For Chris Karwoski
, comedy is a way to challenge people’s assumptions, to observe the absurdities in human behavior, and to delve into edgy topics.
“I like taking the white-bread American stereotype and turning it on its side,” Karowski says. “I love doing misdirection.”
Karwoski virtually embodies misdirection through his persona and his work. A 6-foot, 5-inch Army veteran who is proud of his service in Afghanistan and Iraq, he also has marched in Black Lives Matters protests and uses his comedy to espouse “extremely progressive” views.
Local residents can catch samples of Karwoski’s style when he hosts the free Comedy Open Mic at The Market Bar
the second and fourth Wednesday of each month.
As the host, Karwoski does an opening set of about five minutes, explains the format, introduces the acts and tries to keep things flowing smoothly.
“My entire job as the host is to warm the group up and to keep the show going,” he says.
A list is posted at 7:30 p.m. for anyone wanting to perform, with the show starting at 8, and each comic is given five minutes.
Karwoski says the shows usually attract 12 to 15 aspiring comics, with a wide variety of styles and experience. Some are seasoned comics from Columbus or Cincinnati wanting to try out new material, others are people trying out their comedy chops for the first time.
Karwoski enjoys watching the newcomers trying to prove themselves in an anxiety-provoking situation: “It’s one of my favorite things to see, that mix of excitement, fun, and dread on their face as they get up on stage. … You can see how far along somebody is in their comedy journey by the structure of their jokes and how comfortable they are in front of an audience.”
For Karwoski, the Comedy Open Mic shows, which have been going for a year, brought something new to Springfield and have given young adults a mid-week option for a different kind of entertainment.
“I love the shows because it’s something I brought to Springfield, with the help of others. We created an environment, a scene with people hanging out, having fun and relieving their stress,” he says.
Having open mic shows during the pandemic has been challenging, but Karwoski strives to minimize the risks and to encourage everyone to be responsible.
“I wear a mask to every show. I tell people, ‘I’m not going to make you wear a mask, but I will make fun of you if you don’t,’" he says. "There is risk involved, but we try to calculate it to be as minimal as possible. I have mixed feelings, but this is my livelihood.”
Karwoski’s own comedy journey has been percolating for several years, although it’s only in the last two or three that he has committed seriously to professional comedy.
Born in Milwaukee, Karwoski’s mother moved the family to Springfield when he was 4 or 5. He graduated from North High School in 2005, then joined the Army.
After being stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington, Karwoski did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His main duty was working on computer systems, but as with everyone in those combat zones, he helped with whatever task was needed each day, from mortuary affairs to helping run convoys. Calling Springfield “kind of an encapsulated culture,” Karwoski says military service opened his eyes to different places and peoples.
“I don’t want to use a cliché and say it turned me into a man, but it did. My time in the Army is where a lot of my world view comes from. That was in my early 20s, when I was developing as a human being,” he says.
Despite appreciating his time in the service, Karwoski was ready to move on after six years in a uniform.
“I’m glad to be out and have my freedom and my long hair,” he says.
Returning to Springfield in 2013, he worked “some random jobs” and attended Wright State University for a while. Four years as a mail carrier ended when two herniated discs in his spine forced him to take a medical leave.
He recovered and could have returned to the job but decided he wanted to get serious about comedy, which he had been contemplating for several years. He plans to complete a degree at Clark State College in new media, then begin touring as widely as he can.
Anyone interested in catching Karwoski’s act will have some opportunities apart from the Comedy Open Mic nights. He’s among four comedians performing in A Night of Comedy
at the Turner Studio Theatre
in the Clark State Performing Arts Center at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9.
He will also participate in shows at the Yellow Cab Tavern
in Dayton on Oct. 16. And, on Oct. 20, he'll be at Bock Family Brewing
presenting a family-friendly show, which is a departure for Karwoski, who usually talks about adult situations and dark material, but, once again, he relishes doing something unexpected.
“I love that it tests your ability as a comic, to do both family-friendly and material that some might think offensive,” he says.