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.  


Photo: Red Scott

It’s been two years since stand-up comedian Matt Gubser has made a stop in Utah. Returning to Utah Friday, July 1,  he will bringing his smart and poignant comedy to Ogden audiences at The Loft at the Ziegfeld Theater. Gubser is a wickedly funny comic hailing from San Francisco, typically skewering social-political topics with smart humor that comes across without too much effort. Gubser will be performing with local comedians Mike M, Natashia Mower and Nicholas Smith. Tickets are available at the door for $5. This is an all ages show, but patrons should be advised that material will not be censored.

SLUG: We want Utah comedy fans to get to know you better, so let’s start with how long you’ve been doing comedy.

Gubser: Eight years. I know that at some point, I’ll probably be sick of the traveling, but I still do like being in other places whether it’s Salt Lake City, Edmonton or Chicago or Atlanta or wherever. I like the sociological aspect of getting around other parts of the country, parts of the continent and seeing the similarities and differences that I would not have been aware of beforehand.

SLUG: Has your style of comedy changed over time?

Gubser: As a new comic, you kind of always go through the terrible stage of where “I can say anything I want! No one can stop me!” without even thinking of whether you should say terrible things. It’s hard to be funny. It’s a lot easier to get a reaction kind of just by using overplayed triggers that are just going to get people riled up without being funny, whether it’s lazy jokes about abortion or religion. When I started out, Daniel Tosh was really big, and Anthony Jeselnik just got really big, so we had all these comics that were trying to be outrageous without having any idea on how to do it in a way that was funny. Everybody who starts comedy, just like everything else, starts out by emulating their own heroes before they find their own path.

SLUG: Who would you say that you started out trying to emulate?

Gubser: That’s tough. Maybe just because I talk about politics and religion, George Carlin is kind of an easy comparison. I’ve never found Carlin that funny, generally. I’ve watched half a dozen of his specials, but we would all love careers like that where you’re putting out 30 hours of material. There’s so many comics that just get passed by and can’t adjust to changing cultural pace. Carlin was the guy that reinvented himself twice and managed to stay on top for 30 years, and that’s amazing.

SLUG: So what is your style like now?

Gubser: Lazy? Is that a style?

SLUG: Sure!

Gubser: I’m pretty low-key and fairly dry. I kind of tend to go over the same topics from different angles. I have three kids, so I talk a lot about fatherhood. I talk politics, I talk religion, I talk sex and I talk parenting. That’s basically the four things that I keep going back to and I keep turning around in my head. And there’s a lot of crossover between all of those topics.

SLUG: Do you have to be careful when you talk about those topics?

Gubser: I think for me, personally, everybody’s going to have different opinions about what is too far and what’s over the line for them personally. For me, whenever I’m talking about religion or whatever, I’m not going after people; I’m not attaching people for their beliefs. I’m going after the belief itself. I was raised Evangelical—I have a lot of my family that is still pretty religious. My best friend growing up was Mormon, and I was pretty close with his family. I know a lot of good people who just believe in stuff that I think is just really silly. So when I’m pointing out how ridiculous some idea is for me, I’m not going to go full Bill Maher and talk about how stupid Christians are—I think that’s sort of lazy.

SLUG: Is that why you’ve been seen dressing up in full Jesus costume? Or is that something you just noticed and ran with it?

Gubser: It wasn’t really intentional, I’ve just always been very lazy about cutting my hair. Even when I kept it short, I would cut it twice a year, maybe, and then just chop it off and start all over. So I just went a couple of years without cutting it at all. I also have a beard, and my dad has a beard. We’re a family of beards. With the long hair and the beard, people just automatically think “Jesus” or “Manson,” but Jesus has more followers, so people think Jesus first. For me, it’s fun to play with.

I just shot a video with AJ+, which is Al Jazeera’s online news, and I played Jesus running as a third party candidate for President. … I had a lot of fun with it. It’s totally innocuous: The whole point of the video was how the odds are so stacked against third party candidates. They have to jump through all of these hoops just to get on the ballot, and even Jesus himself couldn’t get elected as a third-party candidate. There was nothing remotely offensive, and we had Christians and Muslims both ticked off and upset about it, demanding that it get pulled down on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. That was just crazy to me.

SLUG: That’s kind of cool that not only did you get to do that, but you kind of got to mock our whole political system in the U.S. at the moment.

