Tucked away in the back of High Dive bar in Park Slope is “School’s Out”, a fun comedy show hosted by Park Slope native Drew Dowdey and non-native Jenn Welch. I caught up with the two comics to discuss various ways of enticing an audience and why there are so many comics in New York. You can catch “School’s Out” the second and fourth Thursday of the month.
AC: How did this show come together?
Jenn Welch: It all started with an OK Cupid profile 2 or 3 years ago.
Drew Dowdey: I was doing standup and she was an improve instructor at the PIT. We went on one date. I took her to a show, Whiplash – which is a really big show that UCB hosts. She fell in love with comedy.
JW: I had been wanting to be a standup but I hadn’t met anyone who was actively doing it. When I met Drew, he was like “I go to 4 open mics a day, here’s what my schedule’s like. Here’s a show that I didn’t even realize was happening at UCB because I was just not in the stand up world yet. Aziz Ansari was there that night and all these amazing comics. Michelle Wolf was there that night. That date was sort of a “this is what I’m supposed to be doing” moment for me. I don’t know what it was for you.
DD: I felt good because I introduced you to standup.
JW: You didn’t know yet.
DD: We had that date and then we didn’t talk for a year which is typical for OK cupid dates. I went to an open mic at The PIT and she was there and she had been doing standup for a couple of months, I just didn’t know. Was it awkward?
JW: No, I was really excited to see you. I had been wanting to run into you because I was running shows and then I saw you and I was like “Hey Drew” because you don’t want to be weirdo and be like “Hey, person I went on one date with.” By the way, let’s make it clear – nothing happened.
DD: You did tell me that you love me.
JW: I did. And then you proposed to me, and you cried. But I had been wanting to run into him, because this is a big life thing for me because you go on these dumb dates with people and it’s important to always take something from it – and I took a lot from that one about how to do stand up and the work ethic of what needs to happen. There’s a work ethic behind it that I wasn’t aware of. I want to point out that I was a sketch writer in LA for 5 years before I even moved to New York City in 2010.
DD: It’s not stand-up.
JW:There was a part of the process I didn’t understand yet.
DD: I helped her connect the dots.
JW: You helped me see the bigger picture of what I needed to do. You can get really good at improv going to 2 rehearsals a week with a team doing 3 shows a month. You can get good at improve, not great at improv, but good at it. You cannot get good at standup comedy going to 3 open mics a month. You can stand up comedy, but you won’t get good at it. To be great at standup comedy, you have to become obsessed.
DD:They’re both comedic genres, but they’re different. You could be really good at improv and bad at standup or great at standup and bad at improv. That’s how we met and we booked each other on a couple of shows. I’ve always wanted to have a show in my neighborhood because I live out here and Jenn lives out here – and I used to work here. I was looking for a venue and the owner of the venue asked me if I wanted to run a show here. I have no organizational skills and Jenn is very good at that and she’s hilarious, so I asked her. It’s funny because I called her up and said “I’m starting a show at High Dive” and she cut me off and said “First of all, you know I’m running it with you.”
DD:She didn’t even allow me the opportunity to ask her. So I got Debo’d.
JW:What does that mean?
DD: Debo, from Friday. He’s like the big bully on the block. I was calling to ask you but you bullied me before I could ask you. I was just about to start asking venues and I felt weird about asking the owner here because I used to work here, and then he asked me when he saw me, so it kind of fell into my lap. He knew I was doing stand up but he’d never seen me do it. The first time he saw me do it was our first show here, which went really well.
JW: The whole getting people into the bar for this purpose – you can’t have an ego and run a comedy show.
DD: You kind of have to prostitute yourself in a certain way. Whenever I’m barking to people out there, I feel like I’m a prostitute, because I’m trying to sell myself. “Free comedy show, free popcorn, starts in 15 minutes.” Most people won’t even say anything and that kind of hurts but it’s part of the process.
JW:I find if I yell at men who are passing by they actually come into the show. They respond to that for some reason. Having a tiny bespectacled woman yell at them to come watch comedy.
AC: What do you say to them?
JW: What the fuck else are you going to be doing tonight?
DD: She gets way more aggressive than I do. I just smile and most people think I’m security.
JW: What we’re finding here is I do a lot of bullying. I bullied my way onto the show as a host and now I bully people to watch it.
DD: And it works, actually.
JW: The nice thing about Drew is that Drew is born and raised in Park Slope. If you walk around the neighborhood with Drew Dowdey, he’s like the mayor of Park Slope. Every block there are three people who are like “Drewww!”
