…and I can’t imagine my comedy-life without it. I’ve said it so many times, but QED is the most fun I’ve ever had in ten years doing stand-up comedy. This coming Monday’s show, “RESET” marks the one-year anniversary, and I’m just as surprised as anybody that the show is where it is today. I mean that both positively and negatively, which I’ll make an attempt to explain here.
First of all, QED does have a formidable web presence, through the Facebook page here, a Tumblog here, a twitter feed, an instagram, and a YouTube page. Only one or two of those is updated with any frequency; we have no social media director and very little time outside of comedy to crunch the documentations onto the internet, as much as we would all love to.
So why is QED one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with? The simplest answer is that it’s unpredictable, dynamic, and really really goddamn fun. Much like the hit series ‘Louie,’ it reminds you that great comedy is not necessarily sidesplittingly hilarious- it is raw, thought-provoking, and above all, HONEST. At least I guess that’s a good point of comparison, since literally every single person I’ve met outside of comedy has asked me about that TV show when I mention that I do stand-up. If I may be allowed to sound bitter for a moment, I really wish even 5% of those self-professed “huge comedy fans” came out to see this show on a regular basis. I also have trouble keeping myself from fantasizing about the weekly sold-out audiences QED would have in a bigger city like Seattle. Those who have become fans and friends of the show are some of the most important people in the world to us, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel bad for people who keep passing up chances to come see the show for (ostensibly) free. I understand Monday nights are difficult for many people, and I also understand that some have their apprehensions about The Pilot Light, in all of its dive-bar glory. It’s a small wonder how many people probably own coffee table books that fetishize the history of CBGB’s around here but have never set foot inside of a smaller, locally vital, and most importantly OPEN version of CBGB’s right in their backyard. But this isn’t about the Pilot Light, either.
This post is about why QED is the fucking greatest. It began as an idea well over a year ago, germinating in the brain of Matthew Chadourne. I’ve been privileged to be on the de-facto Board of Directors for QED for over a year now, but a vast majority of the credit is due to Matt. He is responsible for most of the show ideas, the name, and the ingenious flyers some of you may have seen up around Knoxville this past year before some jerkwad tears them down. He has hosted most of the QED shows and at various times, ceded creative power and hosting duties to the QED cadre, spreading out the creative energy and in certain cases, giving newer comics their first opportunity to run a show. From where I sit, the results have been clear and overwhelmingly positive.
To explain just WHY you should be making it a point to participate in QED if you’re a comic, let me tell you a story about my own beginnings in stand-up. In mid-2005, I started going to open mics in DC. One of the so-termed “heavy-hitters” of the scene was a dude by the name of Rory Scovel. As intimidatingly good as he was onstage, Rory was always incredibly friendly and encouraging to younger comics like myself who had no idea what the hell we were doing. One of the underlying elements that made him so effective onstage was his ability to play off the top of his head. It didn’t take that many mistakes for the (non-delusional) comics to realize this wasn’t often that funny when we tried it. Along with a couple other standouts from the DC scene at the time, Scovel was the inspiration for me and a number of my friends to take improv classes with the Washington Improv Theater. No matter your personal feelings about the culture of Improv Comedy, taking part in it breaks you our of your joke writing and telling routine, forces you to interact with a changing room dynamic, and makes you more excited about what each performance can create. In other words, IT MAKES YOU A BETTER PERFORMER.
This brings me to one of QED’s greatest contributions. The theme changes every week. It often alternates between a premise that requires some advance preparation and a premise that lands in your lap when you get onstage. This forces you out of your comfort zone, it gives you the opportunity to be funny under whatever circumstances, and most importantly, it reminds you that on-stage failures (a sticking point for many a nascent comic) can happen to anyone and aren’t a big deal. In other words, IT MAKES YOU A BETTER PERFORMER.
I obviously have a pony in the race, but even if I didn’t, I would encourage anybody who is at all serious about comedy performance to join us on Mondays at the Pilot Light. People often ask me how they get involved. The answer is: show up. Bring ideas, bring enthusiasm, bring an open mind. Don’t be a dick (that is my one rule for every show I’ve ever run or had any influence over, not just QED). If you come one week and it isn’t for you, the show the next week will be different. Regardless of how many people are performing and who is on the lineup, every single week something happens onstage that will never happen again in any form elsewhere. Unlike what some may mistakenly think, this is NOT just for a small circle of us; we always want new performers, new fans, and to watch this thing grow in its second year. We wouldn’t still be here if it hadn’t been for the people who jumped on board in the show’s first year, so thanks to the fans/friends, bartenders, and of course Jason Boardman for letting us use his spot.
