Comedian Kurt Braunohler Misses You All the Time, New York
Comedian Kurt Braunohler is the kind of kind of sweet goofball that standup is supposed to chew up and spit into a half-eaten basket of comedy club chicken wings. But as well as finding a niche as a headlining comic, the ex-Brooklynite is becoming a comedy switch-hitter who is very busy--the magical word every performer wants attached to them. He's one half of the hit bi-coastal variety show Hot Tub (with Kirsten Schaal), has acted on both hit network and cable shows like on Bob's Burgers and Delocated, host of IFC's anarchic comedy game show Bunk, a podcaster (of course) and is just now releasing his debut standup album. Not bad for a guy who's goofy Aryan appearance makes him look "like an IT guy for the Nazis." How Do I Land? is his debut comedy album, and the first ever released by venerable indie/punk label Kill Rock Stars. It comes out Tuesday.
See also: Five Intentionally Funny Music Video
Thanks for talking, Kurt. Are you feeling comfortable? I'm super comfortable. I'm in a hot bath, I have a bunch of fur rugs all around me, the fire's crackling. I'm very comfortable.
Swirl that brandy. We're getting into it. Hit me.
There's a moment on the album where you come close to a "thesis statement" for your whole style of comedy: "I want to insert stupidity or absurdity into strangers' lives because I think for a moment it can make the world a better place." How does that work? When there's a magical moment of stupidity it takes you out of your everyday routine. And just that moment of being, like, taken out of "Oh the world is the way I expect it to be all the time"... I think THAT makes the world a better place because, all of a sudden, you have potential where there was only rote routine before. And whenever that happens to me I always find that it changes my day. And so I've just been trying to do dumb things that just let people see that not everything is necessarily the way it appears.
You recommend a form of civil disobedience against airport pat-downs in this set (buy the album to hear it ... trust us, it's worth it). It's the kind of moment where standup comedy almost meets situationist art. Do you feel like an artist? First off, I applaud you guys for talking about The Situationists. Because I'm a big fan of them, and Psychogeography and Guy Debord. That's been a whole path of mine that never got roped into my comedy that I'm trying to rope in now. I think comedians are afraid to be called artists because they don't want to appear pretentious. And I think pretentiousness can ruin people identifying and connecting with you and, as a comedian, that's what you're trying to do. But in a perfect world where being an artist does not alienate people, then I'm totally fine with being called an artist.
You're a fan of pranks and stunts. This year you hired a sky-writing plane to just write "how do I land?" in the air above Los Angeles. And the Stop... No, YOU Stop" stop sign (see video below). Some people think pranks are cruel or mean. Are there lines you don't cross? Any quote-unquote "prank" that I do I don't think has a person at their center. The motivating factor is to better the world as opposed to mock anyone. I have intimate knowledge of pranks that are bad for the world because I used to be on a prank show about 12 years ago on the Country Music Television network where I did horrible things to people because I was told to and I don't want to do that again.
Are you ashamed of that? Oh, hell yeah. I had to go out on dates with girls and then freak them out and scare them. It was awful. It was somebody else's script, somebody else's TV show, somebody else's idea and I was just a new actor and I didn't know that I maybe shouldn't be doing these things. But maybe in a way I'm trying to repent for my past prank sins.
You're releasing this album on Kill Rock Stars, one of the most venerable labels in punk. Why? It was a natural move for my life. From the outside it may seem like a strange choice, but that's the music I grew up listening to and still listen to this day. I reached out to them and said "Hey, have you ever thought about doing a comedy album" and they said, "Yeah, we were just talking about it." And later that day we'd agreed to do a record together.
That's punk, right there. It is the first comedy album they've ever put out. Well, the joke is, it's the first intentional comedy album.
Your style of comedy is so life-affirming and silly. But the standup world can be one of brooding intensity, of darkness. Do you feel like an outsider from that? I think every comedian feels like an outsider in their community! It's kind of what motivates us to continue talking, because we're like "nobody's listening!" So I do feel like an outsider, but I don't know how much of that is just being a comedian. But I have always felt, in dark moments... comedians often ask themselves "maybe I shouldn't be doing this," and I'm no different. And one of things I kept coming back to, especially when I started was, like, "I'm not sad and angry most of the time ... maybe I'm not cut out for this." And then I realized that you can come to comedy in any way. If everyone's motivated by the same thing then we're going to get a whole lot of the same type of humor. And I'm happy we're not.
Do you ever feel like not being the happy guy? We all have those days. Those days where you're fully aware of how fucking horrible the world and life is. And those are the reasons that actually motivate me, for the most part. It's like "Man, this sucks. We are all in this together. We're all gonna fucking die! And before we die we're all going to suffer a whole bunch! And those are the things that motivate me. I don't think I'm motivated out of, like, "I'm just happy! Let's do more happy things!" It definitely comes from a deep awareness of the intense suffering of existence.
We didn't have to scratch too far to find that darkness in you, did we? You moved to L.A. in October, and you run the same show out there (Hot Tub) that you created in New York. How are the audiences different. We're doing it in Silverlake, which is the Park Slope of Los Angeles. So the audiences are very similar. They're comedy fans and they're excited to be there. But what's cool is we have a ton of regulars, people who just come every week, and that's good for us. They make us work harder.
What do you miss most about New York? The serendipity. Being able to just run into people on the street and you go with them, and then you meet more people, and you go to another place and you end up having this magical night that you never anticipated. That simply doesn't exist in Los Angeles. It's essentially much more of an American city, where things are planned out in advance, and you do the thing that you planned and then you go home. I miss New York all the time.
Comics never quite seem to know when to move to Los Angeles. Did you move there too soon or too late? I think I moved at the exact right time. Because I moved right after Bunk came out and I was starting to tour a lot anyway, and so I wouldn't have been in New York that often anyway. And so to have my home base in LA and start getting people to know me around here was a good idea.
You've been touring a lot. Any hell rooms? There was one hell room--I won't mention the name of the club, but it was on the West Coast. It was the first time I had headlined and so maybe I was still finding my feet as well ... but I was definitely doing more of a set that you would do for a Brooklyn audience and not one for a comedy club in a strip mall. And I did my big closer that's five-minutes long that requires total commitment ... to complete and dead silence. It was brutal. And one of those moments where you go "Maybe I shouldn't be doing this. Maybe I made a big mistake with my life."
I bet you took it like a man. Yeah, I tweeted about it and felt bad for myself [laughs]. Kurt Braunohler's How Do I Land? record release show is on Tuesday Aug 27 at The Bell House. 21+, 8 p.m., $15 Tickets here.
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