks before Christmas, and someone was in there looking for help. They had a baby that had some health problems — they were broke and had no money. I was there to plug a show to make money, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe we could do something at the show tonight to help this family out.’” He used the show he had that night to ask people to pitch in and throw money in a jar, which ended up raising around 200–300 dollars for the family. That first show, he says, “wasn’t really official; it wasn’t called anything. I was just like ‘Well, we better help out this family tonight.’ That’s just how I was raised. My mother was like that.” As his career grew, he felt the need to do more with the show as well. “I wanted to use that voice, that platform to do good.”

He says that he “couldn’t not” use his platform to do something good to give back. “Even before I was a comedian, my mother got me involved with the angel tree program,” he says. “When I was in high school I would take money and get an angel from the angel tree. It’s just that I couldn’t think of not doing it.” He’ll be the first to admit that he’s not a saint — in fact, he frequently makes fun of himself for being a ‘scumbag’ onstage. However, he says, “If you have a voice, use it. There are so many comedians that like to go out and scream about politics or local politics or politics within the scene, which I’m guilty of myself, but I want to use the voice that I have to do more good than negative. I’ve done plenty of negative, but hopefully, this will offset it.”

The very next year, Seidel decided to team up with Mick and Allen (the afternoon team on KBER) to do the whole thing again. “They do a thing called Christmas wishes,” says Seidel. “People will call in or write emails saying either why they need it or somebody they know needs it. And then, Mick and Allen will read those letters on air. Sometimes they will even bring the people in, and they’ll read their letter and say, ‘Here is ‘x’ amount of dollars to go get your kids Christmas and have a turkey or pay the light bill or whatever.’” KBER distributes the proceeds that they raise, as well as the Comedy Cares show, through the Children of the Earth Foundation. “It’s really cool because you get to hear your money going to work. If you tune into KBER during the month of December it’s really cool to listen to people getting help,” he says.

The ticket price is $10, and all of the proceeds — as well as the proceeds from the raffle and auction  —goes to the charity. “Nobody is making money off of this,” side says. “The only profit is food and beer sales at the venue, but Wiseguys is donating the door charge to the event. Just by showing up you’re helping. Last year, we raised over $12,600 and some change, so it’s gotten to be a pretty big deal.” Each year, the amount raised has doubled, but Seidel doesn’t expect to double the amount this year. “I don’t see that happening,” he says. “That’s not me being glass-half-empty, but it’s just not realistic. I would want to at least beat that. If we matched it, I would be happy, but if we beat it, that would just be icing on the cake. The more money we raise, the more families we can help during Christmastime.”

And if they did double it? “It would almost be hard to get all of that distributed between the 12th and the 24th, but it would be fun to try,” side says. “In fact, any money raised that could not be used for the holiday season would be donated directly to the Children and the Earth Foundation, as they have giving projects year round, such as helping the families of children with cancer. Seidel is focused on raising as much as he can, no matter how it is distributed. “My thing is to let kids have a good Christmas. Too much money? I’d love to have that problem. I’ve been broke, especially at Christmastime, I can’t imagine having kids on top of that. I can’t wrap my head around that. The fewer people that have that problem, the better. It’s for kids.”

When people arrive to Wiseguys, they will see a bunch of items up for raffle and auction onstage. “Then what we do is we have performers come up,” Seidel says. “It’s getting so big that we have to keep cutting the show time back because we have so much stuff to give away.” He and his comedy partner, Marcus, will also be performing their musical comedy set. Their show alone is typically worth a $20 admission, so throwing in several more comedians and items to win, that is worth the $10 admission price and then some. It’s an inexpensive night of entertainment where the end result is helping up to several hundred people to have a happier holiday season — what’s not to love?

Speaking of the items up for grabs, the donations get bigger, better and more bountiful every year. “We’ve got some pretty good stuff this year already,” Seidel says. “We’ve got a bunch of passes to ski resorts and hotels, a bunch of gift cards. As far as material things go, we’ve got an antique Punch Out arcade game, we’ve got a TV, we have a cool Fat Tire Bike and an NES classic that can play all those old games.” There’s so many items to win that Seidel attempts to list them all, but gets lost in his own excitement. “Gift baskets full of stuff. We’ve still got a bunch of stuff coming in as well.” Discussing the items that have been donated in years past is impressive enough and well worth anticipating what will happen this year. “The last couple of years, we’ve had autographed guitars from big artists like Imagine Dragons and Mötley Crüe, stuff that’s going to fetch some money. Guitars are big — a lot of people donate autographed guitars or guitars that have art painted on them. But we’ve also had random stuff, like TVs and Bluray players.” From the sound of things, there’s a great chance that most people won’t walk away empty-handed. “It’s so big now that we’ve had to turn it into a raffle and an auction. So the general stuff that anybody can use gets raffled. Then some of the bigger stuff, like the Punch Out arcade game, that’s going to get auctioned, because not everybody can fit an arcade game in their house.”

