“I always wanted my shows to be songs, and characters, and stories that flowed in and out of each other like watercolors.”
His world begins with the laugh. To become the madcap, singing intellectual who performs improvised songs from spectator suggestions right there on the spot, audience after audience; to tap into the group mind and force them to follow, his world must begin and end with the laugh.
Matthew Geiler, born into a cornhusker Nebraskan upbringing, is more than a Midwestern boy, beyond being a stand-up comedian, more than a singer, or an actor. Though each is well defined within his repertoire, he is an artist.
“Dang You, Matt Geiler,” a DVD three years in the making, and now ready for release May 5 2013, is a masterful showcase of that genre-crossing artistry.
“It’s hard to decide which forms I like best,” admits Mr. Geiler. “So, if I’m singing, I’m a singer. If I’m writing, I’m a writer. But a lot of what I do, regardless of avenue, generates laughs, so in that sense I might be a comedian.
“But…I have to explain to people what I do — if I say ‘I’m a comedian,’ it seems like most people conjure up an image of a stand-up comedian, which I am fairly certain I am not that. So then I go to the length of saying, ‘I’m an improvisational comedian,’ which seems to engender a fair amount of confusion with people. If it gets as far as me saying, ‘I’m a musical improv comedian,’ it’s like forget it. Yeah, I’m an artist.”
An artist with the need and expertise of blending his professional prowess with what he learned growing up watching his favorite industry icons, obscurists who influence his work like Dr. Seuss, Andy Kaufman, They Might Be Giants, Ionesco, and Brecht.
Comedy is not just his medium, but also his canvas. Mr. Geiler utilizes the form, as if manipulating paint, to also blend the consciousness and unconsciousness of viewers who participate in his act, to affect the group mind, to strip it away until there is nothing left but the laugh. Deconstruction.
Demonstrating his popular cartoonish, yet highly cultured antics that have audience members engaged — throwing out hilarious ideas for him to build a melodic narrative around right in the moment and resulting in unconcealed and vulnerable mirthfulness — Geiler presents the DVD feature, “Dang You, Matt Geiler” to a host of expectant fans with the hopes of garnering new ones, inviting them to have as much fun watching it as he had creating it.
A musical mash-up of intricate lyrics, a variety of characters, and travel to Autumn of 1987, “Dang You, Matt Geiler” is an esplanade of sharp wit, symbiosis, and history, an account that is informed not only by world history, but of his personal past. “Comedy is important to me because it’s the inescapable adjunct to pretty much everything dark or sad or horrible that’s happened in my life.”
For his interview, Mr. Geiler is serious in discussing the root of his humor — the pain of his childhood. Raised in a rural, middle class home, Geiler and younger brother, Mike, were witnesses to what Geiler described as an “awful time of relationship strife” for his parents. That resulted in chaos and abusiveness that Geiler felt compelled to eliminate.
“I’m not sure I know why my parents’ marital strife, some abusive situations, and their divorce engendered the comedy thing, but I do know that both at home and at school my response was to say something funny, draw a cartoon, sing a ridiculous song, do a funny character, dance in a weird way…if I could make a great painting or drawing; write a good play or poem; do a funny character or write a good song, [I felt] that our family would be okay and there would be harmony and people would stop fighting and love each other. I felt like there was something I could do to keep [our family] together or to save it.”
Continuously searching for the laugh, or the good, Geiler developed his need to heal the people around him into an art form. As one of the coveted musical improv comedians, Geiler is highly sought after nationwide by corporations, colleges, and comedy clubs. After winning the Best Comedian award at the Los Angeles Best New Talent showcase in 2002, Mr. Geiler has enjoyed a commercial and voice-over career in television, film, and radio.
“Dang You, Matt Geiler,” an intimate and personal project, culminates his comedic strides and broken past into a family centric show where his father is the basis of one of his most adored characters; where he performs with his younger brother, Mike, as his musical support and hype man; and where this show is ultimately a love letter to his mother.
