downtown dirt by manhole: Christmas, Comedy, and Air Sex at Scruffy City Hall

This year’s Scruffy City Comedy Festival  — to be held Nov. 13 through 15 across three venues, Preservation Pub, Uncorked and Scruffy City Hall — will be a monstrous and mortifying affront to decent and god-fearing people everywhere. And you can bet your sweet assets that we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because two dollars plus all the decency on Planet Earth still won’t buy you a single-serving latte at Starbuck’s. And fearing the Almighty is so last-millenium anyway; better to save your dread for Tax Time. Or maybe the next Shia Labeouf movie.

No, but this year’s Festival will be an especially depraved and terrible event — and I mean “terrible” and “depraved” in the very best kind of way, Jake — not in the least because this year’s fest will feature the first-ever Knox-vegas edition of the Air Sex World Championships, at 9:45 p.m. in Scruffy City Hall.

That’s right: dozens of Knoxvillians, and not a few visiting comedians, will take the stage and f@#$ their own brains out, virtually speaking, for the viewing pleasure of the attending masses, and the sake of winning some of meaningless prizes. Just remember, Jake: Dignity is always for sale, and it usually comes cheap.

There are a couple or three rules involved with the ASWC — which is the brainchild of New Orleans-based comedian, wrestler and rapper Chris Trew, who will be on hand as officiant — and those are as follows: Nudity, partners, and orgasms are all matters of make-believe in the ASWC. Or as it is stated in the ASWC rules: When you come on stage, you can’t come on the stage.

And that’s but one highlight of the weekend, which will also include an entire set of dope jokes from Wisconsin funny man Shane Mauss (“This is your Shane on drugs”), a set from Reality TV star Mia Jackson, and a plenty of other half-baked weirdness courtesy of various comics, Knoxvillian and otherwise.

And before we delve into some holiday foibles, I would be remiss if I did not mention the recent arrival of local scribe and unofficial musicologist Wayne Bledsoe at Scruffy City Hall. A journalist in Knoxville since 1980-something-or-other, Bledsoe has forgotten more about music in his three decades of writing and reporting than any five of your insufferable know-it-all Bright Eyes-loving indie-rock-snob friends could ever hope to learn ere they turn grey and moldy, lying in some dreary geezer bin drooling on their flannels and waiting for the Reaper to make his final pass…

Lest you doubt, check out Bledsoe’s weekly “All Over the Road” broadcast, Saturdays at midnight on WDVX:  The word “eclectic” does not begin to do it justice.

Wayne will bring some of that All Over the Road sensibility to a new Thursday night program — likewise broadcast on WDVX — wherein he will host weekly musical guests at 6 p.m. in Scruffy City Hall. Upcoming editions will see Bledsoe host local indie-rock survivors Senryu, Americana stalwarts Mic Harrison and the High Score, and singer/songwriter/gee-tar hotshot Kevin Abernathy.

In the meantime, as we surge toward the dark heart of the holiday season  of 2015, we should also note that your favorite local entertainment venues will be open even on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Christmas Eve. This year’s Thanksgiving Family Jam will feature local honky-tonk angels Guy Marshall, taking the stage to croon away the holiday blues sure to have accumulated from a long day of “quality time” with the extended fam.

And on Christmas Day, local music’s idiot-savant Sam Quinn will host his annual Christmas Debacle, a night of delicious tomfoolery sure to wash away the foul taste of even the stalest fruitcake.

Did somebody mention Christmas? Don’t forget SantaCon, on Dec. 12 at the Pub and Scruffy City Hall. Anyone dressed as Saint Nick gets in free, on a night when local funk party-starters Soulfinger will celebrate a very James Brown kind of Christmas.

That’s all for now. But come back next time, for more news of the Yuletide festivities at the Pub and SCH, and of the soulless debauchery of the New Year soon to follow.

Preservation Profiles: Scruffy City Comedy Festival Performer Shane Mauss

You won’t have to be on drugs to appreciate comedian Shane Mauss’ Nov. 15 appearance at Scruffy City Comedy Festival, but it might help. Because when Mauss takes the stage at Scruffy City Hall Nov. 15, the Wisconsin-based performer will be eschewing his usual material — the stuff that has fueled multiple television appearances and three full-length comedy albums — in favor of 60 minutes worth of jokes about dope.

Mauss says the set, which he has dubbed “This is your Shane on  Drugs,” is a special routine he began compiling some years back, and which he began pulling out for special performances in 2014.

“It’s one hour devoted to the subject of psychedelic drugs — completely different from my usual show,” says Mauss during a recent phone interview. “It happened pretty naturally over the years. I’d have a joke here and there.

“I do psychedelics a few times a year; it’s something I enjoy doing. And using that in routines is also a good excuse to delve into deeper creative concepts. I’d tell a weird joke, then pass it off with, ‘Never mind, I was on mushrooms.'”

