David Foster Wallace, John Hodgman, and George Saunders have all sung the praises of local sketch-comedy quartet Kasper Hauser. Among the first six acts to perform at the inaugural Sketchfest in 2002, Kasper Hauser has gone on to perform at every edition of the city’s finest comedy festival. Absurd social satirists and Stanford graduates Rob Baedeker, Dan Klein, John Reichmuth, and James Reichmuth also released the hilarious parody catalog SkyMaul: Happy Crap You Can Buy From A Plane, wrote the experimental humor website Wonderglen, and have a new parody book called Weddings Of The Times due in April. Decider spoke with James Reichmuth about how the web got funny and whether it’s better to be a sketch comedian or a rock star.
Decider: San Francisco is expensive. Does Kasper Hauser pay everyone’s bills?
James Reichmuth: [Deep belly laugh.] Just put that laugh as my answer. There was a posting on Yahoo! Answers a month ago that said, “Couple tries to live on a dollar a day for a month.” I would love to do a gimmick which says, “Comedy troupe tries to live on just its earnings.” See how we would have to dress and what kind of gruel we would have to eat. I think one of the things that helped us as a troupe is we have a warehouse full of gold. And we don’t like to melt it down, but we’ll melt it down if we have to.
D: Your upcoming book is a parody of the New York Times weddings section. Why this topic?
JR: We just really wanted to let our readers down. It’s like they fucking ripped us off [with SkyMaul], ’cause it was so much laughs for the dollar, that this time we’re gonna get even. No, we have a fascination and a love/hate thing with that target. Both genders have a morbid fascination with it.
D: Did David Foster Wallace really give SkyMaul a blurb, or was that fake?
JR: Yeah, he did, and it was really sweet, because he then wrote to us later saying that his stepchild really loved the book. That letter—even before [he died]—was up at Rob’s house on his bulletin board. It’s the same with George Saunders.
D: Is it inspiring working from the Mission?
JR: It’s great, ’cause you can find condoms on the street that are still in their wrappers and are unopened. It’s like money. It’s like Rudyard Kipling’s India, full of happiness, foods, and smells. We’re pretty much right on one of those prostitution strips there on Shotwell.
D: Kasper Hauser has award-winning podcasts, a fake Craigslist, Wonderglen, and tons of web videos. You’ve really embraced the web.
JR: You’d have to be blind to not get on this bandwagon. The funny thing about YouTube is the only people who were experienced at writing comedy, especially short comic videos, were the geeky sketch people. It was as if there was an asteroid headed toward earth and the Defense Department said, “Only model railroaders can stop this asteroid.” All the model railroaders became in-demand.
D: So the idea of the Internet causing an explosion of indie comedy is real?
JR: I think one of the things the Internet did was to reaffirm the basic principle of vaudeville, which is “never follow babies or animals.” And I’m being facetious, but that’s also what YouTube did. It showed that no writing is better than a panda bear falling asleep.
D: Or your baby saying, “Obama.”
JR: Yeah, the quality is up, but the noise is up, too. Any movie trailer from 2008 would cause a person in the ’30s to have a seizure.
D: Sketchfest is kind of like comedy’s Noise Pop. What’s the crossover between bands and sketch?
JR: The only difference is that comedy is 10 times harder and 10 times less cool. Sketch comedy is like being in a math competition—it’s so detailed and precise. By all means, pick the rock group. But there’s always been lots of crossovers. Rock and comedy worked together a lot in the ’70s. Led Zeppelin financed some of Python’s films, and rock bands were always listening to great comics on tour.
D: Who’d be Kasper Hauser’s most likely rock patron?
JR: Maybe Omer [Travers], the guy that plays guitar down on Mission in front of the block with the big hair and black guitar. Omer would be our most likely patron.