Gubser: Yeah, it’s easy to do. It’s very open for mockery. I did have a Mormon joke in it that we threw in. I wouldn’t say that I respect religion; I respect religious people, but I don’t respect religious beliefs.

Matt Gubser: Irreverently Funny
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Abi Harrison

Images courtesy of Abi Harrison

It’s been a year since we’ve talked to Abi Harrison, and time flies when people are doing pretty awesome stuff.  She’s had some great moments already in her growing comedy career, as well as having some interesting theories on exotic fruit. Harrison is back on Utah stages and headlining Wiseguys Comedy Club on May 19. This upcoming show is a step to even bigger things for Harrison.

Abi HarrisonHarrison had her moment on the nationally known Bob and Tom show last year. Since then, she’s taken a new show on the road with other local comedians, including Bengt Washburn, called Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics. In February 2016, she opened for one of her comedy idols, Maria Bamford. “It was so cool, a dream come true,” she says. It wasn’t intimidating to host for such a well-known comedian—Harrison felt honored. “I didn’t really ever think about the difference between a mainstream comic and what not,” says Harrison. “It’s just the honor of receiving the positive feedback from someone you love and admire, and also from their audience. They are there to see Maria, and they clearly have good taste, so I want them to like me, too.”

Harrison is not a stranger to getting to know big-name comedians. “I met her last summer with Jackie Kashian,” she says.  “They were both super nice and encouraging.” This marked Harrison’s first time hosting a big comedy-club act. “I’ve hosted before and am not great at it. It was the first time hosting a ‘club’club, so I was nervous about it.” There was a particularly hilarious moment where she stopped talking partway through introducing Kashian. “I stopped mid-sentence because I could see her coming towards me … I realized she was army-crawling up the aisle, so all I had time for was ‘Dark Forest, um, Jackie Kashian!’”

Flash forward just a few short months, and Harrison is geared up and ready for a huge headlining show at her home turf, Wiseguys Comedy Club, in downtown Salt Lake City. When asked if she wanted to have her own show, without hesitation, she says, “Yeah, obviously, duh!” It’s an understatement to say that this girl is pumped as she talks about the upcoming gig. “I’m excited to headline!” Normally, Harrison can be seen around town at all of the comedy open mics and guest spot showcases, but this time, it’s all Harrison’s show, and she’s the big focus. “Its great because you have all your jokes, and you have an hour, so you can put it all together,” she says. “it’s just new.” From having killer short sets to a huge headlining night, Harrison is excited and confident. “Seeing all the jokes together and how they can relate and interconnect,” she says. “It’s been really fun, trying to set up a longer set, so we’ll see how that goes.”

There’s an art to combining Harrison’s best jokes from smaller shows she’s done. She says, “I think the most difficult thing is you find out how to be funny. You’re basically just changing your format and adjusting for your audience.” Wiseguys tends to be a draw for some pretty big crowds of diverse comedy fans. “You’ve got to build momentum and keep strong, through the check drop. It’s a job.” This isn’t Harrison’s first big show. She’s no stranger to taking the featured spot on a bill, but this time, it’s different. This is a stage she’s done many times, in her own neck of the woods, where she’ll be given the chance to really shine. “It’s a big deal to be at a nationally touring club,” she says. “I’m excited to tell jokes for a whole hour, basically.”

If there are nerves involved with getting that pinnacle spot for such a big night, Harrison doesn’t really show them outwardly. “I’m terrified that nobody is going to show up, or that everybody’s going to show up,” she says, “but that ‘everybody’ would be the people that know me from the mission, and they’re horrified and scandalized.” Harrison started out as a ‘Mormon’ comic at BYU, which has evolved over time to her talking about her personal life and coming out. “People might not be ‘up to date’ on my life,” she says. “To prepare for such a big show, she’s got an interesting point of view. “You know when you’re in Little League and everyone goes out and gets ice cream after a game? That’s my philosophy, you know. I’m like, ‘OK, Abi, worst-case scenario, I fail terribly.’ But you also get a new pair of shoes, or vodka, or whatever.” She laughs—“The show WILL be over at some point.”

