Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun





 {Photo credit: Heather Christianson}


The three of us sit together around a microcorder in a dark corner of Chop Suey. It is Wednesday night at the Laff Hole and last minute arrangements are being made before doors open at 9:00. As PROK comics Kevin Hyder and Emmett Montogmery sit down to speak with me, Kevin muses over a potentially serious problem. “I need a rib bone…” he says, “For my act. I need something like a rib bone that I can pull out of a dummy and scratch my back with…This is a real problem for us, you can write that down…Maybe we can go somewhere that sells meat.” The rest of the interview is occasionally punctuated by screams, heavy metal guitar riffs, and a hurdy gurdy to which neither bat an eye. “Tonight is going to be a…different kind of show,” says Montgomery, with an arch smile, which is something that could easily be said on any given night at the Laff Hole.


Hyder and Montgomery are two of the founding members of the People’s Republic of Komedy (also known as PROK). PROK will be curating the local comedy events on the Comedy West stage at Bumbershoot this year. We spoke at length about PROK, Bumbershoot, and…botany.


Your purpose, according to your website is to create an artistic co-op dedicated to raising the visibility and stature of stand-up comedy in the Seattle arts community- do you feel like you have been successful in your mission?


EM:  When we first started doing comedy there were only two opportunities for spaces. Since we’ve done comedy, there are a lot of them and there are people that produce their own shows. We didn’t come up with the idea, but I think it’s definitely more of a society.


KH:  I think at a time when that wasn’t going on, we recognized a need and started doing it and then continued to do it and were able to raise up other people that followed in those footsteps and did it for themselves on other levels. Emmett and I still have a big say in what happens in the organization, but the organization really consists of 5-7 regularly occurring shows that are produced by different people in our group. The People’s Republic of Komedy and the Laff Hole are our flagship shows, kind of the epicenter and these other shows have grown up around it. Our regular participants are starting to break off and do their own thing. We were more inspired by the Comedians of Comedy and comics that were going outside the structure of the comedy club and more toward the rock club alternative scene. For me, that was a big inspiration, finding comedy out there that speaks to me.


EM: Comedy doesn’t just belong in comedy clubs. It belongs everywhere- on busses, in the park, etc.


KH: We’ve done it in middle schools.


EM: What we are doing is an extension of that and the nature of the comedy does change depending on the venue. I do think it is unfortunate that there is a stigma to comedy clubs that scares away certain types of people, because they are missing out on something special. What we are doing is a direct result of Seattle’s rich comedy tradition and the Comedy Underground is our home club (they even sponsor the comedy in the park, and Ron thier manager is in charge of
our national representation) and the comedy community for the most part has nurtured us.
We’re finding so many different kinds of acts out there. It’s not just standup anymore.


KH: We’re intentionally reaching out to the communities that were kind of separated- the stand-ups hung with stand-ups, the sketchers hung with sketchers, the improvers hung with the improvers. When you see the Bumbershoot lineup this year, I think you’ll see its an example of exactly what we are trying to do with PROK, to reach out to all these groups that do some of the most bizarre things you’ll ever see, but they’re all part of the larger community and I think we’ve done a good job of drawing them into the fold.


EM: Having a place with no really rules and a good stage with a good crowd is an amazing thing. The worst problems we’ve ever had with Chop Suey is having problems with power.


KH: We have really great problems, actually, like “Argh, why won’t this plastic tiger light on fire, or I can’t find a rib bone for tonight’s act.”


Do you feel a sense of responsibility to nurture or support newer local comedians on the rise, especially considering the purpose of PROK?


EM: It’s been really nice. I think every one is on their own personal journey. It’s really an individual thing. I think when you have other people going through what you are, it makes you better. It’s really nice to see other people and you want them do well and when I can help them out. In some ways, it’s very selfish. The more talented comics we have, the better our shows are and the more exposure we get, the further we can go.


KH: I think developing new talent is very important to us and we do like to keep a close eye on who’s starting up in the club, and who’s starting to do the open mike nights or standup showcases here and there. We try to keep our ear to the ground as to who is getting to that point and then we try to tap them and give them opportunities on some of our smaller stages first, and then eventually give them an opportunity to do a smaller set at Laff Hole, which is our bigger show, and that is the natural evolution. It’s kind of like the graduate school of comedy. You’ve gotta do the prereqs. 


EM: You get surprised sometimes- people go hog wild.


KH: We have a lot of people who we’ve seen do really well, so we give them an opportunity on our stage and they show up with some ridiculous multimedia thing that they just pull out. They really bring it because I think they know the stakes are high. When you put people in that situation, they do their best work and that’s been really fun to see.


Did you get to hand pick the acts for the regional comedy stage for Bumbershoot?


KH: Basically, the first year that Bumbershoot approached us, they asked if we wanted to do something and I think they were under the impression that if they asked us if we would do a show for them and we came back and said we wanted to book the entire weekend on the Vera Stage. We gave them a proposal of 12 shows – 4 a day.


EM: We got half of em.


KH: They said “We would love to do this but it’s our 1st year working with you, so we’ll give you 6 and see how you do.” After that, we sort of ended up running the stage anyways because the other 6 were people we’d worked with before and we’d done so many shows with the larger comedy community that it kinda became our stage anyways. So the next year, they said “You guys can run the stage.” This is the second year we’ve booked, produced, and run all 12 shows.


