Harnessing Absurdity to Help Others with Kurt Braunohler
You can catch Kurt Braunohler’s new episode of The Half Hour this Friday, July 25, but he’s been focused on a lot more than just standup lately. In June, the comedian jet skied the Mississippi River from Chicago to New Orleans as part of his Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 to provide 500 goats and 1000 chickens to African families in need. The quest is documented in his Comedy Central web series Roustabout, coming out this fall.
On top of that, Kurt is starring in the upcoming film B Roll, has plans to release a compilation album from his standup/variety show Hot Tub with Kristen Schaal, and continues to work on his podcast The K Ohle on the Nerdist network, which rotates between formats including The Boat Show, Get Lost!, and PETophilia.
I got to talk to Kurt about standup, acting, and the challenges of jet skiing for charity.
How was The Half Hour taping? That must seem like ages ago now.
It was great. It was really fun. The crowd was exceptionally warm. I really just felt like I could have fun, which was nice.
What did you do to prepare for it once you got it?
I guess I just ran the half hour a whole bunch of times. I felt pretty good going into it. I’ve now done enough standup spots on taped TV that I kind of knew what to expect. So I felt good going into it. The night before I went and ran it at an open mic which is a great idea because open mics are horrible. It’s really nice: right before you do it, do it for people that are bored and hate their lives. So to do it for them first, to get very little laughs at the open mic and then do it the next day for a crowd pumped for television was really fun.
Is it all new stuff or did you pull material from your album and TV appearances on Conan or John Oliver?
Depending on what they used I probably pulled like six or seven minutes from my album but then the rest is all new.
Cool. When you started standup, you had already been doing comedy for a while. Did you ever think that it would lead to a Half Hour?
Yeah, that’s what I wanted, to have the Half Hour special is always a goal to start I think. I thought that since I had done improv for like eight years and sketch for five that doing standup would come easily, but it simply did not. It was like starting over again. And I’m so happy I did it, because I do think standup is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in my life. But I had to be in the place that I was in to essentially start over. I’m just happy that I had Hot Tub to fail miserably thousands of times.
How do you think starting in New York factored into it as well?
I think it helped. Honestly, the standup scene there is so strong. There’s a really, really good standup show every night of the week, which is different than LA. LA has a lot of shows, but the really good shows, there’s not one every single night. And in New York there totally is. And then there’s a thousand other bad shows you can do too. I think doing the good shows and the bad shows is really what make you better.
Let’s talk about your upcoming Comedy Central web series Roustabout. Have you always been passionate about world hunger or involved with Heifer International? Where did the idea first come from with that?
IT was kind of born out of this idea that I’ve been playing around with for the past few years of how to make the world a better place by doing stupid and absurd things. I wanted to jet ski across the country and then everybody informed me that that isn’t a thing that can exist in the real world. But then we figured out there’s this big river called the Mississippi and you can jet ski from Chicago to New Orleans. It was actually my writing partner Scotty Landes who took it one step further, it’s not just a dumb thing by being stupid and absurd in and of itself but it actually could really could help people. He’s the one who suggested we send 500 goats to Africa.
It’s so specific: 500 goats, 1000 chickens, $50,000. How did you decide on those numbers?
I looked it up and I found out it’s like a typical thing to do 1 goat and 2 chickens. We wanted to do 1000 goats, but that would have been $100,000. Even at 500 goats we’re having a tough time making our money. We’re only at like 255 goats right now which is a bummer. I’m just trying, pushing, although I already jet skied, we’re still trying to raise the money. We just wanted a nice whole round number. The scale of 500 goats and 1000 chickens will help 500 families. I can’t even imagine 500 families in one place, and that’s an exciting thing, to think about all these families that are being helped by something that is literally stupid.
You did the skywriting Kickstarter campaign last year, and now this one’s on Indiegogo. How have the reactions to each project compared? Do you think crowdfunding is maybe better used for silly things rather than something that’s actually sincere?
