Wham City Comedy
WHAM CITY COMEDY
BEN O’BRIEN ’06 (visual arts)
ALAN RESNICK ’08 (visual arts)
DINA KELBERMAN ’03 (visual arts)
This whole world is wild at heart and weird on top. —David Lynch
Wham City Comedy’s website and social media pages are filled with content that is equal parts funny, satirical, and downright bizarre.
The comedy and video collective is making waves with live shows, an annual comedy tour, and viral videos. Wham City Comedy is Ben O’Brien ’06, Alan Resnick ’08, and non-alumnus Robby Rackleff, “who is sick of hearing about Purchase,” says Dina Kelberman ’03, a longtime collaborator.
Plunging in Adult Swim
The team turned a skit created by Resnick for the comedy tour, Live Forever as You Are Now with Alan Resnick into a video that aired on the Cartoon Network as part of its Adult Swim programming—the block of adult comedy that is broadcast from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
It’s a spoof on self-help lectures and infomercials in which Resnick promises to create digital duplicates of human beings. It’s funny, compelling, and strange.
Asked to create another fake infomercial as a follow-up, the group decided against making a satirical one and focused on the 4 a.m. slot, a time when viewers might stumble upon their video rather than watching by conscious choice.
Unedited Footage of a Bear begins as a nature documentary might, then becomes a realistic, but fake, commercial for an allergy medicine. The music stops and it finally morphs into a horror story where a woman is tormented by her evil doppelganger.
The group created a horror video for a comedy network—precisely why it’s funny to them. “We wanted to make something within that context that had no jokes in it. We took it very seriously and we thought that was kind of the whole joke,” Resnick explains. It has had more than 2.8 million views on YouTube.
The Origin Story
Wham City Comedy is an offshoot of Wham City Collective, a group of artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers—largely Purchase alumni—based in Baltimore.
Since 2005, they’ve produced live shows of music, experimental theatre, sketch comedy, stand-up, and videos to critical acclaim, often with an absurdist sense of humor as the through line.
Kelberman, a founding member of Wham City, remembers being lured to Baltimore after graduation by the promise of low rent and huge warehouse spaces in which to live. Five or six friends moved initially, followed by a slow trickle of others as they graduated.
The Wham City moniker came from Dan Deacon ’04 (music), another founding member, who infamously trashed the flyers announcing the new name for a Purchase dormitory, the Outback, and replaced them with signs and posters announcing that the winning name was actually Wham City.
Divergent Paths, Shared Sensibilities
Kelberman is a digital artist and a freelance Web designer who just ended a six-year stint as a weekly cartoonist for the Baltimore City Paper.
O’Brien first tried comedy during secret open mic nights at Purchase, in an event called “The Cave.” He remembers, “It was a really safe space to start trying comedy. There was very bizarre and weird stuff happening.”
Obsessed as a child with Steve Martin, O’Brien created the stage and online character Earth Universe, a mock spiritual guru who became enlightened by reading the text on a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap and now thinks he’s the reincarnation of the late soap-maker turned New Age proselytizer.
“Earth Universe espouses philosophies that are takes on the hypocrisies or silly things about New Age culture that I’ve observed by being into New Age culture for so long,” he says.
O’Brien also teaches filmmaking at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Catch Them on the Road and the Tube
Wham City Comedy mounts monthly showcases in Baltimore and performs every other month at the Annoyance Theater in Brooklyn.
The troupe is currently working on another project for Adult Swim as well as a sketch comedy pilot for a production company that’s an offshoot of Fox. Stay tuned.
Purchase Humor is a series of profiles featuring alumni whose craft was nurtured at Purchase. Originally published in PURCHASE magazine (Fall/Winter 2015) and updated for the website Fall 2016.