EM: There’s a lot more variety in these (Bumbershoot) shows and less standup than usual. I think that’s kind of how it’s evolving. Before, it was rare to have more than one kind of comedy. Now everyone is sort of multi-tasking. It’s important for people’s careers. It can get you tapped for bigger projects.


KH: I was a little worried about that when we first booked Bumbershoot. There is a lot of variety. We don’t have many straight standup shows. I was looking at the national stages to see what was happening, and a lot of the comics that Bumbershoot was bringing in on a national level were doing the same things. They were all doing these thematic shows instead of doing standup after standup. A lot of them are doing things like the MySpace show or thematic shows and are stretching the bounds of what comedy is. That’s what we’re doing.


EM: We don’t just have to perform in a club. There are so many ways to express yourself now, like You Tube and MySpace. There are so many tools available to us now. That’s why curated shows are so great. This isn’t just an open mike or sort of a random thing. This is something that’s been handpicked.


-An involved discussion about Kevin’s rib bone issue occurred between these questions. Options included a chicken heart, a soup bone, naugahyde dog bone, or “any kind of meat that looks like it could be pulled out of your body.”


What is it like to be a comic watching other comics perform?  Can you do it objectively?


EM: I don’t laugh as much as I used to. There’s no objectivity.


KH: I would say we don’t watch them objectively- that’s not our job. Our job is to be very subjective- we’re curating the best show we think we know how. We do have to make those hard decisions. That becomes a tough thing. Sometimes people say “I kill in a club; I’ve been doing this for so long, why haven’t I gotten an opportunity to do the stage?” We have to say, “We know our audience.” We built this collective with a very particular voice, and a very particular brand, and we’ve built an audience along with it. As much as we respect that people work hard, and we really understand, we really need to do what’s best for the stage and for the audiences we’re trying to speak to.


EM: We’ve had to say no to our friends before. There’s stuff in these types of shows that are happening all over the country that you can’t do in a comedy club or on a cruise ship and vice versa, but sometimes you have wonderful professionals that come here and kill. There’s just a universal thread. I love seeing that happen here. I feel like I’ve learned something- I feel like it makes me a better comedian.


Is there any comedian you are particularly excited to see?


EM: Maria Bamford. I saw her years ago at Bumbershoot. She is a huge influence, so much so that I was afraid I might start sounding like her. I am really looking forward to seeing her perform. I had the opportunity to open for her at Sasquatch, which was amazing. She was such a nice lady. I was on Cloud 9. Really excited to see her. Also, a lot of people we’ve befriended, supporters are performing on the national stage, so that’s nice.


Are you or any other PROK member participating in Best of Seattle International Comedy Competition, or do you have to disqualify yourself because of your management of the event?


EM: We both have competed in the past. I still have the scars on my heart from it. We’re all involved in it.


KH: Comedy Underground is our home club, so it’s kind of the epicenter.


So it’s people that have already competed?


EM: It’s a best of competition, so there will be people who won ten years ago or were finalist two years ago sort of thing. This is a special year because of the 30th anniversary of one of the longest-standing international comedy competitions in the country and has produced some great leads. Some amazing people have failed there, like Dave Atell…and…me.


As a comedian, what would you say is the most important aspect of making a lasting connection with your audience?


EM: I think good comedy is equal parts unique and universal, so if you’re a performer, you’re sharing a special part of you, so you want it to be universal enough so people can identify with you, sort of like “I’m different from you because we’re the same.” One of the things that makes our shows successful is that people are doing things they genuinely love and because of that, I think the audience sees it and enjoys it. We’re not doing it to be famous; we’re doing it to get something out of ourselves. Being famous might actually be nice.


KH: Being famous would be pretty awesome.


EM: We’ll sell out as soon as it happens.


KH: We’re not above that.


How do you react to an unresponsive audience?


EM: When you’re bombing? There’s all kinds of different bombing, and we’ve experienced every one of them. Some shows, you have just not made a connection. Other shows, it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened, and you feel like no one was even there to see it.


The highs and lows must be really intense.


EM: Sometimes, you go to bed and you say to yourself, “Man, what happened?” Other times you can’t sleep because you’re so excited.


Do you have any advice for would be PNW comics?


KH: I’d say just perform. Do the open mike nights; do it any time you have an opportunity. It will help you become a better performer, get your timing down. Like anything anyone is good at, you have to practice and develop your skills.


EM: I’d also add to not be afraid to talk to other comics. We’re really nice people. Come up to us after shows, ask us questions, get to know us. We’re vain. We love that.


Anything else Three Imaginary Girls readers should know about PROK, the comedy stage at Bumbershoot, or PNW comedy in general?


KH: We wanted to let everyone know about the Bumbershoot Comedy after party at Chop Suey on Sunday, September 6th.  It’s usually an opportunity for all the comics from out of town to come, hang out, get together…It’s like a big comedy gangbang.


And finally, because I’ve always wanted to ask this in an interview, and it couldn’t seem more appropriate- if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?


KH: I would be a mighty sapling.


EM: Have you ever heard of those pitcher plants in the Philippines? The ones that eat rats?


KH: So you don’t wanna be a tree, you wanna be a rat eating plant?


EM: Yeah, I think so.


By the close of the interview, the rib issue had yet to be resolved. Showtime was rapidly approaching. Busty women in tiny green gingham dresses handed out Little Debbie’s oatmeal pies. A man who looked like Satan paced nervously in the hallway behind the stage. Tonight’s was to be a different show indeed.