Abi Harrison: Standup Comedy and Fresh Pineapple
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Comedians in Cars Eating Vegemite

Rich Wilson is a name you might have heard in various bars and comedy clubs in Utah. He’s a guy who mostly hangs out in the shadows, does his five minutes of stage time and doesn’t get into fights with hecklers. However, hidden in that quietly humble façade is a comedic talent bursting at the seams in multiple formats and outlets. If you haven’t caught a glimpse of the Aussie born Utah transplant, you should get to know him by the fruits of his labor: his brilliant and hilarious local YouTube phenomenon, Comedians in Cars Eating Vegemite. After a pretty low-key open mic night in the heart of Downtown Salt Lake, Wilson took a few minutes to chat about what really goes on inside the mind of a creative.

It's a simple concept—“I'm gonna drive around in my car, eating Vegemite, and I'll film you,” he says.
It’s a simple concept—“I’m gonna drive around in my car, eating Vegemite, and I’ll film you,” he says.

Wilson’s story starts during his teenage years, when his family moved to Utah from the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. You can still hear little clues of where he’s from in his speech, but Wilson now claims Utah as his home. “I can’t really claim that I’m from Australia, since I’ve lost my accent,” he says. As an adult, he moved to Bountiful, got married, had kids and settled down.  He didn’t have much culture shock in Utah, and coming from an entirely different country had its ups and downs. “The accent really buys you a lot of friends, but it gets you friends you don’t really want,” he says. “A lot of girls like you for just superficial reasons, like he’s got an accent’, but they quickly find out that you’re just a nerdy kid who likes Star Wars and skateboarding, and they quickly leave.”

He entered into the comedy world about five years ago, when he went looking for something new to try. “When I turned 30,” he says, “I tried a Wiseguys open mic for the first time, and I did really bad, but it kind of planted a little seed. It really felt like that scene, that crowd, those kinds of people, were really where I felt comfortable. I felt like I wanted to be in that environment.” At the time, he needed a new creative outlet, something that would provide more instant gratification. “I live in the Davis County suburbs,” he says. “Everyone’s got their houses; everyone reads Pottery Barn catalogs, has granite counter tops and stainless steel—It’s all about that kind of lifestyle, which is fun for a little bit, but I just need a creative outlet.” He felt liberated by the comedy community at large, and has no intention of ever making this a full-time paid gig. “You just kind of have that need,” he says.

Once involved in the comedy scene, Wilson decided to use his outlet to bring even more of a creative element to the table on the side. “I originally wanted to start a podcast just interviewing comedians in town, but so many people have podcasts,” he says. “But also, I’m not very good one-on-one with people.” He decided to make it a short YouTube show instead, kind of in the vein of Jerry Seinfeld‘s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, but with an added Australian element: the staple spread, Vegemite. His main goal was to pull comedians out of their comfort zones. “Since they are all naturally funny people, you’ll get funny responses and reactions from eating Vegemite, plus a fun conversation to go along with it,” he says. It’s a simple concept—“I’m gonna drive around in my car, eating Vegemite, and I’ll film you,” he says—with results that are mixed but never dull. At first, Wilson just recruited comedians who were at the open mic nights. The plan involved Wilson driving, with the camera fixed on the guest comedian. Local comedian Alex Velluto was the first participant along with Jordan Makin. Wilson figured it would be a better show with a better story if he just let the two comedians drive the conversation and banter together. He then edited the completely unscripted footage and added visuals and music.

Matt Piedmont

With so much short, bite-sized comedic content at your fingertips, it’s a rare experience to find something that is not only wickedly funny, but also artfully done. Funny or Die, a little comedy website once hidden to the masses, has joined IFC to bring the best jab at all of the art films and pompous directing I had to sit through for years in film school. The Spoils of Babylon is the film lover’s film and the comedy lover’s comedy, combining a passion for the greatest years in cinema with quite possibly the funniest cast ever assembled. This episodic mini-series spans multiple decades and genres of cinema, with extra points for its humor and sass. SLUG was lucky enough not only to get a sneak peak of the fully released mini-series, but also to pick the brain of one of its co-creators, Matt Piedmont.

The project came together, as all the best do, in a completely serendipitous and out of the blue fashion. Piedmont was visiting an old and new bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and noticed that they had many of the old ’70s tomes “that were hardbound and huge, like three phonebooks glued together,” he says, with over-the-top, illustrative dust jackets. “I just started laughing out, loud and just as a joke, like we do all the time, I said, Oh we should do a mini-series like this. You know, like a Thornberg’s mini-series —fake one—and we should call it Spoils of Babylon,” Piedmont says, “I was trying to add my own title that was grandiose but seemingly meaningless.”

