After graduating from Stanford, doing comedy around San Francisco, and honing your sketch- comedy chops in the Northwest, you're finally doing your first full-length narrative work. Tell me about Moby Alpha.
Chuck Armstrong: A friend and I were both reading Moby-Dick, so we would talk about Moby-Dick, and we had the idea that you could set Moby-Dick in space and it'd be the same story—just harvesting some sort of energy from space.
Charlie Stockman: I had this idea about how cool it would be to have a space helmet lined with LEDs and do a sketch in the dark. So I built these helmets that have LED strips with million-color LEDs in there, and I programmed different effects into them. So it starts blue, then it goes into space launcher and fades into red, then you get the sparkling of stars, and you control it all through a button on the side. Then we thought, what if we do this Moby Alpha thing all in the dark, with these helmets? So that's what it is. There's like 90 tiers on our helmets that we move through. We use the colors to establish the characters. Ahab and Starbot are blue, and red is like a red-shirt thing for the below-deck people, so you're seeing two different trajectories while Ahab pursues Moby Alpha, who's like an amorphous energy cloud that took his leg. The great white energy cloud.
One word that regularly gets applied to Charles's comedy is "cerebral."
Chuck: We have a lot of sketches that assume an understanding of science or literature. We both listen to a lot of NPR, we both read a lot, and we draw from pop-culture stuff that has a bit of an intellectual lean. We write almost exclusively premise-based material, which seems to feel a bit more academic in nature.
Charlie: We're analytical about it, like how do you escalate the situation, what do people want, how are you getting it.
Chuck: Approaching things "academically" allows you to go to ridiculous places. We have this sketch—it's not a barn burner, we typically put it in the middle of a show—about a guy who travels back in time to get a vasectomy, to keep his girlfriend from getting pregnant. Every line is essentially a dick joke, but because we caged it in this weird science-fiction universe, with boiler-plate facts about quantum physics, we can do this sketch that is in essence pretty base, but in a way that feels new.
What is the funniest thing in the world?
Chuck: Generally harmless catastrophic failure. It's a tough line to walk—most catastrophic failure has an element of reverberating tragedy, affecting those outside the endeavor. There is nothing funny about a nuclear meltdown. But an atrocious film with a massive budget, or an overwrought poem, or a self-important dramatic work that ends up being entirely incomprehensible is just about the funniest thing in the world.
Charlie: Southwest Airlines flight attendants.
Charles will perform Moby Alpha as part of the First Night Festival in Tacoma on New Year's Eve and perform sketch comedy at Annex Theatre's Weird and Awesome on Feb 2.