The razor’s edge of modern funny is being sharpened and brandished like a cultural battle-axe every month in a scrappy Brooklyn performance space. It’s called The Macaulay Culkin Show and has absolutely nothing to do with Macaulay Culkin.
If the nutty enthusiasm of mid-70’s prime Saturday Night Live was blended with the panicked adrenaline blast of Iggy Pop jumping off the stage and attacking people, you’d have something comparable to the visceral energy of The Macaulay Culkin Show. It’s a stand-up revue starring the best and brightest names in comedy, curated by a mind-bending array of outrageously attired zany characters with adorable names like Sweet Daddy Longlegs and “Skull Fucker” Harley Tucker.
The underground-famous venue Shea Stadium hides in an industrial stretch of Bushwick, a brisk walk from the Montrose L train stop. The door cover is cheaper than a sandwich at $5, and adult beverages are available for a reasonable couple bills. DJ JD Salinger keeps music in the air while the show rock and rolls. On and around the stage, all kinds of eccentric hilarity explodes – mocking, taunting and drawing joy out of everyone in a hand-grenade atmosphere that can feel unsettling in the most wonderful, genuinely enjoyable way.
This is no amateur-hour open mic night. It’s a once-a-month comedy all-star game mini-festival. Everyone from movie stars (Janeane Garofalo) to emerging TV stars (Chris Gethard) and a caped weirdo in an Eyes Wide Shut secret society orgy mask called The Grand Inquisitor have graced the stage. The comics are consistently top-shelf. One after another, they make it look much easier than it is.
To get a glimmer of the action, do yourself a favor and Google all these jokers; Good Cop Great Cop, The Lucas Brothers, Jo Firestone, Eliza Hurwitz, Connor O’Malley, Nimesh Patel, Andrew Fisher, Mary Houlihan, Katie Hartman, David Carl, Julio Torres, Brian McCann, Chris Gethard, Ana Fabrega, Ike Ufomadu, Josh Rabinowitz, Brooks Wheelan, Nick Rutherford, Mike Abrusci, Christi Chiello, John F. O’Donnell and John Reynolds.
No scene descriptions can fully capture the wicked insanity of watching a lobotomized Count Dracula, a creepy Grand Inquisitor or Sweet Daddy Longlegs and “Skull Make-Love” (as the crowd renamed him) misbehave. The comic book villain-esque Sweet Daddy created so much absurd nervous tension in one recent performance of crowd interaction that it became shocking, knee-slapping and maybe brilliant? You had to be there. We can only hope that guy’s unsuspecting mother has a great sense of humor.
A lot of the hard work behind The Macaulay Culkin Show is executed by co-host Brett Davis. We shared a subway ride with Brett on the afternoon of the Snow-Pocalypse that shut down New York City on a Monday in January. We had finally convinced a small gang of our friends to check out The Macaulay Culkin Show the preceding Sunday night, and after they all raved for hours about how great it was we decided to ask Brett for an interview. He was kind enough to accept and here’s where it unfolds.
How did you get started performing?
When I was a teenager I was a big fan of The Best Show on WFMU, a really hilarious comedy radio show hosted by Tom Scharpling. Like a dumb teenager, I pranked the show as a character named Steinberg a few times. He finally asked me what I was doing and I expanded on this character by making him an aspiring rapper. MC Steinberg was born, and Scharpling encouraged me to keep writing bits and it led to rap battles with Ted Leo and in-studio appearances. That character crossed over to Jake Fogelnest’s show on KRock and soon I started doing it live at basement punk shows with my friends We Are The Seahorses. Those were my first live comedy shows.
Did you know you wanted to do comedy as a kid?
Yeah. There’s a video of me singing “When I Grow Up” in preschool, and when every little kid says “policeman” or “fireman” I said “movie star” like a little piece of shit. But growing up, I was obsessed with The Simpsons and I would stay up late and watch SNL. I was always making little comics and stuff like that.
Who are some of your biggest influences and why?
Biggest comedic influences in no order leaving out a ton: Andy Kaufman, Scharpling & Wurster, Andrew Daly, Chris Lilley, Fred Armisen, Chris Elliott, Louis CK, Tim & Eric, Zach Galifinaikis, Amy Poehler, Charlie Chaplin, The Onion, Gilda Radner, Chris Gethard, the writers of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Jon Glaser & too many others. I guess the thing they all had in common was going against the grain at the risk of alienating people and walking the line between dumb and smart.
Your outfits are rad, where do you shop for clothes and what inspires your costumes?
