Hey Mikey, We Like You!
By Stacy Davies
“Comedy in the Art Colony” tickles our collective funny bone
When Mikey McKernan graduated from high school, he told his parents he was going into comedy. “But you’re not funny,” they responded. So, he created about a hundred stickers that read, “I’m not funny” and gave them to anyone who’d take one—then he moved to L.A. Such is the reaction of people who are destined for success, but it’s not an “I’ll show you” attitude as much as an apparent genetic disposition that means you ignore anything you don’t want to hear. Of course he was going to do standup, whaddaya joking?
After working some of the best houses in LA—including The Improv and The Comedy Store—McKernan decided it was time to stir up some standup in the Inland Empire.
“There’s so much standup comedy in LA—you can do a show every day and get up to two to three times a nigh,” McKernan says. “But you really have to get out of there to do comedy because 95 percent of that audience is other comedians. It can be good, because you know where you’re at, but comics need to perform for regular audiences to really see where they stand on a broader scale.”
Last year, the 26-year-old McKernan (who people often believe is the inspiration for a character on Workaholics, an accusation he heartily denies) decided not only to perform in the IE—which he’d already been testing out for several years—but to actually create a comedy showcase for other standups. The result was “Comedy in the Art Colony,” and it’s had six increasingly successful shows at the dba256 Wine Bar & Gallery in Pomona with the latest crowd numbers almost topping 100.
“It’s a bustle, it’s a hustle, you know?” he says. “And it’s a treat to come out here. I didn’t want to put on a show until I knew what I was doing, and after working with producers in LA for a few years I knew what I should do and how to do it.”
Usually booking about nine comedians a night, McKernan finds them in various places, but regardless of their background or style, they all share one thing in common: drive.
“Basically, anyone actively pursuing standup in the IE, I’m interested in,” he says. “LA comics bitch about everything—money, audience—they do comedy so much sometimes that they’re a little disenchanted. They’re not desperate enough. Out here, the comedy is scarcer and when I see people posting on Facebook about doing shows, they’re obviously making an effort and that’s what I want, and I want to get them in here.”
He also suggests that homegrown comics do their homework and study their comedic elders—he gleans inspiration from Harpo Marx, Bill Hicks and Jim Carrey, and has newly discovered the legendary Jonathan Winters—and they should always take comedy deadly seriously.
“You have to approach it with as much respect as possible,” he says. “It’s just too easy to do stereotypical jokes and a lot of comics know it’s easy, so they do the ‘black guys have bad credit/Asians are smart’ thing; I try tell jokes above a certain level, and sometimes, really smart jokes might not land, but you have to connect with everyone. Even the Kardashian-watching crowd, who only want to hear poop humor.”
McKernan doesn’t judge, of course, and readily admits that growing up, his mother had a “fart machine” that would put her in stitches every time someone set it off; still, keeping it clean, he suggests, is always a better way to go.
“I had to do a clean show once in Portland and I couldn’t say ‘vagina’ in one of my jokes so I changed it, and it actually made the joke better,” McKernan says. “I use the clean version now. People think you always have to be dirty and raunchy, but clean jokes will always be the best because they’re for everybody, and if your jokes are really clean and really clever and they’re for everyone, you’re going to do much better—you even have a shot at being on network TV, if that’s your deal.”
At his Pomona shows, however, anything goes, and the roster of performers include men and women of all races, ages and sexualities producing a veritable smorgasbord of snickers and guffaws for anyone interested in busting a gut. And that’s McKernan’s major asset – making his shows entertaining and inclusive.
“There are a lot of opinions about Pomona—some people think it’s ghetto, some people think it’s cool and creative. The truth is that it’s a mixture of a lot of different kinds of people and crowds. That’s especially good for a comic because you always want to be learning and a new room will do that. It also makes your jokes fresh again, and really, it’s just a privilege and honor to ask for someone’s attention. I may not pay my performers, but I give them a crowd—and that’s gold.”
But the burning question really is, do his parents think he’s funny now—eight years later?
“They’ve seen a couple of shows and are really supportive—they definitely have a sense of humor. But I haven’t asked them. You want to ask them?”
Dear Mr. and Mrs. McKernan: we strongly suggest Mikey revise his bumpersticker.
Comedy in the Arts Colony is every last Sunday at the dba256 Wine Bar & Gallery, 256 S. Main St., Pomona, (909) 623-7600; www.dba256.com. Next show: Sun., 9pm.