From `Stella' to standup

Michael Showalter hits the stage running, with help from Michael Ian Black

October 05, 2006|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun Reporter

Comedian, screenwriter and actor Michael Showalter likes coming to Baltimore for a couple of reasons.

For one, he enjoys doing standup at the Ottobar. He's performed there three or four times, and is looking forward to coming back for another night of comedy with Michael Ian Black on Tuesday night.

"It's just a really good venue," Showalter said. "All the comedians who've done shows there single it out. ... The way that the club is laid out, it's just a very intimate space. It's a very edgy, cool space."

But Showalter also likes the city for more devious reasons.

"Baltimore is where I buy my crack," he said.

Showalter's dry delivery and outrageous sense of humor have scored him cult hits with the film Wet Hot American Summer and TV shows Stella, Reno 911 and The State. But his jokes also tend to polarize people, and have so far limited his audience to a select group.

"It seems to be that overeducated, disenfranchised white people seem to like what I do the most," Showalter said. "I find that bearded guys in their mid-20s who watch Battlestar Galactica really like me a lot."

But that doesn't discourage Showalter in the slightest. Just knowing that he's created material that people enjoy is meaningful, he said. And, he says for the record, he is always trying to broaden his material.

"I want what I'm doing to be enjoyable to other types of people too," he said.

When Stella's run ended about a year ago, Showalter decided to dive into standup comedy. He saw it as a way to better connect with his fans, and immediately enjoyed its simplicity. For Showalter, performing live is much less insulated than working on a film or TV set, and also gives him an outlet to loosen up some.

"It's gotten me to kind of not take myself too seriously," Showalter said. "It helps also to get a sense from direct interaction with an audience of what I'm doing that's funny and what's not funny."

Some of Showalter's jokes are fresh, and some go back about a decade, he said. The older ones are the real gems -- the ones that never wear out and probably never will, he said.

After all, "John Cougar Mellencamp still sings `Paper in Fire' at his concerts," Showalter said.

While Showalter said he can see himself doing standup for the foreseeable future, he's also started working on a possible new TV show and movie. Right now, he's waiting to get the green light to make a pilot for the TV series, a reality show involving sketch comedy. The film, which he just started penning, is a New York City comedy he starts to compare to a Woody Allen flick and then hesitates.

"I was going to say it's going to be as good as Annie Hall, but then I thought that that would be a really presumptuous thing for me to say, considering Annie Hall is probably the best movie ever made," Showalter said.

But for now, standup is a main priority. At Tuesday's show, Showalter and Black will come out together, joke around, and then Showalter will perform his own set and Black will do his. The most important part comes afterward:

"Then we'll go hit on groupies."

Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black perform standup comedy at the Ottobar on Tuesday. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $17. The Ottobar is at 2549 N. Howard St. Information: 410-662-0069 or theottobar.com.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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