Howard Kremer has an interesting challenge as a comedian and a musician. His shows have the structure of a concert but he also needs the crowd response that every comedian relies upon to make their shows work. A joke takes about a minute to tell from setup to punchline. A song with jokes takes much longer.
It's like being a tightrope walker except it takes longer to realize if he's falling to his death.
“The tough thing about a song is it’s like you’ve got to wait longer to find out," Kremer says. "Once you get into it, you’ve got to do the whole thing and if it’s not working, that’s like three minutes. A joke, you can opt out of it or comment on it. It’s easier."
Fortunately, Kremer has much more control over the tightrope he's walking across these days thanks to the fanbase he's built with his long-running comedy podcast Who Charted? and his Summah series of albums and festivals. He'll have the support of his Dallas fans when he performs at Three Links on Elm Street this Friday.
The New Jersey native says he got his start in music and moved to comedy as part of a joke that came true.
"Throughout elementary school, high school and college, I was always in bands," Kremer says. "We used to joke that if the bands didn't work out, we could always go into comedy and that's basically what happened. People always thought we were funny but we'd keep trying with a band and someone would quit, and finally I was just like, 'I can just do stand up by myself and I wouldn’t have to carry any equipment, and as soon as it was over, I could just put the mic back in the stand.' So it just seemed like a more attractive option.”
It's not that comedy also wasn't part of his development, he says. It's just that starting a band seemed like a more obvious way to score a creative career.
“I was always interested in it [comedy]," he says. "I went to see Steve Martin when I was a little kid. I saw Monty Python live when I was a little kid. My brother and my dad would always take us. It just didn’t seem like a viable option. There [weren't] that many people going into it compared to bands."
That "more attractive option" turned out to be a more lucrative one also, and it allowed him to explore a musical persona as comic DJ Dragon Boy Suede.
The songs seem to come from his experiences in past relationships, mixed with surreal concepts like "You Won't Sass Me Like That When I Can Summon Wolves" and "I'm Not Paying $500 to Watch Douchebags Eat Turkey," a song that was inspired by his ex-girlfriend, who uttered the phrase while reading emails from her family asking her if she would be home for Thanksgiving.
"I actually did it as a one-liner that night. I was doing a show and Patton Oswalt was on the show," Kremer says. "From the side of the stage, he yells, 'That’s gotta be a song!'”
Who Charted? also just celebrated its fifth anniversary, a moment that Kremer says he felt pretty confident he'd see from the start. Kremer says he started the show after seeing the launch of Comedy Bang Bang! creator Scott Aukerman's Earwolf podcast network. He thought there was room for a comedy podcast with more structure that wasn't just a room of comedians riffing on stories they pulled off the Internet. The show discusses the latest movie and music chart toppers in a countdown format as a way to "reel it back in" and give the show a "forward momentum."
"I kind of did think it would last that long because it was one of those projects where it immediately took off and people liked it," Kremer says. "There wasn't a lot of wrestling to put it together. So it could just go. It could just run."
Kremer also built his fanbase with a series of "Summah" singles and albums that celebrate the season of sunshine and freedom with tunes like "I Befriended a Seagull" and "Lord Don't Take Me in Spring."
Kremer says he came up with the idea (guess when?) one summer in Los Angeles when he found himself with a lot of time on his hands, which he either wasted at the beach or spent looking for work. He decided to combine the two and his small "Summah" idea became its own massive movement that spawned a summer celebration festival complete with comedy, music and water slides.
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“I was writing for a television show and it got cancelled," he says. "So all of a sudden, I had a ton of time on my hands and when you have a lot of time on your hands in LA, it’s not a great thing, and it was summertime. So I thought, 'I’ll just go to the beach,' but then I thought, 'Nah, you've got to work hard and work for the future,' and it was just this debate raging in my head for a long time. So I thought, 'Why not just do that as a character?' Then I got up and started talking about it but I realized it wasn’t a character. It was real. I was pretty passionate about summertime.”
The wild success of the podcast and his "Summah" series have also given Kremer a huge fanbase for his live shows, which look and sound like the unholy alliance of a surreal standup show and a musical showcase. Plus he's also technically in a band, even if he's the only member.
"They're both fun and creative," he says. "They're both something you can go do live in front of a crowd, and because I have the podcast, I can do comedy on the podcast and do music and it's all in one place. It's been kind of a nice evolution."
Howard Kremer of the Who Charted? podcast performs with Paul Varghese at 7 p.m. Friday at Three Links in Deep Ellum. Tickets are $12. More at threelinksdeepellum.com.