Comedian Derek Sheen Gets Nerdy With CultureMob
Seattle’sÂ Derek Sheen will be recording a CD/DVD at the historic Comedy Underground June 7th through the 10th. To cover the costs of this self-released album he set up a Kickstarter. At the the time of writing this there are four days left, and it’s only 15% away from the goal. Click here to donate, and click here to get tickets to the shows, which range in price from $10 to $20, depending on which day, and if you buy in advance.
I had the chance to see a preview of the act Sheen’s going to be performing at the Punchline Friday’s showcase at Jai Thai on Capitol Hill. (A place often filled with laughs.) Sheen has an likeable quality that instantly disarms you, and the confidence to keep your attention when you’re not too busy laughing your ass off. We had the chance to chat over coffee this past week. We talked about comedy, metal, his upbringing, the upcoming album, and his plans for the future.
Besides the obvious goal of making people laugh, Sheen’s goal for the album is to create something sonically interesting. To that end, they’re going to record it like a rock album. â€œI want it to sound different. I want it to be full- a real robust spectrum of frequencies that you just normally don’t tune into on a comedy album,â€ he said. For that reason Sheen is enlisting the talents of Matt Bayles (of Mastodon, Isis, and Minus the Bear fame) to produce the album. â€œI want it to be like Iron Maiden’s Life After Death. To me it’s a great live album,â€ Sheen said. â€œTwenty years later I still listen to it, because I feel like I’m at that show.â€
Seattle comedy video mavens Travis Vogt and Kevin Clarke will be filming the documentary to accompany the album. Along with the filmed stand-up, there will be behind-the-scenes footage, and hopefully a conversation with Sheen and his mother over dinner, who’s video contribution to the Kickstarter shows unequivocally where Sheen gets his sense of humor.
Sheen’s been into comedy since childhood. His mother did a lot to encourage his his burgeoning interest in the art. â€œShe used to go to the library and get comedy albums and bring them home and spin them all day. So my days were spent listening to stand-up, and at night she would keep me up way past when I should have been up and let me watch horror movies all night,â€ Sheen said.
He contends that he gets a lot of his sense of humor from his mother, but what made him into a stand-up was being the youngest child in a large household. It was always a matter of having to compete for stage time at the dinner table with his many older step-siblings.
After trying comedy and failing in junior high and high school due to his inexperience, he switched gears and got into music in a big way. This led to his lifelong love of Rock, and Metal. He wanted to play guitar, because at first he thought it would fix that whole virginity problem, but instead It ended up being another nerdy rabbit hole.
â€œThe problem with music is I got into it super deep. I taught myself how to play guitar, taught myself how to read music, and I got super deep into it. I practiced eight hours a day, maybe more. I came home from school and locked myself in my room and just drilled, trying to get my left and right hand together. At first it was about what the music could bring me, and then I got into it and realized that the type of music I was going to play was the exact opposite of the intention of why I got into music in the first place.â€
Though he made his way back to comedy as his main persuit, that love for metal never went away. â€œI feel like metal has real staying power because it’s a form of escapism. The guys I know who are true rivet heads, the guys who really like hard rock- I think it’s because of the escape. Most of them- we’re all nerds. My metal friends are all nerds. They’re guys who go and mosh in their garage. I think it’s just a fun escape,â€ he said.
His love of music has instilled in Sheen a love of full albums. â€œI come from that old school where it’s build. It’s all about build. It would be an injustice, I think, to only skip around and listen to some tracks. The whole idea is, it starts, and it builds, and it reaches a crescendo. I love that, because it takes you from the beginning of something to the end of something, and it ramps up tension all the way to the end.â€
This carries over to how he makes comedy, and how he’d like his audience to experience what he does. Many of Sheen’s favorite comedians are British. That long-form style has informed his comedy. He’s gotten better about including more laughs in his act, but he’s far from a set-up, punchline kind of comic. â€œMy big thing was always to get people’s attention,â€ he said. He likes to control an audience, with quiet moments, and big payoffs. â€œIt’s supposed to take you on a journey. A really creepy dirty talk journey, but a journey none the less.â€
Once the album and documentary is released in October, Sheen plans to go on the road, and see what he can build with that momentum. His goal isn’t broad exposure as much as finding an audience of people who really connect with what he’s doing. He’d prefer a thousand die hard fans to a million casual fans. That means travel.
â€œI’m extremely over-eager in terms of what I want to do, but I’m looking at at nineteen or twenty state tour. Starting in the South, and just making my way all the way home, Hitting Georgia, the Carolinas, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana.â€
Sheen is a Seattle native, but when it comes to touring, he loves the South. â€œI had so much fun [touring] with Rory Scovel, and I noticed that there’s a huge boom out there. There’s a great comedy scene in Atlanta, there’s a great comedy scene in North Carolina- they have great clubs. The people I met out there were so gracious, and really let me do stuff,â€ he said. â€œI don’t want to go to New York until I have some traction. It’s way too competitive a scene.â€
Sheen knows what he’s doing. There are plans. â€œI’m trying to get into more black box theaters. At this point I’m trying to be what you’d call a solid feature. I don’t care about the headlining. I just really want to be that guy who can do a solid twenty-five minutes so people will remember me, and then build that. I really want to break into smaller theaters. I love doing black box shows, I love doing rock clubs. Rock clubs are kind of where I cut my teeth. That same kind of indie thing where I’m booking myself in a lot of those places, when I went out with Rory, that’s what he did. I like that business model.â€
Now is the time to be part of the next step in Sheen’s career. He’s going on the road to work out the last few kinks in his act, and then he’s coming home to Seattle to try to create a memorable hour of comedy at the Underground. This is years in the making, and an exciting opportunity you don’t want to miss. See you at the Comedy Underground in June Seattle.