Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Geek Comedy Tour: Meet the Geeks

I was recently granted the chance to pick the brain of Chris Barylick, founder of the Geek Comedy Tour. They've had shows in DC at the new Riot Act Comedy Theatre as well as DC Improv. And that's just the beginning; they've been taking other parts of the U.S. by storm.

Let's take a look at what got this group started, what to expect at their shows, and what Chris thinks is the essence of geekdom.

And make sure to check out their website for up-to-date info, including tour dates.

Q: What was the motivation behind creating the Geek Comedy Tour?

A: I think it was the combination of the fact that I'd recently had a neighbor who'd come by to my horrible basement apartment in Arlington, Virginia at 1:15 A.M. waving anime videocassettes at me and discussing anime and science fiction conventions. His name was Mikhail Koulikov, he weighed about 100 pounds, almost never slept, would go on 15-mile energy-drink-driven power walks from Virginia to College Park, Maryland for fun and he finally pushed me into going to my first conventions, which I'd been going to for a few years when I finally started doing stand up in 2005. From there, it was sort of a perfect fit: I'm a geek, there are assorted other geeks at these conventions and they needed comedy. Thus, the Geek Comedy Tour was born.

Q: How did the members of the tour come together?
A: When I began doing open mics, I noticed a few comics whose humor skewed towards video games, pop culture and other bits of weirdness and sort of went from there. The mighty, bearded and wonderful Jake Young I'd known form George Washington University's anime club in the early 2000's and the others I sort of gathered after watching their sets and noticing a Super Mario Brothers or zombie joke that would be perfect if the audience was on the same wavelength as the comic and vice versa.

Q: In what ways does the audience tend to differ in behavior and reaction to a typical comedy show audience?

A: It's never perfect, even with a geeky audience, but it's not a battle. Typically, with an anime or science fiction convention, people will know what they're getting into when they see us on the bill and come out to the show. This makes a difference, but the key point is that you're not here catching a bar crowd off guard with comedy and then having to pull them to your perspective. That being said, you have more room to draw out a joke or an idea and the audience seems more willing than a bar crowd to accompany you through the joke. 

Q: What additions or developments do you forsee for the tour in the future?
A: Honestly, it's high time we cut an album or a DVD and this is long overdue. We recently had an incredible set from Emily Ruskowski at the Katsucon anime convention, so if we could embrace something of a female geek perspective as well and have it work as part of the show, this would only make us better.
Q: What themes are the most discussed in the program?

A: Beyond the usual stuff like dating and video games, there's the overall theme that we are geeks, we tend to obsess over the weird minutia of the things we love and this can be both a great thing we enjoy or the anchors around our necks depending on your perspective. 

Q: When did you decide you were a geek? Why?

A: I don't think it's a matter of really deciding you're a geek and boom, that's the lifestyle, it's just realizing you tend to obsess about things other people might not really care about and want to know almost every aspect of that thing. Back in middle school and high school, computers (especially the Mac), comic books and video games were definite comfort zones, as I went to a mostly-jock high school, was waiting for puberty to finish up on some level and when I got home, I could pick these up, dive in and not come up for a while. I think we all have this to some degree, albeit the difference is deciding how much of your life you're going to let it be. There's geek pride to be had and felt and you should never feel ashamed for your interests or what other people think of them, but you also need to remember to come up for air every so often.
Q: What stereotypes of geeks drive you crazy?

A: I think the stereotype that we're just this one thing, a one-dimensional construct that's obsessed with only a few things and everything else, including social skills, have gone rightout the door. People are geeks in their own right, they hold their interests and obsessions close (be it for books, comic books, knitting, languages, video games, a sports team, camping, hiking or anything else they happen to love). We're as varied as they come and it's pretty common to go to something that's typically considered a nerd event and find people obsessed with a hundred new things you'd never even thought about. No, these generally don't fit into the stereotype of things it's considered cool to be interested in, but you have people from a wide variety of backgrounds digging into the things they love and it's a varied thing (as opposed to the 80's movie stereotype of the uncool kid with the glasses and the pocket protector that never seems to quite go away...)

Q: What advice would you like to give other geeks out there?

A: Honestly, that it eventually gets better. I went to a high school that I felt was more obsessed with sports than what it was supposed to be teaching, was one of the few people who played "Magic: The Gathering" or was interested in computers or video games in the 90's and had a bad habit of mouthing off to people whom puberty had just added about 30 pounds of muscle tone to. These were not my better moments, these were not the best decisions of a lanky, 105-pound person and these were not the best years of my life. Still, it gets better in college, as you have a much wider social pool to draw from, it gets better after college and the Internet has only made it easier to find people with similar interests as you.

Where comedy (especially geeky comedy) is concerned, just get out to as many open miss as you can, refine what you have and try to take in all the comedy, books, music, pop culture and anything else you can get your hands on. No, the sports bar that's WAY too close to actually being the Double Deuce in "Road House" might not go for your new five minutes of "Metroid" jokes, but the weird/cool thing is if you look hard enough, you CAN find a way to make it relatable to any audience and it is attainable, albeit it's sometimes an incredibly rough, ego-shattering path to get there.

Finally, watch the movie "Road House", as the key to all of life's deeper mysteries and questions are found in that movie's 114 points of pure, totemic wisdom.