Artists and record labels have a symbiotic relationship. The artist has something to say, the label provides a means to have it be heard by the audience. How the artist/label relationship comes to be is often different. For comedian Michael Showalter
, it was an almost telepathic desire for both the artist and the record label to work together that ended in mutual hand relief. Starpulse spoke via e-mail with the star of such comedy classics as The State, Stella, and Wet Hot American Summer to flesh out the details of how his first comedy album, Sandwiches and Cats
, came to be and to chat about comedy.
How did you decide to go with JDub Records as the distributor of your album?
I hosted a show for them in Brooklyn a year or so ago and I liked them. I asked them if they'd ever thought of doing a comedy CD and they said, "We were just about to ask you the same question." It was kind of a beautiful thing and then we gave each other hand jobs.
On the album you announce that as a means of acquiring supplemental income that you've ventured into writing for travel journals and erotica magazines. In your experience, do you find that surprise, juxtaposition, and irony are as effective in erotica as they are in humor?
In the erotica that I've read juxtaposition does work well or really just any position, be it wheelbarrow or 69, they all seem to get the job done.
There are schools of criticisms for all forms of expression except for humor. Why do you think that is? Does it reflect the sentiment that humor is not considered an art form?
Kind of. It seems like that's starting to change. The thing with comedy is that it's not as subjective as other art forms. Either you laughed or you didn't.
Cigars, gardening, and music all have their own magazines. Why not comedy?
Because people don't smoke comedy or plant it in their garden. They plant things in their garden then smoke it and then watch comedies on TV.
On the album, you had to deal with an audience member who brought in the unlikeliest of hecklers: a cat. While it may be possible that performing at a traditional comedy venue would have prevented this experience from ever happening, do you think that you're missing out on anything by not performing at mainstream comedy clubs?
I just don't feel very comfortable in mainstream comedy clubs. They seem kind of theme park'ish to me, like, "We've got comedy on tap here. What's your flavor?" I don't know. I like playing in venues where a variety of different types of acts perform.
I assume that that incident inspired the name of your album. What were some titles that you contemplated beforehand?
For a long time it was just called, "Sandwiches" but then the cat thing happened so I added "and Cats." I was going to call it "Cats and Sandwiches" but that's easier to say than "Sandwiches and Cats". The syllables work better the first way and I wanted them to work less well.
At the moment, we find ourselves in the midst of a writers' strike. How do you feel about the postulated conspiracy theory that the strike is not, as postulated, about money but the result of big oil, big business, and big government hoping to curtail the flow of satire with the intention of creating a less informed and more easily duped public?
I got lost at "postulated." Is that like a big zit or something?
What is your opinion of the strike in general?
In general, I like it. Specifically, I wish it would be resolved.
Satire exposes the foibles of society and, as a result, it's possible to learn much from it. What have you learned from humor and has a piece of comedy ever inspired you to make any decisions?
From comedy I learned that most critics in this country do not find me funny. So in a sense I learned that I should start thinking about doing something else with my life, which is why I'm now half through a PhD in Sociology at the University of Cincinnati's Akron campus.
Is there a particular product or service that you think captures the current zeitgeist?
Well, 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner springs to mind. I'm hoping for a 5-in-1 shampoo/conditioner/dirt/more shampoo and conditioner product, where you wash your hair, get it dirty and then rewash it. I think that would be amazing.
Are there any trends in comedy that you'd like to see make a come back?
Are there any trends in comedy that you'd like to see go away?
Where do you see comedy moving in the future?
My belligerent, uncooperative smug answer would be: east-northeast. My less smug answer would be maybe more towards humor in what's real, back to the days of Albert Brooks
or Woody Allen
The release of The State on DVD has yet again been delayed. Outside of the series itself, are you able to reveal what some of the goodies are that we're missing out on?
Lots of commentary, deleted sketches...not sure what else.
Many people, including myself, were hoping to receive The State as a holiday gift. What present do you think could possibly have taken its place?
Isotoner driving gloves (for him); a Kohl's gift certificate (for her)
Lastly, what are some projects that you're currently involved in or contemplating?
I'm hopefully going to direct a zombie movie this spring and I'm also writing a memoir.
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer