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Q&A with Comedian Brent Flyberg

Seattle is a second-tier comedy city from which promising young comics routinely relocate to New York or LA before they achieve maximum potential, so it’s rare to catch a local who's stuck around long enough to develop a fully realized voice. In a crowded scene with hundreds of hopefuls jockeying for limited attention, the sight of a comic who knows who they are and what they’re doing makes an impression.

Brent Flyberg is one such comic. He’s a handsome, laidback guy with hip-hop tastes and hipster tendencies whose material confronts familiar concerns—relationship foibles, millennial aimlessness, getting too stoned—with an amiable swagger. As a straight white male working in the cultural minefield of standup at a time when issues of identity and inclusion push back many dudebros on their heels, Flyberg treads lightly and stays in his lane, opting for honest self-disclosure over button-pushing cringe humor. He’s a comic you can safely recommend to your woke friends.

Flyberg’s been doing comedy in town for nine years, quietly establishing himself as a reliable talent deserving of a wider audience. He’s one of my personal favorites. Next week he’ll capture an audio recording for posterity in two shows at Scratch Deli, a haven for hip comedy and high weirdness. He’ll be joined by local standouts Wilfred Padua and Maddie Downes.

I asked Flyberg a few questions about the upcoming recording and the sources of his inspiration.

What made you decide to record your first album?
I'm going to nitpick here and specify that I'm calling it an EP, not an album. It's going to be about 20 minutes long. I'd rather listeners walk away wanting more than put out a recording that outlasts whatever enthusiasm the listener had. 

Part of the motivation to record and put out an EP was to do it once, so that I could do it again, but better. For a long time I had this idea about how to "make it" in standup that involved getting on stage as much as possible, hoping I'd get better, and eventually be on stage in front of the right person at the right time who'd say, "Okay, you made it, welcome to the club. Here's your special and your book deal and your sitcom."  

At some point I realized getting better required more than just getting on stage a lot. I had to be intentional about what I was doing every time if I wanted to improve, and recording this EP is my way of being more intentional about finding an audience. I'm 30. I'm too old to "get discovered" like that, and if I want to make things and do creative work I'm proud of, I have to stop waiting for permission to create things and start creating those things. 

The recording is also a deadline for me to finish some of these jokes. Because I never write any of the jokes down, they never get past the outline/rough draft stage in my head. I need to complete these jokes, or at least an official completed draft of them, by March 18, and then I can focus on new stuff that didn't grow from seeds I planted seven years ago.

Some of the punchlines in the jokes I'm recording are seven years old. They're weaved into longer—and I hope better—chunks than the bits they were culled from, but sometimes I have a tough time projecting the confidence of a 30-year-old comic when I hear the words of a 23-year-old dingus coming out of my mouth.

I read an interview with Sherman Alexie in which he talks about his new memoir, and how he wanted to do a memoir so that he could get it out of his system and finally write about something other than himself. This EP is not really a memoir, but it's for sure all about me, and I'm ready to be done with some of this stuff so I can start writing jokes about something else. 

Close your eyes and picture a room full of all the things that inspire your comedy. What’s in there?
My parents indirectly inspired my comedy by not putting any pressure on me to be anything other than what I wanted to be, and providing an environment that was stable and secure enough for me to have enough time and mental resources to turn every stray thought into a goof. They also provided an example of what compassionate, rational, competent people look like.

My anxiety directly inspires the process that leads to the jokes. I don't know how to "relax" in that way I picture other people relaxing—on a hammock with a glass of lemonade watching clouds pass. I have to be actively doing something every waking moment, and stand-up became a channel for that energy. I like stand-up for the same reason I liked playing baseball: Every day there are two or three opportunities to be better than yesterday. 

Dave Chappelle's Killin’ Them Softly and Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies are examples that stand out as inspirations because they're both pieces of art that I learned from, but neither was meant to teach me anything. They're both works created by people who are sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences in a way that was so enjoyable I found reasons to tie portions of my personal development to them. I don't want people to learn things from my act, but I want them to enjoy it enough to find reasons to remember it. 

How did you decide on Scratch as the venue for your recording?
Recording at Scratch Deli was a part of the plan before I decided I would be recording an EP. It's one of my favorite places. In my knowledge of its existence, dating back to its time as the People's Republic of Koffee, it has always been a place where everyone is welcome. It's a place where I have met a lot of creative, hilarious people who made me a better joke writer, joke teller, friend and person with just their friendship and presence in my life. 

There's some kind of magic in that room that forces you to be honest if you want to be funny. It's hard to describe, but it's the kind of room where you can talk about your genitals, as long as your heart is attached. 

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen lately?
The scene in Atlanta where Donald Glover's character is trying to track down this club promoter who hasn't paid him yet, and when Donald Glover turns his back the club guy leans against the wall and a section of the wall spins around so he can abscond down a secret pathway. It's a one-second-long visual gag that was unexpected, perfectly fit the pattern of progressively craftier ways to give someone the slip, and made me feel like I was watching a live action Simpsons episode for a moment. 

I don't laugh out loud while reading a lot, but Megahex by Simon Hanselmann and SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki are books—comic books, I guess—that made me laugh out loud.

Catch Brent Flyberg's EP recording at Scratch Deli on March 18, 7 and 9 pm.

Photo by Alyssa Yeoman.

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