Piedmont and co-writer Andrew Steele had worked with Will Ferrell in the past on the 2012 short Casa de mi Padre, and Piedmont was a writer on SNL from 1996–2002, so the pair already had some “unusual stuff on their track record,” he says. Together, they pitched the sweeping ’40s to ’70s comedy period piece. “Understandably, when you pitch something like, that it was like, ‘How would this even be possible?’” says Piedmont. “What is the budget, 200 million dollars? We’ve got five bucks and a Slimjim for you.” After delving into the concept and low-budget options, IFC was actually very supportive of the endeavor and gave the project the green light.

Matt Piedmont
“For me, I always try to capture that energy and make the sets as light as possible.” (L-R) Matt Piedmont and Tobey Maguire

Once they pitched the idea, Piedmont and Steele wanted to combine and throw different things into the comedic blender. “There’s a lot of influence and a lot of weird things in there,” says Piedmont. “It’s always kind of an excuse that once you sell it, just to try to add a bunch of stuff into the blender and try to have fun with it.” This included references to old-art cinema, larger-than-life Hollywood figures, old played-out tropes, editing tricks and beat-to-death clichés. Once in the mix, though, it was a perfect satirical rollercoaster ride that any cinephile could appreciate. “I get giddy about that stuff, too. That’s fun just for the small percentage of the people that would actually get all of those reference,” says Piedmont, who adds that he also purposefully mixed in some silly slapstick, Bugs Bunny–esque jokes and gags. “The trick is also to make it where you can get some joy out of it, but for people that don’t know the references, they can still go on for the ride,” he says.

The joke is that the overblown mini-series was “cut down from the original 22 hours” and is hosted by the fictionalized author/producer/director who set out to make one of the most highbrow epics of all time. The Spoils of Babylon satirizes the sweeping, made-for-TV epics of yesteryear with the likes of Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Tobey Maguire, and Tim Robbins among an impressive cast. Clocking in at just over two hours in length, the mini-series spans from the Great Depression through the beatnik ’50s and concludes in the sepia-soaked early ’70s. The show is hosted by the adapted novel’s author-slash-director-slash-producer-slash-actor, Eric Jonrosh (Ferrell), who is a pretty accurate skewing of Orson Welles in his last years (Ferrell in a fat suit), with an added sprinkle of Stanley Kubrick eccentricity. Piedmont points out that all of Ferrell’s dialogue was masterfully scripted, and shot in a single day. “Welles is a hero of mine,” he says, the “architect of his own demise” appealed to Piedmont, and he and Ferrell created an honest and loving tribute to the late actor and filmmaker. “I don’t think we could do it if we didn’t truly kind of love Welles, for all of his faults too and I think Will kind of nailed it.”

As Jonrosh progressively consumes more and more wine, he becomes increasingly belligerent to the TV crew while still trying to outdo his own artful verbosity (see what I did there?) to bring his masterpiece to television. Filmed in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Jonrosh character is now, years later, a washed-up has-been alone in a restaurant, berating the film crew as he introduces each chapter of his epic. The running joke is that he’s got no limit to his over-drawn and pompous style, conjuring up everything from Gone with the Wind, French art-house films and everything awkward about the ’60s technicolor hippie culture. His monologues ramble on, the death scenes are never-ending and even an inscription on a pocket compass takes several minutes to read out loud. Jonrosh then clues the audience in on the drama behind the scenes and candidly admits that he “slept with every single cast member.”

Greg Wilson

Straight out of L.A., for one weekend, Greg Wilson is bringing his Gonzo style of stand-up to Utah audiences at Sandy Station. You may recognize Wilson from dozens of appearances from TV on shows such as World’s Dumbest to Modern Family. He’s been all over the comedy circuit writing and appearing on multiple clip shows, and is starting a new televised game show debuting later this year. Before he left the comforts and sunshine of L.A. to come to bipolar February weather of Utah, SLUG got a chance to talk with Wilson to find out what his show and his Gonzo style is all about.