Let me catch you guys up on some of the highlights that explains just why QED Comedy Laboratory is the fucking greatest. Here is a list (in a very rough order, videos included for some of them) of some of my favorite sets from the first year of QED’s run.
- Todd Lewis – Mixtape – 11/3/14
I’ve told Todd repeatedly that this encapsulated pretty much everything great about QED, and I’ll post it if the video ever makes its way online. In a short-but-sweet anecdote, he told the story of his first slow-dance that was at once relate-able, sad, and really, really funny. It was basically an episode of ‘Pete & Pete’ scrunched into 3 minutes, and I absolutely loved it.
- Matt Ward – The Slideshow – 5/4/15
We decided to reprise this concept in honor of guests Chris Trew and Vanessa Gonzalez, and Matt Ward jumped onstage, opening his set by singing in his REO Speedwagon-meets-Bob Seger vocals to narrate the images passing behind him. The audience clapped to the beat… for the entire five minutes. He kept on singing through his entire set, and I couldn’t believe what I was watching.
- Matt Chadourne – First Pitch – 1/5/15
Matt coda’d this show with a brilliant idea: surreal comedy walking tours of downtown Knoxville. He pulled out his blue umbrella and took the whole crowd outside in a move that mimicked every “Invite Them Up”-style show of legend. Video evidence here.
- Erin Parrish – Untested – 11/17/14
Erin closed out our first “Untested” show – exclusively for first-timers in standup. She dreamt up a character of a feminist prop comic. “I only smash two things…BANANAS, AND THE PATRIARCHY.” If you weren’t there, no words are gonna capture it, really.
- Hunter Roberts – Comedy Killed the Video Star – 10/6/14
I had never seen R. Kelly’s “Gotham City” video until this night, and I don’t think I ever need to watch it again. “UH!”
- Sean Simoneau – Mixtape – 11/3/14
Sean’s sets are always show-highlights, but for this one, he offered a play-by-play of Hot Rod’s aural atrocity “I Like to Fuck (feat. Tila Tequila).” At one point, he paused the song, and squawked a disgusted and perfect ‘EWWW!’ that reminded me why I’m so grateful this dude decided to move to Knoxville.
- Jeff Blank – The Terrible Character Show – 9/8/14
This is bullshit! I had arms!
- Trae Crowder – Blue Umbrella Tours – 4/3/15
We were shocked how so many people showed up to this. Trae showed up to lead a portion of the tours in character; I laughed out loud when I saw his torn jean-jacket and trucker hat. His God-fearing redneck brought the crowd down a rainy Gay Street, refusing an umbrella because “if the good Lord wants me to get wet…”
- Michael Shibley – QED Trust Fall – 9/29/14
Our first Trust Fall show, or our first attempt at moving outside of the explicitly funny, was a runaway success, mainly because it brought Riki Higgins into the fold, but it also let a handful of people who rarely get to talk publicly about interesting sides of themselves, an opportunity to share. Shibley was one of them, and he talked about strange incidents from his youth involvement with the Catholic church that gave me a whole new respect for him (not that I ever lacked respect for him, but you know what I mean).
- Jeff Blank – Dear Penthouse… – 9/1/14
Jeff had been talking about this idea for as long as Matt and I had known him, and QED finally gave him the canvas to present it. He hosted the show, then he concluded with his own comedic letter to Penthouse that only he could have written. We’re all too old for this shit.
It was very hard to cap this thing at ten. Special mentions go out to Jay Kendrick vs. Pretty Much Anyone in the “It’s Debatable” Show, Riki Higgins’ wonderful ukulele QED Theme song (which we should have up, at the very least, on Soundcloud soon), Jay Kendrick’s heartbreaking story he shared as a Trust Fall episode at “The Make Up Show” we did after the Scruffy City Comedy Festival, David Habel’s reciting the gas station scene from ‘No Country for Old Men’ line-for-line for no discernible reason at the aQEDemy Awards (not to mention Shane Rhyne’s brilliant hosting and prop work on that show), and plenty others that made us smile. Here’s to year two of being Knoxville’s home for experimental comedy since right now.