He explains that, typically, when someone wins a raffle item they have no use for, they re-donate it, or allow it to be auctioned off. “It’s like Christmas morning as a kid, but for adults,” Seidel says. “People come in that have won major items off of a dollar. One guy last year bought $5 of raffle tickets and won three things. Another guy spent 100 bucks and didn’t get anything, so it’s just fun to see where it goes.”

Where does he get all of the items donated? “It’s turned into mostly private people donating,” says Seidel. “The show’s grown to be so fun that everybody that comes always comes back. So they are the ones who are donating bigger things. My friends Jason and Misty, they donated a big Segway hoverboard thing.” Many local businesses donate merchandise, gift certificates, free rounds of golf and massages, and there is something for everybody.

The best story of his where his donations come from, though, is within Seidel’s family. “My great niece, Taylor, she’s 7 years old,” he says. “She goes out and bakes bread and sells it to family members and rounds up donations. I think she’s got $500 this year — she’s 7! Then she takes that money and goes out and buys something and donates it to the cause.” This year, her cash has netted over a dozen donated items, like a Bluetooth gaming chair. “And she can’t come to the event because it’s 21 and over, but last year, I took her to the radio station and put her on the radio. I’ve got a bunch of people that go out and do a lot of leg work for me. I’ve got some helpers out there.”

Notably, Seidel has connections not only with items donated from KBER like signed records and guitars, but he’s also got some musician friends who aid the cause. “My buddy Rob Fenn, he’s a world-famous rock photographer and Rob Zombie’s official photographer,” he says. “We grew up in the same town — tiny, little podunk town in Eastern Utah — and last year he donated a bunch of Hailstorm stuff and a bunch of Rob Zombie autographed stuff. Prints, canvas prints, that fetched a lot of money.”

However, even with the massive amounts of great items already donated, he could always use more items. More items, as he put it, means more money raised for kids’ Christmases. What he’s looking for are things that people would want to win, new items preferred, with the exception of collectible items like autographs, antiques or really cool art. “I mean, you could just go to Costco and get a knife set, buy something on eBay, Black Friday or at Walmart if there’s a good deal on a tool set or whatever.” He urges people to contact him directly through his Facebook if they want to donate items. “We’re doing very well this year, but we could always use more. The more stuff we have, the more money that is raised.” He’d rather have people buy items and donate items to the raffle or auction rather than donate money, and he is willing to pick up items, or they can be dropped off directly at Wiseguys. He posts all of the items that have currently been donated on Facebook, viewable to the public. For larger items, donations can be tax deductible, sweetening the pot just that much more.

“I’ve had people joke that they do their Christmas shopping at comedy cares,” Seidel says. “Whether someone spends $10 on raffle tickets or hundreds on an auctioned item, everyone is guaranteed entertainment and excitement. He’s even got some things that would make gift-giving a treat. “The really one-of-a-kind thing I have is from Rich Wilson, a local comic who is an amazing woodworker. He made a scale old-school Nintendo console out of wood, and it looks exactly like an old-school Nintendo, just out of wood and stained. When you open it up, it holds remote controls or comic books or whatever. We have that, and it’s probably going to be auctioned.” In fact, you can check out a video of Wilson making that very item here.

As a final thought, he reflects on why giving back is so absolutely essential at this moment: “People and the country are so divided right now. There’s so much doomsday in the news and on Facebook that it’s really hard to get away from it. It’ll be cool to veer away from that a little bit, as much as we can anyway.” Comedy Cares aims to entertain while bringing people together, and make them laugh while they are donating to a great cause. “It’s not about lifestyle or the election or anything — anybody that comes to the show has a good time. It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are; everybody is there for the same cause.”

He adds that the show is never not sold out, so get tickets now at wiseguyscomedy.com.

To contact Guy Seidel on Facebook, to view the items up for raffle and auction or arrange a donation, go to facebook.com/laughatguy.

