Arts and Entertainment

Charles' cerebral sketch comedy rules the world (or at least the Seattle metro area)

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Class of 2000 Bellevue High School graduate Chuck Armstrong will go north of the border Saturday, performing alongside Charlie Stockman in two performances for Toronto Sketchfest.

Armstrong is one half of Charles, a Seattle sketch comedy duo who have gained a following at home and on the road for their cerebral and absurd brand of humor. When Charles takes the stage in their signature button-down shirts and ties, audiences may see a marketing executive mistakenly pitching smaller jungle cats to Jaguar Motors, or Santa Claus falling into a debate about race relations in America after confusing two minority children on the same block.

It’s writing-centric comedy with less emphasis on the physical performance, a feature that harkens back to the two Charles’ Stanford days. Armstrong met Stockman when he began writing for The Stanford Chaparral, the undergraduate humor magazine where Stockman was editor.

“Because material is going to the written page, the idea and temptation — especially for friends or natural performers — to act out or ‘play up’ written material is strong,” Armstrong said. “But when I started working at the Chappy, that didn’t fly. It had to work on its own. And they were very adverse to anything conceivably derivative or obvious.”

The two Charlies became friends, and then roommates, first in San Francisco, then Seattle.

Armstrong was a childhood fan of “Almost Live!” and from 2007 to 2010, Charles produced “Seattle Untimely,” a web-based spiritual successor to the local sketch series. The series of individual concept videos ran for 49 episodes, but proved to require a demanding regimen of writing, shooting, editing and sometimes animating — a grueling workload for two guys working out of a basement.

Then a friend from Armstrong’s improv class, Megan Hescock, invited the duo to try live performance.

“We were asked to do a live show,” Armstrong said. “And we had written for sketch comedy shows before in San Francisco, but we weren’t performers. But we did a 30-minute show of material we had written, and it went great.”

The two have stuck with live performance since, though they’ve dipped their toes back into video. Their video sketch “More Rock, Less Talk” — an emotional debate among DJs on the preferred ratio of rock to talk — won the 2013 Seattle Comedy Film Challenge.

Now Armstrong is focused on the next step of turning comedy writing into a full-time career.

“The way television is changing, there isn’t really a clear blueprint anymore,” he said.

Following Toronto SketchFest, Charles will return to Seattle to perform a three-weekend run of their play “Moby Alpha,” a sci-fi retelling of “Moby Dick.” The play will run from March 28 through April 12 at Ballard Underground.

 

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