Inside the Improv Green Room: Bryan Callen

Sept 14, 2009

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted one of these.  But this was my first time hosting a whole weekend at the Improv this year (that’s right).  It’s a shame but it’s true.

Comedy has been a hot and cold affair for me this year.  The first two months of the year were awesome; I was writing and doing shows all over the place.  I’m not really sure what happened, but around March I just fell off the map.  I stopped doing open mics and as a result, my material got stagnant and I didn’t book anything for a long time.  I had some glimmers of hope here and there, but they were mostly mirages.  Shows at the Improv were cancelled or rescheduled; I got bumped from them altogether a few times.  I began to lose a little bit of passion for stand-up.

Then Mitch Mikulsia, Chris Levkulich, and I booked a showcase event at the Improv on the 5th of July.  I would be doing a 30-minute set for the first time in my life.  It was a big deal for me.  My friends and family would be there and I didn’t want to disappoint them.  I went on a two-week open mic tour for a warm up.  I performed at any venue or event I could squeeze myself into.  I even practiced my jokes in a mirror, which I hadn’t done for a long time.  It definitely helped; I worked out the structure of my act and became more comfortable in the process.

The night of the show was not as crowded as any of us would have liked, but I was supremely happy with my set.  I had a consistent thread, a viewpoint, and it got lots of laughs.  That half-hour gave me a confidence boost and I dove back into the comedy circuit once again, hoping the Improv would be in my future.

I finally got my chance to open there this past weekend.  This time for Bryan Callen, a founding cast member of MAD TV.  He’s been in a ton of television and movies: Chelsea Lately, How I Met Your Mother, Entourage, The Hangover, etc.

The crowds (with the exception of the Saturday late show) were relatively small.  He noticed the same thing that most comedians from other cities notice about Pittsburgh comedy crowds: they’re weird.

“They have energy and laugh, but it’s a stop-start laugh.”  I’ve heard this from every comedian that rolls through here.  There is no residual chuckling that comedians can take comfort in while they set up their next joke.

Bryan was a really unique comedian.  His style was very different than anything I’ve ever seen.  It was high energy, deliberately scattered, nonsense comedy.  For example, he had a whole bit about how freaky it would be if you were about to get into a fight and you had a Scottish Nobleman ride a horse in behind you and warn your opponent of how dangerous you were.  Typically, comedians don’t really laugh hard at other comedian’s sets, we take a more analytical approach: “That was funny.”  But Bill Crawford, the weekend feature act, and myself were laughing constantly at Bryan’s jokes.

TJ Miller stopped in on Sunday night to do a guest set.  He’s in town filming the new Denzel Washington movie and decided to come down to keep his comedy skills sharp.  TJ’s a good friend to the Pittsburgh comedy scene so it was fun to have him down.  He’s in a ton of movies out right now, so it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a household name.

We wrapped up the weekend and despite the smaller crowds, although I was happy with how the shows turned out.  My sets were strong and I hoped they would get me noticed by Bryan.  I’ve said it before, but I want my name to come up in conversations when national headliners come to Pittsburgh.  “I want that Jeff Konkle dude on the show.”  That’s how my fantasy works.  Huge comedians perform here, take note of me, and spread the word.

As I left the Improv on Sunday night, I thanked Bryan for letting me work with him.  He said, “No problem.  I didn’t really get to see any of your stuff but, you know, maybe next time.”

Damn it.

I’d post a picture of him and I, but the doorman at the Improv accidentally deleted it off of my camera.

Damn it.

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