Jesse Stoddard

Weekend Update: A trip to Ryan Stile’s theater, Kevin McDonald, and The Seattle International Comedy Competition

Comedy Update

Well, I didn’t make it to an open mic Friday night, but I still had a full weekend of comedy. My daughter literally stood at the door and told me I wasn’t allowed to leave that night. For you young single people, you will probably think I am a big wimp and you wouldn’t understand.

For you father’s however—you know that I am hopelessly in love with my daughter and completely helpless when it comes to her spells. Our son was at grandma’s that night and Keira wanted daddy-daughter time. So I quickly and easily caved, and decided open mic at the Thumbnail Theater could wait.

If you are reading my blog entries for my blog-to-book project Life After High School, you knew I recently attended my high school reunion. That day, I ran into my old high school buddy Jason Mann. We hit it off just like the good old days and so we decided to hang out and catch some comedy.

He invited my wife and me to go up to Bellingham to Ryan Stile’s The Upfront Theatre, for a special show, featuring Kevin McDonald from Kids in The Hall. The theater up there (which I refuse to spell with a “re”), is a charming place, well kept and clean, complete with great black and white photos of various performers and scenes from their stage over the years. Of course, Ryan Stiles is famous from the TV show “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” but I don’t know if he is actually ever there. I heard he lives there, but I imagine he has to travel a lot.

A show with Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall
A show with Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall

With decades of experience and a long list of film, TV and stage credits, McDonald could easily be considered an expert in comedy. A founding member of The Kids in The Hall troupe, he established his comedy credentials during 28 years with them. Through his experience of making people laugh, he’s seen the evolution of his own comedy writing, starting with improv and flourishing into scripted ideas.

The idea was that earlier that day, McDonald was going to teach a sketch comedy class and then do a show in the evening, which included the work the students did that day. McDonald opened with a stand-up set, then the students did their quickly produced sketches, and then McDonald joined the Upfront Theatre ensemble members for improv based on audience suggestion(s).

We met my buddy Jason in Burlington and drove up the rest of the way with him and his new girlfriend of two months he met on They seemed really happy and a good match, so I guess it works. Mae and I are pretty old fashioned and we can’t really imagine having to date in this “modern world” at our age at all, much less on the crazy Internet. I guess that is what people have to do nowadays. Crazy.

At The Upfront Theater with friends

We went to dinner at La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza just down the street. It was a busy night and we had to wait twenty minutes, but it was worth it. We had a great conversation, the service was good and the food was great. We shared a pizza for the four of us and got some excellent salads. I would go there again.

Now onto the comedy review…

Ok, so I really like Kids In The Hall. It was from my era. I also like Kevin McDonald…


We didn’t think his stand up comedy set was all that good. His other skills (sketch and improv) are of course stellar, but his stand up set left us a little disappointed. I am not a harsh critic, either. I love giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. After all, I know I am new and I am definitely no Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, or Tim Hawkins (my three favorite comedians).

He was obviously not that experienced and was drawing attention to that fact (which helped). He was also trying something a bit arty in my opinion, which was to kind of do a stand up set about doing stand up. My buddy Jason leaned over to me and whispered: “It’s like he’s doing a sketch about stand-up comedy.” I couldn’t agree more. Now, that alone is not a problem… As long as it is funny. Which it wasn’t most of the time.

Being completely objective, I would guess he got maybe one laugh for every minute on stage. The problem with that is a headliner level comedian needs to get about four to six laughs per minute (or approximately 18 seconds of laughter for every 60 seconds on stage). He was probably getting only five to ten seconds of laughter for each minute. I don’t care who you are or what you are doing—if you are doing stand-up comedy, you need to have the audience laughing, otherwise, it is just a lecture or in this case, a bizarre speech.

Kevin’s students got up and did their class work, which was as good as could be expected from amateurs who created something in one day. I noticed that there was an Upfront ensemble member with each group, presumably to help them out a bit and make sure there was some level of quality of performance.

The end of the show was all improv, which was by far our favorite part. This really surprised me, since often improvisation, due to its very nature, is the least funny of the three genres of comedy if for no other reason than they have no time to rehearse. In this case, however, the ensemble players did an outstanding job. They have obviously spent time together gelling as a team, and have a diverse cross section of talents. I love team sports, and they were definitely on the winning side of the evening.


My Own Improv Experience

About a month ago I audition for and got an ensemble role with the improv and sketch comedy troupe Turbo Turkey. The audition was through TPS, the most popular call board, and theater arts organization in Seattle.

turboturkeyLast night we had our first rehearsal. The group has a revolving cast, based on their availability. In other words, if I can commit to rehearsals, I get to be in the next show. December 18th, here I come.

The rehearsal last night was kind of funny. Normally they meet at the TPS studios at the Seattle Center. Due to a conflict in the schedule at the studios, we had to meet in Josh’s basement… which was set up as a shop with work benches, drill presses and saws… which we couldn’t move and simply worked around.

It was really fine for our purposes, and I understand it’s difficult (or expensive) to find space in the city.

However, if I was a new person, especially a woman, I would probably be very afraid to have to walk down some dark alley in south Seattle, find some lonely duplex squeezed in between apartment buildings, go down to the “storm cellar” in the rain (and did I mention dark?) and then walk into a dungeon with power tools and a bunch of sweaty men.

And the first girl that showed up, did her best not to show it on her face. Luckily, she wasn’t killed.

We played improv games (essentially improvisational exercises designed to give you a great creative workout) from 6pm to 9pm… and we loved every second of it.

crackpot comedy cavalcade collective
my comedy troupe

Incidentally, if you happen to by in my area, I have a meetup-type group that gets together for the purpose of loving comedy doing improv jams, as well as comedy writing. It is called the Crackpot Comedy Cavalcade.

This week!

2016-seattle-international-comedy-competitonWe are checking out something really cool with some friends on Wednesday. This might become one of my goals.

This Wednesday, I got tickets for Mae and me to go see one night of the Seattle International Comedy Competition in Edmonds. We are going to visit our friends in Edmonds for dinner first, and then will catch the show. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I am pondering whether or not to make the competition something I will want to participate in. Perhaps next year.

Picture of Jesse Stoddard

Jesse Stoddard


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