Asheville comedians address important local issues

ON THE RECORD: Clockwise from top left, Morgan Bost, Tom Chalmers, Carin Metzger and Petey Smith-McDowell aren't afraid of the serious questions. Bost photo by Lisa San; Chalmers photo by David Joe Miller; Metzger photo by Cheyenne Dancy; Smith-McDowell photo courtesy of the artist

Comedy is hard. Comedy during a pandemic is even more of a challenge. But Asheville’s funny folks are up to the task. As part of our Humor Issue, Xpress spammed the inboxes of Carin Metzger, Petey Smith-McDowell, Morgan Bost and Tom Chalmers with random and at times intentionally absurd questions and received equally random and absurd answers.

Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity. 

What was the strangest local experience you had in 2021 that you thought would inspire material but was too bizarre to capture as a joke?

Chalmers: The City Council meeting when they considered the new noise ordinance. There was a rally cry from those in the music industry to turn out so we didn’t have to turn it down. So, anyone who was in a band, dated someone in a band or had ever seen a band showed up in support of subwoofers in the streets. It was like the scene in Animal House where the Deltas had to defend themselves to Dean Wormer after being placed on “double-secret probation,” with Andrew Fletcher in the role of Otter, fraternity president.

But the fodder for comedy faded as countless community activists reworked Dr. Seuss poems that portrayed the city overlords as Grinches. Things got more grim when a Council member made a quip, ironically asking if anyone in attendance knew how to get the speakers in the overspill area to work, before voting to limit the very livelihood of those in attendance.

Metzger: Maybe not truly bizarre, but I saw a young family in the South Slope — the (presumed) father was holding a baby while the (presumed) mother was lovingly pushing a stroller full of beer. Maybe IPA stands for Inadequate Parental Attachment and ESB is E-Stranged Baby? Every day can be Take Your Infant to the Bar Day in Asheville!

Smith-McDowell: I went into Whole Foods on Tunnel Road. Now, I’m not a Whole Foods regular by any means. I grew up eating meat from Eckerd’s as a child. (If you get that reference, get your will and testament ready because you’re knocking on death’s door.) So, I made my way down to the frozen food aisle where it was just me and a guy with dreadlocks and an iguana on his shoulder — and when I say “iguana,” I mean basically a mini Game of Thrones dragon.

Then, a lady who looked a lot like Catherine O’Hara in Beetlejuice came around the corner with one of those giant show poodles, like the ones from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I’m pretty sure the dog was LeBron James in a dog suit, it was that big. And all of a sudden, LeBark saw the mini-dragon and started barking and the iguana started hissing, and the woman screamed, “Charlie!” And the guy screamed, “Francesca!” And at this point, I didn’t know if they named their pets people-names or if that was their names and they knew each other.

As the barking and hissing escalated, employees arrived to separate the two. I said to myself, “Is this lady’s service poodle barking at this dreaded white man’s service iguana, in a frozen food aisle in Whole Foods on a Wednesday? This is the whitest thing I have ever seen. Is this white-on-white crime? What is happening!?!”

What superhero does Asheville need?

Metzger: $30,000 Over Asking Man! Will swoop in at any home sale with $30,000 cash to outbid out-of-town homebuyers.

Smith-McDowell: The hero this town needs would not be paid enough. They would be overworked, creatively drained and honestly would probably turn into a villain. Then it would be up to us, the people of Asheville, to take them down.  And by “people of Asheville,” I mean people who’ve lived here over 10 years. Not any of you people calling the Civic Center the Harrah’s Casino Center. I don’t care what the sign says! It’s the Civic Center! If you say U.S. Cellular Center, move to Brevard! I know I sound old in this answer, but I want the record to show I’m 32.

Chalmers: I think we’ve heard enough from the Marvel Universe lately, so I’ll go old-school “Electric Company” and say this city could be saved by Letterman, who can rescue a situation just by swapping out a letter. “Oh no! Here comes the Pub Cycle!” Fear not! Just by switching that “b” to a “g,” it’s now the Pug Cycle. So, instead of a mobile bevy of obnoxious bachelorettes, it’s now a portable basket of cute tiny dogs that don’t breathe so good. If nothing else, we could at least turn hotels into hovels and hovels into hotels where it best serves the community.

