By David Jackson
for Inland 360
Looking for a creative outlet, and perhaps a way to take his mind off his less-than-inspiring day job, Phillip Kopczynski began performing stand-up comedy. Six and a half years later, the Seattle comedian performs around the U.S. and Canada. On Jan. 30, he will bring his act to Moscow’s Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre.
He was “in a warm car sitting in the Planet Fitness parking lot,” when 360 visited by phone with the “drybar” comic. The designation means he can deliver a clean performance, and on the Palouse he intends to deliver a “PG-16” type of show.
According to your biographical information, you were born in the hills of eastern Washington. Is it a fair assumption to say there was a city and hospital involved, and that you weren’t raised by wolves?
PK: Correct. I wasn’t born in a bathtub or anything like that. I have a Social Security number and everything. We lived in what’s now probably Spokane Valley. My parents, when I was like 3, moved to about a mile away from the top of Mica Peak. We were about 10 or 15 miles from Rockford. If we wanted to go out for dinner or groceries it was easier to go to the Coeur d’Alene Casino. Back then, it was a bingo hall. But you could at least get eggs at the gas station.
You worked in an office for 10 years before becoming a comic. Why the change?
PK: I worked as a reporter for a small-town newspaper (The Goldendale (Wash.) Sentinel). One of my stories that made front page news was a guy who got a DUI in his motorized wheelchair. It was ridiculous. One of the quotes I got from this guy was: “I can’t believe they threw me in the drunk tank. I’m a diabetic senior citizen with one leg.” Then my publisher is like, “You’ve got to talk to the chief of police and see if they’re going to take away his license.” I started thinking, maybe this isn’t for me.
I started performing at a club. I wasn’t planning on becoming a comic, it was just nice to get a guest spot and go to shows for free. I had performed at community theaters, improvs and done sketch comedy. Once I started doing stand-up, it was great. This is just me. I can own my own failures. I can own my own successes.
Some of your comic roots took hold when you performed for your sister who has Down Syndrome. Was that done mainly to cheer her up or were you able to communicate with her through comedy?
PK: Certainly the latter. I wanted someone I could play board games or video games with but that kind of thing was limited. I would do very physical things, pratfalls. It was a way to connect and bond and hang out, and we would make each other laugh. I was able to understand her. I was the family translator.
Was that also a defense mechanism for dealing with a sibling with that condition?
PK: I would say maybe more of a coping mechanism. It wasn’t sad to me. People are always like “What was that like? It must have been hard.” I didn’t know anything else. I don’t have any other siblings. There’s stressors there too. As a kid, I’m sure I could tell — and that’s probably when I built some level of a skill set — “Oh, there’s some level of tension here, let’s relieve this tension.”
That’s probably the genesis of where (my) wanting to be funny comes from.
Who were some of the comedians you watched growing up? Who influenced you?
PK: The guy who I really like isn’t even considered a stand-up comic, even though he’s done late night sets … David Sedaris. I’ve always loved his writing. A lot of his stories are very personal and, as he’s gotten older, there’s a lot of vulnerability there.
For stand-up comics, it doesn’t date that well, but Sinbad. He was such an animated, powerful force on stage. Sinbad was clean enough to where you could watch it with your family. I thought it was cool that someone could watch this with anyone.
What kinds of topics are your routines built around? What inspires your comedy?
PK: A lot of my inspiration is interactions with my kids. My sons are very different than me. My older son is into Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering, stuff like that. I was never into that, so trying to adapt is hard. I was always like, “Well, whatever my kids are into, I want to support it.”
Before coming to the gym (today), we talked about him setting up a D&D game at the house and inviting his friends. My wife was like, “Join the club at school.” My son goes, “Those kids are weirdos. They can’t find friends to play with.” I’m like, “Hon, I think he might have a point.”
So I said, “Get your crew that likes to do it, and we’ll host it.” My son’s like, “I’m a forlorn elf” or whatever, and I’m like, “Do you want to shave your head and get a robe?” He’s like, “I’m not that committed.” He’s like, “Do you want to play Dad?” and I said, “Yep, but I’m going to be a stripper elf and I don’t think your friends will like that too much.”
You placed second in the Seattle International Comedy Competition in 2018. Was this a big moment in your career?
PK: Oh man, can I just tell you thank you for calling it a career? I’m going to cry right now. That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said.
They get about 1,000 applicants from all over the world. There were two weeks of prelims, so they take five people from each of those weeks, and then you move on to the semifinals, where you have 10 people and then five in the finals. You go around the peninsula area, all the way from Bellingham to maybe Chehalis. In the prelims, you do five minutes. Then you have 10 minutes in the semi-final round, and you’re doing big theaters at this point — 500- to 1,400-person theaters.
It was really grueling because you don’t know if you are moving on to the next week. It was a hard three weeks. It gave me a lot more confidence.
Your act has been described as “OMG … what the hell is happening right now.” Should attendees in Moscow be warned to bring a helmet?
PK: Just get ready for some wild ideas they’ve probably never heard before.
I was worried that the act was getting dated, but then Harvey Weinstein came back in the news and is going to trial, so it’s relevant again! So I don’t have to drop the best parts of the act.
IF YOU GO
WHO: Comic Phillip Kopczynski.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30.
WHERE: Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre, 508 S. Main St., Moscow.
COST: $10 general admission. Fifty early bird tickets are available for $5. Tickets are available at phillipkopmoscow.bpt.me.