By Ashley Naftule
There’s a thin line between comedy and horror. Both genres are obsessed with eliciting involuntary reactions out of the viewer. Whether it’s a belly laugh or a startled yelp, comedy and humor share that same lets-poke-the-frog-and-watch-him-jump impulse. They’re also two forms that embrace absurdity and going over the top.
Few modern artists are as adept at blending the two like David Lynch. His films are gorgeous nightmares, full of incomprehensible beings and logic-shattering storylines. But they’re also pretty goddamn funny: Picture Harry Dean Stanton hitting everybody up for cash on a film set in Inland Empire or Miguel Ferrera’s hilariously savage put-downs as Albert in Twin Peaks. For every horrible thing behind a dumpster Lynch tosses at us, he also throws in a gratuitous Billy Ray Cyrus cameo just for shits and giggles.
For comedy lovers and Lynch fans, a new show that debuted on April 20 at the downtown venue Alwun House brought those two great tastes together. Organized and hosted by comedian/artist Molly Bridget Dean, The Rift, A Comedy Show featured comedy sets and performances inspired by Lynch's films. In addition to its strong lineup of local comics (Michael Paul Kohn, Liz Bradley, Michael Margetis, Kamil Kwasnik, and Amber Frame), The Rift also included a musical performance by Amethyst Seer.
We recently got a chance to talk to Dean about her work as a stand-up comic, her interest in Lynch’s work, and which grunge rocker has something in common with The Lady In The Radiator.
What inspired you to do this show? To bring the worlds of stand-up and David Lynch together?
I got really high as a teenager and I watched Eraserhead. Everyone in it was just kind of stuttering and awkwardly standing around. It reminded me of Andy Kaufman. So I pictured comics being onstage and bombing, just sucking — no one’s laughing — but everyone in the audience is these weird David Lynch creatures. Like Agent Cooper being trapped in the Black Lodge: Everything’s just so weird and awkward and uncomfortable in this extra-dimensional world. So I was imagining that there’d be these comics that get trapped in this extra-dimensional world. They’re telling jokes on a stage and suddenly they appear in this creepy world and they’re still trying to do their set. That’s what I was imagining for this show … and the more I asked people to be on it, you know, they’d ask if they could be the Log Lady or if they could be this character or that.
What will be your role as the show’s host? Will you be doing something in character?
The moment I knew I wanted this show to be a thing, I wanted to be The Lady In The Radiator as the host. I pictured her being onstage, awkward telling jokes that no one laughs at, and introducing these other monsters like Bob and Mike and Laura Palmer and Doppelganger Cooper. I have this idea where my version of her is this very unstable person—her makeup is smeared and her wig is all fucked up. She’s drinking a glass of champagne and it’s clear that she’s on painkillers and she’s slurring and starting fights with people and, I dunno, screaming about her dad. I just wanted her to be like Courtney Love, basically. Courtney Love at her worst is The Lady In The Radiator at her best.
Is The Rift going to be a one-off event, or do you see if it being a monthly or quarterly event?
I'd love for it to be a quarterly thing, but we're just gonna see how well it turns out and if it goes off — great! Then I'll make it a quarterly thing. And if it’s, uh, you know, terrible and I decided to quit comedy and change my name because of how awful it is—then we'll just have it be a one time thing.
I saw that you have a “Roadhouse guest” as part of the lineup. Is that something you see being a part of future Rift shows, having musical guests as part of the night?
So I asked my friend Phil—He’s in a band called Twin Ponies and he knows a lot of groups. I asked him who do you think would be good on here and he said Amethyst Seer. I checked out their Bandcamp (or SoundCloud, I can’t remember) and went to their shows and they were just so perfect. If this becomes a quarterly thing I’d love to have a bunch of weird electronica and local Phoenix bands playing on it. Give them exposure the way David Lynch gave his bands exposure.
One of my favorite things about The Return is how at the end of each episode or in the middle of it there’d be these musical guests. They’d really have nothing to do with the show, but they remind me of the choruses in a Greek play—these muses that are singing over what’s going on. So I thought, if I’m going to do a Twin Peaks show, I need to have Roadhouse guests on there.
What’s your background as a comic? How long have you been doing standup?
I’ve been on and off since 2013. I took a lot of breaks because I was finishing school as an art student and I felt that stand-up was distracting me from my art. I walked away from it for awhile. I loved it, I hated it, I felt Iike I was good at it, I felt like I was shit at it. Dealing with it as a woman was very difficult, and it still is. It’s helped me change as a person because it made me focus on what kind of message I want to give out to people through my humor. And that really affected my art as well, so it’s cool that they’re both kind of growing together.
I’ve mostly worked in Phoenix and Tucson, but I’ve done a bit in L.A. and I’m trying to get into some more festivals and stuff. This is my first time hosting a show, so it’s a big, big deal for me.
And what kind of art do you do?
Drawing, painting, printmaking, mostly. Ink washes. I like to do a lot of stuff involving dreams and spirits and ghosts—things like that.