I was thirty seconds into my Zoom call with Emmett Montgomery and Derek Sheen and shit was already going off the rails. Instead of talking about Friendship Dungeon, the duo’s new monthly midnight variety show, the three of us started the interview by scooping up our dogs from their respective napping positions only to spend several minutes urging the animals to acknowledge one another through the computer screens.
Montgomery’s little Italian Greyhound mix Carmen Dracula, Sheen’s toy poodle Shadow, and my beagle Johnny Waffles squirmed and pulled away as if we were trying to squeeze them into baby clothes and pose them in a basket of vegetables for an Anne Geddes calendar.
I attempted to rein in the circus. “Okay, we should probably get started. You’ve said before that Friendship Dungeon is all about getting weird—I want to talk about how you guys are bringing the weird back to Seattle.”
Montgomery and Sheen balked. They immediately rejected the notion that they were somehow leading the charge into unexplored territory.
“Seattle has always been weird,” said Montgomery. “The problem is, since even before the pandemic, with our creative real estate problem and papers going away and losing arts advocacy, that weirdness has been harder to find. Going back to Faux Bang and Dina Martina and Coffee Messiah and Sylvia O’Stayformore—[there’s always been] a general weirdness. What we’re trying to do is not be weird again, but make the weirdness more accessible.”
“Back in the '90s there was a slew of variety shows that were elevating a lot of the non-stand-up, non-straight music acts,” added Sheen. “[Seattle] is kind of the home of horror drag, horror drag started here—Ursula Android, Jackie Hell. And not just drag, not just stand-up, not just music—but lots of stuff in-between.”
They’re not wrong; weird is in our water. Montgomery pointed out that one of the country’s most confounding yet most popular television shows, Twin Peaks, came from the Northwest. Sheen added that generations of Seattleites grew up watching The J.P. Patches Show, a regional children’s program that ran from the late '50s to the early '80s and “took place in a junkyard with a creepy clown and his partner who was a drag performer. Nothing is more Seattle than that.”
Montgomery and Sheen have been being weird in Emerald City for decades, too. For much of the 2010s, Montgomery hosted the Weird & Awesome variety show at Annex Theatre, and the two comedians were mainstays of Seattle’s nightlife and arts culture when experimental comics and performers including Reggie Watts, Jackie Hell, and Ursula Android, were taking risks and finding their footing.
“I’ve been able to successfully book strange variety shows for two decades, and a lot of times what’s exciting is it comes from... I think we all have weirdness inside of us, and jokes and stories. All of us have that in us. We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just continuing the tradition.”
Friendship Dungeon’s inaugural show was in August and, yeah, it got weird. But it was more than that, Montgomery and Sheen say. The show’s loose, late-night format created space not just for weirdness but for vulnerable experimentation and intentional creative expression.
Montgomery brought large handmade puppets. Erin Popelka did a dance to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” in a sparkly leotard and a skeleton body suit with an inflatable monster baby and plastic skeletons from Target. Hampton Yount, aka the voice of Crow on Mystery Science Theater 3000, headlined Comedy/Bar that night and stuck around afterward to do “a set that he wouldn’t have done during his main show,” said Montgomery.
“Including a really hilarious but extremely dark bit. When his father had a stroke, his father called Hampton and got his outgoing voicemail, which was extremely silly and stupid. So he played that to us, but we had the context of, like, a man trying to reach his son, and then the guilt from that.
“There’s a sweet, weird dimension that happens with late-night shows,” Montgomery continued. “What I love about these late-night shows that Derek and I get to do all over the country is, you know, there’s a freedom, but there’s also a skill, a focused chaos. ... It’s in that place of intentional idiocy that you can get some really brilliant stuff.”
“We want to avoid that label of just drunken crazy late-night party atmosphere,” added Sheen. “We want to make this an hour or hour-and-a-half for people who are up late and want their minds to be expanded a little bit by something outside of the normal realm of what you would expect to see at a comedy club.”
“Because it’s still art, right?” I asked. “There’s preparation, there’s effort, there’s intentionality. It’s not just a free-for-all, or just, you know, like, a fart fest.”
“No! Yes, there will be a fart fest!” said Montgomery.
“Fart Fest is our Sunday show,” added Sheen.
We laughed, we talked about Fart Fest being a fictional band who makes beautiful music, we laughed some more, and then Sheen got serious. “You literally just tapped into one of my biggest influences, Le Pétomane, from France, the fartiste from the late-19th century. He did an actual fart presentation at the Moulin Rouge...”
Montgomery sensed the skepticism in my laughter. “Do you know about Le Pétomane, Megan?”
“No! I just assumed he was bullshitting!”
“No, it’s real,” Sheen said, “There’s a recorded performance of him somewhere.”
“He could blow out candles and stuff!”
“Of course, he did shit his pants onstage one time,” added Sheen. “He was just like, ‘Sorry I’m clearing my throat,’ and then went on with the performance. ... Okay, that part is bullshit.”
And we were back off the rails.
See Friendship Dungeon at Comedy/Bar at midnight on the last Saturday of every month.