Arts » Comedy

Laughing in the wilderness with Small Town Funny

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This week, comedians John Sideris and Michelle Maclay will be celebrating a year of informing people that being a Triangle-based comedian can be a pain in the ass. With few comedy clubs, local upstarts perform in bars and cafes. However, sparse audiences and an overabundance of amateur comics are making it difficult for those who want to pursue stand-up comedy as a profession.

"[The Triangle] is really a bad choice if you want to become a professional comic," says the Durham-based Sideris. Still, that's not stopping them. For the past year, they've hosted a local comedy podcast called Small Town Funny, and this Saturday, at The ArtsCenter of Carrboro, the two of them will host a live recording of their newest podcast.

On Small Town Funny, stand-up comics Sideris, 44, and Maclay, 45, discuss the pluses and minuses of local comedy. The podcast stemmed from Sideris, a big podcast fan, brainstorming with his joke-writing partner Maclay on what they could do on a podcast.

"One day we were writing jokes," says Sideris. "It was the joke about my cat throwing up and we were laughing about this joke. And I said, 'OK, let's do this for the podcast.'"

"It's kind of like a Seinfeld moment," adds Carrboro resident Maclay. "Like, what's the show gonna be about? Nothing! It's gonna be about nothing!"

Despite Maclay's claim, Small Town Funny is more than the pair bouncing jokes off each other and shooting the shit about doing open-mics and one-nighters. They also interview local comics, like Shane Smith, Caroline Monday and Steve Brady, who bring their own perspectives on being a Tar Heel comedian. "As we've talked to some of our guests, some people make a very deliberate choice to work here, as a way to get ready and to build your act," says Sideris. "Because once you're in LA or New York, it's hard to get stage time."

They've also managed to get national and international comedians on the podcast, including author Sara Benincasa, Pakistani-American comic Kumail Nanjiani, the UK's Katerina Vrana and stand-up vet Cathy Ladman. Sideris and Maclay have found that interviewing these local and touring comics, as they break down their creative, comedic process, sates the curiosities of listeners (Sideris says they've gotten more than 2,500 visits on the podcast's original WordPress site) who come to the podcast looking to see how comedians work.

"I have found consistently that people are very interested and sort of fascinated by how you are a comic and what is that process like," says Maclay. "We've gotten people that have said, 'You know, I want you to really talk about how to write a joke.'"

Sideris and Maclay both admit the podcast serves as both a place to work out material and a promotional platform for them and their upcoming appearances. "For us, it's largely a way to make sure we keep working," says Sideris, who organizes the monthly "Bulltown Comedy Series" show, which next takes place Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Durham's Casbah.

They hope the podcast will hip Triangle audiences to the comedy scene that is happening in this area. They also hope that aspiring comics will take a listen and be enlightened on what it takes if they seriously want to be funny. "I would do an open-mic at The Cave [in Chapel Hill] and I would get these comics and they were like, 'I don't think I want to perform because there aren't any audience members,'" says Maclay. "I'm like, it's not about there being 40 people here to listen to you and laugh. It's about you getting up onstage and saying your joke out loud to see if it makes sense."

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