Comedy is not a science. It’s an art. The word “comedy” is defined as professional entertainment consisting of jokes and satirical sketches, intended to make an audience laugh, or a movie, play or broadcast program intended to make an audience laugh. Without comedy, life would be, well, boring. Without laughter, there would be no point in those obnoxious Geico commercials, which attempt to incite a chuckle, and Will Ferrell would certainly not have a job in Hollywood.
Seemingly overnight, stand-up comedy in the local area has seen a massive boom in popularity. However, this wasn’t by accident. It was a series of strategic moves by several key players in the Omaha area, who acted as a catalyst for this rather sudden explosion. Ian Terry Douglas of the OK Party Comedy Team, Dylan Rohde of Back Line Improv Theatre and Dusty Stehl of Collabo Comedy are partially responsible, and they are happy to take credit.
Douglas, Rohde and Stehl have their roots firmly planted in comedy. They are each dedicated to the craft and are intent on helping the local scene grow. OK Party Comedy recently upgraded from a Tumblr site to a full-fledged website. This is now serious business. Described as a collective of local comedians who book, promote and perform comedy shows, they do a little bit of everything.
“Two years ago there was a tiny scene that consisted of a restaurant comedy club and a few open mics,” Terry says. “Today, there are so many amazing comedians and groups and shows and even more open mics that it is starting to turn into something tangible and well known outside of the city. OK Party tries to bring in as many out of state comedians to put on awesome shows and spread the word that Omaha has an alternative comedy scene and is a great place to visit.”
Venues such as The Waiting Room, Slowdown, The Sydney and O’Leaver’s have helped bring more comedians to town. OK Party did a show recently with The Whitest Kids U Know, which shattered their expectations and wound up having 450 people packed into the crowd.
“There are opportunities in Omaha for people willing to work and to earn the respect of crowds, and every day there are more and more new comedians willing to take them,” he continues. “Some of our local comedy friends are starting new groups and shows soon. Bob Gurnett is going to start doing wild showcase shows under the name “Max Chill” while two new comedians named Adam Hike and Chris Dryden are going to start putting on a crazy new show based on forcing stand up comedians to make up their sets on the spot called ‘The Doom Room.’ Those kinds of things are exciting to me and the rest of OK Party — fresh ideas and more DIY-style comedy.”
OK Party is unique in the sense that they are painfully aware of some of the issues surrounding stand-up comedy and act accordingly. When you think of stand-up comedians, often times thoughts of crude jokes and offensive material flood into your mind. They may insult a woman’s weight, litter misogynistic terms or make racist comments that normally don’t sit too well with a crowd.
“Myself and the other members of OK Party have had to deal with a lot of drama and debate regarding those issues,” he explains. “We reached a point where female staff members and managers at venues, as well as crowd members, were complaining about some of the comedians we were putting on our shows and the content they were relying on. We made the choice as a group to only put comedians who were doing material that we agreed with, rather than have to deal with losing half of our crowds or ruining relationships with venues. We’re trying to help build an open-minded scene where anyone can feel welcome and no one has to feel uncomfortable.
“A large amount of comedians take a very entitled and selfish view of comedy that making fun of rape victims or telling the millionth joke about a racial stereotype somehow advances the art and entertainment of shows,” he adds. “It becomes more about the one person standing on stage feeling good about themselves and less about the audience that probably paid money to watch a show feeling insulted. Some comics have given some of the laziest defenses that hateful jokes are part of ‘freedom of speech’ or that feminists should ‘learn how to take a joke.’ This kind of backwards thinking drives me crazy. Rather than expecting an audience to ‘learn how to take a joke,’ comedians should be more focused on learning how to be better at comedy and entertaining. Having empathy and being able to be funny without dwelling on boring stereotypes and shock humor is hard work, but worth it if one wants to have people outside of their circle of friends respect and appreciate what they do.”
Douglas, Rohde and Stehl are in the midst of Omaha Comedy Week, which kicked off on Monday, July 15 at Slowdown.
Dylan Rohde and Back Line Improv Theatre are featured Friday, July 19 at Studio Gallery. When he’s not getting MMA fighter Houston Alexander to put on a dress and wig in the name of comedy, Rohde is busy running the theatre as its director. He moved to L.A. in 2005 and found himself taking the quintessential Hollywood waiter and barista jobs while trying to launch a career in comedy.
“After two years, I started editing video and realized I could make money that way,” Rohde says. “I offered to start doing it for free. The first person to respond was Matt Besser of the Upright Citizen Brigade (UCB). It branched out from there to Matt Walsh, another cofounder of UCB. I then decided to take an improv class. I just liked being on stage and making people laugh and doing funny voices while doing that.”
After he grew tired of the L.A. lifestyle, he moved to Omaha where he quickly set up shop and began teaching his own improv classes. Friday nights are his most popular and Rohde has watched some of his shyest students emerge from their shells. He agrees with Terry’s sentiments.
“Comedy is laughter, whether it’s comedy in your daily life or in a poster you see,” Rohde says. “I think it’s silly and stupid to put down anyone in your audience. You shouldn’t try to offend anyone in your audience. You can make fun of an idea, but not make fun of the audience.”
Stehl of Collabo Comedy takes a more relaxed approach. Inspired by OK Party Comedy, Stehl founded his group in the summer of 2012. Collabo Comedy’s slot during Omaha Comedy Week takes place Wednesday, July 17, at Barley Street Tavern. He hosts an open mic every Wednesday at Barely Street Tavern, as well.
“I don’t really care what someone does on stage as long as it’s funny,” Stehl says. “I don’t believe in censoring people. I don’t think any topic is off-limits. But if you go up there and talk about a touchy subject and it’s not funny, the audience will let you know. As far as ‘cheap shots’ go, it depends. Did that particular audience member deserve it? Was it funny? Again, I’m okay with anything as long as it’s funny and doesn’t ultimately destroy an audience member’s comedy fandom.”
Whether or not you’re a fan of stand-up comedy and improv, there’s something to be said about Omaha’s blossoming scene. There’s so much more to Omaha than the College World Series, Husker football and indie rock — there’s an abyssal community of creative people itching to share his or her individual talents with the world. Terry, Rohde and Stehl are determined to watch it happen with smiles plastered on everyone’s faces.
“I like to think of OK Party as a very punk rock style of comedy,” Terry concludes. “We’re just a bunch of fun party dudes who want everyone to have a good time. We’re like R-rated Ninja Turtles. We strive to be as professional as a bunch of weirdos in shorts can be, but we also want people to have a good time and cut loose at our shows. I encourage people to do the things that make them happy and make them feel the most creative.”
“The future of Omaha comedy is bright,” Stehl adds. “The scene is still very young — only about two years old. Collabo Comedy, OK Party Comedy and the individual comedians are working hard and getting better all the time. The growth in the past two years has been amazing. I can’t wait to see where we are in two more years.” ,
For more information and a full schedule, visit www.omahacomedyweek.com