By Mary Margaret Stewart, contributor
Jim Hodgson always wanted to collaborate with comedy writers.
Opportunities to mingle with standup comedians and work alongside professionals are common, but collaborating with people who want to write adult humor proved difficult, Hodgson said.
“So, I started a thing that I thought might attract other writers. It worked pretty well for that. I’ve met a lot of hilarious folks,” Hodgson said.
In 2011, he founded The Atlanta Banana, dubbed “Atlanta’s Serious News Hole.”
A theater guy since the first grade, Hodgson is no stranger to getting up on a stage and performing. He immersed himself in his middle and high school’s theater programs. After majoring in theater during college, he played in bands for a living for a few years and dabbled in standup comedy.
“I’m not sure exactly how long or how you’d count all that, but I like performing a lot, and I’ve been at it a while,” he said.
Hodgson’s latest project is “Atlanta Explained”, a live comedy show at Village Theatre. He started it last year with Chris Clabo, Marc Mooney and Blair Holden from Village, with his fiancée Meghann’s help. She reads every show script before it goes out, he said.
But the show’s format today is “not at all what [Hodgson] had in mind” when he initially pitched his idea to Village Theatre.
After several months of trial performances, the troupe got the show “on its legs,” leaving room the show to evolve during performances. Roughly two dozen local improvisors perform in the show.
“If you imagine a show like the ‘Daily Show’ mixed with ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’, that’s a reasonable approximation of Atlanta Explained,” Hodgson said, “But where the ‘Daily Show’ would show a video, then try to explain it, we share real news and then the actors use that as inspiration for improvisation, often with the idea being to explain our news, even though it’s often inexplicable.”
Atlanta Loop attended an “Atlanta Explained” show on June 25.
“Atlanta Explained” is held in Village Theatre’s black box, a relaxed atmosphere of oscillating neon lights and cool air. Low-lighting paired with pop hits pumping from the speakers set the tone. And if that doesn’t do it for you, there’s beer and wine available in the lobby.
Chris Clabo introduced the show, breaking the ice by asking for the audience’s “loudest, heartiest laugh” and best “ohhh man.” After warming up the crowd, Clabo called Hodgson to the stage to kickstart the show.
Following Clabo’s and Hodgson’s intros, music blasted from the speakers to cue six improvisors – five men, one woman – to come on stage. The small crew carried large talent, bringing humor to topics such as ISIS, FBI privacy policies, Donald Trump and the AJC’s news coverage.
Hodgson aims for the audience to have a good time, living and laughing in the moment. But the show has a serious message, he says.
Hodgson interweaves hot button political issues, like gun control and MARTA’s tax referendum, into his opening monologue.
After the show ends and the laughter stops, he hopes “Atlanta Explained” has helped the audience find “a truth they didn’t necessarily see coming, or a news item they might have missed.
Initially, the improvisors played off of Hodgson’s prompts, and then the audience was asked for suggestions. Toward the end of the performance, Hodgson asked the crowd to name a celebrity, location and crime committed for the closing improv game.
The audience settled on Celine Dion playing frisbee golf on the Stone Mountain golf course. One improv actor left the room. That actor had to guess the details of the crime being committed before the person interviewing them is “killed” by the next actor.
Hodgson said the show isn’t just about how many people he can get to crack a smile.
“I have thought of myself as a funny person all my life,” he said. “That’s fine. But, in my opinion, if you’re really going to think of yourself as a funny person, you absolutely must get up in front of people who don’t know you and try to make them laugh. You don’t have to succeed every time, but you have to get up there. If I didn’t do that, I would feel like a phony.”
For Hodgson, performing comedy is a challenge that he chases.
“It’s easy to make friends and family laugh because they like you – they identify with you,” he said. “Getting laughs from strangers is hard, and I admire anyone who can do it. I want to be like them.”
Alongside the challenges, he also recognizes safety and comfort in comedy. In addition to his role with The Atlanta Banana, Hodgson stays involved in other local theatre opportunities. He writes sketch for Sketchworks, has written and performed with comedians from Dad’s Garage and performs comedy at Laughing Skull.
“Performing protects you against people who want to pull you down. If you post any funny thing you’ve made on the Internet, the first thing you will hear is, ‘You’re not funny.’ Trust me – I hear it all the time,” he said, “But if you’ve done improv or standup and you’ve gotten laughs, you know that, at least, for that one moment, on that night, you absolutely were.”