Comedian Kurt Braunohler has a penchant for the ridiculous.
“I think I was always a fan of the absurd,” he says. “I always liked the out-of-place or the non-sequitur. I always think that’s the funniest thing.” However, Braunohler originally had no desire to be an entertainer; instead, he majored in philosophy and English in college.
“My plan was to be a philosophy teacher,” he says. “I liked comedy always, but I didn’t really discover or think of actually doing it as a profession until I started improvising when I was 22 in New York.”
That discovery came pretty much by accident.
“It was right when [Upright Citizens Brigade] opened in New York City,” he says. “A friend of mine was taking a class and I went up to watch and said ‘Oh, I’ll try that,’ and in the first class I was in I was like, ‘I want to do this forever.’ ”
Braunohler eventually started teaching classes at UCB, but finally realized he would never be able to make a living at the improv. So he started writing stand-up for himself.
“Improv has a very specific audience,” he says, “whereas stand-up, you can show to your mom, to family, friends — and if it works, it works, whereas improv you really have to be part of a highly specialized audience to enjoy.”
Having built a successful career in comedy, he feels his course of study in college wasn’t wasted.
“I think for the most part, stand-up comedians are populist philosophers in a way,” he says. “We’re both talking about ideas, but philosophers are doing it in a much more intelligent way. Still, it’s the discussion of ideas — that’s what stand-up is at the end of the day — taking an idea that you are interested in and exploring it from different perspectives, and for a comedian it’s from one that will make you laugh, and philosophers just make you want to go to sleep.”
Speaking of sleep, if you’re the kind that stays up to watch late-night talk shows, you’ve likely seen Braunohler doing stand-up, though he insists those appearances aren’t indicative of his full live show.
“I don’t think I’ve had a late-night set yet that sums up what it’s like to see me live,” he says. “I’ve had three so far, and I think maybe on the fourth one I’ll nail it. I’m not really happy with any of my late-night sets yet.”
Apart from his stand-up, Braunohler hosts a live variety show, Hot Tub with Kurt and Kristen, with his old comedy-writing partner Kristen Schaal (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Last Man on Earth, Flight of the Conchords).
When the two decided to start working together back in New York more than 10 years ago, they didn’t really know each other.
“We’d both been improv-ing at this theater in New York called The Pit,” he says. “I’d decided I wanted to start a variety show and I talked to the artistic director and he said, ‘Kristen Schaal asked me the same thing.’ I knew she was backstage so I walked back and asked her, ‘Do you want to do a variety show?’ and the said ‘OK.’ ”
One other place you might have heard Braunohler is on public radio’s This American Life, where he told the story of how he and his former girlfriend introduced the Amish concept of Rumspringa — when Amish teens take a leave from their community to decide whether they want to stay or leave the Amish church — to their relationship. Basically, they took a month off from their 13-year monogamous relationship and dated other people. Well, more than dated.
“I’m not particularly fascinated with Amish culture,” he says. “I just liked that concept as it applied to my relationship and that period in my life.”
Braunohler later married someone else. On their second date, his now-wife came to see the show he had created about the Rumspringa experiment.
“She thought it was weird that it was our second date,” he says. He hadn’t planned it that way, though. She just came out to watch him perform.
“She showed up and said, ‘This is just all about you fucking a bunch of people.’ ”
Braunohler is currently trying to develop that show into a movie.
KURT BRAUNOHLER performs at Southgate House Revival Saturday. More info: southgatehouse.com.