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Getting Nasty with Sarah Sherman

August 9, 2017 by Anne Berkowitz
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Sarah Sherman is the host and producer of Helltrap Nightmarea vile, trippy comedy show that will make you squirm as much as it will make you laugh. She also designs the grotesque posters for Helltrap (see below), which totally encapsulate the graphic comedy they’re selling. It may at first seem strange such a weird production has found such a large audience, but anyone with a sick sense of humor who has seen Helltrap Nightmare can tell you: it’s comedy gold. We asked Sherman some questions to try to figure out the workings of her strange and brilliant mind.
A poster for a previous Helltrap show in Brooklyn
Tell us a little about yourself! How did you get into comedy? Any upcoming projects you want to plug?

I’ve been doing comedy forever, but seriously started getting into stand up two years ago because stand up is a great way to manically produce material, workshop it that same day (either at a show or an open mic) and immediately find out whether that material rocks or sucks. You can work on ideas instantly, without working with other people, rehearsals or schedules– you don’t have to deal with other people, which also means you only have yourself to blame when your jokes suck.

You take a bold approach to comedy. How do people react to it? What are some of your favorite audience reactions?

People are either horrified or really down, which is fun because it’s a quick and easy way to find out where all the real freaks are. Just this past week at a show in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a woman in the front row threatened to “throw something at me if I didn’t shut up,” which was honestly so awesome, because like, I had ten minutes left of my set to continue to really not shut up. I don’t mind “heckling” because I know I’m taking the audience on an uncomfortable ride, and I expect them to.

I love all of your costumes/props/ the other acts and collaborators you work with – can you tell us a little bit about your process of putting together a show?

Every HELLTRAP starts with me designing the poster for the next show, which is usually a monstrous combination of body parts and gross stuff, and then once the poster is fully inked and painted, a process that takes a few days, I’ve spent that time meditating on the gruesome imagery I’m drawing and have come up with my sketch idea for the next show– which is usually grossly inspired by that fleshy mess. I then spend hours bothering my collaborators– Scott Eggleston and the Shrimp Boys (our in-house sketch group) with ideas for the next video-art/comedy sketch. Every month, I open every HELLTRAP with a new performance video comedy piece.

Sarah Sherman  (Julia Dratel)

What do you love about comedy in Chicago? What are your other favorite comedy cities?

Chicago is the best city to do comedy because it’s a city that loves seeing comedy shows, so you can get big audiences who are excited to see new work. While the audiences are relatively big, the comedy scene itself is smaller and supportive of each other. Every show has a mix of different kinds of comedians, from weird-os to more traditional club-by comics, which is great for a weirdo comedian like me– I get to work with people who are doing different kind of stuff than I am. I think hanging out with a variety of people doing different stuff makes you a better performer. HELLTRAP recently went on a tour of the East Coast, and we had a lot of fun in New York and Philly– really good freaks in Philly. Once I did a show in Joshua Tree in the middle of the desert which was the perfect dystopian horror landscape for my horrifying jokes.

Where are your favorite places in Chicago to perform?

The Hideout is HELLTRAP’s home, it’s intimate and cozy and weird, and everyone who works there makes you feel like you’re a part of their weird Hideout family.

What comedians do you admire?

I’m a huge fan of Wham City Comedy– they blend video art, sketch comedy, and performance art in a way that literally makes my whole brain explode.

Wham City Comedy

If you were to be any kitchen appliance, which would you be?

The garbage. Hidden under the sink.

First thing that comes to mind – give us your best pee-your-pants from laughter recommendations for:

TV Show: Trailer Park Boys, Jackass

Movie: The Jackass Movie

Play or Musical: Oh, Hello! On Netflix

YouTube Video: Any video of a kid getting hurt, but they’re like, fine.

Twitter Account: @jaboukie

Comedy Up-and-Comer: Grace Thomas! Just moved here from Minneapolis!

Love Sarah as much as we do? Follow her here on Twitter