By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
One is a comic who can't think of any demons she has to exorcize. The other is hoping that someone actually films him the next time he pours a pitcher of beer on a heckler.
Though they seem temperamentally mismatched, Nashville comics Mary Jay Berger and Chad Riden say they make a good pair. They'll perform together for the Comedy Night with Shea White series at 8 p.m. Sunday at No Dogs Allowed, 700 S.W. 10th Ave. Cover is $7 or $10 per couple.
Riden has the higher profile, having organized the #BrokenRecordShow — two separate, successful attempts to set the Guinness world record for the longest, nonstop standup comedy show. The first lasted 184 hours and 16 minutes, more than twice as long as the previous record; the second was undertaken "because the only thing dumber than doubling a world record is beating your own world record by five minutes," Riden said.
Berger, meanwhile, is still building her career, having begun standup only about five years ago at an open-mic night.
"I was at a point in my life where nothing else was working out," Berger said. "I tried it, and it was the first time I ever tried and committed to something that I wanted to keep working on.
"Anything else, I would try and would, like, blow it off. I'd want to do it, but then it got difficult. Like, I wanted to do theater, and I tried out for a play and didn't get chosen and was, like, well, I guess I don't do theater," she continued. "With standup, I've had bad nights and been rejected and all this stuff, and I still keep coming back to it."
Both Berger and Riden have dealt with their fair share of hecklers.
Berger talked about a certain kind of female audience member: "They want to respond to everything, and I know it's because another woman in the room is getting attention and they want the attention. ... So I stop my set and say, 'Let's look at this girl in the audience and give her all the attention.' ... It's kind of hard, and it makes the audience uneasy, like, are they going to fight? But it works out because no one wants to be called out as wanting attention."
Riden has an even more direct approach: "I was in a dive bar in Nashville, and these two guys ... were sometimes heckling, sometimes talking really loudly and trying to be a--holes about it. A couple of different comics were going up for the first time ever, and I fel like if they have been on stage for 10 years, if you want to heckle them, whatever, but if they're brand new, they shouldn't have to shout you down. ... So I was just in the back fuming, just waiting. They brought me up and I started telling jokes, and they said something. I finished the punchline and went in on the guy, kind of making fun of him, ripping him apart, verbally destroying him, but they were talking to themselves and didn't hear what I was saying because they were talking so loud. ... A buddy of mine had just sat down with a fresh pitcher of beer in front of him ... so I asked him, can I borrow your beer? So I just walked off the stage, grabbed this whole pitcher of beer and dumped it on this guy's head, the whole thing, and left the empty pitcher on his head like a hat. ... This guy just sat there and took it all. I walked back up to the stage, and then he jumped up. It was a delayed reaction because he was so drunk."
That doesn't happen often — three or four times, by Riden's admission — but the comic hopes that next time it happens that someone will actually film the whole incident so he'll have a shot at going viral. (Note to Amarillo audiences: Maybe not here, OK?)
"I tend to get worked up," Riden said. "I'll make a really bad decision, sh-- will fall apart and I'll be completely enraged about it (in his act), scream, take zero responsibility for my actions, blame everyone else but me, and at the end of the story, I am usually confronted about it, apologize to everyone but am still bitterly unrepentant and unable to accept the doom of my own making."
"He's made a lot of mistakes in his life," Berger said, "but he's funny about them. He turns them into something that's funny and relatable. He's just a really likable guy on stage.
"He does come off as a little ragey, but people like it."
Berger, meanwhile, "is completely uninformed and has zero awareness of what's going on in the world around her," said Riden, who was complimenting her. "You're not going to get any political talk from her, nothing that you'd on CNN or whatever, but she will tell you about her cute pet squirrels and she may talk to you about Harry Potter.
"She has developed — cultivated, I should say — this world of cuteness, where she surrounds herself with adorable, cute things that are a barrier between her and the harsh reality of life," he continued. "It's this crazy-tilt fantasy world that she's the queen of, but it's delightful because she's hilarious."
Perhaps that's because Berger, by her own admission, doesn't have the dark history that tends to drive many comics (including Riden, who addresses his financial woes and his divorce in his own act).
"When you think of a comic, you think of somebody who has a bad background, and I don't," she said. "I have parents who I'm close to, siblings who I'm close to. I was raised in a house where there was lots of love. Sometimes I wonder, why am I doing comedy? What am I sorting through? ... I've never known anybody in my family who wasn't nice to me.
"Sometimes I think I'm maybe the voice of normal people."