The Venue Review: The Smiling Moose

This will be part of a new series on and  There are lots of venues to see comedy in Pittsburgh.  This is a brief introduction to each spot. 

If there is an epicenter of Pittsburgh Comedy it would probably be found within walking distance of the Smiling Moose.  Located on 13th street and Carson, the Moose is home to Pittsburgh’s longest running open mic comedy night.  It’s hard to tell what you’re walking into when you pass through the doors.  The name “Smiling Moose” gives the impression that it will greet you like a ski lodge with hot cocoa and a little dainty apple turnover.  However the Moose caters less to the NorthFace-wearing ski bunny and more to the Ex-mosh pit enthusiaist with a day job. 

One of most consistent rooms in terms of audience turnout.  I have often met most of the “younger” comics at this venue and enjoy seeing how they progress from month to month or just how much longer their beards are from the last time I saw them. – Justin Markuss

On Tuesday night, hosts John Pridmore and Derek Minto wrangle in about 15+ comedians and funnel them to the stage.  The show starts off at around 10 o’clock (or whenever the Penguins/Pirates/Pitt Basketball game is over) and can go well into the night.  Generally speaking, the Moose tends to embrace a harsher style of comedy.  Just last week I was trying to do jokes about Home and Garden Television Network and was met with the kind of silence that made my ears pee themselves.  However, when I’ve gained the audience’s attention, they go all in.  With framed posters of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness adorning the walls, the tone of the Moose is one of campy evil. 

People ask me about it and I always say ‘If you want to be a comic, you’ve got to do the Moose. – Aaron Kleiber. 

As someone who spends their day in a safe and secure corporate environment, visiting the Moose on a Tuesday night gives me the opportunity to practice my jokes and to reconnect with my inner thrasher. 

When: Every Tuesday at 10:00 PM

Where: E Carson and 13th (Southside)

Drink: $1 High-Life Bottles

Feature: Non-threatening Horror movie memorabilia

Attire: Vintage Metallica, Winter Bike Messenger

Parking: Side streets are typically the best bet

Cover Charge: No


Hypocrisy (A Short Poem)

Just to be clear…

You complain about Football players being named things like
D’brickashaw Ferguson and BenJarvis Green-Elis and Vontaze Burfict

“What’s this world coming to?”

But you don’t have a problem with Illya Bryzgolov?

This weekend with John Witherspoon

I’m performing this weekend at the Pittsburgh Improv with John Witherspoon.

Yeaaahh, boy!


My last interaction with John was when I was a very new comedian.  I had been doing comedy for two months and Terry Jones and I tried to get a guest spots on his weekend shows.  John Witherspoon, rightly not wanting to babysit a couple of noobs, put the kai-bosh to that idea.

Now I’ve got 7 years under my belt.  I think I’ve improved slightly.  I think the weekend will be a blast.


Testing the Rule of Three

Comedy is often described as an art form.  I’ve heard people liken stand-up  comedy to jazz music.  In many ways, comedy is like jazz: often boring and increasingly irrelevant.  The largest commonality that comedy and jazz have between them is that despite being considered an art form, there are very basic formulas in place to ensure a successful frame work.  In jazz, if you want to create a dark tone, then you’d better play something in a minor scale.  In comedy, if you want to tell a joke with progressively funny punchlines, then you’d better stick to the “Rule of Three.”

The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that jokes that come in threes are inherently funnier.  It’s been around forever too.  Think about every “An German, a Pollock and a Mexican walk into a bar” joke that you’ve ever heard. 

I had accepted the rule of three as some sort of Holy fact.  A mysterious but immutable law of life. Eventually, physicists would find that the rule of three is somehow connected to the Higgs-Boson and the way quarks spin.  I never really thought too much about why it works. 

Cue Wikipedia.  In two very concise sentences, the online Encyclopedia blew my mind and clarified a rule that I thought had been unexplainable. 

A series of three often creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released.”

“Two is the smallest number of points needed to establish a pattern, and comedians exploit the way people’s minds perceive expected patterns to throw the audience off track (and make them laugh) with the third element.”

I can’t explain it any better than that.  So like a high-school student scrambling to finish his Senior Thesis, I thought I’d just copy and paste. 

Building tension is everything in comedy.  You set the trap then you hit the switch.  Laughter.  Big laughs usually come from a release of large amounts of tension (great set-up) or an incredibly powerful switch (great punchline).

So then why didn’t my joke last night where I used the rule of three work?  Is it possible that it’s a poorly written joke?  Or that the concept isn’t relatable?  Or that I just don’t have the “it” factor?  Maybe.  But I’d rather blame it on something besides myself. 

