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Big whale of a comedy caught in Ballard

Lighted helmets provide illumination for this sketch comedy.
Lighted helmets provide illumination for this sketch comedy.
Moby Alpha, photo courtesy of Charles

While most people would not think of Herman Melville’s classic of whaling and revenge as a great basis for science fiction comedy, the sketch artists known as Charles (Charlie Stockman and Chuck Armstrong) used "Moby-Dick" as the launching pad for their latest long form production.

Performing in the dark, with the only light provided by their space helmets, they take the audience on a hunt for a giant space cloud. “Moby Alpha” opened Friday (March 28) at the Ballard Underground in Seattle.

The brains behind the show consented to reveal a bit of their creative past and how they landed on stage with a whale of a tale.

How did two Charles end up working together making sketch comedy?
Stockman: We met at Stanford writing for the college humor magazine, The Chaparral. We became fast friends over our common affinity for Celtic whiskies and our fascination with the Police Academy series. Not long after graduating, Chuck convinced me to move up to Seattle to work on a web series called “Seattle Untimely.”

Armstrong: It was supposed to be a Weekend Update type show with a Northwest focus but as it progressed it became more and more sketch-like. I had a friend who was putting on a sketch show, and asked us to open. At the time we had never done a live show before, so we wrote a twenty-minute set and came up with the clever name Charles.

Did you always go by Charlie and Chuck or did you have to change your names when you started working together?
Stockman: Also as far as the names go, fortunately, we have always gone by Chuck and Charlie, so the partnership didn't have to begin with a skirmish over Charles nicknames.

Armstrong: Although our first show did actually have a bit about that. The premise was that nobody wants Chaz.

After moving “Moby-Dick” into space, what parts survived?
Stockman: We keep a lot of the big ideas but change the specifics, and in the process frequently undermine them. For example, we have a Moby-Dick character, but it’s not a whale, it’s an amorphous energy cloud. And we have doubloon, but it’s just been replicated and is hence valueless. We kept the harpoons though, gotta have those.

Armstrong: Also, most people haven’t read "Moby-Dick," which gives us some room to tweak the story where it suits us, especially in the middle. Still, for those who have read the book, I think they will be pleasantly surprised by how many elements and scenes have survived the adaptation. Unless their favorite part of "Moby-Dick" is the Cetology chapter, which is just incorrect facts about whales. We cut that.

Stockman: If we ever extend the show, I kind of think we should consider adding that in.

Armstrong: What, so, like a fifteen minute monologue of incorrect science?

Stockman: People love that!

So what's the biggest challenge of telling a big fish tale in Ballard, traditional home of Seattle’s fishing fleet?
Stockman: Is a whale a fish?

Armstrong: According to the Cetology chapter in "Moby-Dick" it is.

Stockman: Fortunately, in Moby Alpha, we don’t have whales, we have energy clouds. So we don’t have to worry about some know-it-all Ballard fisherman telling us that a whale is or isn’t a fish.

Armstrong: Of course, it’s probably hard to find a Ballard fisherman today amongst all the luxury condos.

What's the biggest reward of performing in Seattle?
Armstrong: The sketch community is great. Everyone who's here working on comedy really cares about what they're doing and genuinely wants the scene to thrive.

Stockman: Seattle also has great audiences. They are smart and willing to get weird with you, but they are also down for more mainstream comedy if that's what you want to do. Basically, we've never felt that we had to shape our comedy to fit a set of expectations in Seattle, which has meant that we have been able to develop our own style.


The remaining “Moby Alpha” performances take place on April 4, 5, 11, and 12 at the Ballard Underground, 2220 Market St. Visit the website for more information on times and tickets. The Cetology chapter and the rest of “Moby-Dick” can be read online at Project Gutenberg.

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