Greg Wilson is known for being off the cuff and really over the top in everything he does, be it his TV appearances or his stand-up shows. “It’s funny,” he says. “I never really knew how to describe my style until I saw a definition of the word Gonzo.” He says that although the word triggers people to conjure up a drug-fueled escapade with Hunter S. Thompson or The Muppets, it’s more than that. “With Gonzo, the definition is freewheeling to the point of outrageousness,” he says. “That’s how I approach comedy. I like it—I have lots of material, and I love doing material, but, I also love creating some kind of organic experience with the audience in that moment, and I love seeing how far I can take it—and it gets pretty wild.”

Greg WilsonWilson typically blends multiple styles into his set, and anything goes. “I think the thing is with modern stand-up is that people feel like they ‘get it,’” he says. Wilson also says that audiences these days see so much comedy saturation on platforms like YouTube or TV channels like Comedy Central, and that because they can watch comedy from the comfort of their homes, they have a preconceived notion of what a comedy show is. “I think that it’s diminished the value of the live experience,” says Wilson. “They don’t realize how much different live comedy is from broadcast comedy. Watching it and being in it are two totally different things.” In fact, part of what he loves about live comedy is that each show is going to be different. “I go out of my way to make sure that everyone leaves there knowing that that live experience couldn’t have happened via YouTube,” he says. “That’s what I mean by Gonzo. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just want something to happen.” At any given show, he can go off-script at any point, blending the normal well-rehearsed sets audiences may be used to with more of an improv-heavy live act, creating a one-of-a-kind experience that can’t be duplicated.

When Wilson isn’t performing or writing, he actually teaches courses on the art of stand-up. He prides himself on teaching the dynamics of both stage presence and writing jokes. “I believe that comedy is waves and particles,” he says. “It’s ordered and random at the same time. If you learn to do both, that’s when you really have something.” He runs individual workshops and teaches full courses on punchline dynamics, the basics—like going from joke to punchline to routine—as well as other skills, such as transforming storytelling into material. “I am the only one, I believe, that teaches crowd work and riffing,” Wilson says. “That’s where I teach them to get really improvisational onstage, to let go of those words and to see what happens, to express themselves freely and connect with the audience.” He even has a full class on handling hecklers, which, for any comedian regardless of skill level, can be a daunting experience.

Wilson can handle going off script, hecklers and multiple joke formats due to his impressive background in improv theater, starting out at the ripe old age of 17. “I have a huge improv background,” he says. “I started in 1989/90 with the Ad-Libs improv troupe in Dallas, Texas. I quickly became one of the stars of the show, and that’s all I wanted to do for a long time—and for nine years, that’s all I did. At the time, it was very popular—we were like the Second City of Dallas.” This type of stage training has rocketed some of the comedy greats to the top, and what’s impressive is that Wilson started out so young and kept his passion for nearly a decade before breaking out into more realms of entertainment. Speaking of his improv years, Wilson says, “That’s what really taught me that you don’t really know where the line is until you cross it. That’s what teaches you to push those boundaries. I’m always looking for the opportunity to do that.”

This is exactly what he means about “anything happening” at his shows, because he doesn’t even know yet what he’s going to do once he gets going. “I don’t know the line until I cross it,” he says. “To me, I’m not even thinking, ‘Are we close to the line? I’m just going and going and going and, 99 percent of the time, we never cross it. So long as you’re funny, you can get away with almost anything. People are always like, ‘I can’t believe no one’s ever killed you yet!’ and I’m like, ‘I can’t either!’” Pushing limits and boundaries doesn’t mean that Wilson plays his material “blue,” and his sets can cover topics from the political to the absurd to the controversial, to anything and everything. It really depends on where he is and what the audience is like. “Most shows wind up around 60/40: 60-percent material, 40-percent improv. Some nights, you have a 90/10 either way.” Wilson is the kind of comic that just runs with it and might get lost on a tangent or have a moment with a heckler that leads to something else. The audience is just as much a part of what he does as is the material he brings. “If you can make it funny, you can do anything,” he says.

Wilson himself is a fan of all styles and niches of comedy, from prop comedy to stand-up, observational to storytelling. “If you achieve the goal of being hilarious, I’m a fan of it,” Wilson says. He will be teaching a storytelling workshop at Sandy Station in addition to his shows. “Storytelling is one of the last bastions of originality,” he says. “Observation is covered by so many eyeballs. Storytelling allows you to communicate a very common theme in a unique and original way, because the things that happen to you don’t happen the same way to other people.” While it was recently looked down upon as a comedy form, storytelling in the style of comic greats like Carlin and Pryor is making a big comeback.

