Joe Kwaczala is a Los Angeles-based comedian who began his career in Chicago but grew up in Pittsburgh. He has performed as one of Comedy Central's "Up Next" Comics to Watch and made his television debut with his Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents half-hour special.
Photographer Katie Schuering
Our new sketch album, "Funny Songs & Sketches," has been receiving a lot of attention. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind this project and what your favorite sketch or song is from the album?
I’m the type of comedian who’s always looking for the next project. I’d had some success in the past by releasing a bunch of sketches at once, and an album is kind of like a formal way of doing that. So it felt like the concept was firmly in my wheelhouse, but since it was audio sketches and songs, I didn’t feel like I was repeating myself. As far as my favorite, I'm really proud of "Low Stakes Dreams" for being catchier than it has any right being. I mean, it's about how my dreams are boring and stupid, but it sounds like a legit pop song? How dare I! On top of that, I'm excited for everyone to see the music video we made for it.
"Funny Songs & Sketches" covers a wide range of musical styles, from pop to country. How did you approach blending humor and music in these different genres, and did you have a favorite genre to work with?
I was very lucky to work with a brilliant, versatile producer out of Chicago named Yoo Soo Kim. He's capable of any musical style, so knowing that freed me from any genre restrictions. Often, I would start with what I thought would be an interesting style and then come up with an idea that I thought would fit in a funny way. Like for "Daiquiri City" I thought about how a Jimmy Buffett-esque "relaxing in paradise" song would get upended if your dog got sick. Or for something like "Gulaf" I honed in on those weird guys who are always chiming in during '90s Europop songs and had one just kind of take over the whole thing. That was maybe my favorite genre to work with because I could get really crazy with the details and also just got to talk-sing!
As a comedian, you've achieved great success both in stand-up and through online platforms. How do you navigate the balance between live performances and creating content for the digital world?
I think I approach stand-up as more of a short-term thing and the videos as long-term. When I go out to do stand-up, the goal is to make people laugh that night. I'm telling jokes so that people will have a really entertaining evening. But when I make a sketch video or a song, I'm releasing it to be enjoyed whenever, wherever. That's the stuff that will really live on. When people look up my name, that's what they'll find to get to know who I am. And I think it's good to have both: to be able to perform in the moment and to have a product out there that you're proud of.
Your latest comedy special, "Recommended Based on Your Search History," is available on YouTube through Helium Studios. Can you share what viewers can expect from this special and any memorable moments from filming it?
This special is around a half hour of some of my favorite stand-up material I've ever written. My approach is to try and blend the sarcastic with the silly, and I think this special really demonstrates that well. And the most memorable thing about it was that the audience was great! Which is really all you can ask for. When something too memorable happens, that usually means there was an unexpected turn of events... which you don't want at a taping! Someone screams something crazy or the roof caves in. Terrible. But I will never forget how great and fun the audience was that night.
Comedy and music often intersect in your work. How do you see the relationship between comedy and music, and how does it influence your creative process?
Growing up, I was such a fan of both. Maybe if I'd been a little more talented as a musician, I would have taken that path, but at the same rate, I don't think anything was gonna keep me from comedy. So I dove head-first into stand-up and sketch and writing, and it took me a while to realize I could incorporate music into some of that. And now here we are and I have an album that has a ton of music in it. Approaching a comedy song is a lot like a puzzle. I'm trying to get my idea across, but I have to do it while following a rhyme scheme and then having a chorus that adds more jokes but doesn't repeat itself. It's tricky but when you figure it out, it's really rewarding.
Your comedy is often praised for its clever and relatable humor. How do you come up with your comedic ideas, and what advice would you give to aspiring comedians looking to find their unique comedic voice?
I really like to play with style, so that's often where I start. Like, I'll be drawn to the style of an old commercial, and I'll think about how I can parody that. That's how my sketch NuVo was born. Or I'll be fascinated by the predictable rhythms of a particular podcast, and so I exaggerate it for a podcast parody sketch. With that in mind, I guess my advice would be to notice what's around you. Is there something that you find annoying or cliche or frustrating? How can you exaggerate/satirize those conventions in your comedy so that you're making people laugh but also making a point?
With over 31 million views online and a growing fan base, what are your future plans and goals in the world of comedy and music?
We're gonna keep releasing music videos to promote the album. We've got some great ones in the chamber, and I'm excited for people to see those. And I'll keep releasing songs and sketches, but I'm always trying to stretch myself creatively, so maybe something like a feature film will be next?? Stay tuned!
In the world of comedy, who are some of your comedic influences and role models, and how have they shaped your approach to comedy and entertainment?
When I was making this album, I thought about Weird Al Yankovic a lot. I know most people know him for his parodies, but he does just as many style parodies that I think are really well done. By that I mean, there will be songs on his albums that aren't direct parodies of songs but capture the general essense of an artist or genre. And there's a lot of that on my own album, so I have to pay respect to the king of that. The Lonely Island are also guys who I think very impressively thread that near-impossible needle of "song that is funny but also the music is good." The stuff they've made from the digital shorts to Popstar... I don't think anyone's doing it better.