DD: That’s what happens when you live in the same neighborhood your whole life. I basically just get all of my friends to come out, and the tactic is guilt.
JW: I think people tend to be really surprised. We book people who are working in the clubs making a living doing stand up comedy. We book comics who have been on Conan and Comedy Central and have half hours. TruTV. We book people who are working and making their living in comedy, so I think when people are like “We’re going to see Drew’s little show” one week a woman came up to me and was like “I had no idea it was actually going to be good.” Especially when you don’t have a room to do it in, you’re kind of holding the bar hostage. The type of shows that you tend to see at those venues are not always the best examples of what good comedy is or what a good comedy show is. By the end of the show people tend to be glad they stuck around.
DD: We’ve been getting a lot of good feedback from people. Also, it’s just convenient. I have a lot of friends who ask when my next show is and I have to say it’s uptown, and they say tell me when you’ve go something local. Now they live two blocks away.
AC: Have you regretted inviting anyone to the show?
DD: There was this guy who was holding a pizza box and he was with his wife and Jenn was doing her usual bullying. It worked, they started talking. It turns out that he used to do comedy or he was interested in doing it. His wife was like “oh, let’s go see the show.” He wanted to come see the show, but he didn’t want to come see it with her, so he said he didn’t like watching comedy with pizza. That doesn’t even make sense. Basically he went home, ate the pizza, dropped his wife off, then came back and heckled us the whole show. After the show he started asking us for advice on how to get into comedy.
JW: Honestly, when you’re starting out a show like this, it’s so hard to build up an audience and a reputation like this. Even that heckler, it’s like thank God! The nice thing about running a show like this is that every show , for us, is never going to get boring. It’s a learning experience. How do we deal with hecklers in a small space? There’s a birthday party at a table that sees a comedy show happening but they will not shut up. How do we deal with that? The nice thing for Drew and I about this, you run a show like this, and after 6 months of doing this show, we’re riding a bicycle up hill. Our muscles are going to be so much stronger when we go into a venue. I did a benefit show this weekend for a crowd of 100 people and it was a cakewalk because I’m used to dealing with this.
DD: As a comedian, one of the hardest things to do is get stage time. Running a show is the best way for you to create your own opportunity. There’s so many comedians and there’s a lot of shows but it takes a while for you to get known and to get respect from your peers. If you run a good show, people want to come out to it. It’s another way to promote yourself and promote your friends.
AC: Has social media led to an increase in comedians?
JW: There are more people who call themselves comedians.
DD: I would be grateful if more comedians started quitting. I don’t go out to open mics as much as I used to, but when I do I rarely know anyone. I think the Internet just made it more appealing. If you want to do it, do it – but you should quit.
JW: One of the most annoying things as a comic is you get random people from, like, Ohio, friending you on Facebook,and then you post a joke and they’re suddenly commenting or saying inappropriate things and you go “who are you?” It’s a really weird and annoying thing because everyone thinks they’re funny, and they’re not.
DD:I kind of like that. I love them and that’s why we made the show on Thursdays. On Monday’s we have Night Train down at Littlefield, Tuesday’s the Fancy Show at Dizzy’s, Wednesday’s is Christian Polanco’s show at 2 Roots, and we’re on Thursdays.
JW:You’re not going to get up every show but every show’s going to have a really good lineup.
AC: How does the Brooklyn fit into the New York comedy scene?
JW: I think Brooklyn is its own scene.
DD: They had a list recently that came out. The 50 funniest comedians in Brooklyn.
JW: It was Brooklyn Magazine. Were you on that list?
DD: No, I wasn’t, but a lot of my friends who aren’t from Brooklyn were. I’m happy that they were on it, but I was like “C’mon, man.” They’ll never be a list where everyone is happy.
JW: I do think that Brooklyn is its own scene and the shows that happen in Brooklyn are some of my favorite shows. There are so many greats shows in Bushwick, there are so many great shows in Park Slope.
DD: Brooklyn has its own presence in the comedy scene. And a lot of the comedians who you see doing these shows are comedians who are getting big breaks. The nice thing about right now is that the good comedy isn’t restricted to the clubs in the city.
A while ago, way before I started out, there was no bar scene shows. That’s the good thing about having a lot of comics – people get upset about not getting stage time so they start their own shows. More comics, more opportunity to get stage time.
One of the important things about this is more opportunity to stay under the radar while you’re working on your act.
DD: While you’re terrible.
JW: Neither of us are terrible.
DD: Our lineups are probably amazing an probably the most diverse lineups. We don’t just book our friends, we book people that are funny. We want to create an environment where people will have a good time and tell their friends about it.