Two Funny/Comedy Duo Finds Strength, Laughs in Numbers
by Nathan Oravec
You may not remember comedians Koran Dunbar and Hans Scharler from Late Night with Conan O’Brien, but its host does. In a bout of impulse, a bit born of their collaboration surrounding the show’s eccentric announcer Joel Godard caught the attention of the late night funnyman and garnered both a seat front-and-center at a taping. There, their Joel Godard Fan Club routine was featured post-monologue, earning laughs from the crowd and, most importantly, from Conan himself.
“Some of our finest moments have resulted from our saying yes to the wrong idea,” says Scharler. “We had this idea for a sketch, and it was like, ‘We can’t call them.’ Well, ‘Why can’t we? Here’s a web-site -there’s a phone number... Why not?’”
The duo was recently called back by Conan and Company, and invited for a reprise at the show’s 10th Anniversary celebration late last year; rubbing elbows with celebrities like Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. A big deal for aspiring entertainers, and one that urges the phrase - “just the beginning” - that is, if the team hadn’t already been working at their trade for many, many years - individual from one another - prior to the landmark moment.
“People always talk about [overnight success], but it’s never overnight,” says Scharler. “It’s been an incredible year and a half, but that’s following ten years of work. Koran hosted an open-mic show for three years before Conan. Three years of work, and this is the result of that.”
The duo’s fateful meeting occurred during one of those Thursday night open-mic shows at the former Joker’s Wild Comedy Club in Hagerstown, where Dunbar had hosted for two and a half years following high school - his first taste of the business. Scharler, of Frederick, had been hired for a two-night stint at the club after another act failed to show. Sensing some kind of kinship after their initial meeting, Dunbar contacted Scharler in October of 2002. “It took me a while to get back to him,” says Scharler. “I didn’t know if he was a stalker or not.”
Taking a nod from the old adage strength in numbers, two comedians became a team. “We figured we did everything we could possibly do in Hagerstown, maybe we should get together.”
Since their union, the team has orchestrated several local events to showcase their talent and that of several gifted acquaintances. The first was a charity event at Hagerstown’s Valley Mall, benefiting the Washington County Homeless Shelter - the next will be a similar venture at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania’s The Orchards on April 16, raising support and awareness for the Franklin County Homeless. “Comedy,” says Scharler, “is a good way to combat disparity.”
Project Spotlight was another venture the team worked together on. A live, multimedia showcase of up-and-comers from writers, directors and producers to actors, comedians, and musicians, Project was created by Dunbar and began its run on February of 2003 at the Joker’s Wild, welcoming such guests as Tommy Davidson (In Living Color) and Angel Salazar (Scarface).
And then came the show business. It started with Conan, and led to appearances on MTV and Comedy Central, and to a trip to Georgia for a speaking role in a feature film for Dunbar.
Word had been received that the film Dumb and Dumberer was casting. On the suggestion of Scharler, Dunbar submitted a résumé and a head shot. Weeks later, he received a call. “They said they were casting some speaking roles, and asked if I was interested,” he says. “I was like, ‘Well, I’m on tour right now, but I guess I could rearrange my schedule.’ Meanwhile, I’m, like, sitting at home in my living room in my boxers, watching TV with mustard stains on my shirt...”
Dunbar made the trip south to shoot his part. While it did not make the film’s final cut, the experience was an invaluable one. He met actress/comedienne Cheri Oteri (SNL), and talked business. “She said, ‘You’re the first person who hasn’t asked me for my autograph. Do that,” he recalls
“So many people on that shoot thought that I was from New York. And I said, ‘No. I’m from Greencastle, Pennsylvania.’ They had never heard of Hagerstown,” he continues. “A lot of people don’t believe you can be an artist or entertainer and be from a small town. But you’d be surprised at how many actors and comedians are not from the big cities. Some of my favorite comedians are from around the area. Martin Lawrence was raised in Silver Spring, Maryland.”
“The point is that, if you can’t do it here,” adds Scharler, “you can’t do it anywhere. Every time one of us makes it to a [larger venue], he rises up another step. And every time - you get knocked down... But you keep climbing. And eventually, one of us graduates.”
For both Dunbar and Scharler, their first inklings for humor began at home.
“I had funny parents,” says Scharler. “Conversationally funny. They never stopped talking, either. They never treated me like a two-year old. Never made me leave the room when they made an [off-color] joke about someone on television. I imitated my father.” In school, he wasn’t really the class clown, but a more subversive version. “I was like the sly class clown. My first prank was in middle school. In the Home Ec area, there was a sign that said ‘homemaking’ - you know? And I filed off part of it and changed it to ‘lovemaking.’ It was two weeks before anyone noticed and brought it up - but then it was throughout the entire school. That’s kind of where I started - I was subtle. I entertained myself.”
Dunbar, too, first realized his talent at home. “My grandfather. All of my humor came from him. I learned irony from him. One of my biggest influences was also my sister, Eve. She was a singer and actor and is now a professor at UT. I try to model my life after her.”
“That explains a lot,” laughs Scharler.
Dunbar performed in high school plays, some of his earliest experiences in front of an audience. Any mention of his entertaining dreams would attract doubtful looks and placating words of indifference. “One of my teachers even said - ‘This is the kind of guy who you’ll find on the corner, smoking cigarettes,’” he remembers. Another professor offered a counter-vote of confidence that he carries with him still today. “He said, ‘No. This is the type of guy who is going to surprise you.”
Scharler and Dunbar work well together, perhaps, because they are self-proclaimed polar opposites. Whereas Scharler’s brand of humor is dry and laced with sarcasm and his proficiency lies behind the scenes - preferring to pull the strings - Dunbar is more of a talker, fueled by flamboyancy and a manic, contagious energy. “I think we bring out the best in each other,” says the latter. “We’ve taught each other a lot.” Dunbar notes that Scharler has been a mentor of sorts. Working in corporate comedy, putting on shows for large businesses and their employees, Scharler had taught his partner the ins and outs of navigating throughout New York City - a skill he would soon need; and also helped Dunbar fine-tune his résumé. In return, it is said that Dunbar has infused his friend with some of that aforementioned energy.
“Working together in this business is definitely a strength,” notes his counterpart. “Everyone thinks they’re funny - but how many of us really are? At one point, I just sucked down my ego and admitted, ‘Hey, maybe I don’t have all the ideas.’ Collaboration is the key. And as much as I wouldn’t admit it to him, I’ve learned a lot from Koran.”
For a long time, both men had a difficult time with the term “comedian.”
“That’s a big word, ‘comedian,’” says Dunbar. “It’s ok if someone else says that’s what you are, but, before, I would never introduce myself as a comedian.”
“For the longest time I tried to avoid that word,” agrees Scharler. “I considered myself a storyteller. If you call yourself a comedian, you’re expected to be funny. Comedy is funny. A story - well, that can just be interesting. Whenever I’d go to a comedy club - I’d tell them I just started. That way I’d give them an expectation I knew I could meet.”
“If you’re going out for approval - if that’s your expectation - it’s the wrong goal.”
Approval, though, seems something the duo has already achieved.
“We put our brains together, and within four months, we were in front of millions of viewers.”
“I’ve been on tour in New York,” says Dunbar, “doing shows in front of 200 people who have just had a bad day. And what I can do is, for a moment in time, take them away from their problems. Now, I can go to sleep at night saying, ‘Yeah, I’m a comedian.’”
For more information on Koran Dunbar and Hans Scharler, visit www.NotHans.com, www.KoranDunbar.com, or www.projectspotlight.net.
For times and tickets to the April 16th show, call 240-674-0305.