Comic Kris Wernowsky: A Bittersweet Adieu


The inside of Foam on Cherokee. - PHOTO BY NICHOLAS PHILLIPS
  • Photo by Nicholas Phillips
  • The inside of Foam on Cherokee.
The first time comic Kris Wernowsky put on a "Too Hip for a Comedy Club" standup event at Foam last October, indie darling St. Vincent played the same night -- rather stiff competition, if you're trying to lure the Cherokee crowd.

His other mistake: Keeping the overhead lights on full blast for the duration.

"That first show suffered a bit," he says. "But it was actually pretty well attended. "

And folks kept coming. Now, "Too Hip for a Comedy Club" is one of a handful of regular standup events that allow newbie comics a shot at some stage time in an open, unconventional venue.

Wernowsky's moving out of town, but he's still in charge of the event; in fact, they're doing a show tonight.

Daily RFT: First of all, where are you off to and why?

Well, I accepted a position as the assignment editor of a television station in my hometown of Quincy, Ill. It's sort of a bittersweet ordeal because it's an amazing position for me as a journalist, but I'm having a difficult time leaving this comedy community.

I've only been here about seven months, but it really feels like this giant extended family full of hilarious and dysfunctional people who I see every day. It's like my actual family, but with a lot fewer tears. There's about the same level of alcoholism and self-loathing, but, you know, it's zany!

Comic Kris Wernowsky, founder of "Too Hip for a Comedy Club" nights at Foam
  • Comic Kris Wernowsky, founder of "Too Hip for a Comedy Club" nights at Foam
Each show [at Foam] has gotten bigger and more well-attended. I never imagined it would take off so quickly. It's a very engaged and savvy audience that's respectful of new ideas and more abstract comedy concepts.

What do you think the St. Louis comedy scene needs more than anything?

This will make me sound like a complete dick, but....There are so many people coming out to open mics who are not serious about comedy and have really no chance of every doing anything funny or productive in this creative field (not that any of us are destined for success).

But when you see the talented people and their frustration over a lack of stage time week in and week out, you start to get angry at people who aren't developing, who don't write any new material and who aren't progressing just wasting stage time that could go to someone who takes this very seriously. So, the first thing it needs is fewer comics.

The second thing is for the people of this city to actually acknowledge the fact that there is a scene to speak of. I can't count the number of conversations where people find out that I do this and then they say, "How often do you do it?" I tell them, "Just about every night of the week."

They're so shocked when they find out all of this great stuff is going on between The Funny Bone, Fitz's Thursday open mics, Brennan's and these one off showcases. But people just aren't there.

I'm not saying that St. Louis citizens should know better, because it's difficult to get peoples' attention and these shows are competing against a lot of other entertainment options.

I'm just saying that if comedy is what you want, then search it out. Space for wonderful publicity like this is limited and a lot of comics are just horrible at marketing their shows.

What's your favorite old joke?

The 5-year-old in me will say "Pull my finger."

What's your favorite new(ish) joke?

One of the most fascinating bits of comedy I've ever seen was Chris Rock's "Niggas vs. Black People" from his 1996 HBO special "Bring the Pain." I think this was truly a high-watermark in the discussion about race through comedy told in a way that is so brutal, so honest and so skillful.

This revealed so much about black-on-black race relations that resonated with anyone who watched this special.  I watch it about once a month and it scares me to death to think that I'm trying to do the same thing as this guy.


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