“My mom is flat out the saving grace of my entire life,” Mr. Geiler confesses. “I think it would be impossible to overstate the influence on me — she provided safety and security where there was none and often at the expense of obtaining those things for herself. She did the greatest thing any parent can do for an artist when I was a child. She indulged my explorations.”
Those explorations translate into hilarious numbers like ‘Frosted Jeans’ where an adolescent Geiler has been invited to a “cool kids” party and must have the latest designer frosted jeans. An overworked, but loving mother goes out and purchases the jeans, but from Sears — a catastrophe for a kid.
The show is high octane, swiggly brained, and poetic, peppered with gems of wisdom like “you cannot just linger in the ashes” and “she’s the…Mona Lisa. Her looks aren’t exactly breathtaking, but something else about her is.”
Geiler, like a boss, handles each suggestion with sophistication and drollery. No songs are predetermined, no genre of music is prelisted, and no pairing of the two is rehearsed, unless we consider the years the Geiler Brothers have performed together.
Mr. Geiler attributes his success, in part, to his relationship with his brother. “Oh man, finding somebody who can just flow at the same time you do? And who has enough of a grasp of your sensibilities and of their own? Forget it. Mike is great. He’s a genius.”
Genius is a part of what makes Mr. Geiler’s act, and this DVD, so effective. “Back at Second City they always say play to the top of your intelligence — which has always resonated with me. I think I even had that desire and aesthetic before I ever studied there.
“Since I was a kid, I have enjoyed digesting all manner of written material. Like I was definitely a kid who read the dictionary, the encyclopedia, memorized Billboard chart info, baseball statistics, et cetera. I just love finding out about things.”
Holding a degree in History from Nebraska Wesleyan University, receiving training at some of the nation’s most prestigious conservatories, including Second City in Chicago, and earning years of experience with the regional improvisation troupe, The Wisenheimers, Mr. Geiler uses his considerable knowledge to keep his finger on the pulse of global affairs, the performance industry, and to stay abreast of audience suggestions during a show.
“When somebody throws something out, it’s a jumping off place. You still deal with it in your own unique way and that can change from moment to moment. One way is to tackle the suggestion of “mayonnaise” with the specificity and surgical precision of an encyclopedia article. Another is to create a storyline where mayonnaise is prominently involved in the demise of a foreign dignitary. Another is to describe what it feels like to swim in it. All of which depends on how you feel and what you think of at the moment.”
But the moment of suggestion isn’t always as simple as mayo or fruit, sometimes it’s something he hasn’t heard of, something obscure or regional, and that improv training really kicks in and rears its pretty head.
“One time, when The Wisenheimers were doing a show in Minnesota, someone yelled out ‘lutefisk’ as a suggestion. Nobody had any notion what it was or had even heard the word — which in that instance was hilarious because I said ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ And everybody laughed at the kid from out of town who didn’t know that lutefisk is a highly salted traditional fish dish served in families of Scandinavian heritage.
“So then being honest and saying ‘What is that?’ actually brings the audience closer because they started explaining how you made the dish. And by the time that stage banter was done, I at least had enough information to address the topic and sing about how revolting the idea was to me.
“I think if you don’t know something, be honest and attempt to have a dialogue because not knowing is super funny too.”
According to Geiler, his brand of comedy is best appreciated by college students and the elderly and preschoolers, claiming that every age is ripe and ready for play.
“It’s a bold forward step illustrating what I want the progression [of my career] to be — making and putting out stuff I am passionate about. It’s about doing what feels good and challenging.
“I sat on the footage for about three years because I kept saying, ‘who’s gonna dig this? It’s not stand-up. There aren’t any jokes. There are no punch lines. What’s the point?’ But then I was watching through again and I thought ‘I like this. I have fun doing it! Maybe the world is ready for not stand-up.”
The world is ready for non-stand-up, stand-up. “Dang You, Matt Geiler” is available for pre-order right now through the website (physical copies only). Digital downloads are available beginning May 5, on mattgeiler.com. Order now, so that your world may also begin with a laugh.
Along with his wife and two sons, Matt Geiler now lives in Los Angeles.