Friday at Oberon, a group of people are going to tell true stories from their lives, then do a song, accompanied by a live band called Sleep Crimes. To call the performers “eclectic” would only scratch the surface. The storytellers include Kevin Meaney, a veteran of the Boston comedy scene; rising comedian Aparna Nancherla; graphic novelist Joyce Brabner; and local artist/comedian Christine An. The show is hosted by comedian Matthew Flynn, who cut his teeth on performing as a preacher with a megachurch.
Flynn says “Thought Bomb” is a comedy show, but he doesn’t necessarily hold his storytellers to that, since some of them aren’t comedians. They just have to be real stories, something that actually happened to them.
“Mostly, if they can’t make it funny they just have to stay interesting,” he says. “Then they pretty much have free reign, other than trying to make the song complement or work with the story.”
Flynn designed the show, which evolved from a more chaotic variety format, to appeal to an audience looking for something offbeat, not just, he says, “a bunch of white men” telling jokes about how their wives or girlfriends take a long time to get ready.
“I think there’s plenty of people who don’t want to go to the normal, kind of like standard comedy show of Daniel Tosh- or Anthony Jeselnik-type people,” he says. “They would like to see something different or from [a different] perspective, not just people saying stuff for shock value or to be mean.”
Finding strange stories pulled from real life won’t be a problem for Meaney, who has appeared on Broadway in “Hairspray” and used to do a hilarious “man on the street” shtick during his shows at Stitches in Boston.
“I have so many stories,” he says. “You know, I’ve been arrested many times. It’s always fun to talk about your time in jail.” He’s referring to incidents at the San Francisco airport in 2002 concerning a scuffle with a National Guardsman and at Kennedy Airport in 2014, when he elbowed a woman in the chest. Charges were dismissed in both cases.
He could talk about his medical history: In first grade, he had to be operated on four times to extract a peanut from his lung, and later he had to have an operation to remove a bottle cap from his stomach. “I’ve had a colorful life,” he says. And of course, Meaney could choose to talk about one of the biggest life-changing events in his personal history, when he finally came out in 2008. Shortly thereafter, he got divorced from his wife, Mary Ann Halford, with whom he has a daughter.
Meaney had realized he was gay when he was in his teens, but had been afraid he might be shunned or worse if he came out. In the ’80s, he thought he might finally be ready, but then the AIDS crisis hit. It wasn’t until he got to Broadway in 2002 that he started to feel safe.
“That turned me around,” he says. “I got a job doing the gayest musical of all time, ‘Hairspray,’ and everybody in the cast and everybody in the crew and everybody in the audience, they were all gay. So it just gave me the courage. People say, ‘Does Broadway make you gay?’ Yes, it does. OK? It does. Even going to see a show, you can become gay. So you’ve got to be careful.”
Now Meaney is happy, still friends with Halford, and living in New York. And these stories are part of the act. “That’s what I do is tell the truth about my life,” he says. “I find humor in that. And the audience finds humor in that.” And for the record, he’ll be singing the sprightly jazz standard “Sunny Side of the Street.”
Flynn had his own life-changing event in 2008 when he first started stand-up comedy. The Barre native had moved south in 2002 to try to find himself, and got into an interesting line of work.
“I was a depressed and angry kid and I thought that religion worked for some people, so I tried really hard to make it work for me,” he says. “I don’t halfway commit to things, so I pretended to have a born-again experience at a church up in Maine, and then I got a job working for a religious nonprofit in Texas.”
He wound up preaching as part of his job in Texas and later at a megachurch in Tacoma, Wash. A church isn’t a comedy club, but when Flynn moved back to Worcester in 2007 and started comedy a year later, he found some of the skills were transferable. “The discipline as far as trying to come up with new material even if you weren’t necessarily going to have much of an audience to talk to,” he says, “whether it was just a few people in the room or a couple hundred. So I took that discipline of, even if it’s not good material, I’m constantly coming up with stuff or trying to rework stuff.”
He began playing more alternative places like coffee shops and music venues, and developed a taste for comedy with something more substantial to say. “I like the stuff that’s either quirky or seems kind of socially involved, or seems like the people are actually giving something of themselves as opposed to saying silly things,” he says.
Flynn began “Thought Bomb” in 2012, doing regular shows in Worcester. Tonight’s show is the second in a series of three “Thought Bomb” shows at Oberon, with one more next month, and Flynn hopes it will catch on as a monthly series. For now, he pays the performers out of his own pocket and only charges a $5 cover.
“My goal is for it to happen regularly at Oberon with national acts,” he says, and also to have a touring component.
With Kevin Meaney, Aparna Nancherla, Joyce Brabner, and Christine An, hosted by Matthew Flynn.
At Oberon, Aug. 28, 9 p.m. Tickets $5.
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.