Cult Classics vs Comedians

Some things just pair incredibly well together: wine and cheese, Batman and Robin, comedians and movies. It is such a tried-and-true formula that there are multiple local geek channels, podcasts, shows, webcasts, etc. that you can choose from to get all of your film fandom fix from local, funny personas and never hear the same joke or movie twice. With a wealth of films and funny people to talk about them, everyone can find their perfect fit of comedians dissecting movies. However, there is only one perfected Cult Classics vs. Comedians, and as a special treat for the month of October, they are presenting their bonus “31 Screams”: a featurette of 31 minisodes of terror.

Cult Classics vs. Comedians is the brainchild of local entertainers Ben Fuller and Jamie Maxfield, and it’s finishing out its first season, which started in February 2016. “We’re going on 28 episodes now,” says Maxfield. “We’ve really built up a nice little library of cult films, and not all of them are what you would traditionally categorize as cult films. Some of them are films that people grew up and loved. We have some mainstream movies that are just fun to have on the shelf.” Each episode of Cult Classics is about 12–14 minutes, where a returning panel of three comedians and Maxfield discuss one cult classic film.

Maxfield hosts the show, with Fuller working behind the scenes and as a part-time editor and as a producer. They plot out each episode and split the line up together, deciding it much like the lineup of a live comedy show. Improv comedian and local filmmaker Andrew Jensen also works with them and fills in as a producer, primary editor, and works behind the scenes. Regarding some ground rules and the basic format, Maxfield says, “Give us a movie you love, but yet, you can still make fun of it, but maybe your love for it is so ridiculous that it makes it fun.” They shy away from treating it like any other film “review” type of show. “We don’t want to be a film critic kind of showcase,” says Maxfield. “We want to be more of a ‘Here’s some films that are cult classics that we love, but yet we do acknowledge how ridiculous they are and we can make fun of the fact that we love these films.’”

There are some additional rules that Fuller points out: “We have a pretty hard rule that each comic recommends the film that they are going to present, and it can’t be a film like The Room that is mainly known for how bad it is.” He points out our very own Utah monstrosity shot: Troll 2 gets brought up a lot because it’s bad. “We want a real passion for the movie,” he says. “We want people to go see these movies that captures the quirky taste of the comedian.”

As far as their favorite goes, they are unanimous. Maxfield was quick to answer that “there’s probably four or five episodes that I really enjoy,” he says. “The episode where we talked about Cannibal Holocaust [Episode No. 4] because it was such a shocking and in-your-face film. It was very easy for us to be offended by it and make fun of the film itself at the same time.” Fuller cuts him off and says, “That’s the one where I was the only one that liked it. I think I was the only one that recommended it.”

But what is it about comedians that makes them want to talk about films much more than any other art form? “I think it is because of their isolated lifestyles, mainly,” says Maxfield. Fuller had a different take, though. “Their social-awkwardness and their inability to make a connection with people outside of the stage,” he says. He did add in more seriousness: “Comedians are pop-culture savants, right? They spend all of their time mining pop-culture and what’s going on around them for their material.” Fuller believes that is what makes comedians the best subjects to talk film with. They can banter about movies, but in a fun way. They know the topic, but don’t have to be experts about it. “Our approach is always fun—we aren’t trying to be smart about it, always funny,” Fuller says.

“It’s given people an opportunity to go back and listen to a comedian’s take on them,” says Maxfield. Their goal is to open up new audiences to films they may have forgotten about, or never gave a chance, but in a fun way that is nontraditional, and unique. “There really is something for everyone out there. It really stretches the whole gamut of true traditional cult films to just fun, mainstream films. We’ve got something in our library for everybody. It doesn’t take much time—you can quickly find something that you remember or even a film that maybe you’ve heard of but don’t know a lot about, and you can watch a quick synopsis of four people’s different takes on it within 10 minutes.”

During the month of October, Cult Classics vs. Comedians has gotten in the “spooky spirit,” and has posted an episode daily, most featuring a new local comedian, each one of them featuring a new horror film, cult classic or hidden gem. It was local comedian Melissa Merlot who came up with the name “31 Screams.” Due to time constraints with the regular, long-form show, they shoot four episodes back to back, not every comedian locally can be involved right away. “There’s just not enough time for them all to do it. This was a way to give them a way to give everybody a little moment to share something that they love,” says Fuller. “We’re really gratified that everybody has enjoyed it so far. We’d like to do another one for Christmas.” So far, they have covered everything from the recent and atmospheric The Witch featuring Nicholas Smith to the classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks with Eileen Dobbins. Fuller enthusiastically encourages everyone to “support local comedy!” They tag every video with where to check out and follow the local comedians.

