Stella altering the state of comedy today

Trio of comics is creating an alternative to stand-up

Scene: Clubs, Bars, Nightlife

April 10, 2003|By Mike Morris | Mike Morris,SUN STAFF

THE TRIO — Comedian David Wain is hoping to break away from the "Seinfeld mold" of "cookie-cutter stand-up comedy" when he and fellow comedians Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter perform Sunday at the Ottobar.

The trio -- who worked on the early-'90s MTV series The State and 2001's critically acclaimed summer camp spoof Wet Hot American Summer -- aim to introduce Charm City to its brand of alternative comedy with their improv group Stella.

Don't expect typical stand-up comedy from these guys. Instead, Wain says, the group will be more experimental when garnering laughs from the audience. They even plan to show a couple of short films during their two-hour performance.

"We're very loose," Wain says. "We have a great time with the crowd."

Wain, Showalter and Black (who appears on NBC's Ed) started Stella in 1997 as a weekly nightclub comedy show that soon became the "premier venue for alternative comedy in New York," Wain said.

Running for six years at Fez in New York's Greenwich Village, the trio played host to such guests as Janeane Garofalo, Ben Stiller and the Upright Citizens Brigade.

When the group posted some of its short films on its Web site, www.stellacomedy.com, they were flooded with e-mails from fans around the country that wanted to see the show.

This prompted the trio to schedule a gig in Philadelphia, which "sold out in two seconds," as Wain puts it. Then, the group decided to take their show on the road.

Baltimore is the final stop on the 11-date tour, which also features New York comedian Eugene Mirman. Born in Russia, Mirman moved to the United States in 1979 and has since appeared on the Late Show With Conan O'Brien. Also performing will be local pop band the Vita Men.

Wain, Black and Showalter have been writing, producing and performing comedy since they met back in 1988 as students at New York University. While at NYU, they helped create the sketch comedy troupe The State, which went on to a successful run on MTV.

In addition, the trio has had a CBS prime-time special, made a comedy album for Warner Brothers Records and written a book, State by State.

The cult hit film Wet Hot American Summer, written and produced by Wain and Showalter and directed by Wain, met a considerable amount of positive buzz when it premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. The comedy, about the last day of summer camp in 1981, stars Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce and Molly Shannon. Wain and Showalter are now prepping their next film, a romantic comedy parody set in New York.

While Wain says the praise of Wet Hot American Summer was "very gratifying," he humbly recalls trying to get Stella off the ground and running.

So how did Stella get its name?

Wanting to bring the group's show to Fez in New York, the trio desperately tried to impress their booking agent, so they did what any reasonable comedians would do: They named their group after the pregnant agent's soon-to-be-born daughter.

For more nightlife events, see page 35.

Stella

What: Improv comedy group featuring David Wain, Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter

Where: The Ottobar, 2549 Howard St.

When: 9 p.m. Sunday (doors open at 8)

Admission: $12

Call: 410-662-0069

Visit: www.theottobar.com

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