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Stand-up comedy comes to Enumclaw Expo Center

Brooks McBeth, John Keister and fellow Almost Live! alumni Pat Cashman. McBeth and Keister will be performing at the Expo Center Saturday.  - Courtesy photo
Brooks McBeth, John Keister and fellow Almost Live! alumni Pat Cashman. McBeth and Keister will be performing at the Expo Center Saturday.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Many Washington TV aficionados have fond memories of the 1980s and ‘90s. New York and Los Angeles may have had Saturday Night Live and the rest of prime time, respectively, but Seattle had “Almost Live!,” a locally produced sketch show that proved nationally influential, launching the careers of entertainers such as Joel McHale and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

On Saturday Dec. 22, the Enumclaw Expo Center will host a stand-up comedy show featuring two “Almost Live!” alumni: Brooks McBeth and John Keister.

Keister, of course, was the host of “Almost Live!” from the 1988 season onward. But the Enumclaw show is a special homecoming for McBeth, whose stand-up act was recently featured on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”

McBeth is a Renton native, but his family ties through his mother, a schoolteacher, run deep in Enumclaw.

“Most of my family … is from Enumclaw and still lives here,” McBeth said. “I spent my childhood here. So it’s exciting to be able to perform here.”

He’s an alumnus of Lindbergh High School and Green River Community College, who broke into television as an intern for “Almost Live!” During his early tenure, he managed to grab air time as “Intern Brooks.” One particularly self-deprecating early sketch, “A Special Offer From Brooks McBeth,” saw “Intern Brooks” offer, unsuccessfully, to solve Washington’s declining birth rate by having sex with every woman in the state (with a complementary kitchen toaster included to sweeten the deal).

McBeth earned his way into the show’s writer’s room and cast, appearing in recurring sketches such as “Jus’ Pimpin’” alongside McHale.

After the cancellation of “Almost Live!” in 1999, McBeth was flown out to New York to audition for “Saturday Night Live” to no avail. He decided it was time to move to Los Angeles, home to the majority of television’s writing and performing jobs. There, he earned his way onto the writing staffs of “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn,” then “Trigger Happy TV,” a one-season U.S. adaptation of the British hidden camera show.

Following Comedy Central’s cancellation of “Trigger Happy TV,” McBeth took a writing job on the FOX-aired sketch series “MADtv,” where he stayed  on for two seasons.

“(It was) a place a thousand times more chaotic and a little more stressful than ‘Almost Live’,” he said. “These guys are incredibly talented.”

Working from a competitive writer’s room he was able to bring 15 of his sketches to air. Some of his work includes “Suge Knight’s Court-Ordered Holiday Album,” and the Special Patrick sketch “Special Olympics.”

“It’s great writing for shows,” McBeth said. “At the same time, the work you put out changes as it passes through different writers hands. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen.”

He began performing standup to find another outlet for writing and performing. Unlike television, standup provided a direct connection between comic and audience, something that appealed to McBeth.

He went through the typical pitfalls and rites of passage of breaking into standup comedy, a disastrous first set included. He went out on the road with other comedians, opened for headliners and built up his own material.

“What’s funny is when I open for Joel McHale, or Jack Black, or whoever, the audience will get a little annoyed that there’s a comedian before the comedian they came to see,” McBeth said. “But I like that. I like the challenge of winning them over.”

While he’s not afraid to confront a particularly aggressive heckler, McBeth said he believes most hecklers heckle because they genuinely want to be a part of the show and don’t know proper show etiquette; in their case, a Katt Williams-style direct retaliation doesn’t help the comedian’s cause.

“It depends on whether the heckler is coming from a real negative place, or just had too much to drink,” he said. “If I have to go after somebody, I will, but if 300 is the average number of people I have at one of my shows, there are 299 people who want to have a tremendous night. When I break it like that to confront one person, it can make the night less fun for the other 299.”

His format helps. McBeth eschews much of the standard comedian-talking-to-audience for a show he estimates is 40 percent rehearsed material, 60 percent participatory “town hall.” He will invite questions from the audience, touch on locally important events; the goal is to snowball starting points into an improvised stream-of-consciousness.

“Each show is tailor made for each show’s audience,” he said. “For Enumclaw, I’m going to do a slideshow, I’m going to talk about my childhood in the area, and I’m going to tell stories about what it was like.”

“Comedy in the CLAW!” will begin at 8 p.m. Dec. 22. Tickets are $17 and available through Brown Paper Tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/285146. Tickets will be sold at the door pending availability. The Enumclaw Expo Center is located at 45224 284th Ave. S.E. in Enumclaw.

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