Bost: Alfred the Affordable Housing Alligator and their friends Melody the Medicaid Mouse, Leezle the Living Wage Lizard, Taz the Transportation Toad, Chesney the Childcare Cheetah and Ed the Equity Emu. Together, this ragtag team of anthropomorphic pals fight to make Asheville a city that serves its citizens, not just a haven for developers and tourists. Wages, transportation, health care, child care and affordable housing are all interconnected, and this gaggle of adorable, yet scary superheroes use their powers to push local officials to enact real, equitable change in these areas rather than just pay lip service. They would also have a food blog, naturally.

Asheville has become sentient and, naturally, joined social media. You’ve been following these accounts for the past year — which posts have proven most memorable?

Metzger: Asheville’s top posts would have to be: No. 1: After years of seeing topless marches and rallies, the Vance Monument, feeling left out, decided to take off its top permanently; No. 2: Asheville tattoo artists offered complimentary face tattoos for anyone who kept “forgetting their mask”;  No. 3: Asheville Vegan Society, accused of being antifa, protested that they are just anti-feta.

Bost: I imagine Asheville would, like everyone else, only show the good parts: heavily filtered Instagram pics of beer and mountains but no mention of the city’s removal of campsites for the unhoused. The culinary content would be fire (is that what the kids are saying?), but Asheville would miss the mark with a post geared at the service industry titled “TikTok Tips to Smile Through the Spit!”

Smith-McDowell: Asheville is a total sellout, posting “live, laugh, love” quotes and edited pictures of Starbucks coffee while staying in the city’s newest hotel built across the street from a sinkhole. And it posts all this while wearing band shirts without a clue who the band is. Asheville is a dad going through a midlife crisis where he’s snowboarding and eating Taco Bell but goes to bed at 7:30 p.m. Asheville used to be a hippie, but now is trying to keep up with the times — when that was never what the city was about.

If you could be locked inside one of Asheville’s businesses, city buildings or historic sites after hours, what would be your location of choice and how would you spend your time?

Bost: My initial reaction was to research historic sites to try and sound smart, but honestly, just lock me up in Cúrate and throw away the key. I’d roll around in jamón and goat cheese while eating pastries and blood sausage, and I’d sleep in a giant bowl of paella, my little head nestled in squid. Alfred the Affordable Housing Alligator and my other superhero animal friends could come over and drink Spanish wines. I’m newly alcohol-free, so I can’t drink, but I’d still smell the wines, which is (almost) as good. Disclaimer: Neither Katie Button nor myself are financially responsible for this fantasy.

Metzger: Western North Carolina’s OG skyscraper, the Jackson Building. I would buy two dozen doughnuts in the basement level at Stay Glazed, run up to the top of the building, perch rodeo style on one of the grotesques and alternately snack and see if I could hit a target on the sidewalk below. Doughnut tempt me, Mountain X — I have a sweet tooth and terrible aim.

Smith-McDowell: Biltmore House. I think they’re missing out on some extra revenue. They could rent it out at night for a live reenactment of the movie Clue — like, go full murder mystery in the Biltmore House at night. I know it looks so beautiful, regal and historic during the day, but at night it looks like Dracula’s parents’ house — full true-crime podcast level creepy after 6 p.m. The money prints itself. And while we’re at it, turn Grove Park Inn into a Willy Wonka-style hotel. You just get lost in there. Did you get a room or did you come for a work convention? You don’t even know anymore? One moment, you’re in the land of pure imagination; next moment, you’re in a dueling piano bar in front of a giant fireplace that can turn this whole hotel into a crematorium real fast if you get too close to it.

Chalmers: I would want to be locked inside the Grove Park Inn in December and go all Godzilla on that gingerbread house exhibit, just stomping and stuffing my face all the way to the sea.


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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