"Some of us are screwed up but like I say, there's no higher concentration among standup comics as there are in any other walk of life."
– Brian McKim
Guy MacPherson: Tell us what sheckymagazine.com is.
Brian McKim: It is a magazine that my lovely wife and I started April 1, 1999. We are both professional standup comics and we decided to start a magazine about standup on the internet and we did it and it's sheckymagazine.com and we have been coming up here to Montreal for the past seven Montreals. This is our seventh one. And what we do every time we come up here is we upload daily updates about the festival to our website so that folks can get an idea about what's going on up here. We upload text and pictures. Nobody else does what we do.
GM: Great in-depth coverage, too. And I just wonder, when do you do it?! I mean, I see you here every time I'm not at a show and presumably you go to shows, too. And you probably stay up late. My guess is that you're getting up early in the morning.
BM: That is correct. A typical day... We arrived here at roughly 2 p.m. eastern on Wednesday. I went over here [to the Delta Hotel] and got our press credentials. On Wednesday night we went and saw a comedy film. We schmoozed here at the Delta bar until about 2 or 3 in the morning, then went back to our hotel room and arose at about 10 a.m. after only about six hours of sleep, filed our update after about two hours of furious writing and uploading, and then went back into the fray. And that's pretty much our schedule. It's an intense 96 hours. But I'll tell you what, it's exhilarating and we get it done and people appreciate the hell out of it. We take great pride in providing coverage. It really gives people an idea of what's going on. So it is gruelling, but I'll tell you what, when we go home – we're going to go home on Sunday morning – we will be utterly exhausted. We will be husks when we get there.
GM: Did I hear you used the phrase, "Get 'er done"?
BM: Uh, yeah, I used a variation on "get 'er done". Yeah, Larry the Cable Guy. You know, we have an editorial policy. We really actually do like Larry. We admire him. In fact, we were just quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, our major daily. A Knight-Ridder paper. They did a piece on Larry because he's appearing in... He's just done two sold-out shows in Atlantic City this past weekend and they called us for a bit of insight into Larry. We said he's a tremendous comic. I do believe he is. He's a traditional comic in the mould of... We compared him to Rodney [Dangerfield].
GM: What is your editorial policy? Is it that you're just fair and open-minded to any form on standup?
BM: Pretty much. We narrowed our focus to standup. We love standup. We've been doing standup ourselves personally for, like I say, twenty-plus years. And we just love anybody who makes an honest attempt to make folks laugh. We've interviewed people as varied as Shelley Berman and Mitch Hedberg and Richard Lewis and Bill Engvall and Rusty Warren.
GM: Woody Woodbury.
BM: Woody Woodbury! Exactly. So we really cover the gamut. Anybody who's professional and has been doing it for a while and is a veteran and knows what they're doing, we think that our readers are going to want to hear about it because our readers are savvy standup comedy fans who love the art, the craft of standup.
GM: So it's not just the hip, popular guys of the day. I mean, the title of the magazine itself is a tribute to Shecky Greene. Is it?
BM: It is and it isn't. You know, it's a funny thing about that. It is called sheckymagazine and it is a definite direct reference to Shecky Greene, who is a great comic and was, at one point, the highest-paid entertainer, comedy-wise, in Vegas. But the word "shecky", the name "Shecky", has become sort of a generic term for somebody who likes to cut up and make merry and be a wise guy. So that's why we adopted it for the name of the magazine.
GM: The magazine has changed formats slightly. You used to have more columnists; now it's more blog formatted. Is that correct?
BM: Yes. In fact, it's a funny thing, we started in 1999 and the worldwide web pretty much started in about '95 or so, so the whole technology was all new. We realized that what we started in '99 was going to have to change by necessity because as each new bit of technology became available we tried to incorporate it into the magazine to keep it fresh, keep it new. So we went blog just about over a year ago. Mainly in order to comment in almost real time on Last Comic Standing, which was a phenomenon at the time. The second season of Last Comic Standing started and one of our columnists, Bonnie McFarlane, was a contestant on it.
GM: She was my favourite.
BM: Oh yeah, well she was a lot of people's favourite. Bonnie has been responsible for a great tide of hits for us because she has captured the fancy of the comedy public. And they love her. And on the internet people do searches on Bonnie and they find her through us. Same thing with Mitch Hedberg.
GM: Now there are a lot of issues that you're covering. You're not afraid to state your opinion on, for instance, a living wage for comics.
BM: It's a funny thing. Since we went to the blog format, what we've been able to do is we've been able to comment on things that are happening pretty much as they're happening. We're linking to columns and we're linking to articles all over the worldwide web. And one of the things that came up was the living wage thing in New York City. And we have definite opinions about this and that, about what a comedian deserves to be paid or should be paid, or is paid. And if you read the magazine for any length of time, you get a handle on what we think and how we think about it. It's just one of the many things. We talk about the image that comics have in the popular culture. We talk about the media and how they treat comedians. We try to take the media to task when they portray comedians as psychos or as miserable people.
GM: Come on, some of them are, you gotta admit!
BM: Well, certainly. But no more so than, say, brain surgeons or cops or taxicab drivers or anything like that. Some of us are screwed up but like I say, there's no higher concentration among standup comics as there are in any other walk of life.
GM: You and your wife, Traci [Skene], are standup comics, as you mentioned. Have you ever played Montréal?
