Name: Kristoffer Puddicombe
Vocation: Educator & Entertainer
Hometown: Waukesha, Wisconsin
A sold-out house slowly rises to their feet as Kris Puddicombe enters the restored back theater at Urban Harvest Brewing Company. We were packed in like sardines, thankfully the smell of malt & barley wafts in the air and we knew something special was about to hit our world.
Kris entered the stage looking like a young David Letterman, with a subtle touch of Grizzly Adams. A beard that could demand respect from a wild Bison if they had a stare down. A youthful house band jump started the show opening. Kris paused for a moment to allow the drummer a finale snare before he delivering his opening monologue. He went on to bring up the night’s first trivia topic “1 Star Travel Reviews for Midwest Landmarks.” And with that, another live episode of “I Should Know This” was off.
The next two hours weaved together trivia, music, and comedy. We sat down with Kris to learn more about the show, life in the Midwest and who he would take in a bar fight between Paul Bunyan and Sasquatch. Strap in.
MWG: How do you respond when people ask ‘what do you do’?
KP: I suppose I’m an improv comic primarily, but I’ve dabbled in standup, scripted work, writing and whatever my show is.
How did I Should Know This… come to exist?
I Should Know This is a bit of a Frankenstein affair I’m afraid. I’d always noticed that when I went to concerts I loved the banter and the off-the-cuff comedy of the singer between songs, it was fun and I wanted more. By the same token, I knew that cool, high energy music brought a kind of energy that comedy alone can’t produce. I wanted both in a show. At the same time, I was hanging out with really smart, funny friends in the Milwaukee comedy scene and when comics hang out, in your kitchen, there can be this great riffing banter that happens. I wanted to capture that feel in the show.
Then James Boland and I were talking about it and he mentioned the BBC’s annual Big Fat Quiz show where a bunch of British comics participate in a current events quiz show. As we conceived of it, other influences like NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and Ask Me Another and MTV’s At Midnight began to emerge. In the end, we took pieces from a lot of those and made something unique in the city.
At the show we thoroughly enjoyed a local music guest, a hilarious panel getting quizzed on Midwest oddities as well as your very lively comedic opener. What was your process in not only creating the show but also the naming of the show?
I don’t remember where the name exactly came from. I think it was a bit derivative of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me in the sense that it is evocative of the quiz show format we employ.
The show took a long time to hone once we got it on its feet. The first year of shows was pretty rough, given what we have now. One big challenge was the pacing. When the panel would write their answers to the questions, there would be a lot of dead space in the flow of the show. This is where the audience questions have filled a lot of the space that was left there.
James, the “audience liaison” and I answer questions that the audience writes as they enter the theatre. The third round has changed a lot too. Now it is a rapid-fire round, which really helps keep the pace at the end of the show brisk and high energy. One big secret to the success of the show is the ethos of James, the panel and me. I created the show along with James Boland, Lee Rowley, and Vince Figeroa from the beginning and we had to work very hard to figure out where the lines were as far as keeping the feel of the show fun and light-hearted.
There was a temptation early on to poke at each other too much and it made the banter very prickly. The quiz show itself is really a vehicle for banter and I think we are very good now at keeping it positive. I like to say that ideally, it should feel like hanging out with funny people in your kitchen.
Another big leap forward was the addition of a house band. We have been fortunate to have some really kickass musical guests along the way, but in the last few months, we’ve been able to add a house band. They are called Colors of the Alphabet and they are made up of high school kids from the school I teach at. They are quite good and are available to play the gigs, so it works for everyone. The show feels like a late-night talk show mixed with a quiz show now and it has a really great energy to it. A lot of that is due to the band.
What, if anything, has surprised you the most as you continue to perform month after month?
I’m surprised and delighted to see new people at the shows. When you start doing improv shows, the audiences for a long time are your buddies and their girlfriends. It’s really affirming to have people come see us perform that we have no connection to. I guess this is what Stephen Colbert feels like, huh?
Anything on the horizon for I Should Know This?
We are constantly building a network of guest panelists. We’ve been able to secure some notable Milwaukee personalities like Mitch Teich and historian Jon Gurda. These have opened the door to other people in town outside of Milwaukee’s very supportive and very funny comedy community. I’d love it to be a known commodity where we get recommendations for guests and they already know us and are excited to be on the show.
What about the Midwest helped define you?
When I was in college I got to spend a couple summers in San Diego. I loved the first summer, but the second summer I was ready by the end to get back to, In my words, the “quiet un-hipness of the Midwest.” I feel like in a lot of those towns, particularly in the west, nobody is from there.
I love being part of a community with a history and people who know that history. My Midwestern parents and the Children’s Television Workshop grew me up with a healthy value for honesty, and kindness. I think that those things are still valued in the Midwest, at least for the time being.
Outside of your craft with ISKT, what’s your escape?
While I don’t get to do it so much as I used to, I really like cycling. You need to have some time to let your brain think and your legs crank.
Where are your favorite places to explore around the Midwest?
I lived in the Twin Cities for a few years and I love to go back. I’m a huge fan of little towns like Fort Atkinson, with little places like the Cafe Carpe. I like to weave my way through the back roads of the state and not stop at a single chain restaurant.
My wife and I got married at a YMCA camp outside of Lac Du Flambeau and we go back every year. Planning a wedding up north was a trip. We’ve never had better service in our lives. Also, we almost drowned our caterer on an overloaded pontoon boat. Let that be a lesson to us all. Go back for the extra chairs.
How would ‘you’ define a “Midwestern Gentleman”?
Knows what to do at a back-yard barbecue, can talk to his wife’s grandma, can play with his 2-year-old niece, can start and maintain a campfire, communicates with a glance. Knows not everybody in the room likes the Packers or whoever is the current President, so he treads lightly because he knows discretion is the better part of valor. Will help you move.
Favorite local brewery?
Lakefront I guess, I don’t think they’ve done anything new and exciting in years, but Riverwest Stein is as close to perfect as a beer can be for my taste. That said, I very much enjoy the offerings of Milwaukee Brewing Company.
A favorite musician from Midwest?
My buddy Jeffrey Foucault is as good as it gets. His lyrics are the honest and intelligent poetry of the Midwest and, in a larger sense the conscience of us all.
Pasty or Fish Fry?
PASTY! My mother’s family grew up in Mineral Point (Cornish and Norwegian) and every family get together they would make pasties, which we’d eat with ketchup and corn relish. To this day my family eats (and loves) pasty rather than turkey on Thanksgiving.
Sasquatch vs. Paul Bunyan – bar fight – who wins?
Bunyan has the reach. Plus, he has a giant ox. Plus, have you been to his cook shanty? The man has pancakes and a fleet of solid polish women for days. Bunyan and it’s not close.
PBR or MGD?
I live in Bay View, so I have to say PBR. Though I think it’s funny that a lot of the progressive hipsters that love PBR’s cache don’t know or remember what Pabst did to this town when they pulled up stakes literally in the middle of the night.
Which is the Greatest Lake of the Great Lakes?
I’m partial to Michigan of course, but Gitche Gumee, it is said, never gives up her dead/ When the skies of November turn gloomy. So, there’s that.
A big thank you to Kris for letting us into his world. For more information on Mojo Dojo Comedy check them out at www.mojodojocomedy.com. To catch a show, keep an eye out on their show page and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.