When it comes to making people laugh, comedian Kurt Braunohler goes big. Really big. He once hired a skywriter to scrawl “How do I land?” in the sky over Los Angeles. He has donned a tuxedo wetsuit and rode a Jet Ski down the Mississippi River, doing stand-up gigs along the way.
Most recently, he drove a 1,600-pound foam-and-metal butt sculpture from Los Angeles to New Jersey, intending to insert absurdity into strangers’ lives. That butt—the Love Butt—now permanently resides in Charlottesville’s Ix Art Park. (But) more on that later.
Braunohler cracked the comedy scene nearly two decades ago, performing improv comedy with Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City, and he’s built his comedic reputation around absurd guerrilla performances.
From 1999 to 2004, Braunohler and fellow comedian Matt Murphy dressed up in homemade, mascot-esque costumes as Chunk (half chicken, half skunk, pure evil) and Chengwin (half chicken, half penguin, pure love; half-brother of Chunk). They battled in the streets of New York City, hitting each other until one of them fell over. They drew enormous crowds and shut down traffic for as long as 20 minutes. Over time, an entourage grew around each character, and for their final performance, Braunohler estimates that more than 2,000 people showed up to watch the melee.
Such moments of utter ridiculousness “can snap people out of their normal everyday routine,” says Braunohler. “We tend to get stuck in ruts, in the rote routines of our lives. So when all of a sudden something absurd—like a giant butt—hits, it reframes your perspective on your own life. And when you can see something from multiple points of view, you’re a lot less likely to punch somebody who doesn’t have your exact same perspective.”
Braunohler isn’t always the one creating the absurdity; he looks for it in the most mundane situations. On his debut comedy album, How Do I Land?, he jokes about how people behave in airports, about his skywriting stunt and about his experience sending a text message to a wrong number, then pursuing a conversation with the complete stranger.
When he’s not orchestrating large-scale gags, Braunohler works on a slew of other comedy projects. He co-hosts “Hot Tub,” an alternative and experimental comedy variety show with Kristen Schaal; voices a character on the animated series “Bob’s Burgers”; hosts the “K Ohle with Kurt Braunohler” podcast on the Nerdist network and is a frequent contestant on Comedy Central’s “@midnight” game show.
Braunohler is currently at work on “Better, Dumber, Faster,” a Comedy Central series that aims to make the world a better place through—what else?—absurdity. Each episode focuses on a thing that sucks about the world, and Braunohler will try to make that thing better. He created the Love Butt for the pilot episode, which focuses on how waiting sucks.
The butt was originally scheduled to whiz across the country in late June/early July on a freight train (hence its bizarre dimensions and noticeable flatness), so that when people in small town America were stuck at a railroad crossing, all of a sudden a butt would go by and break up the monotony of the train. “A butt is a very dumb thing, but you’d definitely know what it is if it sped by you,” he says with a laugh.
Just in case, he added the BUTT tattoo. He didn’t want the Love Butt mistaken for two big pink Chiclets.
At the last minute, the train wouldn’t take the butt, so Braunohler and his wife, “Better, Dumber, Faster” co-creator and showrunner Scotty Landes, rented a flatbed truck and drove the butt—at a top speed of 65 mph—across America, stopping in various cities for stand-up shows and visits with friends. They filmed the entire time.
Near the end of the tour, Braunohler stopped in Charlottesville to visit a friend (and former Chunk entourage member), and needed to find a large public space to seat the butt. The Ix Art Park fit the bill.
“Weird things happen at the Ix Art Park,” says park instigator Brian Wimer. “I got a call that a giant butt needed a place to park, so of course I said yes.”
Ix hosted the Love Butt the evening of July 5 and drew a small crowd of people who, to Braunohler’s delight, posed for photos with the sculpture before it hauled ass to its final destination in New Jersey. Braunohler planned to cut up the butt and toss it in a dump at tour’s end, but Ix asked to add it to its permanent collection.
Braunohler is pleased that the Love Butt has a gig surprising and delighting Ix visitors.
“Sometimes we’re presented with unforeseen opportunities that look like 8′ butt cheeks,” says Wimer. “I never anticipated having a huge ass at the park, but there it is and it’s a Love Butt, which is even better. Our motto is ‘dream big,’ and I guess the cosmos were listening.”
Braunohler is a gut-busting comedian in any format—his podcasts, his shows and his album—but he’s at his best in the street and on stage, bringing comedy to the masses. He’ll return to Charlottesville on September 14 with his Very Serious tour to deliver an hour-long comedy set that he says is “roughly based on the idea of trust.”
Nothing is off limits as far as Braunohler is concerned. It’s how he gets his audience to lighten up and consider new perspectives. “Everything goes into the machine. Everything should be joked about. If you’re going to talk about it, you’re going to have to find some humor in it. Humor is just another way of giving a perspective on a situation, so we have to make fun of everything,” he says. That’s how we can get to the bottom of things.