In Kurt We Trust; An interview with comedian Kurt Braunohler

Kurt Braunohler seems like a trustworthy guy. Even he thinks so. But he doesn’t want to be. “Being a tall white man I feel that I’m trustworthy by default, that’s just the reality of the world we live in. So I really wanted to try and undermine that in a hilarious way.”

This statement sums up his new comedy special Trust Me. According to Kurt, it significantly evolved from when he first started performing a lot of the material. “Originally this was a theater piece I did for the Montreal Comedy Fest and for the last 40 minutes of that show would be this bit called ‘Trust Me With Your Life.’ I’d have a bunch of blindfolds in a suitcase and I would ask the audience after everything I said if there would be anyone who would actually trust me with their life. And whoever volunteered would get blindfolded and I’d lead them out into the alleyway behind where I was performing. And the response was great, I didn’t know what to expect, honestly. But when I was getting ready to do the Comedy Central special I decided to change it because that’s a good bit in a live setting, but not as engaging watching it on TV.”

The ending of Trust Me was changed to Kurt discussing the evolutionary setbacks of the beaver (specifically his tail), personified with a high-pitched southern voice. At the end, there’s a cheesy dance song and someone (when I saw him in Indianapolis, it was one of the opening comics) dances on stage in a beaver costume. While it comes off in a funny way, he said at some point the work being put into the bit became tedious. “Traveling with props is such a bummer,” he admitted. “Especially with a lot of the Midwest shows I did I was driving myself around with all the props so it was hard to stay as into it as when I started.” 

 

Much like Kurt’s previous album How Do I Land?, Trust Me is full of observational and absurd takes on what would seem like trivial things to the average listener (Jimmy Buffet, saltwater taffy, etc.). And yet when those absurd takes become easily relatable. “I think it’s fun to get 100% riled up about inconsequential things that nobody else would really care about. It seems silly now in light of how the world has certainly changed. But keep in mind, this hour was recorded before Trump got elected, so it was way before there was way more serious shit to be legitimately angry about. And at the same time, maybe this absurdity can be a bit of an escape for people, even if for only a short amount of time.”

What’s much more prevalent on Trust Me are multiple personal stories from Kurt’s life in recent years. From proposing to his now wife on a hot air balloon to his wife catching him masturbating two weeks into being married. In one of my personal favorite stories, Kurt talks about an attempt to insert a little fun into his home life with an “ice cream” break. It starts innocent enough, but almost immediately goes horribly wrong.

Two years later and Kurt has tackled the next big challenge of adult life: parenthood. In one part of Trust Me, Kurt repeatedly claims (sarcastically of course) that he’s “nailing” marriage. And of course, he assures me he’s “nailing” parenthood with the same amount of finesse as marriage. I asked if any stories of parenthood would be in future stand up material. “You know, I was nervous about talking about my marriage at first, but people really connected to it. So I can only imagine that people would with parenthood as well. It wouldn’t be the only thing I talk about, but I think adding it in would work pretty well.”

 

In addition to the new comedy special, Kurt also has a role in the new movie The Big Sick, written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon. It’s a romantic comedy that tells the story of the origin of their relationship. Kurt said his involvement started as a supporting role, then developed to be more involved in the process. “We’ve all been friends for a long time and there was a part in the movie that they really wanted me to play. So we did this table read for the script and I’m sitting there between Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. And after the table read, they decided they still wanted to audition for the character, which kind of worried me. But I got the part and ended up also being the on set writer which is basically writing jokes into the story as we’re filming. It’s the first movie I’ve been in so of course I immediately shit my pants the first day of filming. At one point we’re shooting a scene in a bathroom and Holly Hunter is sitting in a bathtub and I’m sitting on a toilet writing jokes for her on the fly. And she would just sit there and stare at me, it was so intimidating and I thought I was going to really screw this up. But she ended up using most of the jokes that I wrote throughout this process, so that was really rewarding. And it’s even inspired Lauren and I to try writing something about our lives as well. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do so seeing it done first hand with someone else really gave me confidence about it.”

Kurt and his wife Lauren have also created an original series for Audible called Wedlock. It entails Kurt and Lauren discussing various aspects of marriage and relationships. The idea originated from Kurt’s old podcast The K Ohle and it grew into this series. “One of the topics that really resonated with me was the episode on monogamy. I always viewed cheating on someone as purely a physical act. But to Lauren, cheating isn’t just physical. There’s an emotional connection as well. Even with some pornography, like cam girls to be specific. It’s not just a video that you’re removed from and has no real part in other than an observer. You’re actually interacting in a sexual way with another person, even if it’s just over the internet. We then went to a zoo and saw the bonobo monkeys, who are definitely not known for fidelity. They have sex almost 150 times a day and with just about every monkey they find. I mean each monkey probably fucks every other monkey at least once on a daily basis. So looking at that contrast was fascinating.”

The balance between absurd observations and anger over insignificant things paired with a personal narrative is an interesting balance for a comedian to walk, but Kurt enjoys trying to connect the two. “All of the ideas in my comedy come from two places. There are the bits which are designed to get an audience’s attention, which is important if you’re a comedian that they’re not that familiar with, and if they are familiar with you they’ll laugh anyway, so you’re good either way. Then there are the stories which are good for when the audience settles in. It’s kind of like a snack, followed by a meal.”

Words by Andrew R. Fetter

 

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