In late spring, five comedians, almost all new to stand up comedy, came together for their first performance as Club Baby Seal.
No, it wasn’t their sold-out performance at the Gold Town Nickelodeon Theatre — that happened in October. This show was a bit smaller in scale.
The venue? Nate Williams’ living room.
The five – Brady Ingledue, Allison Holtkamp, Alicia and Corin Hughes-Skandijs and of course, Nate – were a web of overlapping connections through friendships and other performance arts. All had an appreciation for each other’s sense of humor and a desire to try out professional standup comedy.
“Credit goes to Brady for being a driving force behind getting people together to be funny in a more structured setting,” Alicia told the Capital City Weekly. “What started out as joking around over a beer quickly expanded into doing house shows.”
They met regularly for informal workshops, a.k.a. “punching up” each other’s jokes, and to practice their sets.
For Alicia, standup felt like a natural progression. “I feel like I’ve explored all other performancy-type events,” she said. She’s performed with Perseverance Theatre, directed plays, performed at Folk Fest, and has even gone to clown camp. Comedy was the next mental step and “it feels the most natural to me, most comfortable.”
Before Club Baby Seal formed as a group, she and Brady opened for a comedian coming to town. But that’s all the experience they have in standup comedy, and that’s more than the other three members, Allison, Corin and Nate, who are all completely new to the field. Nate said sometimes he feels like someone will point as him and tell him he hasn’t paid his dues — but there’s no one right path to becoming a comedian.
Nate said he comes up with about five jokes a day. His material includes his life, historical and literary references, politics, sexual dysfunction and familial relationships.
“I like writing down all the little things,” he said.
Allison said she’ll be driving in a car and think “Is this funny?” She can always find out when she tests a joke on her group mates.
“I mean, the jokes that seem to work for me are the ones that come from a real, personal place,” Corin said. “When I’m honest and joke about issues I have with myself I think it’s funny.”
Eventually the group decided they were ready to perform for an audience — even if it was just friends they invited over for a house show. But before the show, they needed a name.
Somewhat hesitantly, Nate said, he suggested Club Baby Seal. It was “fifth grade humor,” just word play between a friend and him back in Colorado; in 2008 after a snowstorm, they made a snow fort and dubbed it Club Baby Seal.
“It’s kind of dumb, kind of offensive,” Williams admitted. The world has sharp edges, he said, but the “highest mission of comedy is to soften those edges.”
Though they’re a group, every member performs a set of their own. The material can range from G to the R-rated, Allison said.
She was nervous. With her material, she would be revealing a lot about herself.
“I’m an actor so I’ve been in a lot of plays,” she said. With acting there is a luxury of being someone else. With stand up comedy, “it’s all you and makes you vulnerable.”
Corin acts as emcee for the group, but when Allison introduced Corin for his set, she flubbed his name. The audience laughed, helping her to realize stumbles were OK.
“I’ve been around performers my whole life and have always wanted to get into it,” said Nate, “I was kind of in awe that I was doing this. A shy kid could get up and perform a solid set.”
The group went on for a total of three house shows that spring/summer.
Corin fondly recalls one time he messed up a joke. “I got a big laugh from that — commenting on my own dumb delivery, and so it all worked out in my favor anyhow.”
Due to the positive feedback, they decided to go for a public show. Hali Duran, Nate’s girlfriend, and Grace Lee, Corin’s girlfriend, acted as managers and did a lot of the behind the scenes work to prepare.
There’s room for ad-libbing and riffing off of things happening in the moment, Allison said.
“You can be so practiced, but in the end, if it’s so practiced it’s just a show.”
In retrospect, she found the public show at the Gold Town Theatre less nerve wracking than the house shows.
“It was nice to feel a little more presentational,” she said, since she is used to being on stage at Perseverance or singing with the Juneau Jazz Divas. At the house shows, she could see whether everyone was laughing or not. At Gold Town, she would hear the laughter, and could just assume everyone was laughing.
“I genuinely felt like we gave people their money’s worth,” Nate said of the Gold Town show. “We’re all white heterosexuals in our 30’s so we’re not that diverse but I think our content is fairly diverse. Our reviews have been really positive.”
In future shows outside of Gold Town, Corin said he’d like it if they had a more “taken care of audience” who could order food and drinks while seated at a table.
“I like being comfortable when I’m watching standup,” he said. “I think that’s normal. I’ve been to both the Comedy Store in Los Angeles and the Comedy Cellar in New York multiple times, and every single time I leave feeling way better than I did coming in. I think Club Baby Seal does that in this town, and it’s nice to be part of something new and different in Juneau – nice to add to the town’s cultural diversity.”
Club Baby Seal will have another show at Gold Town on Dec. 17 at 9 p.m.-midnight. This is a 21+ event due to a no host bar. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are available through squareup.com.
The group will also be doing a show in Petersburg on Jan. 20, 21 at Kito’s Kave.
For more on the group, visit their Facebook page.
“The pressure in on,” Nate said. “You got to keep writing, writing, writing. I love the work so I just want to keep doing the work.”