You can see all of the “31 Screams” as well as each of their episodes of their Cult Classics vs. Comedians on their Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of David Liebe Hart

David Liebe Hart has a large following of fans from his appearances as one of the kooky cast of off-beat characters on Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show Great Job! That show aired on Adult Swim, showcasing his unique brand of songwriting, comedy and puppetry. He is a songwriter, comedian and street performer who is most well known for his oddball songs about aliens (“Salame”) and his dedication to his Christian Scientist religion, as well as his collaborations with other unique acts like James Quall (Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show) and Palmer Scott (“I Sit on You”). Liebe Hart is bringing his live show to Salt Lake City July 7 at Kilby Court, where he will be entertaining with his music, stand-up and, quite possibly, a puppet or two.

Liebe Hart was originally born and raised in Chicago in 1957 before relocating to L.A. to become an entertainer. “I’ve been doing stand-up comedy ever since the ’70s,” says Liebe Hart. “My parents paid for me to go to Goodman Theater in Chicago and to take ballet.” Through mutual friends of his parents in his church, he was given his first opportunity in show business. “This is back in the ’50s and ’60s,” he says. “I was supposed to be on The Andy Griffith Show.” Liebe Hart remembers reading for the part and getting a chance to be on the show, “but my parents didn’t want me to break into show business at such a young age, and I was very disappointed.” He never gave up on his dream of being an entertainer, though. “I didn’t make it until I made it out here to L.A. in the ’70s.” In L.A., he met one of his inspirations, Doris Day. “She told me,” he says, “to know that I’m a success in action and to follow my goals and my dreams, and gave me a positive outlook on breaking into the entertainment business.”

He has advice for any struggling artist or entertainer: “Stay positive, work hard, don’t let nobody tear you down..."
He has advice for any struggling artist or entertainer: “Stay positive, work hard, don’t let nobody tear you down…”

His inspiration comes heavily from his upbringing and dedication to his Christian Science religion. As fate would have it, legendary Jim Henson was a Sunday-school teacher in the Christian Scientist Church on the East Coast, whom Liebe Hart looked up to and knew a lot about. He admired what Henson did in his classes with puppets to teach Bible Stories. “He was a role model to me,” he says.  “Like Doris Day. He’s what inspired me to be a puppeteer.” Later down the road, Liebe Hart himself was approached to do a puppet show teaching children to stay in school and other moral teachings. “I did the Jr. Christian Science Bible Lessons Show for 30 years.” His long-running show was on L.A. public access TV, which he states started out as leasing access and paying for studio time, and then later became free to the public. “I started in 1988, and the city of L.A. got rid of public access in 2008.”

Liebe Hart has faced issues of racism and other hardships in his career. “It wasn’t easy,” he says. “I’ve faced a lot of rejection.” Liebe Hart remains positive as part of his principles, though. “I try to laugh through my trials,” he says. He had an interesting early career where he worked along side legends like Robin Williams in the ’70s, and worked as an intern at Paramount Studios, often doing warmups for the audience before the shows began. He also worked with other odd-ball indie comedians, like Neil Hamburger. “Neil Hamburger is a wonderful, talented person,” he says. “He got work for me at Spaceworld, with James Quall, too.” Liege Hart says that he continued to try to visualize himself being successful and took acting and music classes. His positive thinking paid off when he read for Tim and Eric. “They asked me if I could write wacky and crazy songs, so I wrote ‘Salamae’ about the alien language of the Paladians,” he says.

Liebe Hart draws his inspiration for his comedy and music from his life. “My music is about things I’ve been through,” he says. His songs are about girls, religion and life experiences, on top of the oddities of things like extra-terrestrials. James Quall happened to be his next door neighbor, and was also brought along on Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show—matching their odd, do-it-yourself style of comedy—from Season 2 to Season 5. “Even though I am struggling now, I am extremely grateful for all of the success I have had.” Always looking on the bright side, he adds, “My problems make me stronger.” His beliefs drive him and keep him positive. He has advice for any struggling artist or entertainer: “Stay positive, work hard, don’t let nobody tear you down. Know that you’re loved, cherished, respected and appreciated, and that you have the right to be successful.”

Despite his general wackiness, Liebe Hart seems to be a genuine guy who’s just trying to bring his own kind of funny into the world. At the end of the day, he’s not satirizing anything and he’s not being farcical—he’s just being David Leibe Hart. He will be performing live at Kilby Court, July 7, at 7 p.m. with Big Baby, 90s Television, and Palmer Scott.

Tickets and show information are available here.