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INTERVIEW: Comedian Braunohler doesn’t care what you think

Kurt Braunohler is best described through his actions, some of which involve animal racing and street riots. In 2003, Braunohler and friend Matt Murphy staged a “Quarter Mile Marathon” in lower Manhattan, pitting “Chengwin,” a nine-foot tall cross between a chicken and a penguin, against his evil half brother “Chunk” (half-chicken, half-skunk). Chunk, played by Braunohler, proceeded to fight Chengwin with body slams and a water cannon in his tail while hundreds of screaming onlookers – The video on YouTube, grainy and chaotic, seems almost frightening – swirled about. Still, though almost hallucinatory in the weirdness it spread, the stunt and others like it fell short in size.

“It affected, like, a very, very, very, very, very, very small, small number of people, and for those people it was, like, one of the most magical things they’d ever seen,” Braunohler said over the phone. “But then at the end of the day, I would like it to have an actual impact.”

Braunohler, comedian and host of The K Ohle podcast, does not seem to worry much anymore about not making an impact. As of now, he has released his first comedy album How Do I Land? this past summer, he co-hosts a variety show called “Hot Tub” with comedian Kristen Schaal at The Virgil in Los Angeles and he appears on TV comedy staples like FOX’s Bob’s Burgers and E!’s Chelsea Lately. In the “Chengwin and Chunk” days, though, that reach wasn’t foreseeable. Time would have to pass.

Braunohler, who lived in New York at the time, began Hot Tub at the Peoples Improv Theater. He transitioned from improv to stand-up, popping up at comedy festivals and in small television roles while performing a one-man show about his “Rumspringa” away from a thirteen-year relationship.

Although that portion of his career felt a bit quiet, he has “labored in obscurity for over 15 years,” he said with a chuckle. Some of his exposure came from, of all places, IFC. Bunk, a sort of anti-game show hosted and co-written by Braunohler, was one of the children of the rebranded former Independent Film Channel, which touted its new programming as “Always on, slightly off.” The show featured a panel of comedians competing in ridiculous improv games in order to fulfill their own narcissistic “non-charitable causes.” Some examples: “Shame That Puppy”, “Build a Worse Mousetrap” and “Pad the Gravestone.”

“I thought we made a good TV show,” he said. “I was very proud of it, and still, to this day, people tweet me about once a day. I’m super proud to have something that, even though it was short-lived, had such a rabid fan base.”

In 2012 IFC pulled Bunk after one season. To some, it might have seemed like a rejection from the mainstream: those fifteen years culminating in a big fat thumbs down for Braunohler’s surreal, goofy style.

Only Braunohler doesn’t see it that way at all. Instead, in the past year, he’s gone bigger and weirder, this time daring people not to notice. In conjunction with the release of How Do I Land?, Braunohler used Kickstarter last March to raise money to pay a pilot to skywrite those exact words in the sky above Los Angeles. In terms of reaching a larger audience – brace yourselves – the sky may not be such a bad limit.

Also on the horizon: a possible television series based on “Get Lost,” a segment of The K Ohle podcast in which, well…

“I blindfold people and then bring them to abandoned places,” he said. “I mean, that’s crazy. That doesn’t exist yet. I’m essentially kidnapping people. On television.”

He’s not so easily discouraged after all. Braunohler seems confident that his work, weird as it might be, needs only to be where it can be heard; once that’s taken care of, people will listen.

“I think that as a comedian, I’m trying to tell people things, trying to let people see the world the way I see it, and so the more people I can get to see the world my way, the better,” he said. “I mean, a lot of people watch television.”

Kurt Braunohler will be performing his stand-up at Johnny D’s in Somerville on Thursday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m. 

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