Comic Kurt Braunohler On His Passion for Creating Absurdity in an Already Absurd World

Kurt Braunohler
Kurt Braunohler
Photo by Mandee Johnson

Most comedians tell funny stories about absurd moments in their lives. Comedian Kurt Braunohler creates absurd moments so he can tell stories about them. 

"I've never really thought about it like that before, but I like that," says Braunohler when that description of his comedy and public performance projects is suggested to him. "I like that idea. I do want to give everybody who experiences it a story to tell." 

The New Jersey native has the adventurous spirit and quick mind of an absurdist humorist who enjoys pushing people out of their element, but only if it brings a smile to their face. He not only showcases this mindset in his stand-up comedy, he also organizes strange public works projects such as hiring a skywriter to scribble the phrase "How do I land?" in the skies above Los Angeles, driving a giant plastic butt across the country and riding the length of the Mississippi River on a jet-ski — all simply to garner a laugh.

"I think absurdity is funny," Braunohler says. "It's also just the way my brain works, too. Your writing is just laying out your brain on paper sometimes. I think the absurdity of life is the best and worst about life." 

The comedian and star of FOX's Bob's Burgers, the Hulu series Deadbeat and Comedy Central's Another Period will perform a one-hour show of new material that he's preparing for a new Comedy Central special this Thursday at Sons of Herman Hall. 

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Braunohler credits his love of pranks to his upbringing in New Jersey's suburbs — "there was nothing to do so I think that just came out of taking mundane circumstances and making them somehow special" — and his early breaks into show business as an actor on a series of hidden camera prank shows. 

"I really, really detest prank shows," Braunohler says. "I was on two of them. One was called Prankville for CMT and it was horrible, and the other three were all pilots, so it felt like another full show. The making of the sausage of a prank show is that you just do it 100 times and then you get one 'appropriate response' and all the other times, you're just ruining their day all for like hee-hee, gotcha!" 

Braunohler's public stunts are more like loving gifts. One of his first successful performance art projects, executed shortly after he moved to the Big Apple, earned a massive crowd and shut down a major thoroughfare in New York City. Braunohler started a war between two hybrid animals: a half chicken, half penguin named Chengwin and a half chicken, half skunk named Chunk. 

"For about five years, we would host these illegal street fights/parades where Chengwin was pure love and his half-brother Chunk was pure evil and they hated each other and would meet on the street," Braunohler says. "Essentially, they would bump into each other until Chunk fell over and his head popped off, but we did it for years and we'd have these big events, and our final event, I think, had over 2,000 people." 

These days, he's branched out into TV and film (no more prank show roles, but he did have an audition for Sasha Baron Cohen's assistant/love interest in Bruno that went spectacularly wrong, according to an interview with NPR). He has a part in a romantic comedy called The Big Sick, which is produced by Judd Apatow and written by comedian and Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon.

"Kumail and Emily said when they were writing it that they imagined me in that part but it wasn't up to them when it comes down to it," Braunohler says. "It's up to the producer and the director. So they got me in to do a table read for that part and after the table read, the director and producer decided to audition for it which was not a good sign. I didn't win them over there, I guess. So they decided to audition for a bunch of people, but in the end, they gave it to me."

Braunohler's stand-up also exhibits the same gleeful absurdity with a mix of made-up material ("I haven't seen Instagram today," he says as the opening line for his set at the 2013 Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal. "Does anybody know if the sun set?") and personal truths ("I started smoking when I was 10 years old," Braunholder says in the same set. "Five years after I stopped breastfeeding, I started smoking.").

He says the material he's written for his latest tour does explore some more serious topics as well as his personal life. 

"I think it's just from doing comedy for a long enough period of time, and also my mom died in July and I'm gonna start talking about that a little bit, but it'll be interesting," Braunohler says. "Of course, I say this now and my next hour will be called Giggles and Tee-Hees." 

Braunohler acknowledges that he's different from many comics, who are often distinguished by a tendency toward negativity, but he says that just like dark comics, his infectious persona is rooted in an awareness of the world's absurdity.

"The world is an inherently unfair place and it's pretty terrible to be in and the anger in comics comes from that reaction to how horrible the world is, and I recognize that fully and in my new material I definitely speak about how horrible the world is," Braunohler says. "So it's not all just feel-good goofs and giggles, but I honestly think I just tend to see things more as, 'Yes, they're horrible, but it's patently absurd.' Our existence on this planet is absurd." 

Kurt Braunohler will perform with Aaron Aryanpur at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, at Sons of Herman Hall (3414 Elm St.). Tickets are $15 at Ticketfly.com


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