November 20th, 2011 · Johnny Misheff
Club Nutz: Pioneering Trance-like Comedy in Tiny Spaces
Let's break down the title of Scott and Tyson Reeder's ongoing comedy experience, Club Nutz, for a minute. The 'Club' connotes the obvious: a group of people gathering with a common purpose. The 'Nutz' smacks of whimsy, a promise of some sort of amusement. But is Club Nutz just a comedy club? Hardly. It's a workshop, a convention center, an open forum improv theater, a dance hall. And, due to capacity issues, it's really, really hard to get into. You see, the "pop-up" club takes place usually in a space about one twentieth the size of a normal club -- an element which, on its own provides one of the main points of hilarity, according to Tyson. The Reeder brothers are primarily painters, but they have exhibited an extraordinary grasp of what it takes to create a Good Time, as evidenced by their wildly successful Milwaukee- and Chicago-based parties and the many iterations Club Nutz has taken on in various cities and art fairs around the world. They're also inventing a brand new genre of music, which we find out more about in the following interview conducted over email with Tyson, in anticipation of Club Nutz's debut appearance tonight at Performa Ha!
Johnny Misheff: How did Club Nutz come about?
Tyson Reeder: The first Club Nutz happened one night in the middle of a long and dreary Milwaukee winter. We transformed a tiny 8 x 8' room adjacent to the Green Gallery into the world’s smallest comedy club in about an hour by painting red bricks and building a raised DJ booth out of scrap wood. I remember an upside-down Christmas tree, a mop with sunglasses and fake laughter triggered randomly. It only takes a handful of people to be "at capacity" in a space that size, and like the Wrong Gallery or The Suburban in Oak Park, there's something instantly funny about a space that's too small. It seemed logical and we kept doing them every month thereafter. They began as haphazard open-mics followed by dance parties and then evolved into more ambitious programming that included screenings, lectures, live bands and drawing classes.
Where has this party traveled? What are some examples of the rowdiest experiences you've witnessed throughout the project?
We've recreated the club at the Frieze Art Fair in London, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Salon 94 in New York, among other venues. Each time there have been different degrees of rowdiness. At Frieze we were given a full booth and converted it into a pretty convincing party atmosphere, complete with black walls, miniature bar, disco ball, smoke, and Spencer Sweeney DJing. It had a very Euro vibe, with French and British comedians coming out of the woodwork for Happy Hour -- where if you told a joke you got a free pint. Norwegian artists Henrik Plenge Jakobson and Goodiepal made opium in the club and Jack Hanley demonstrated a whiskey-pouring robot that caught on fire. Like a real club, it's often dark and we have no idea what's going on. But the rowdiest, wildest Club Nutz nights are always in Milwaukee, where people usually fall into an addictive back-to-back joke/trance state that lasts all night long. It's like laughing meditation, except with fake laughter, downloaded off iTunes.
How important is humor to you?
It's not so important that something is funny… it just shouldn't be boring. So much art is just about quietly agreeing what good taste is at any given moment -- we are more interested in loudly disagreeing.
What kind of music gets played in Club Nutz?
We play a lot of Gary Glitter, Chopin, Chicago juke music and Raymond Scott's "Soothing Sounds for Baby.” We are working hard on a new form of music called Comedy Trance that will be totally insane once we mix it down.
What are your thoughts on the scene in the Midwest?
The Midwest is great for making music, art or any other activity where being a shut-in can be a positive thing. It's a little trickier when you try to get what you've made out into the world. We've been pretty successful at building bridges between places like Milwaukee and the rest of the world, and the outsider perspective can be a real strength- you just have to work a little harder to stay part of the conversation.
How amazing is Performa?!
This is our first Performa and we are excited to be part of this context that seems to welcome visual artists into the performance world. We are primarily painters but have always used art openings as an occasion to perform and had equal interests in music and video. For tonight’s performance we will be doing a musical piece involving a large painting called Untitled No. 3 that asks the question "Is abstraction funny?"
Club Nutz appear November 20th as part of Performa Ha! at Ha! Comedy Club, 163 West 46th Street in New York.
Johnny Misheff founded, designed and is the curator of rereveal.com.