Then one day last year, Mauss says he was performing at a club in front of an audience full of fellow comics when he decided to go out further on that limb. “I started doing psychedelic jokes, and I realized, wow, I have a whole show’s worth of these,” he laughs.

“So I decided to create a separate set, to perform at indie-type venues. The response was unbelievable. It’s still pretty novel, though. Doing it as a full show is very new to me.”

Having kick-started his career in 2004 at the age of 23, Mauss flouted expectations by making his first appearance on late-night television (Late Night with Conan O’Brien) in 2007 — standard industry wisdom holds that it usually takes young comics seven to 10 years to land a late-night television set.

But though that success has continued, with four subsequent appearances with Conan, three comedy albums and a couple of his own comedy specials, Mauss says he’s found himself moving away from some of the elements that contributed to his mainstream recognition.

“I used to be very dependent on one-liners,” he says. “But then I learned more about working off themes, and now my one-liners are part of a longer set or story. My comedy is more thematic, based more on story-telling than it used to be.

“The result is that it’s not as late-night friendly. But it allows me to branch out more, and do more challenging material.”

And there is perhaps no better evidence of Mauss’ probing comedic intellect than his Here We Are Podcast, an interview series wherein Mauss sits down with doctors, researchers and academicians of various ilk, entertaining discussion on a bewildering array of subjects ranging from broken bones (Mauss recently released a comedy album based on his breaking both feet in a hiking incident, and interviewed his podiatrist on the podcast) to the meaning of life.

“I do lots of shows on evolutionary biology and psychology, neuroscience, behavioral sciences,” he says. “It’s a passion project. But life and human nature are incredibly funny to me, looking at the non-conscious factors that drive our behavior, be it in mating or money.

“I think it goes back to a combination of variables that have driven my life,” Mauss continues. “I was raised in a strictly religious household, but it never clicked with me. So I was forced to learn more in order to defend my own beliefs.”

But Here We Are was actually born five years ago, when Mauss found himself, having just embarked on a relationship with a new girlfriend, entering a period of pot-fueled introspection. “She liked to smoke weed, so I was also smoking more weed, and watching lots of Animal Planet on TV,” he says.

“That led to me writing lots of animal behavior jokes. And things started clicking. I started reaching out to academics, and having these mind-blowing conversations. And then I thought, wow, I should be recording this.”

A (very) short list of Here We Are Podcast episodes looks like this: Cocaine and brains, with standup comic and neuroscientist (!) Jono Zalay; Gestalt Therapy with life coach Nina Rubin; Psychedelics and Philosophy with philosopher Michael Garfield; Sperm Competition with Evolutionary Psychologist Todd Shackelford; 3D Printed Dildos and Anal Probes with neuroscience researcher Nicole Prause.

“Some episodes are more serious than others,” says Mauss, citing a recent interview with the director of a homeless shelter. “It’s meant to be more thought-provoking than laugh-a-minute. And it’s labor intensive. Now I have to read all the time just to keep up with the podcast.

“But that’s okay,” Mauss concludes. “I’ve come to the realization that through my entire career, I’ve just pretty much done what I enjoyed doing. I’m not the most successful guy in the world now, but I do have as much freedom as any comedian I know who’s working today.”

Preservation Profiles: Comedienne Jackie Kashian, Scruffy City Comedy Festival Performer

Jackie Kashian admits that family foibles have provided a rich and abundant source of material throughout her nearly 30-year history as a working comedienne. “I tell a lot of stories about my family,” she says in a recent phone interview, prior to her Nov. 14 appearance at Scruffy City Comedy Festival in Scruffy City Hall.

“It’s observational. It’s not political humor, but it is socio-political. It’s just looking at my family, at their life choices, and at how those things relate to the rest of the world.”

At once genial and plain-spoken, Kashian comes off a bit like a friendlier — and funnier — comedic cousin of Rosie O’Donnell. Her demeanor, both onstage and off, is charmingly brazen, post-feminist with a soft edge.

And as Kashian delves into bits about her family of origin, the anecdotes reveal a good deal about her own life choices. Her father, she says, was a successful salesman, and something of a Lothario. “My dad could really work a room,” Kashian says. “He enjoys the ladies, and he enjoys making the sale.

“He’s a savant-level genius. Eighty-five percent of the time, the things he says are spot-on. The other 15 percent is batshit crazy. When we were kids, he used to tell us, ‘You can do anything you want in life,’ which is a beautiful thing to say to a child. But then he would add, ‘As long as you don’t get caught.’

“He would say something that was so true, and then the next thing he said would remove all sense of reality.”

It was from that slightly daft family milieu that Kashian entered the world of stand-up comedy in 1986, just three years after her graduation from South Milwaukee High School in Wisconsin. Her rise through the comedic ranks has been gradual, but steady.