Greg WilsonAs a writer, Wilson’s worked with all kinds of comedians over the years. Surprisingly, he has an almost somber theory as to what makes the best kinds of comedians. “I’ll tell you what makes a comedian,” he says: “abuse. Abuse is really the background that makes someone, and it’s the strange connective tissue in comedy.” In this sense, abuse is a term that can mean anything awful that has triggered a change in someone. “Abuse is some weird thing that gives you this total abandon to pursue the arts. That’s one of those things I feel that most truly dedicated comedians share,” he says. “Now, it isn’t as common as it used to be, because comedy has become kind of a mainstream thing to do. It isn’t considered the big gamble it used to be. It was just another career in the arts. Those people that had grown up with the abuse kind of had that fire.” He points out that with comedy becoming more mainstream, kids as young as 15 are hitting open mics, and they might not have the same background that others share. “There’s always that moment where you find out what it is. It will come out in the weirdest times and the weirdest places: ‘There it is—that’s the reason you’re so funny,’” he says. Wilson doesn’t necessarily think that a comedian’s jokes need to be about their pain or that they must twist something out of it to make it funny—“It’s just the spark that makes you funny,” he says. “I like one kind of comedian: the funny kind. I don’t care how you get there.”

Traveling the country, Wilson has toured anywhere from colleges to bars, but there’s one place that he feels the most at home. “I love working in the comedy clubs. It’s always been my bread and butter and where I’ve had the most fun. It’s the best suited for what I like to do. Everywhere else comes with rules, and I hate comedy with rules.” Up to this point, he’s never played a show in Utah.—though he did have a run-in with some college kids outside of the state once. “One time I met some kids that were so white, I asked, ‘Are you guys from Snowflake College?’ and they started laughing because they were actually from Snow College,” he says. His ideal crowd could be anyone, and the location or venue doesn’t predetermine anything, it turns out. “What you think would be an ideal crowd isn’t always the ideal crowd,” he says, musing about the time he did a High Times show, for an audience full of stoners, which, it turns out, are only a good audience for first 25–30 minutes. Then they fade out. “Stoners are not the best audience,” he says. “Audiences are snowflakes: There are just no two alike.” Oddly enough, the best audience he has ever had was a school fundraiser with parents and faculty, where they “went off the hook.”

Right now, all that Wilson can tell us about his first two Utah shows that he’s bringing this weekend is that “a hurricane is about to hit Salt Lake.” Everything is adding up to the perfect storm. Since he’s been so busy with other endeavors, Salt Lake is just a quick break in between projects. “Because I’ve been working in television, when I hit the stage, A LOT comes out,” he says. This weekend, each show will be a different and unique experience. “A lot of it depends on the audience, if you catch a wave, there’s no telling where it’s going to go.”

Wilson has currently been working on a new comedy game show called Funny You Should Ask, for which he both writes and appears in several episodes. He is bringing his storytelling class to Sandy Station on Saturday afternoon between shows, but space is limited. If you are interested in seeing what his comedy classes have to offer, though, his stand-up master class is available on a four-hour digital download on his website, and it’s rated the No. 1 best-reviewed standup workshop in the world. One of his recent students, Tamer Kattan, just won the world series of comedy.

Greg Wilson will be performing two upcoming shows in “The Vegas Room” at Sandy Station, Friday, Feb. 26, at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 27, at 8:30 p.m. The Storytelling Workshop has limited spots left for 12 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at Sandy Station. The cost is $65 (which is normally $100 in advance). For more information, email Tickets for Greg Wilson are still available online for $10 at or $15 at the door. You can check out more of Greg Wilson at

Photo: Charissa Feathers Photography

In Utah, we create only the best of the best. We all remember the ’96-’97 Utah Jazz, right? Well, along with a select handful of others, John Hilder is like the ’96 Jazz, in stand-up comic form. He’s one of the funniest people to ever have cut their chops in our Salty City, and he’s coming back for two nights to Club 50 West to record his second comedy album. Now hailing from Las Vegas with a steady career in comedy under his belt, Hilder is returning to his roots in Utah, both out of his love for the state and his admiration for the Utah comedy scene.

