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The Bumbershoot VIP area is heaven for starving artists like me. Free alcohol. Free food. Bountiful, comfy chairs. At Bumbershoot this year I was performing on a friend’s showcase, thereby receiving a coveted VIP bracelet and by God, I was going to milk it for everything it was worth. My fellow comics were likewise savoring the complimentary delights until around 9 p.m., when the person next to me checked her phone and bolted upright. “Oh, shit! Tiny Baby’s starting in a half hour!” Shortly thereafter, everyone bolted, leaving me alone with three drinks, several hot dogs and a bewildered expression on my face. What kind of show could possibly draw right-thinking starving artists away from free booze and snacks?
The Tiny Baby Talk Show is the biggest Seattle alt-comedy gem to come around in some time, and I’ve in this business for nearly 100 years. The show I attended in late October at Scratch Deli on Capitol Hill was packed to a possibly-fire code-violating degree; show co-conspirator and local bon vivant Douglas Gale told me that it was one of the smallest crowds he’d seen there. I could barely exhale without knocking a beer out of someone’s hand.
Going to The Tiny Baby Talk Show (henceforth known as “TBTS”) for the first time, two years into its run, was like attending a snake-handling church service: it’s certainly one of the damnedest things you’ve ever seen, even if you have no earthly idea what’s going on or why. The humor is largely built on recurring characters and bits, the plot is serialized and the pacing is frenetic and unrelenting. The show even has it’s own language. Early on, host Daniel Desroisiers was announced. Like a normal person, I clapped—repeatedly, like folks usually do—but everyone else gave one single, simultaneous clap. I was awkwardly outed as an outsider, an unbeliever. Later on in the show, everyone started shouting “water talk!” over and over with increasing hysteria. Desrosiers screamed insults at them and they responded with wild cheers. This meant something, but I didn’t know what. And I really wanted to find out.
Here’s the bad news: I missed it. The show is coming to an end, for good, this month. What the hell?
TBTS was, like so many great things, born out of failure. Desrosiers, the nominal host, had just experienced the collapse of a prospective web series. Equally nominal sidekick Daniel O’Connell (henceforth: “Baby Dan”) had just overseen the unraveling of an anticipated podcast. They were both regulars of the Jai Thai/Scratch Deli axis of open mics, and eventually Regular Dan persuaded Baby Dan of the potential for a genuine “full late-night talk show” on the Scratch Deli stage. Or, as Regular Dan pitched it: “Desk, house band, sidekick and all.”
It’s hard to pinpoint how a show becomes a bona fide hit, but TBTS’s success had a lot to do with the personal charisma of the hosts (simply put: they are very nice guys) and their savvy inclusion of nearly the entire Seattle comedy community into the matrix of the show’s design. There were no fewer than twelve guest stars in the show that I attended, and in the crowd I spotted comics from nearly every other DIY show in town: Laff! Riot!, Wine Shots, Ubiquitous They, Radio LARP. The Dans are friends with everyone, and have had guests from the dance, film, poetry, music and comedy communities, according to Desrosiers.
The writing is sharp and varied. There’s something for everyone factored into each script: obscure references, pop culture references, high culture references, dick jokes, poop jokes, nerd jokes. There are just lots and lots of jokes, and at the risk of being controversial, this is what comedy is all about. But as chaotic as it is (Baby Dan says it’s often “a beautiful train wreck”), this is not a sloppy show. The script is tight. Everything is meticulously rehearsed. For the record: Regular Dan spent approximately 35-40 hours a month on the show, and Baby Dan 25-30. Guests will donate anywhere from nine to 20 hours. On top of all of these live considerations, the show has also been regularly recorded and put on the web.
If this seems crazy to you, that’s because it is. Most regular comedy shows around town are stand-up showcases. That means performers are generally using practiced bits, occasionally new ones, and rarely working together. Most sketch outfits showcase new material a few times a year. TBTS is new every month, and that certainly can’t be done forever. At least, not for free (did I mention that the show is free?). When a show of this caliber pops up in a city like Seattle, you have to jump on it ASAP because sometimes talented, funny people get grabbed up by actual paying employers and no longer have infinite free time to put towards making people laugh (did I mention Regular Dan is going to work for Amazon?).
TBTS is wrapping up, but the good times are not coming to an end. Desrosiers and O’Connell are continuing their comedic collaboration with a new show called Town Hall—a looser and more improv-based format than Tiny Baby. According to Regular Dan, “We’ll start with a basic premise (the inaugural episode was about the first time we had sex), then tell stories, inviting audience members onstage to do so as well.” Stressing the communal, audience-inclusive experience is a sticking point with these guys, and a hallmark of the newest generation of comedians.
The October show came to a close with genuine emotion, from the hosts and from the audience. Moments before that, a man dressed like Frank Serpico (did I mention it was Halloween?) read some lunatic street poetry. It was hilarious, inexplicable and not at all out of place in the show. As I made for the door, the small area of free space that had been the stage filled up with happy, drunk young people in costumes. My mind was frantically trying to pull together all of the disparate strands of insanity that I had just witnessed, but the one thought I kept coming back to was: I should have gone to that show at Bumbershoot. Free drinks be damned.
See Tiny Baby Talk Show’s special finale show of music and storytelling on Nov. 28 at Scratch Deli.