Meet Griffin Wenzler

Griffin Wenzler performs sketch and improv in Chicago.

Our own Logan Short recently asked him some questions about how he performs and thinks about comedy.

When I think of you, I think of irreverence. It almost seems like your humor is a result of some exhaustion from artificial social interactions, language and mores. There’s even a sense of irreverence toward comedy or comedy culture itself. Is this fair? Why do I think this?

12694833_10100951813983969_7448506937516579194_oI am flattered that you think that of me. I put a lot of value on being myself and also being different. A lot of that entails calling out things that I think are dumb and speaking honestly about how I feel…or just putting distance between myself and whatever is happening, which probably comes off as “blunt” or “rude” or “irreverent”.

But hopefully most people are sensitive to and really hate self-righteousness and piety, so they will side with me when I am being irreverent. I really get off on flouting minor social rules and taking the piss out of people who hold themselves higher than others. I sound like an angsty white kid. Jesus Christ.

I think I just want to prove to myself and everyone else that it is all going to be OK even though I just said that “my dog cums those” while pointing at a bag of peanuts in a baseball park. I don’t own a dog, we don’t know the people who heard me say that, and I checked…there were no kids around, just us adults who are going to be totally fine.

Does that make sense? I don’t know why that was my example. I’ve never set foot in a baseball park.

I think this also gets to what I like about comedy. The interaction of “hey look…I said this thing, this stupid idea, and nothing bad happened because it is just an idea and it only has the power that we give it.” But I dunno…someone could say this is white privilege talking…and maybe they are right. Fuck me. But also fuck you, you don’t know me. I got my face stepped on when I was 6 years old.

As far as irreverence towards comedy culture, that is just what I surround myself with and therefore react against. It isn’t healthy. Comedians making jokes about comedy to non-comedians is lame. I hope I don’t do that much.

You’ve been doing a lot of work at The Annoyance, which puts a lot of their attention on training the individual whereas many theatres focus on group work and group mind. How has this approach helped you develop as a comedian? How has it affected your group work as well, if at all?

I wish I had gone to the Annoyance before anywhere else. All the “group mind” stuff really set me back I think. I like working with people, but I also like making decisions. That is what the Annoyance focuses on. Make a move. Do something, now realize what you have done, now commit to it and do it more.

At other theaters I felt like I was given the blank page of an improvised scene and told “don’t do this list of things” and also “you have to agree with whatever John-Carmichael said, which involves a group of park rangers eating cottage cheese… so like you better get on board with whatever the hell that is. I don’t know, man. It doesn’t look like fun.” I felt confounded by that way of thinking.

The Annoyance is liberating because they say “make a choice, any of them are OK”. It is a positive. I’m not asked to assess whether or not my dumb choice falls in with this weird set of “rules”. It is a choice and any choice is better than no choice at all.

All my favorite players have spent a lot of time at the Annoyance, or naturally play in that style. I have always thought that the main difference between a good scene and a bad one is the players’ confidence in themselves. The Annoyance promotes that over deference to a “group mind”. Framing improv as “group work” can feel like…work… because everyone is afraid of making the wrong choice, and if someone makes an insane choice everyone else feel beholden to something that they don’t like. Annoyance let’s me yell “No John-Carmichael! We are not fucking eating cottage cheese again just because you are a shitty head park ranger! I’m going to fucking go out there and kill a bear and we are going to feast!”10354590_10102214759316746_3663645896722371548_n

I don’t know if that would be a funny scene, but at least I can have an honest reaction to sweet John-Carmichael without worrying about the group. We are all equals. We are all leaders. We can all lead.

Working with a group is only fun if we are all equals AND leaders… I just don’t know how you make the kid who got his face stepped on at 6 years old feel confident in his choices when you front load his improv scene with a list of “don’ts”.

Some people like to compare improv to church, so I’ll do the same and say that like Christianity, there’s all these different “denominations.” Each theatre has its own curriculum, its own philosophy or theory, all stemming from the same base. Even within each “denomination,” teachers have their own unique perspective. There’s no accreditation process (that I know of). How have you been able to find your voice and feel confident in your ideas and play with so many different thoughts on what you SHOULD be doing?

