There was a time not that long ago when there was no live comedy on Capitol Hill. Then came the alternative comedy movement, marked on the national scene by David Cross, Marc Maron, Janeane Garofalo, TV shows like Mr Show, spaces like Luna Lounge in NYC. Here on Capitol Hill, the People’s Republic of Komedy was formed. Founded by Kevin Hyder, Emmett Montgomery, and Dan Carroll, PROK became the nexus for Seattle’s alternative comedy. The goal was to forgo comedy clubs, and create a local scene. That goal has arguably been achieved. Capitol Hill now offers more shows and open mics than even the most intrepid comedy nerd could hope to attend, and new events are popping up all the time. PROK is largely responsible for the prevalence of alternative comedy in Seattle, but these days its status as the center Seattle’s comedy scene is up for debate.
PROK has changed over it’s seven year life. Of the original members, Hyder is the only one who is still a part of the organization. He runs the People’s Republic of Koffee, which serves as the location for most PROK events. In addition to the many shows that focus on local comedy, a major success for PROK has been Laugh Hole, the twice monthly show at Chop Suey.
Hyder’s focus on producing shows for national acts has become a large part of what PROK is known for. Laugh Hole alternates between a showcase of PROK comedy groups, and a show featuring a touring headliner. They’ve had some outstanding comics like Dana Gould and Pete Holmes, and the line of talent shows no signs of diminishing. Ron Funches, Eddie Pepitone, and Paul F. Tompkins will all be doing what they can to fill Chop Suey with laughs in the coming months.
According to Hyder, “Chop Suey has sort of started to be recognized as a venue for alternative comedy in a lot of ways. They’ve started popping up on websites and calendars as a comedy club, which is hilarious, because it’s a rock club. Because we’ve been doing Laugh Hole there so consistently, It’s started to get associated with the alternative comedy movement on a national level.”
Kevin Hyder is many things: entrepreneur, comedian, promoter, and barista. His coffee shop is sometimes profitable, sometimes a very expensive hobby, but it’s always home for PROK shows.
“It affords us an awesome playhouse. Basically, three nights a week at least, there is something going on,” he said. “More importantly it’s a venue that we can do whatever the hell we want to with. From a business standpoint, we support the coffee shop.”
It’s more of a means to an end. “Our home base is here on Capitol Hill, and it has been for five years. The audience is an integral part of developing a voice,” Hyder said. “Our audience to a large extent comes from the area. Just by way of responding to certain kinds of comedy and not responding to other kinds of comedy has influenced our voice. [Capitol Hill] audiences are unique in the sense that they will not tell you that they don’t like something, they just won’t respond. That teaches comics really quick. You’ll see people get up and try to tell a joke that they’ve been successful with in dive bars in Everett, or in a comedy club. You can tell going into it that this person thinks this misogynistic joke is really funny, but it’s not. The audience doesn’t react to it. [Comics] realize pretty quickly that it’s a different type of audience. For the better, I would say.”
As much as the comedy scene in Seattle has grown in recent years, it’s still a relatively small community. Can you stay in Seattle and have a successful comedy career? “I think it depends on what your goal is,” Hyder said. “If your goal is to be part of the who’s who of the entertainment industry, then yeah. You need to go to New York or LA. If your passion is developing your craft, you never have to leave.”
“As a result of staying here I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities that I’m really happy about.”
PROK has seen two of the three founders leave the organization. Dan Carroll is in New York now, and Emmett Montgomery is a now a huge part of the independent comedy scene. In addition to appearing all over town in other people’s shows, He hosts Weird and Awesome at Annex Theatre, as well as his weekly open mic at the Crescent, called Triumph and Tragedy.
Montgomery contends that there are basically three subsets to the Seattle comedy scene. There’s the comedy clubs, there’s PROK, and then there’s the independent comedy scene. They aren’t necessarily in competition, but they are somewhat separate from each other.
“I think the strongest scene right now is the independent scene,” Montgomery said. “I think that more fearless and amazing stuff is happening, and I think there is more passion, and commitment to winning in the independent scene.”
“Because the Seattle scene is respected,” Montgomery said, “and because Capitol Hill is a cool neighborhood, when the professionals come, they’ll slum at these shows. I once had three Showtime credits [Comics who have performed on the Showtime Network] at the Crescent. That happens. You are going to see some awful shows, or some rough shows, but you will also see some sublime moments in the Capitol Hill scene that you aren’t going to see anywhere else.”
“The only way to capture those moments, because of the roughness,” Montgomery said, “is to be there for it. All of the ingredients to build a great scene on Capitol Hill are here. The main ingredient missing is audience. Sometimes we really need butts in seats and people buying drinks. That’s my message to the public.”
Although Hyder and Montgomery have gone their separate ways, they still see eye to eye on many things. They both would love to have a comedy stage at the Capitol Hill Block Party, they agree that there is plenty of room in town for the many different shows, and they both think going to open mics and getting involved is a great way to support local comedy. “The best way to support comedy if you’re on Capitol Hill,” Montgomery said, “is to go to shows. I’ll meet people all the time who go ‘I’m a huge comedy fan.’ and I’ll ask them if they go to shows and they say no, and it’s like, what the fuck is your problem?”
In addition the Laugh Hole at Chop Suey, The People’s Republic of Komedy has a regular open mic on Friday nights at the coffee shop. (1718 12th ave.) This Saturday, and every third Saturday, there is the improv show Human Prop(aganda).
Tom Mohrman is a freelance writer living in Seattle. He’s an avid comedy fan, but by no means a comedian. His involvement in the comedy scene is limited to going to shows, laughing at inopportune times, and scribbling notes.