If you think back to 2010, It may not seem that long ago. But when you look at where the comedy scene was 4 years ago versus now, you may notice a big difference.  One of those reasons is Jason Hillman and the Caste of Killers Comedy Collective.  They just so happen to be celebrating the 4 year anniversary this week: April 2nd , 8pm at Karma Bar and Grill. The show title is about as long as the list of comics they have worked with over the years: Caste of Killers presents: Anniversary Part IV: The Reckoning:The Remix: Unplugged

 

Jason Hillman had a few words on the subject of the last few years. Enjoy! COKannivIV

"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."

I will never forget those words. They came from a comic immediately following my explanation of what this fledgling organization was going to attempt.

"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."

The phrase I used in our first interview, and one that my partner would taunt me with for years to come, was "socialist utopian paradise." Though, in hindsight, that is a bit hyperbolic, I stand by it. We envisioned a scene that wasn't filled with random pockets of people trying to make a buck in a wasteland, all separated by a competitive desire to be more, have more, make sure that the guy across town had less people at his show. Taking that to mean more people would come to yours. Take the money and fund another singular show with singular desire and singular payout.

"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."

That is not a sustainable model for something as delicate as stand up comedy. There is a distinct vulnerability that drives the raging soul to take the stage in the first place, to grasp the microphone and let loose their insecurities, their secrets, their lives, splayed for the world to see. But that cannot be used to try and plant a lone flag of intention.
One must seek out the like minded and create an army.
Our goal was to unite the city's talent under one banner so that we may, as an assembled contingent, make ourselves known. If we could, together, raise the profile of stand up in Milwaukee, then opportunities would spring forth like an Eden born spring. We could stop being Chicago's sad bipolar little brother, trying hard but ultimately being consumed by its own self loathing and inability to look in the mirror.

"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."

It was a struggle. The road was harder, more laced with obstacles than we could have ever anticipated. Shaking this city to its core, attempting to get it to WAKE UP and see that there was worth in shining a light on those that toiled in its shadows with their brilliance, bright and ignored, shuffling about on its streets, waiting patiently, was a labor. Seeing flyers tossed or ripped down. Dealing with bar owners that treated us like shtick up men, a bunch of jokey hobos. Leaving the TVs on. Not telling anyone there was a show. Trying to shirk off the obligations they took on. It was a demoralizing thing. The line up changed. The parameters shifted. The goals seemed to be liquid for a minute there. We almost made a prophet out of that doubting comic.

"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."

But we realigned. We were, luckily enough, supported by a rather steady number of Chicago comics. Our out of town shows were successful. We made the right connections. More importantly, we created an environment where new comics wouldn't feel as though they are being judged. That their material and their presence was important. Where ideas were shared and goals were achieved. A place to call home instead of a place to be while you think about going to some other city.
Through these efforts, a new wave of young comics emerged. Driven, talented, motivated in the same way that we were. Some joined our group. Some didn't. It didn't matter.
Everyone supported each other's efforts.
In the end, all that mattered was the jokes. Not the egos. Not the money. Not the brief promise of a moment's minor metropolitan area fame.

We had become the cliche. A fully functioning ecosystem wherein all were welcome and all were given their due time and respect. There was inspiration. Independent shows began to dot the landscape. Mics appeared. Instead of having to try and convince bar owners that comedy was a good idea, the bar owners now seek out comics. Now find themselves wondering why they didn't jump on this opportunity sooner. Milwaukee is beginning to understand what is going on. It is beginning to open its eyes.

"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."

Caste of Killers are proud to have contributed to this movement, to the expansion of this scene. We now have some of the best comedy showcases and open mics in the Midwest. Our reach has expanded to spots all over Wisconsin and our comics have made their way all over the US. Ours is a name that has become synonymous with great talent and warm receptions.
This is all well and good.
But what I see around me makes me even prouder. When I see people raise each other up, contribute to each other's projects and shows and mics and whatever is happening. This moves me the most. This makes me heave a bit in those steely heart parts of mine

A drunken 3 am phone call. A spiteful friend. Some willing volunteers. Guinea pigs for a movement. A curious bar owner. These are the ingredients of a new era in Milwaukee comedy.

There are too many names to name and thank in this kind of fashion. You know you helped if you did. You know you didn't if you didn't. For those that did, it cannot be expressed how grateful I am for your assistance. For those that didn't, I hope it was because you were too busy producing your own contributions to this city's legacy. And if not that, I hope you at least enjoy the shows.

Here's to another year of great shows, great blows to the idea that comics have to burn and bite and claw over each other to make an impact.

-JH

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