Kinda a “see-above” situation here. I felt very lost because I am naturally geared to be independent, so group mind stuff was really hard to wrap my head around. I definitely had to go through a period of really hating improv because I felt like we were constantly shooting towards the lowest common denominator. I kept doing it though because I worked at Second City and saw Tim Robinson perform every night for a year, and then saw Cook County Social Club every week for another few years and was like “I HAVE to get to experience something even remotely similar to what those guys are feeling.”

Also I think the only two teachers to ever tell me I was funny without qualifying it with some crap about “truth” are Christy Bonstell and Mick Napier. When someone you admire tells you that you are funny, you tend to continue trying to do things like that. Please tell people when you think they are being funny. It is OK to be funny.

You do some video work as well. I really love An Old Man at Sea. Pretty simple concept, super funny. Does the challenge of video production ever shape the way you write or develop a sketch?

Not really. That video took months to make. I had to find a guy with a rowboat and get a clear day on the water when it was warm. I also had to convince my friend Andrew Newton to bring thousands of dollars worth of equipment into a skinny rowboat.

If I have an idea that I like, I usually go out of my way to make it happen. I will say that I have learned a lot about discipline and preparation by making my own videos. Everyone who wants to do any comedic performance should make some kind of videos.

I also really liked the IFC, The Annoyance Presents…”I Want Your Hat” video. Tell me about that process. Who wrote it? How’d you come to be in it? There’s no traditional setup/“joke” in it, but it made me laugh. Why? Or does it ruin it to try and explain it?

Thanks! I had a lot of fun doing those. My friend Danny Catlow wrote that. He is insane and will definitely be paid to do comedy some day. I wrote one called “Dog Ass Genie” that has not come out yet because IFC has been busy putting out the Video Frogs sketches. You should go watch those right now. They are incredible. I don’t know if there is really any relationship between those and why my dumb sketch isn’t out, but you gotta watch them. Those guys and gals will all be famous.

You’re from Nashville, so I wanted to ask if comedians doing southern accents ever gets annoying, but then I remembered The Full Anthology of Clesper Beaterman, so I think it’s not an issue with you. However! Being from the South, do you ever feel like there’s a lack of empathy for Southern culture/values in what is a predominantly unapologetic liberal-as-fuck scene? How do you think these attitudes help or hurt the polarizing political climate? Would you ever consider running for President?

I don’t really know if there is a lack of empathy or respect for Southern cultural values in Chicago comedy, mostly because I’m not even sure what those values really are outside of the stereotypes. However, I do think that in American comedy at large the South is often a convenient scapegoat for bigotry and racism that exists everywhere. One of my favorite pieces of TV comedy is that Colbert bit where they did a feature about the gay mayor of a small Kentucky town who is destroying America…and then everyone in the town just loves the guy and he is a great mayor. That is more the South that I know than the South that hates.

What’s the best piece of comedy advice you’ve ever received?

I think John Reynolds* once told me to just do my thing and do it hard. Or he said that to my friend James. I can’t remember. Either way, that is great advice and I admire John a lot. If you don’t know who he is, you will soon.

I saw that you had an issue with Xsport Fitness. I, too, had a problem with them, and the guy kept calling me “chief.” In one sentence, describe your feelings about this event.

Goodbye, Felicia.

Are there any shows or videos coming up that you’d like to plug? Where can we find more Real Griffin Wenzler goofs?

I have a show coming up the summer at the Annoyance (click for Annoyance Schedule) called “The Starlight Lounge presents: Bracket and Spootz” that I am very excited about. Also Trigger Happy is there every week (currently 10pm on Weds. $7). I haven’t done much video stuff in the past few months, but I work with the Newport Hounds often and they are hilarious white cisgendered men… if you need to see more of that kind of thing.

Thank you to Griffin for doing this interview with us! You can watch more of his videos at his Youtube Channel and follow him on Twitter @BadBoyRkLobster

*Turns out this is a thing soon-to-be-famous comedian John Reynolds told to a silly boy named James Conklin and not Griffin. Ever.

For more great interviews with comedians check out Meet Julia Weiss, Kevin McDonald or Andel Sudik.

Interview c/o of Logan Short, photo credit demanded by Ryan Alastair Asher, other images stolen from Griffin’s Facebook.

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