She cut her teeth playing a club in Madison, Wis. that was owned by Bill Kinison, brother of the late shock-and-awe screamer Sam Kinison. She met Sam Kinison a handful of times, she says, though she confesses, “If we was alive today, he probably would not remember me.”

Kasha characterizes herself as a working-(wo)man’s performer, a hard-touring road warrior who continued to hone her chops in small venues all over the country, even after marrying and moving to the comedy-friendly climate of Los Angeles in 1997.

“I’ve always worked the road,” she says. “That way, you get to do more sets in front of more people, people who know comedy differently.”

Indeed, it wasn’t until the 2000s that Kashian broke through from workaday touring comic to the next level of recognition. She has recorded all three of her comedy albums in the new millennium, including her 2014 release This Will Make an Excellent Horcrux.

Most of her TV, film and radio appearances have come since 2000, including her half-hour special on Comedy Central, and her semi-finals appearance on Last Comic Standing. And in 2005, she began the podcast The Dork Forest, which stands as perhaps the best expression of Kashian’s quirky comedic muse.

“The podcast is based on a joke I did in my special,” Kashian explains. “The idea was, ‘How far into the ‘Dork Forest’ will I go?’ Who won’t I hang out with? Because I’ll hang out with just about anyone.”

On Dork Forest, Kashian interviews people — celebrities, fellow comics, and unknowns alike — about their passions. This results in a sprawling and frequently surprising roster of topics: Cats. Comic book super villains. Banjos. Bird-watching. Bad TV shows.

“It turns out, there is one class of people whom I don’t want to hang out with,” she says with a chuckle. “That’s war reenactors. I did a podcast on that, and they got a little intense for me.

“But the whole idea is just for me to talk to people about stuff they love. And I’ve had some amazing episodes — some of them with the standard sorts of dork-stuff, like anime or science fiction. But also with weird stuff you wouldn’t expect, like the history of baseball, or bees, or perfume.

“I talked to this one lady about bee-keeping. And I mean she really loves bees, man. Myself, I don’t even like honey that much.”

She mentions a couple other recent favorites, including her early November segment with former Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton — “Wil is a sort of Dork luminary” — about brewing craft beer. And also her interview with an aficionado of Victorian-era English cuisine. “Which, I’ve come to the conclusion, means ‘food that stares back at you from the plate,'” Kashian says.

But left-of-center podcast topics notwithstanding, Kashian says her brand of comedy is grounded in traditional notions of humor — colored though those notions may be by her cheerfully loopy sensibilities.

“My stuff is still very accessible,” Kashian says. “I don’t do much of what you’d call ‘existential comedy’ — though sometimes I might like to. But always feel like I need to have a punchline. I’m a huge believer in the punchline.”

downtown dirt by manhole: It’s Halloween! (Or: “Give me a treat, bitch…”)

ghost-31324_640The Eve of All Hallows is fast approaching, and there is no better place to celebrate the Season of Fright in this bewitching little burg we call K-town than at Preservation Pub and Scruffy City Hall. And it is a season hereabouts, a month-long celebration of fright and fancy during the darkening, dread-filled autumnal season.

Already, we’ve witnessed such awful and awe-inspiring events as performances from the Bath Salt Zombies, Teenage Love13 and Red as Blood, all three of whom have played Scruffy City Hall in the latter half of October. And, truly, if you’ve never seen Teenage Love13 vocalist Rus Harper take the stage, yowling like a scalded banshee, a freakish fright wig of hair framing his naturally ghoulish countenance, then you have yet to make the full acquaintance of Terror.

Also this month, we hosted the Knoxville Horror Film Festival BBQ Banquet, a nasty little carnivorous blood bath (we shudder to think about whence came the meat presented on that banquet table, never mind the ingredients of that sauce…) that featured, appropriately enough, a showing of the terror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Now would be apt time to announce, with the Eve itself coming down upon us, that the Benefactors at the Pub and SCH have declared the theme for this year’s Halloween celebration on our little corner of Market Square will be “Outer Space”… do with that what you will. Or else ignore it, if you want to, say f@#$ it all and come out to the party dressed as Liza Minnelli or My Little Pony, or some other damned thing…

The point is, you’ll need to come dressed as something, other than just yourself, for occasions such as “Downtown” Randall Brown’s Halloween Spooktacular, oct. 29 at Scruffy City Hall. Over the course of what promises to be a truly hideous evening, the Spooktacular will feature comedy, music from both Brown’s own Quartjar and Rus Harper’s other long-running and equally scarifying outfit Evil Twin, a few “Halloween Surprises,” and an appearance by… the ghost of Paul Lynde???…

Don’t ask me; I just work here.

