When comedian Joe Kwaczala turned 31 in 2018, he celebrated by releasing 31 videos on his Twitter, YouTube, and website. Dropped in 15 minute intervals, the videos included well-produced skits with ensemble casts (a parody of The Slap with vampires instead of children), minimalist one-offs (a talking jar of expired salsa voiced by Tim Robinson asking not to be thrown out), a Pittsburgh parody of Call Me By Your Name, as well as podcast appearances and stand-up clips.
The first one I saw was called "Radio Contest Winner," where Kwaczala explains his love of classic rock radio and his uncanny ability to recognize songs off the bat. Growing up in Pittsburgh, that meant a lot of time listening to WRRK (formerly "Channel 97," currently Bob FM) and WDVE. I had, and have, trouble explaining why the video is so funny, but there's something genuine and charming about it that's hard to place. It's real (I think?) but has a mockumentary vibe thanks to its bone-dry production and lack of winking. Kwaczala has lived and worked in Los Angeles for years, but there's a laid back lack of pretension in his sense of humor that still feels very Pittsburgh. Watch the video(s).
On Friday, Kwaczala performs at Club Cafe with Kayleigh Dumas, so Pittsburgh City Paper reached out to discuss his love of classic rock, writing for Clickhole, and the Pittsburgh accent. The interview has been condensed for space.
You used to write for Clickhole, and I believe you mostly did the fake celebrity quotes feature, They Said What?!
When Clickhole started, I was out here in Los Angeles but I was very lucky to be a part of the contributor pool that The Onion has and Clickhole has, where you just email in joke ideas or headline ideas. And then their very talented staff picks what they want to publish. Did that for like four years. Toward the end, I was really focused and enjoyed contributing to They Said What?!, which is the fake quotes.
How did you approach writing those fake quotes?
What I liked about those jokes in particular is that you didn't have to be relevant to anything that was going on. You didn’t have to be particularly satirical or even insightful. I would think of a topic, or just a prompt word, then try to think of something, an observation, or if I could just make some weird joke around it. Maybe it’s in the wording or the format of the quote itself, then attribute it to the least likely person I could think of.
You have a good amount of Pittsburgh material in your act. How do you decide what would work for non-Pittsburgh audiences? Did you worry about that when you were starting out?
A little bit. At first I felt confident about that type of material because I would talk to my friends in L.A. about that accent and they found it to be funny. That was enough to give me the confidence to think, "Oh, this thing might have a broader appeal than I initially thought."
I think there’s two things going on. One: The accent is very specific in a way that I think confuses and throws people off in a comedic way. I think people hear it and think, "What is going on there?" It’s familiar but it’s also so different and bizarre. That alone has a lot of comedic value. But I also think there’s something universal about regional accents. You can get on board no matter where you’re from because you know that kind of concept. There's an accent that some people in the city have, and other people don’t, and it’s your own special flavor.
You have a bit where you do an impression of a judge in Pittsburgh. It reminded me how it's not just the accent or the slang, but the delivery. The Pittsburgh accent has kind of a sing-songy delivery.
For sure. There’s a musicality to it. As you can tell, there’s very specific word choice in that joke. I made sure to end the punchline on “reasonable daht.” That really hits home the strange nuances of the accent.
Did you have an accent?
I did not. At least I don't think I did? But I remember going to college and coming back after being away, and watching TV or listening to the radio, and suddenly I could hear the accent in subtle ways I could not before.
You have a podcast about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame called Who Cares About The Rock Hall? When/why did you start to care about it?
Well, my dad is from Cleveland and we’d go to visit his family and go the Rock Hall. I was very into classic rock. I had a healthy dose of that growing up in Pittsburgh. I know that it doesn’t exist anymore, but channel 97 was a classic rock station. Then one of the biggest radio stations in Pittsburgh is WDVE. so there were two really great classic rock stations growing up in Pittsburgh, so I felt like I had the education that you get just from turning on the radio and that led me into that kind of music. Also growing up in Pittsburgh, it’s a sports town. I never was drawn to sports, but the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is almost like sports for music fans. There’s a lot of speculation, a list of nominees comes out, you can have a discussion about who has the merits to get in and who has been nominated, who’s never been nominated. It’s like being a sports nerd. It scratches some weird itch in my brain.
What do you have coming up in 2020?
I released a bunch of videos at the end of 2018, 31 videos in one day. Keep your eyes peeled because I will likely be doing something similar by the end of this year.