Interview: Jon Wolanske of Killing My Lobster

Posted by Maximum Fun on 17th October 2006

(Above: the proud beard of Jon Wolanske)

The sketch comedy group Killing My Lobster has, over the last ten years or so, become a San Francisco institution. They put on an all-new show every six months or so, they’ve got an annual film festival, they even get arts grants. They recently branched out into more traditional theater, producing Peter Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers, which was both a critical and commercial success.

KML are performing an omnibus show at Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco Wednesday night (tickets), so we thought we’d catch up with our friend Jon Wolanske, a writer-performer-producer in the group.

Killing My Lobster have been a fixture of the San Francisco comedy scene for quite some time. You’ve seen lots of SF comics (and some KML cast members) come and go… why stay in SF?

We stay in the Bay not only because we love the unique things this part of the country has to offer, but we believe this is the best place to create fresh original comedy in the country. we’re kind of known for a blend of different flavors–silly slapstick, meta-humor, literary references, sketches that incorporate found text, and lots of nostalgic and sometimes sentimental humor. it’s an odd mix, and based on where we have performed (Chicago, Manhattan, Los Angeles, Vancouver) we think San Francisco audiences are not only among the best when it comes to comedy, they tend to get our eclectic sense of humor the most. we also find that this is a great place to self-produce, where budgets can remain modest and you can still do a lot with that money.

What was it like to put on a real play, after years of sketch comedy reviews?

The play experience was pretty incredible from every aspect. I think the best part about it is that it was a natural outgrowth from what we do–because the playwright is a alumnus of the group, and the play itself–structurally, thematically, and in the end production, aesthetically–seemed to grow out of what we do really organically… it was as if one sketch or concept of a sketch was incubated and really stretched. the best part about it was that it showed we could grow as a producing organization into a new arena, and that our longtime supporters would actually go with us and give us that license to really try something new. Overall, it was really encouraging. and for me personally, playing a character who would have to kill a lamb onstage every night means i would never look at a schawerma in the same way ever again.

KML consistently embarasses other sketch groups with exceptional production values — sets, costumes, a great band — what’s the role of that polish in the group’s shows?

We don’t do it to embarrass anyone–sometimes it backfires on us. but we feel that having high production values is a show of respect not only to the work, but to the artists who invest so much time in creating this original programming and to the audience, who we feel pays good money to enjoy a great evening of entertainment. We really enjoy thinking about every aspect of the show–from how a song that precedes a sketch sets up that sketch, to what the program looks like and how it can play off the theme of any given show, to what’s in the lobby at intermission. So any sense of polish is there to really just enhance the overall experience of the
show’s theme–and what the audience can take away from that.

What’s the story with this big show at Cobb’s?

We’ve been chatting with the good folks at Cobb’s for a while about getting in there… they’ve been great about staying in touch–and this show arose as a fun way to preview the fall musical and to present some of our favorite recent and older sketches. We’d like to go back there again and do something where we create original content for that specific space–perhaps some stand-up from members of the group and some sketches we create specifically for there–but for now this show is an experiment to test run our fall musical material and see how we do in North Beach. Plus we always thought our material would really be enhanced by a two-drink minimum. Wo we’re hoping for great things.