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Theater & art

Comedian blurs line between ‘stupidity,’ creativity

“So much of existence is so boring,” Kurt Braunohler said. “To have little moments of stupidity is always welcome.”

Mandee Johnson

“So much of existence is so boring,” Kurt Braunohler said. “To have little moments of stupidity is always welcome.”

Comedian Kurt Braunohler has a podcast, excels at self-promotion, and once staged a one-man show. Nothing out of the ordinary for a comedian, right? Not until you consider the particulars: his podcast, “The K Ohle,” includes a regular segment that offers fake boat knowledge; recent self-promotion efforts included skywriting that asked, “How do I land?”; and his one-man show detailed a hiatus in a relationship and its origins in Amish tradition.

It all sounds random, yet everything Braunohler does makes a strange kind of sense. What at first seems like pure comedic chaos congeals into a pattern, in turn forming an alternate humor universe. This universe, says Braunohler, who brings his stand-up act to Johnny D’s in Somerville on Thursday, is intended to be more interesting than our own.

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“So much of existence is so boring,” he says over the phone from Los Angeles. “To have little moments of stupidity is always welcome.”

Kurt Braunohler

Johnny D’s, 17 Holland Street, Somerville Mass. 02144 617-776-2004. http://johnnyds.com/

Date of concert:
Thursday, Jan. 23
Ticket price:
$23

Braunohler’s career started with one of those moments in 1999, when he and fellow comedian Matt Murphy dressed up in animal costumes and staged battles in the middle of public streets.

“We had thousands of people showing up for these weird events,” he says. “That really got me excited about this idea of a thing happening in a space where people don’t expect to find art or comedy.”

Since then, Braunohler has logged many hours of improv, cohosted an onstage variety show (the recently revived “Hot Tub,” with Kristen Schaal), hosted a game show (“Bunk” on IFC), and provided cartoon voiceover work for, among other shows, the irreverent “Bob’s Burgers.” His first stand-up CD, “How Do I Land?,” was released in August.

Braunohler is used to artistic discomfort — anyone willing to dress up as a chicken in public has to be — but he said he found stand-up to be surprisingly difficult.

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“Stand-up is just one of those beasts,” says Braunohler. “Having [had] that much stage time, I thought doing stand-up would be an easy transition. It wasn’t. I almost had to abandon everything I knew about being onstage.”

Compared to the we’re-all-in-this-together world of improv, stand-up is a very personal endeavor, and Braunohler says this was particularly tough to get used to. He’d had some practice, however, with his one-man show (whose name, which includes a slang term for sexual intercourse, can’t be printed in this newspaper). The 2011 show detailed the period in his life when he and his girlfriend, using the Amish concept of Rumspringa (for which young people live without the Amish community’s strict guidelines for two years), decided to sleep with other people for 30 days. Braunohler also spoke about the experience — spoiler alert: It didn’t go so well — on the public radio show “This American Life.”

“When you’re single,” he says, “as a comedian you talk about being single; that’s just your life. I realized I had this weird single history. It was the first time I’d earnestly talked about my life onstage.”

The chance to talk publicly about something so intimate gave Braunohler the distance he needed to see its humor. For this reason, he calls the show a creative turning point, one that prompted him to make his stand-up act more about funny stories and less about jokes.

Telling such a personal story onstage “makes it less personal for you,” he says. “All of a sudden you’re kind of taking this very private moment and giving the world access to it. It allows you to further manipulate it to make more stuff out of it. It’s no longer yours, it’s the world’s.”

Braunohler says his stand-up has already become more personal and story-based in the five months since the release of “How Do I Land?” He sounds proud that he has reached that point, especially since the cliche trappings of stand-up routines — the wife jokes, the airplane food material — did not appeal to his comic sensibilities (though, it should be noted, “How Do I Land?” features a very funny story about air travel).

“There were just so many bad examples of what I didn’t want to do, so I couldn’t get behind it,” says Braunohler. But he adds, “You can mask general fear of doing something with a lot of rational reasons, which I think I was probably doing.”

When asked whether podcasts, YouTube, and all the other online venues available to comics make it easier or harder to get heard and seen, Braunohler says the degree of difficulty hasn’t changed much.

“Before, how hard was it just to get on Johnny Carson?” says Braunohler. Now “every day I do one or two podcasts that 92 percent of people never will hear. I’m constantly producing, constantly making jokes for Twitter. There’s a lot of pressure there. On the flip side, I think having to produce like that makes you a better comedian.”

So what do the Twitter jokes, the podcasts, the stage shows, the records ultimately constitute? Is there a singular Braunohler vision?

“That connection is always seen when looked back upon,” he says. “They’ve all been coming out of just my brain. They should be viewed as a whole, as parts of a mosaic. What that whole image is, I can’t say until I’m dead.”

David Brusie can be reached at dbrusie@gmail.com.

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