We seat ourselves on these wind-scoured and semi-desert shrublands with an alleged multitalented actor, comedian, and co-founder of the Southern Colorado comic collective, Steel City Stand-Up. The man calls himself Charley McMullen, but a birth certificate is not presented. Our idea is to chauffeur this man into the wilderness and press him with questions while Kara “The Muscle” Mason takes photographs. This way—if for fear alone– he will answer our queries about Steel City Stand-Up, the role of humor, and Mariah Carey honestly and without pretense. After all, we are his only way out.
We eye the man in malefic silence; the only detectable sound being the lonely winds tossing about our hair and the psychotic cha-chink of Kara’s camera shutter opening and closing like the terminal strokes of a countdown. A single bead of sweat betrays Charley’s calm exterior with an apparently growing dread. Noticing this, Kara’s one eye meets mine from behind her camera with a cold and steely glare… it’s go time.
PULP: Okay, we’re going to open up with more of a demand then a question.
Charley McMullen: Sure.
PULP: The Death Penalty… GO!
CM: Oddly enough, I am for the death penalty. I’m really liberal about most things, but… I have limited faith in the possibility of rehabilitation.
CM: You like to start off light.
The question served a twofold purpose. One: to test the man’s improvisational reflexes while under duress. Two: To keep him wondering what could possibly come next. Since he just provided us with an earnest answer, we know he has no idea what to expect. We quickly move on with the interrogation.
PULP: What is Steel City Stand-Up?
CM: Steel City Stand-Up is something that John Brown and I started very informally about a year and a half ago, but recently we’ve started to treat it like a business… giving all of the management resources that musicians have to comedians.
Kara looks over as if to say, “he’s telling the truth.” I regard her assessment with a quick uptick of the chin. We decide to move along with quickfire questioning until we sense something is off.
PULP: Let’s say you’ve been asked to come up with a manifesto for Steel City Stand-Up on the spot. Your answer would be binding and would also be printed thousands of times in newsprint. What would you say?
CM: Jokes Without Ego… because they [print shops and engravers] charge by the letter.
PULP: What do you think is the overall role of comedy in our lives?
CM: I think comedy is one of the most important things in life because the more [intimidating] and terrifying that life gets… the more necessary comedy is. Whenever you take comedy out of the equation everything gets unbalanced and that’s when you get people who just wake up one day and… run a plane into the World Trade Center.
PULP: Thinking of comedy as a tool… what purpose does it serve?
CM: You can’t have peace without starting with laughter. I think comedy is an important component in the quest for peace.
PULP: If you were to be charged with creating the ideal comedy club in Southern Colorado, what would this place be like?
CM: [It would have] low ceilings, a built-in sound system, big frightening bouncers, and a zero-tolerance policy on heckling.
PULP: What would you call it?
CM: I’d call it the Jack Passante Jr. Theatre.
PULP: How come?
CM: Because he was one of my best friends and he died way too early… I think it would be a good way to honor him.
PULP: What kind of comedian do you consider yourself?
CM: Well, if I were a pretentious asshole, I would consider myself intellectual. I sort of consider myself abstract.
PULP: How can you make comedy abstract?
CM: It’s comedy that doesn’t really have a stance and it doesn’t pick a side and it’s really more about how the audience hears it than being about a certain thing… You have relationship humor… racial humor, but abstract humor is just about opening the mind of the audience.
PULP: What is the best joke you have that nobody ever gets?
CM: Funny thing about NASCAR fans is they like races but they don’t like other races. That one did not go over at Sports Garden.
PULP: CLICHÉ! I am going to hit you with one: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” What picture do you wish existed purely for your own comedic fodder?
CM: Children performing surgery at a Children’s Hospital.
Feeling satisfied with the intelligence we have received thus far, a sudden urgency is felt to strike with our two most vital questions (code-named “The Deuce,” or “Alpha,” and “Omega”). Like quickly changing winds, the mood instantly shifts; Charlie instinctively assumes the full-lotus position in his chair, Kara’s camera clacks with rising fever, and I draw in a pregnant breath. Behold… this is the litmus paper.
PULP: Now, we have heard of a mastery you might possess over the game: “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Tell us of Kevin Bacon’s relations with… Mariah Carey.
Mariah Carey’s name echoes across the semi-desert expanse in resounding bellows… sending shivers through the Rocky Mountain range as if it is the shuddering spine of Atlas.
CM: Alright, let me see here. Mariah Carey was in “Wise Girls” with Mira Sorvino, who was in “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” with Janeane Garofalo, who was in “Mystery Men” with Ben Stiller, who was in “There’s Something About Mary” with Matt Dillon, who was in “Wild Things”… with Kevin Bacon.
Riddle answered, Kara stumbles in a drunk-looking attempt not to faint; I try to conceal the dark area spreading on the lap of my pants. Certainly, this man is the chosen one. I ask one final question.
PULP: Charley McMullen, what are the essential elements of a good comedian?
CM: I guess just tenacity. Don’t let bombing slow you down, get stage-time anywhere you can, and don’t have it be about money. If it is about money, you are doing it for all the wrong reasons. Which is easy to say because I’m broke.
by Kevin Healey