Earlier in the 2000s, a group of Chicago stand-up comedians began working together to make their careers a little more innovative and in tunes with the birth of YouTube. They were known as Blerds. Many of them have splintered off to Los Angeles and New York, but next week, several of them will reunite to tape a Comedy Central special called "Mash Up."
The taping includes TJ Miller, Matt Braunger, Kumail Nanjiani, Hannibal Buress and Kyle Kinane, with two shows April 29 at The Hollywood Music Box. Get tickets and information for Mash Up here.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the Blerds filmmaker putting Mash Up together, chatted with me about the project. Here are excerpts from our chat:
The title of your show is Mash Up, and the brief description over at Star Flow Entertainment when you sign up for tickets says: "Picture a day in the life of (4) of your funniest friends, with the video to prove just how ridiculously funny their daily interactions can be." How will this play out on stage, exactly?
Jordan: Haha! Disregard that description. The dude in charge of promoting wrote that.
me: We don't the people to be misled!
Jordan: Mash Up is sort of the swan song to a lot of stuff that was coming out of Chicago before the mass exodus. The show on the 29th will be straight stand up with 5 top notch Chicago comics, and we're taking that footage and cutting in 'Blerds' style visualizations of their material, and all of that will be cut up with random sketches and mash ups like these: https://jcvr.net/videos/word-
me: How important was it for you and TJ that all of the comics in the special had come through Chicago?
Jordan: When we sold the special to Comedy Central the initial idea was that if it gets picked up it would have sort of an 'Insomniac' element to it where we go city to city showcasing the standup talent that hasn't been broken through to TV yet. Back when we sold it, TJ, Braunger, Kinane, Hannibal and Kumail hadn't been on TV yet. me: Hahaha. Jordan: I feel like there was a real explosion of talent out of Chicago and instead of solidifying that, everyone kind of went their separate ways. Even though i'm not a stand up, I was cutting my teeth as a director as these guys were learning how to control an audience. We all learned how to do what we do in Chicago so we wanted to um… for lack of a better word… 'represent'
me: So when you and TJ pitched this special to Comedy Central, it was a way to give Blerds a swan song, and also potentially launch a new series?
Jordan: The Blerds format isn't groundbreaking or anything, but it does have the ability to make certain stand up bits fresh again. From a network perspective, it also allows comics to come on and reuse previously burned material and repackage it in our format. So I wanted to see this format be given a chance to take off a bit more than the web videos we were making back in the day.
Speaking of back in the day, here's an example from a few years ago of a Blerds video on TJ Miller's bit about drawing dicks on the faces of passed-out partiers:
me: I take it the stand-up comes first, and then you'll figure out how to visualize it? Jordan: Most of the visualizations are pretty literal. There's always fun little details to add, but we're not reinventing the wheel. We'll tape the live stand up and then we're doing 4-5 additional days of shooting sketches and visualizations. But the stand up is always canon.
me: So it's not as if you're coming up with concepts as if they're music videos.
Jordan: Well – That's tricky actually. This format is much like a music video in terms of what it should accomplish. The visuals should ideally add to what's going on, never detracting from the core 'bit' (or in the case of a music video, the song). Like any good music video you can occasionally add in an entirely new visual gag and layer that's not a part of the base material. Some are more literal than others. The reason the entire format came about was because when we started YouTube was just taking off and stand up was such a powerful weapon on it. I wanted to repackage material and make it digestible in small doses.
me: Do you have a deadline for getting this in to Comedy Central? And a potential air date?
Jordan: We're aiming to deliver by July 1. Which means we'll hopefully air in late August or September me: Cool Jordan: Regardless of what happens with our show I think it will be a nice send off that's also a little capsule representing a lot of things born out of the Chicago scene.
me: Anything else you want to make sure people know about the show? Jordan: The live show is straight stand up. No video. It's such an incredible line up though so people would be foolish not to RSVP to this thing.