BM: Oh, my God, yeah. In fact, it's funny, we were driving up listening to the radio on the way up here and they said, "This day in history, in 1986 Sid and Nancy was released in the UK." And I said, "Oh my lord!" One of our favourite films was Sid and Nancy. And the reason why was because we saw it at the Cineplex Odeon Theatre here in Montréal as we were working for Ernie Butler's Comedy Nest here in Montréal. And I said, "Oh my lord, Ernie has essentially booked me here in Montréal since 1986." So we have been coming up here since 1986. We've been very familiar with Montréal. We love the town, we love the food, we love the people. It's been a great opportunity to come up here as media now for the past seven years to cover this festival.
GM: So almost twenty years of performing in Montréal. Have you performed at the festival?
BM: Not officially. I think it was 2000 or 2001 we came up here for eight days - a gruelling eight or nine days. In addition to our coverage, Ernie had arranged for us to do some gigs here in the Montréal suburbs and in some clubs downtown for charity. And we did it willingly for charity. But I must say it was a gruelling eight or nine days and it gave us some insight into what these performers do up here. Some of the schedules they have these performers on are just ungodly. Sometimes they do four or five shows in the space of three days and they're dragged around. They do radio, they do TV and they do interviews with people like you. And it's torture. But we do it willingly and we get high because of the adrenaline. It's a wonderful place to be for five or six days up here.
GM: How many festivals do you get to in a year?
BM: It's a funny thing. Festivals are popping up all over the place. We've done the Calgary festival, we've done the Boston festival, we've done the Chicago festival three times, we've done Montréal seven times. I might be missing a couple here and there. Oh, we did the Vegas festival once. We're always open.
BM: We have never done Aspen mainly because it's in a remote area of the country and it's wildly expensive to go there and be there and stay there. We're just not interested in spending all that much money in order to provide coverage. We don't have a budget.
GM: And that's why you haven't been to Vancouver yet!
BM: Well, yeah. We'd love to come up. We'll definitely come up and do the shecky treatment to the Vancouver fest if the terms are agreeable. (laughs)
GM: Is Montréal still the biggest festival in the world?
BM: Undoubtedly. This is still the biggest festival in the English-speaking world. Nothing else comes close to it. I don't even know if Aspen's come close because Aspen doesn't really, I don't think, aspire to be as big or as sprawling or as comprehensive as this festival does. And I don't think anyone will for some time because I don't think anybody has the energy or the situation or the business model to compete with it. It is quite spectacular in its scope.
GM: Hasn't industry now favoured Aspen? It used to be that they'd all come to Montréal. Is it changing slightly now, do you think?
BM: You know, I really can't speak to that because as observant as we are and as much information as we have, I'm not quite sure that the industry favours one over the other. Like all things, it's cyclical. Montréal, although it may be a little tiny bit quiet this year, like I say I think it's cyclical. I think it follows the business cycles but not exactly. By that I mean that standup was on the downturn for a little while maybe in the '94, '95 period and then it came back. But I don't think that Montréal necessarily follows that rigidly. I think that standup has never been in a better position than now. But I don't think that Montréal is going to exactly shadow that. In other words, in two years from now I think Montréal will be bigger than ever.
GM: So there's a real resurgence now in standup comedy?
BM: Without a doubt. We've kept a handle on it. It's largely anecdotal evidence. I mean, we're not very analytical. As far as numbers and business are concerned. like I say we're largely anecdotal. I think the standup business right now is at or near its peak in terms of the number of clubs, the number of comedians working, the wages, etc. etc. I think it's actually back. It's back and bigger and possibly even better than ever.
GM: What is your primary focus in coming here [to Montréal]?
BM: Our focus in coming here, like I said, is to give our readers an idea of what the festival is all about, what happens up here, what it's like. And I'll tell you what: This year, oddly enough, we went and all we did was see films featuring standup comics or by standup comics. We didn't see one live performance this year. And I don't think JFL's going to revoke our press credentials next year because in our coverage we don't just talk about things that we personally experience; we talk about things that we hear about, we talk about the people that we run into, we talk about the people that are depicted in our photographs, etc. etc. So we give a comprehensive view of what's going on up here even if we can't get to each and every show. Case in point is this year we really haven't even gone to one live standup show. We have seen four movies, but we haven't seen one live standup show. But we still are going to give people an idea of who's up here, why they're up here and what's going on.
GM: So you're gossip-mongers is what I'm hearing.
BM: (laughs) We experience it all, too. We're here, we're live, we know what's going on.
GM: Have you seen The Aristocrats?
BM: Yes, we have.
GM: And your opinion, Brian McKim?
BM: We had a wonderful time. The folks at TH!NKFilm went out of their way to get us seats in the house and we had a wonderful time. And I tell you, we wrote what we think is the definitive review of the film and it's up there on the upload. Yesterday's upload, as a matter of fact. So hop on and check it out. I never give up an opportunity to pump the magazine!
GM: Thumbs up or thumbs down, in a nutshell?
BM: Definitely thumbs up, without a doubt. It's beautifully done. Paul Provenza had a vision and he followed through on it. Penn Jillette, from Penn & Teller, helped him out on it financially. Another fellow that we just met for the first time – we conversed with him via e-mail but met him for the very first time in the flesh this week – was Emery Emery. He's a comic who edited it. And we've had the pleasure of working with many of the comics who were featured in it in the past, and we've met a couple of people who were featured in it this week. And it's just been a real blast to be able to be involved, at least in the periphery, in that film.
GM: Is the joke funny?
BM: Of course! The joke has a certain sort of internal logic to it in its irony. The film is joyous, I must say. It's really fun to see comedians having a blast. And wall to wall that's all it is: comics having a blast. And if you love standup comedy, you will love this film.