Audience participation encouraged during Wolfie's Comic Wars at Moondog's

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War is hell. I guess that makes Wolfie’s Comic Wars funny as hell.

It’s a strange concept, but one that Matt “Wolfie” Wohlfarth believes makes the competing comedians better while entertaining a live audience that gets to take part in the experiment.

“We take comedy and make it a competition,” said Mr. Wohlfarth, who has been a comedian in these parts for 25 years. “The comedians compete in everything that a comedian needs to be able to do in order to be successful.

“Telling jokes, dealing with heckling, things shouted out by members of the audience. It’s the audience that designs the show, so it’s a really fast 90 minutes.”

Mr. Wohlfarth, 50, of Blawnox, serves as your stand-up comedian host tonight at Moondog’s. He’ll be on stage, flanked on each side by three of Pittsburgh’s most talented comedians.

“It’s an interactive experience with the audience,” Mr. Wohlfarth said. “Normally, you go to a comedy show and the audience comes in, sit downs, shuts up, turns off their cell phones and is told to not talk to the comedians. This show breaks all those rules.

“It’s a refreshing look at comedy. It’s almost like a comedy gym, where you learn, you work out everything and everything is in the extreme. The biggest fear for a comedian is being out there without any material. Here, the audience shouts out subjects and they have to come up with material on the fly.”

Mr. Wohlfarth said he came up with the concept a couple of years ago and has been putting shows together off-and-on at improv venues around town, recruiting a variety of comedians to take part.

“I thought comedy was broken and needed a change,” he said of the idea. “It’s always three comedians, same routines, same shows. And the audience was never able to participate.

“This has that element and the audiences love it. They’re part of the show and, of course, they try to make the comedians look like idiots. But the comedians will surprise you. They surprise themselves. Most of the comedians have said, ‘Man, this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,’ but they always volunteer to come back.”

You might think comedy is competitive enough, with artists fighting for gigs at the city’s various nightspots, but Mr. Wohlfarth said it’s actually a bit of a brotherhood.

“We help each other and hurt each other at the same time,” he laughed. “No, really, most comedians are supportive of each other. If you’re good, there’s room enough for everybody at the top.

“It’s a really great vibe in Pittsburgh. This is one of the top comedy venues in the country right now. We just have a vibrant scene. There’s an open mic somewhere probably every night of the week. We have probably 40 to 60 working comedians in Pittsburgh. It rivals New York.”

In the past, Wolfie’s Comic Wars has awarded the winners of the show the lion’s share of whatever is collected at the door. But since there is no cover charge at Moondog’s tonight, it’s going to be all for the fun of it.

“They’re willing to do it because they want to become better comedians,” Mr. Wohlfarth said. “They all support each other. When one guy bombs, his teammates build him back up. And they allow each other to take their turns. There’s a tag-team aspect to it.”

And Mr. Wohlfarth is on hand to steer the evening to success.

“I direct the audience to heckle, shout out subjects, and then vote on who won each round,” he said. “So you’re participating from the beginning to the end. But comedy can be risky. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but that’s part of being a comedian, to take chances and be brave. And the good thing is that the audience, they’re with you for the ride. They’re cool with it, they enjoy it and they understand how hard it is.”

It’s been a few months since the comedians last squared off, but Mr. Wohlfarth hopes that this time the experiment can get legs and take off.

“I’d like to take it on the road,” he said. “I’d like to talk to Comedy Central, but they haven’t knocked down my door yet.”

It’s an adult show — I mean, Moondog’s IS a bar — so come prepared. It all starts at 8 p.m. at 378 Freeport Road in beautiful downtown Blawnox.

And if you can’t catch it tonight, there is another Comic War scheduled for Remo’s on Babcock Boulevard in the North Hills on Jan. 31.

Dan Majors:

First Published January 16, 2014 4:06 PM

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