Hilder has been doing stand-up for an impressive 11 years. Born and raised here in Utah, he started doing stand-up in Las Vegas at 20, then moved back to Utah and did comedy off and on for about four years in his mid-20s before moving back to Vegas several years ago. Since then, his comedy career has blossomed, becoming bigger and funnier, turning Hilder into a regular name on the comedy circuit. The biggest advantage, in his opinion, is  “the sheer amount of stage time and legit clubs putting on comedy every night,” he says. “Vegas is just a town that’s more than other towns.” He points out that he’s always got crowds coming to him from all over the country. “Every night you get a focus group from 50 different states, you’re not going to get that anywhere else.”

John HilderHaving played both regularly in Las Vegas and all over Utah, Hilder has seen what our brand can bring to the table. “I think Utah comics, in my opinion, are stronger writers,” he says. “They’re more subtle, they come at it from a more cerebral place, where as in Vegas they kind of bludgeon you over the head with a joke to get attention. I think the potential for better, more quality jokes with stronger writing, is definitely better in Utah than it is on the Vegas market. So if you can develop those skills in Utah and take them on the road, I think that you’d be in good shape.” This kind of strength is why he tries to come back to town often. “I miss Utah greatly, especially the comics,” he says. “It’s really one of the most supportive, awesome scenes. I love everybody there, and I miss it very much.” And it’s not just our entertaining comedy scene that brings him back. “More than anything, I miss the nature. Vegas is such a manufactured, fake place. When you grow up at the base of the most beautiful mountains in the world, you’re pretty spoiled. There’s no ability to escape to nature here, and if you try, you’re just with everybody else trying to do the exact same thing,” Hilder says.

His show at Club 50 West will be his second album recording, his first in about six years. Hilder’s first album, Johnsense, was released by Hilder himself through CD Baby, and can be downloaded directly through CD Baby, Spotify, iTunes, and other platforms for $9.99. “People really seem to enjoy it,” Hilder says about the first album. “But for me, at this point, everything you write and you perform you get sick of immediately. You feel like everything you write after is better, even if people love it. I just feel like I can always do so much better.” Six years later, he’s ready with new material and more evolved jokes. He says he doesn’t just give up on solid material after recording, though. “I’m still doing it for awhile, just kind of touring on that. It will evolve. Even if I keep doing it, the jokes will change. It’s another reason I want to do the new album, because if there’s a joke still there from the first album, you wouldn’t notice because it’s changed so much.” He feels like he’s grown as a comic over the years, and that this is another milestone for him in his career. “If you haven’t listened in the last six years, I think there’s been a huge jump, and I’m excited to show people.”

John HilderHe has chosen to come back to Salt Lake City to record all of his albums. “I really do love it there. I love the crowds in Utah. I was born and raised there; I have friends and family here that are, hopefully, a built-in fan base, but more than that I recorded my first album in Salt Lake and had a great experience doing that. I kind of have it in my head that I’m always going to record my albums at home; I don’t know why. I don’t want to do it anywhere else.” This doesn’t seem to bear any stigma when his home base, for now, is in Las Vegas. In fact, Hilder thinks that it’s a strength to say you’re from the Beehive State, and then proceed to shatter expectations. “I’m more branded as a Utah person and not a Utah comic,” Hilder says “It’s this idea that we’re all Mormon and squeaky clean people. In a lot of ways, I think that it actually works to my advantage, because within five minutes of hearing me, you know that I’m not a typical person you’d expect from Utah, especially Utah comics. I think that people’s expectations of Utah comedy is dead wrong. My favorite comics in Utah don’t shy away from talking about anything.”

Hilder hasn’t encountered many issues in his material, once people understand he’s not out there to be squeaky clean.“I’ve been in trouble more for saying words than for topics. Some clubs don’t want you to say ‘fuck’; some just don’t care.” He says that no topic for him has ever really been taboo. “I don’t think anything’s out of bounds. There are things I don’t talk about because personally I’ve never found humor in it. There’s just certain things I don’t look at for myself, but I’ve heard funny jokes on just about every horrible subject you can imagine, and laugh at them. So I can’t say that they can’t be talked about, because I’ve laughed hard at everything.”

