Roasting tech culture may be considered low-hanging fruit in the Seattle comedy world, but that just makes the challenge of conceiving funny observations about it all the more compelling. So it's impressive that the producers of Socially Inept: A Comedy Roast—Austin Nasso and Jesse Warren—have sold out Laughs Comedy Club with this concept for their first two shows in August and October. They've scheduled the next edition of Socially Inept for December 14-15 at Laughs, with comics Paul Curry, Claire Webber, Clara Putin, and Narin Vann taking turns mocking and satirizing the foibles of people who do the grunt work to make your cushy 21st-century lifestyle possible. Coding? Give me codeine instead, dude.
To find out more about this echt 2018 Seattle event, I interviewed Nasso—a Microsoft employee—by e-mail, because of course I did.
The Stranger: You’re obviously coming at the subject from an insider’s perspective. Not all of the comics are in the tech industry, are they?
Nasso: No, not all of the comics are currently in the tech industry, but a lot are closely related in a way. For example, Paul Curry is currently a computer science undergrad student at UW, my co-producer Jesse Warren is a former Microsoft intern and former Space-X employee, and I currently work for Microsoft. Past comedians include Adi Naidu, an Amazon-ian, and Peter Graham, an ex-Riot Games employee.
What inspired you to launch this event?
The first couple iterations of this event were actually completely different. It used to go under the name Yung Tech and was a social happy hour followed by a comedy show. I initially started that show with Peter Graham (Seattle comic and anti-techie) and Liz Stillman (my friend from Amazon) to help tech transplants make friends and introduce them to live comedy. However, after a while the show got really boring and I realized that I was more passionate about making fun comedy shows than helping engineers make friends. We did the last iteration of Yung Tech in May.
While I was feeling kind of despondent about making another big tech event, I had an incredible experience: My friend Anthony Fetto has an open mic at Flying Boots Ravenna every Tuesday at 10 pm and decided to spontaneously make one night all about roasting. Comedians would free-for-all go to the mic and make jokes about people in the room. Because the comedians didn’t know everyone very well, they were mostly aesthetic jokes (i.e., “Peter looks like a hipster pirate on Captain Hook’s ship”—courtesy of comedian Mike Parker). When one comic finished, the next person to grab the mic would do the same thing. The whole room was exploding with laughter. The idea that a comedian could roast people they barely know was so interesting to me.
Soon after that, it hit me—what if we roasted tech people just how we did at that one open mic? If you LOVE tech, you’ll go and watch your friends get roasted, and if you HATE tech, you’ll go and watch these “socially awkward dorks” get roasted. August 11 was the first Yung Tech roast show, “Socially Inept: Tech Roast Show,” and we sold out Laugh’s Comedy Club (220+ tickets sold). The second on October 11 also sold out.
In your experience onstage and off, do you find that tech workers have a refined sense of humor and, perhaps more importantly, can they laugh at themselves?
Yes and no. I think the tech audience definitely prefers more clever jokes and inside jokes about tech. It is definitely a politically correct audience, which makes roasting a little difficult. Rather than going ALL OUT with extremely dark jokes, like you might see on Comedy Central’s Roast Battle, I noticed that doing more clever clean jokes tend to perform better.
The audience does like to laugh at themselves and tech stereotypes, but you usually have to break them out of their shell a little bit first. At the end of the day, it is a roast show, so it is important to set the expectation that the show is going to have some critical and dark jokes. Setting the expectation usually alleviates a lot of awkward tension in the room if something is deemed too dark.
On a scale of 1-10, how hard is it to conceive jokes about tech culture compared to other more traditional areas of comedy? Is it more difficult to think of bits that will connect with non-tech workers, or is there a sort of broad relatability to the content?
I’d say it is a 3. From my personal experience, I think it is super-easy to think of tech jokes—maybe even easier than jokes relatable to a way larger audience. This is just because I’ve been around tech culture for so long—four years in the UCLA computer science department and one year in Seattle. In college, my roommates were extremely social and well-rounded, popular guys while a lot of my acquaintances were very socially awkward software engineers. The contrast in my interactions created a lot of comedic content.
A lot of my non-tech bits are pretty relatable to people around the 18-35 demographic (I am 23), so I don’t think it's difficult to relate to non-techies. I hang out with non-tech people and techie people alike. I do a lot of jokes about social interactions and talk about things that are definitely relatable to other millennials like guys texting “wanna come over lol” instead of politely asking women on dates as they might have done in the past.
Have you found that the most prevalent clichés about tech culture are overwhelmingly true? And if so, does that make it harder to conceive jokes that avoid seeming hackneyed? What do you think is the most common misconception about tech culture?
I actually think the biggest clichés about tech people being very socially awkward are not entirely true. I definitely know a lot of engineers that are very social people and not awkward at all. However, everyone knows some programmers that dress very poorly, exhibit poor communications skills, and hike on the weekends, which makes the jokes still relatable. The clichés inform the memes we make on the Facebook page and our advertising materials more than the main content of the show. While we still have a lot of tech jokes in the show, the main comedic content is tailored specifically for each person being roasted. You can only go so far by milking the clichés.
Regarding misconceptions about tech: Honestly, most of the stuff you hear is probably a little true.
Have any tech workers taken offense to things said at previous events?
In general, everyone is a very good sport. The audience knows the show isn’t supposed to be mean-spirited or construed as bullying. This is always a fine line to tread when doing a roast show, and I think the comics have done a good job communicating that the roast jokes are good-natured. It is important for the audience to remember that the people on stage WANT TO BE ROASTED, so holding back doesn’t do the show justice. All of the comedians meet with the “roastees” before and after the show to make sure everyone knows it is a safe and fun environment and that we have each other’s backs.