Thanks! They’re mostly split between vintage stores and costume stores. They know me at Halloween Adventure. Inspiration comes everywhere. Sweet Daddy Longlegs was inspired by Jackee Harry from Sister Sister and 227.
Have you ever been badly heckled and how did you deal with it?
Since I only perform in-character, I need to find creative ways to stop the heckling. Sometimes the sadder characters just take it. Others will go ballistic and yell till that person is gone. One of the worst times was during a bit where my comedy partner Darren and I were doing a wrestling bit where he charged through the crowd. Somebody didn’t get it and a fistfight erupted. Since I was the good guy and Darren was the bad guy, I cheered them on. It’s okay they got us beers afterwards.
What famous comedian’s career would you most like to emulate?
I’m already doing a really good job emulating Chris Gethard’s! I guess Albert Brooks? He’s managed to do his own thing auteur-style for a long time, releasing things on different platforms, dipping into other genres. Sacha Baron Cohen is another good one. I would love a big budget Borat-type movie where I mess with people on a grand scale.
Have you ever considered doing a comedy album, in song or traditional stand-up form?
Yeah! One of my favorite records is Andrew Daly’s Nine Sweaters. It’s similar to what I do but much better.
What are some of the best comedy shows you’ve ever seen personally, excluding shows you hosted?
New York has so much comedy. Avoid any comedy “clubs” unless you want mediocre comedy for expensive prices. Even the Comedy Cellar isn’t that great despite all its history. If you want to see good, fresh comedy, go to The Macaulay Culkin Show, The Tuesday Special, The Lethal Lottery (all three are my shows haha jk but really tho). I love Fresh Perspectives (Muchmore’s) they do a really good job finding unique and weird voices. I love The Dan + Joe + Charles Show (UCB East), Do Something (Tandem), Cool Shit Weird Shit (UCB East), anything hosted by Jo Firestone, Night Train (Littlefield), Comedy at the Knitting Factory, Cube (Muchmore’s), Creep (Over The Eight) improv shows with John Reynolds or Connor O’Malley and company (The Annoyance), You & The Screen. There are a lot of great one-offs at Over The Eight these days, too (because I’m booking certain nights with my favorite performers).
Besides Shea Stadium, what are the best comedy clubs in New York City?
Shea isn’t a comedy club so it is the best one. I don’t ever say any venue is better than another. It’s like saying I feel like going to see music so I’m going to get a ticket for Irving Plaza. You may end up seeing a great band, you will probably end up seeing G. Love & Special Sauce or something. But if you seek out certain shows, you’ll get some good curation.
Are there any venues you dream about playing but haven’t yet?
I would like to do some festivals, comedy and otherwise. I’ve been lucky to perform on some shows that I really respect like Big Terrific and Wards of Merkin, but there are some still out of reach. There are tons of shows in LA I would like to be on, too.
Who are your co-hosts and collaborators?
I host The Macaulay Culkin Show with Sally Burtnick, a really funny gal currently in Philly. I also produce the show with Frank Flaherty, and my comedy partner is Darren Mabee. They were all part of this crazy band called We Are The Seahorses, a kind of crazy sexterror-core performance art electro party band. I used to open for them at basement shows and weird venues in college. We decided to start doing comedy shows and when Macaulay started, they were natural collaborators.
Imagine that the one and only Mac himself is a fan of the show and wants to be involved. What’s a rough sketch of what you would maybe ask him to do?
We have a contingency plan in place if he were to show up pretty much every show, just in case. The name was such an afterthought that stuck for whatever reason. I’m pretty sure he knows about it, but we’ll see if he ever wants to check it out. I’m not holding my breath, though.
Comedy can be distilled in many forms, from film to television and live stand-up. What are your preferences and goals in terms of different formats?
I’d like to do them all! I want to write a book, make movies, do a series, do a large scale play. I’m down to do it all if they’ll let me!
Everyone should go out to see more live comedy. Laughter is the best medicine. The comics putting it all out there at The Macaulay Culkin Show go to the tough places and soften the sting by making fun of everything. No topic is too unpleasant to throw out in the spotlight to be deflated.
Cheap drinks, temporary transcendence of existential angst and only five bucks at the door. Go now before these talented names become famous, so you can confidently brag to your disbelieving pals; “Hey listen, I saw them first…”
Brett has a brand new show airing on New York City public access channel the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, called The Special Without Brett Davis. It premieres Wednesday night, February 11th and will be available streaming online here;
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