I’m going to embark on an experiment over the next few weeks.  I’m going to take a few of my jokes that I wrote using the “Rule of Three” and cut out the middle man.  My hypothesis is the less distance an audience has to travel to the punchline, the more satisfying it will be. 

Let the testing begin. 

I wonder if I can get any grant money…

Praises to Be Sung

“This life is lined with liars and thieves/but the one we serve smiles in the trees.”

The reporters in the Baltimore Ravens’ locker room had all but dissipated.  They returned home to their laptops, clicking away on their keyboards, each one trying to find an interesting angle on the big win.  Flat champagne gathered in little pools at the bottom of the plastic sheets covering the lockers.  Corks lay still on the floor, waiting to be swept up by a maintenance man in the morning.  Wet confetti stuck to the walls.  Linebacker Ray Lewis was placing the final touches on his outfit.  He was ready to hit the town.  Ready to go into the night.  He had collected his reward.

A fresh-faced reporter from a local sports blog approached number 52.  His hand shook slightly as he showed his credentials.

“Mr. Lewis?” he asked sweeping his hand through his own hair.  “My name’s Jeremy Schaeffer from  I know you’re probably ready to head out and celebrate but could I just get a few sound bytes from you?”

“Make it quick,” Lewis said as he buckled the cuff-links on his dress shirt.

“After that freak power outage, you overcame a real surge from the 49’ers tonight.  At any point did you feel that something was working against you?”

“Never,” Lewis replied.  “It’s simple: when a god is for you, who can be against you?” Lewis said.

“What do you mean “a” god?”

“Nothing.  My god doesn’t make mistakes,” Lewis told the reporter, adjusting his tie and flicking the dust off the shoulders of his suit.  “My god has never made one mistake. There was no way the god that I worship was going to bring us back here twice to feel that same feeling.  He keeps his promises.”

Lewis buttoned his suit coat and started walking toward the emergency exit.  He disappeared into the dark of the Sunday night. 

“Thanks for your time Mr. Lewis.”

He walked out into the parking lot and headed straight for a small grove of trees adjacent to the stadium.   There were Pines, Swamp Hickories and a few Western Soapberrys with little buds on the stems.  This was not the altar he had prayed so fervently at in his home town of Baltimore, where Oaks and Maples populated the landscape.  This little sparse patch of wooded life was enough to summon his master though. 

“I’ve come here to thank you,” Lewis whispered into leaves.

The dim glow from the parking lot lamps danced and flickered.  A smile appeared in the shadows.  Lewis was not afraid.  He knew to whom the wretched grin belonged.  Twigs and compost on the ground began to roll together.  A skeleton made of bark and branches climbed up from the dirt and stood upright.  The leaves of deciduous and the needles of the coniferous filled out the flesh.  And before Ray Lewis stood Erlking, the Forrest Goblin. 

“As I said before,” Lewis said softly.  “I wanted to thank you for the gifts you have bestowed upon me on this night.”

“It was no easy feat,” Erlking spoke.  Pine needles snapped and fell with each motion of his jaw.  “The Evening Star had a stake in the outcome of the SuperBowl as well.  That electrical mishap was his work, I’m sure.”

“Your powers are greater than his master.”  Lewis trailed off.  There was silence interrupted only by the warm breeze.

“So you are wondering if it is time for us to part ways then?” Erlking asked.

Lewis’ eyes shifted to the ground.  “It’s just that…I’ve depended on you for nearly two decades.  You are my god!  I’ve paid tribute to you, sacrificed people in your name, sung your praises for all to hear.”  He looked up.  “What do I do now?”

“The time of your true power has yet to be upon us my disciple,” the bleak scarecrow assured.  “You were a gladiator upon the field and thus drew the admiration and love of masses.  The next chapter in your life will be one where your reach and influence is extended beyond your wildest dreams.”

“I remain loyal to your will, O dread spirit,” Lewis recited the oath.  He bowed deeply.

“Goodbye for now, my son.”

The leaves and needles began to drift away with the Louisiana wind.  Soon the terrible skeleton rattled and fell to the ground once more.  Lewis saw the smile fade back into the shadows.  “They can never break our bond.”  

Lewis adjusted his tie once more, brushed the dust from his shoulders, and walked into the night.  There were celebrations to be had, praises to be sung, and sacrifices to be made. 

Erlking is a Forrest Goblin that is intensely interested in the outcome of Football games.  His conversations have been documented before.