On Oct. 30, guitar prodigy Johnny Monster will play Preservation Pub, while Scruffy City Hall hosts, that very same evening, Backup Planet and special guests the Great Barrier Reefs, who will be scoring an Alfred Hithcock suspense classic, which will be showing on the big screen at the rear of the SCH stage.

Also that evening — as if there weren’t already plenty of stuff to do — in the spirit of Halloween dress-up, local Talking Heads tribute act Same As It Ever Was will bring their ‘Heads homage to the stage on Market Square.

And now we get to the really good stuff, the night of Halloween, Oct. 31, featuring a veritable multi-disciplinary entertainment extravaganza hosted by electro-goth piano rockers Hudson K, along with Madre, Senryu, Tina Tarmac and the Burns, and… wait for it… a special performance featuring the Claire Metz Firedancers.

Ms. Metz, of course, being Knoxville’s premiere Tribal Fusion Belly Dance artist, a dancer, teacher and troupe leader who is also versed in the art of Poi, a traditional Maori practice that encompasses fire dancing, among many other strange and terrible things…

But in the meanwhile, as the month of October prepares for yet another ghastly finish, I would be remiss if I did not announce a couple other points of autumnal interest, including the new fall menu at Uncorked on Market Square. If you loved the exquisite foodie-friendly cuisine of Chef Terri Roberts, but still yearned for a bit of the comfort food that marked Uncorked/Oodles menus of old, then you will love the new selection of entrees. (Hint: the hanger steak with mashers and drunken collard greens is worth dying for, several times again.)

Soon enough, we’ll be gearing up for the Scruffy City Comedy Festival in mid-November. Until then, make your own fun…

A Prayer for Scum: Helping hands for Knoxville’s underground punk-rock icon

The night of October 24 featured a roster of ghoulish good-time rock ‘n’ roll at Scruffy City Hall, with local punk icon Rus Harper and Teenage Love13, former Pegasi 51 singer Rusty Yarnell’s new Red as Blood project, and theatrical, genre-spanning Sarasota act Didges Christ SuperDrum.

But the occasion itself was a solemn one, as the show served as a fundraiser for yet another local punk-rock icon, singer/songwriter/scenester/star of his own independent biopic Christopher Scum.

Christopher, nee Christopher Andrews, survived a terrible car crash outside Spartanburg, South Carolina back on June 27, when a diesel tanker truck jackknifed, collided with the rear of Scum’s SUV, and exploded, melting a hole in the very asphalt of Highway 26.

His longtime girlfriend, Maryville resident Donna Bailey, did not survive the crash, nor did their dog Mackey. Scum himself came through, but not before he had undergone multiple skin grafts, and an extended hospital stay.

Cutting a wraith-like figure, his pale features hidden by a veil of shaggy hair, Scum has always lived in a world not of his making. Dwelling on the spectral fringes of Knoxville’s misbegotten punk-rock scene, he formed the four-piece outfit The Dirty Works, with fellow misfits Shaggy, B. Riot, and Steven Crime, in 2003.

The music of The Dirty Works, and, indeed, the music of Scum’s own subsequent solo projects, served as a barometer of sorts for one’s own social and cultural leanings. To some, it was simply noise, brutal and graceless, a nihilistic din that was beneath — or maybe beyond — the consideration of decent people.

To others, Scum’s songs were grim and terrible poetry, distillations of the beauty that lives in chaos, the cold comfort that comes of finding one’s place in the Abyss.

Scum and his outfit were featured in a 2006 independent film entitled Rebel Scum The Movie. Produced by the Atlanta-based Worldstorm Arts, it stands as a harrowing document of Scum’s life, and his art.

Scum has never been one to shy away from the hard truths of his existence, and the movie catalogs the band members’ struggles with addiction, and depression. It also captures the raw, ragged power of The Dirty Works on stage, where Scum incited audiences with some regularity by beating himself bloody with a pair of brass knuckles.

Atlanta’s Creative Loafing reviewed the film — and, by extension, its weird protagonist, taking note of “the mountainous frontman whose unbridled passions, addictions, and mental damage culminate in such songs as ‘Knoxville Hates Us,’ ‘Bible Belt’ and ‘Christ Pod.'”

Loafing lauds the film, and the band, but with a caveat: “Be warned, it ain’t pretty.”

What the film perhaps doesn’t reveal in full, though, is that Scum is a survivor. And now he has survived the awful truth of his girlfriend’s death, and his own disfigurement.

He recently told News Sentinel music writer Wayne Bledsoe that he hopes to perform again soon, despite muscle damage in his arm from the explosion.

He also spoke to Bledsoe of his “survivor’s guilt,” saying, “I’m… just wondering why couldn’t I have saved her? I’ll probably be dealing with that for a long time.”

You can make donations to help Christopher Scum pay for his mounting medical bills at Look for his music at