Great question. The Kickstarter for the skywriting, we were only asking for $4,000 and we got $6,000. So that was pretty simple. So far, looking at it scale-wise we’ve already raised $26,000 for heifer which is just so much more than we had before. That potato salad Kickstarter thing is a good example of where the internet loves to take something and blow it up almost for the sake of blowing it up. My goal is to figure out how to use that to actually help real people. It can be done, it just has to be done in a cool, stupid way.
How was the actual jet skiing trip? Did you ever have any doubts you could do it?
Oh yeah. We ran out of gas in the first three hours. We ran out of gas and got stranded at an abandoned grain silo that was owned by the army corps of engineers and we were almost arrested for trespassing. It was crazy. The whole trip was insane, but that first day, I knew I hadn’t prepared for the journey, but it turned out no one had prepared for the journey. The fact we ran out of gas the first day was crazy, but it was a challenge every single day, because not only were we attempting to jet ski 1,000 miles, also we’re shooting a show. I would wake up at six in the morning and we would shoot from seven am to noon and then get on the river and I would jet ski for seven hours straight. It was a brutal schedule.
Sounds like it will make for a great show. How did you team up with Comedy Central to do it?
I had pitched a digital series to them almost a year and a half ago. It was supposed to be an interview show and it just slowly evolved into this with the help of my writing partner Scotty and our director Jeff Tomsic.
It was also announced last month that you’re releasing a compilation album from your live variety/standup show Hot Tub with Kristen Schaal. How did you two meet and become friends and collaborators?
We met years ago in 2005, just in New York City at a theater in New York. I wanted to do a variety show and I asked the artistic director of the theater. He said, “You know, Kristen Schaal just asked me the same thing.” I knew she was backstage and I literally just walked backstage and was like, “Hey, you want to do a variety show?” and she was like, “Okay.” We had never spoken. We had never hung out really, we weren’t friends. And we totally got along.
That takes a lot of guts to start a variety show with someone you don’t know.
Yeah, well we were both desperate [laughs].
You’re currently shooting the movie B-Roll, which is your first time playing the lead.
Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. It’s been really exciting. The cast is super funny. Josh Brener from Silicon Valley, Adam Herschman from Accepted, Karan Soni from Betas, and Meghan Falcone. Everybody’s incredibly funny and I think we’re making a funny movie.
What can you tell me about the plot?
I play a news reporter who has an on-air meltdown and gets fired and tries to stage a comeback by trying to make a documentary.
Does your standup background help you at all with acting?
It’s interesting, doing the movie, being the lead for the first time, since I did improv for a really long time, and I did sketch for a really long time, and now I’m doing standup, all of it has kind of come together to help me with acting. Standup has really just helped me with the confidence of I can make a joke and it will be good. And then the improv is a huge factor. Just being able to really listen in a scene and find those little moments, which has been super fun because the the cast, everybody’s a great improviser. We joke around a lot.
Is it difficult at all to surrender some of the control because you’re used to writing and performing your own material?
I find it to be really fun. What we’ll do is one or two takes where we get the script and then Travis Long, the director, will let us open it up. So I’m constantly writing while on set. I’m always putting new jokes in and stuff like that. What’s great is I already liked the script and we’ve been improvising and putting new jokes in as well. So I hope we’re just making the script better, I think we are.
You’re also working on a pilot with Comedy Central?
Yes. Right now we’re just in the beginning stages of it, but it looks like it’s going to be a late night show, and that’s pretty much all I can say at this point.
Do you have any other upcoming projects or goals for the future?
No, just continually doing my podcast The K Ohle. I want to make Roustabout a TV show, and I want to make a late night show too. I don’t know, I don’t want to jinx anything.
You’re still doing all Boat Shows on your podcast until you raise the money?
[Laughs] No, I won’t be doing all boat shows. Hopefully I’ll do a K Ohle with the cast from B-Roll this week. It’s just been tough the past three weeks because we’ve been shooting so much. I haven’t been able to put new ones out. But it won’t just be Boat Show. I’m looking forward to doing a really exciting Get Lost soon.