Friday, April 09, 2010

Comics in Love: A Setup, a Punchline and a Segue

Relationships aren’t usually hilarious as a rule. Sure, your significant other hopefully has a sense of humor, but if their jokes annoy you, things can get contentious rather quickly. Humor can either enhance the relationship and make it fun or send both parties for the door.

But, what happens when two comics hook up, or maybe even get married? I have personal experience, because last year I married a former standup comic who is now a chef. Some of our friends have said, “Wow, it must be a laugh riot at your house all the time?” But in reality, we’re surprisingly unfunny and hyper-critical of each other’s jokes.

So, that’s why I was fascinated when I met Chantel Williams and Dr. Brian King, two San Francisco comics who’ve been dating for a while and book a comedy room at Castagnola’s on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I asked them a series of questions and their responses were both entertaining and informational.

Q: How did you meet and what were your situations relationship-wise before you hooked up? What were your relationships like prior to getting together?

King: I like to tell people we met at a truck stop near Pendleton, Oregon. I was passing through and she was serving up grits. The reality is much less romantic, we met online. The Internet is what’s for dinner. People sit around all the time bitching that they can’t fine “the one”, but I’ve always enjoyed being single. I love it. In fact, I’d rather be single than in a relationship, it just suits me better. I don’t believe that any one person holds the key to my happiness, and I know for a fact that I could never be that for someone else. I think that’s one reason Chantel and I work so well together, because she’d probably prefer to be single too. We are fiercely independent and very comfortable with each other’s independence. I also try not to acknowledge just how long I’ve known her, because I’m sure that if we were to ever recognize our tenure or celebrate an anniversary, it would be over almost immediately after.

Williams: We're the only people who will admit that we met online except for those people on the eHarmony commercials. The truth of the matter is that eHarmony almost rejected me and if they almost rejected me I'm sure they rejected Brian. I'm a single mom and at the time my children and I were preparing for them to go to college and leave the nest. I might be the youngest empty-nester on the face of the planet. I'm a serial dater. I was not interested in a traditional marriage, children, suburbs, minivans, etc. I love the city and wanted to stay in the city forever. Brian thinks Portland Oregon wasn't a proper city so he was generally hard to hang around. I dated a lot of really nice guys who often moved out of the country to escape being madly in love with me. For the most part my relationships ended because a.) I didn't want more children or b.) I had children. It's a Catch 22 in my life at all times.

Q: Do you write jokes with each other?

King: We try, but we have very different writing styles. For example, I’m funny. Chantel will come to me with a typical chick premise “guys and girls are different!” without a punch line and say I should put it in my act. Also, she likes puns and knock-knock jokes, and she thinks Dane Cook is hilarious. She usually thinks everything I write sucks, which is only mostly true. However, we do use each other to write. Her first stand-up set was trashing me at my roast, and a lot of her material centers around her idiot boyfriend (I swear if I ever meet the guy, I’d love to buy him a drink). As a reaction, I came up with a few sweet come-backs to her act that has worked their way into my sets as well. For a recent Valentine’s Day show, we did back-to-back sets ripping into each other. It was very cathartic. We rarely fight at home, so the stage is a good outlet.

Williams: Brian has decided that every time he opens his mouth he's trying to write a joke. We no longer have normal conversations; it’s him saying something stupid and me being disgusted and walking out of the room in a huff. We have different work styles. I'm focused on the task at hand and he is all over the map. We do work out material together but I have a writing partner Tom Smith, another local comic and Brian has to write jokes in a room by himself. He generally drives me crazy.

Q: What are some funny experiences while you've been together?

King: We’ve had a lot of good times, but none that really stand out in memory as funny. We travel a lot, I love a road trip and she is generally up for anything. We were recently stuck in Donner Pass during a snow storm and had to contemplate the pros and cons of cannibalism. Thankfully I had a big breakfast in Reno that morning.

Williams: Brian is the funniest most uninhibited person I've ever known. When he travels he takes in every tourist opportunity, when he's at home he's generally doing something fun. He has no motivation for anything if it isn't going to be fun. He has a severe case of ADD and I truly never know what he's going to come up with next. Our fun usually happens around road trips. Our most recent road trip was Christmas. He found out I had never been to Joshua Tree and within 10 hours we were packed in the car with the dog on a four-day road trip that took us through Joshua Tree, the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas and Death Valley. While in Joshua Tree, Brian dressed in his Santa suit and we took photos as he walked the dog. My life is less predictable since I met Brian and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Q: Is it difficult running a comedy room with each other?