As far as his material goes, Hilder describes himself as a dirty observational comic. “I talk about the absurdity of daily life, which I think is every comic’s goal. You walk around and you see just how ridiculous things are. You want to roast the world.” Roasting, in this sense, is pointing out the flaws and ripping apart the cracks of what people try to gloss over or hide. “I feel like I do that to the world every day, and I want to share that with people.” Hilder’s got his own unique take on typical observational sets, but for those that have never seen him perform, he tries to pin down what people can expect. “I guess at that point you could call it ‘dirty Seinfeld,’ or ‘Normal Louis CK,’” he says. “It’s basically what I feel like it is, observations of daily life, but told very bluntly and sometimes quite flippantly.”

John HilderNow that he’s got six years’ worth of new jokes, Hilder feels ready to bring it back full circle, and create something back in his home state to take with him to the rest of the country when he goes on tour. He’s not trying to “play it safe” by bringing his album recording to Utah. “For me, I prefer strangers. I want it to be the most honest reaction ever.” When it comes to his friends and family, he says, “The people who’ve been supporting me this whole time and haven’t had the chance to see me develop for the last 6 years, the least I can do is show them the stuff at it’s very best.” His favorite part of his shows this weekend will be, as he puts it, “Seeing everybody I love and miss, and showing them ‘here’s what I’ve been up to!’ and hope that they’re impressed.” Hilder adds, “I love getting back home. I really do miss Utah a lot, and when you’re amongst a big group of friends and everybody is laughing, I don’t think that there’s a better feeling in the world.”

Come out and support Hilder’s shows at the new Club at 50 West Jan. 8 and 9 with shows at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., and you’ll get to include your laughter on his album for posterity. You’re going to get to see comedy that’s just a little un-safe for Utah, and just clean cut enough to come from one of your very own. The new album, Words on Play will be self-released by Hilder through CD Baby by Valentine’s Day for $9.99. It will be on various media platforms to download and stream, or you can buy a physical copy on CD. If you want to pre-game the weekend shows with even more John Hilder, his first album, Johnsense, is out now through CD baby, Spotify, iTunes, etc. Tickets for the show can be purchased at the door for $10, and it is 21 plus, or minors can attend with an accompanying adult. The Club at 50 West is a full service restaurant and bar, so come hungry and thirsty, while jonesing for a good dose of laughter and nonsense.

Bewitched: Seasons 5 & 6

Mill Creek Entertainment
Street: 03.17

I loved this as a kid, but watching this as an adult is a different, altogether terrifying experience. Samantha, Darrin, Endora and toddler Tabitha are back for all things domestic-suburban living, with a touch of the supernatural. I loved the costumes, the cars and the old Americana feel. However, I cringed every time Samantha had to ask Darrin permission to leave the house, when the men do “man things” and complain how all of their wives are “old nags,” and the moment when Darrin informs Samantha’s piano teacher that little Tabitha only wants to “grow up to be a housewife just like her Mommy.” It was a very different time, folks. What was more odd to me is that this was supposed to be a very progressive show for women at the time, yet whenever Darrin is concerned, she’s nothing more than a mouthy accessory, even when her powers save his ass. Fun fact: season five is the last of the Dick York episodes when he dropped out of his role as Darrin due to back problems. Season six starts the Dick Sargent episodes that bring the show into the ’70s, all with zero explanation in the narrative as to why Darrin is suddenly a very different person. Bewitched is great for a trip down memory lane—just don’t stay there too long. –Rachel Jensen

Hello Ladies: Complete First Season and The Movie

HBO Home Video
Street: 05.26

If you take an English transplant in L.A., his aging actress roommate and his rag-tag group of frenemies and throw in a hefty dose of Hollywood desperation, this short-lived HBO comedy series is the watchable result. Focusing on the constant plight of Stuart Pritchard (Stephen Merchant) trying to get a little piece of action in L.A., the characters and situations really grow on you. Merchant’s honest portrayal of the Brit charmer comes across so painfully desperate, but he’s too cocky to give up. There is an entire episode with a rented limo that feeds Pritchard’s ego to narcissistic heights and epic failures. Later, his attempts to fit in with the gay crowd at a dinner party results in telling stolen jokes that get him into hot water. The whole feel of the show is authentic L.A. rat-race, minus most of the glitz and glamor, and feels like Entourage if it was scaled back and featured revamped Seinfeld plots. It’s dry, funny and cringe-worthy. There isn’t even a word in the English language to summarize the feeling, but I was left in a constant state of Fremdscham. –Rachel Jensen