King: Not at all, it actually works really well. We balance each other out. I’m the nutty creative and she’s the serious manager. I’m also the fearless promoter and loud-mouth attention whore whereas she’s organized and calculated. This balance has been one of the keys to our success so far; we complement each other well. For those psych geeks out there, I’m the Id and she’s the Super Ego of our comedy club. Without her, I’d have topless Tuesdays, go-go dancers between sets, and a midget in a crab suit dancing in a bowl of steamy chowder… I know sounds awesome right? But I bet it’d be a disaster to carry out and the chowder would probably scald the midget, so there’d be a lawsuit in there for sure. Sorry, I understand they don’t like being called that, I think the politically correct term is “Crustacean-American”. Also, I’d be banging a lot more of the female comedians than I am currently. And I’d never wear pants.

Williams: I think it’s difficult for any couple to work together. We have some interesting problems because Brian has severe ADD and I'm extremely linear and disciplined when I'm working. However Brian does all of our booking because he has amazing skills building spreadsheets and diligently keeps track of everyone. We are a good fit creatively because when I feel I'm limited Brian see's no limits. Two weeks ago I told Brian I would like to have a week of gay comedy at Castagnola's to celebrate Pride. This week we have a Gay Comedy Festival with a movie screening and a Drag Queen host. That's a good example of our work styles - it’s complementary. We do often bicker over details but the results are generally extraordinary.

Q: Have you ever considered being a comedy duo?

King: We get asked this a lot. I think we are actually starting to succumb to the pressure. A few months ago we started collaborating on a podcast we call “You’re An Effin’ Moron”, which is basically a discussion of the stupid things I say and do and her calling me a moron. Comic gold, I tell ya. Gold. For example, out of our first episode you got to hear such gems as the time I accidentally motor boated the dog and that “Maya Angelou is a sweet piece of tang”. We also get booked to do a lot of radio gigs together; people seem to love our banter. I mentioned earlier that we are writing jokes about each other and have performed sets back-to-back. We are actually working on a duo stage act based on this and our usual dynamic. We were all set to debut as a duo recently, but we did get stuck in Donner Pass. I think that both of us are great as individual performers, but put us together and you really get something that is much more than a sum of the parts. We’ll be working on our duo act this year, but I also don’t want us to lose our individual stage identities in the process.

Williams: I think Brian and I are naturally graduating into a comedy duo at times. We started a podcast together called “You're an E'ffing Moron”. Again another moment where I had an idea because we were driving in the car and I realized how often I tell Brian he's a moron. Our interactions are unlike any other. He says something stupid and I call him an idiot. We've been working to bring it to the stage but as everything else we don't want to rush it because we need to grow as performers and let the rest happen organically.

Q: Are your arguments funny?

King: I think they are. She just gets pissed.

Williams: Yes. Brian has a PhD in Human Sexuality and he's an extremely liberal person. He thinks that if he thinks the world works the way he wants it to that it actually does. We argue over feminism, his ideas that the entire population should be in an open relationship and who walks the dog the most. I usually throw something and call him a jerk. And then he tells me he loves me and it’s all over. That's how our podcast was started. He told the dog that "he wished I was more like her". A fight started and we have a podcast.

Q: Are you tough critics of each other?

King: Like a lot of artists, I think we are tougher critics of ourselves. We are also pretty realistic and we know when something wasn’t working or needs to improve. We are also comfortable enough to enjoy it when things go well. Because I’ve been doing comedy longer, I’ll give her notes on her performances and material. I learned a lot of lessons by just being on stage that I have been able to share with her now that she’s performing as well. And of course, we are both so new that we are constantly learning and developing.

Williams: I'm a tough critic in general. Brian is critical but less judgmental. I hold myself and others to a high standard; Brian fails to reach those standards every day. (LOLOLOL) But, we are endless supporters of one another and that's the reason we work so well. I've never had an idea that Brian didn't support. The guy does not know what it means to want something and not have it. I do push him and he pushes me. Our job is to bring out the best in each other.

To find out more about Chantel Williams and Dr. Brian King, check out these links: www.wharfroomcomedy.com
www.lifeandtimesofchantel.com (Chantel’s blog, which has moved into a more promotional instead of writing focused blog)
http://drbriankingandchantelwilliams.podbean.com/ (Their podcast, which is also posted on my blog when new episodes come out.)& of course www.drbrianking.com

8 comments:

Arlene said...

You live in my favorite city! :-D I've never been to a comedy show there though, which is quite sad, and reading this really makes me want to!

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