How BarkBox's dog comedy night (temporarily) relieved my human angst
The dog-centric startup Bark & Co's monthly comedy show provides laughs for a crowd of people and their pups.
Thursday was a garbage day, so I took myself and my pre-existing conditions — you know, I’m an anxious, depressive female of reproductive age — to a dog comedy night for some levity.
Once a month, Bark & Co — the dogcentric start-up behind BarkBox, the monthly subscription service that delivers treats and toys to pampered pups nationwide — hosts a night of comedy at their Canal St. office. They call it Open Bark Night!
I’m familiar with the Bark cult’s sense of humor; I follow them on Instagram, where they post dog memes that revel in the everyday goofiness of canine existence. Sometimes it’s blatant physical comedy: a video of a “dingus” (their term for dogs who are shameless spazzes) trying and failing to sit on a bean bag chair. Other times, it’s a joke that only dog freaks would get: “Things I did today: Blow-dry my dog. Things I didn’t do today: Wash my own hair.” Often enough, it’s humor that any “hooman” can relate to, like a video of a tiny dog leaping into a giant bush, paired with the caption “When you see someone in public you don’t want to talk to.”
It’s good meme-age. Amusing stuff. But how would this express itself in a night of standup comedy? (What would it entail?) Would the dogs perform on their hind legs, like Animal (Funny) Farm? Are the jokes intended for the dogs? And by the way, what do dogs find funny? Are “dog jokes” a genre, like “dad jokes”?
I arrived post-work to Bark HQ, entering into a room teeming with humans and their furry sidekicks. (Sadly, my own dog Phoebe did not attend, as she was at home in Brooklyn; I came straight from work in the FiDi, at a company that is just not dog-enlightened.) There was also beer and wine and pizza, as part of the price of admission ($13/human, dogs get in free).
Before the show kicked off, we were put in our place, told that “Barking is cool, but not people talking.” (But a crowd of dog nuts are used to privileging their animals before themselves. There would be plenty of cheerful woofing throughout the night.)
The night’s MC, comedian Katie Haller, who also runs the social media accounts at Bark & Co, opened with a set of standard stand-up material — touching on sex, politics and self-deprecation — but modified through the lens of the dog world. Although I am a Dog Person, I don’t think you have to be one to laugh.
She poked fun at her job — “I make dog memes for a living because I wanted to use my degree” — and herself, by way of an office weiner dog named Edgar that she’s bros with: “He has small legs like me, we understand each other.” OK, so there were a couple poop jokes — an anecdote about a large turd-shaped pillow that one of the office dogs loves to hump: “It just confirms my theory, it’s always the normal-looking ones who are into the weird shit.” And she got political, too: “Pitbulls get a really horrible reputation, and it’s so unfair. I don’t know what they did to deserve being associated with such a horrible musician...you know what’s aggressive? Calling yourself ‘Mr. Worldwide’ and wearing sunglasses and a f— fedora inside.”
Of the six comedians who did sets during the night, not everybody told dog material. (Haller told me that she likes to mix it up.) Comedian Tracey Carnazzo, who has been featured on “Funny for Fido,” a comedy project that fundraises for shelter dogs, kept her topics to Internet dating and her recent breakup, and didn’t mine our four-legged friends for fodder once.
Another comedian, Jimmy Peoples, wove in dog bits almost as an afterthought. He brought up “John Wick,” the action flick starring Keanu Reeves, “everyone’s favorite white guy,” going on a killing spree after Russians “kill his goddamn beagle,” in what felt like a gesture to connect with the crowd. When a black lab charged the stage, he got laughs when he said that they were the only two black people in the room.
The dog crowd was lit. A dachshund wearing a "Star Wars" shirt was in attendance — it was May 4th, after all. A Yorkie mix named Lexie, wearing sunglasses, a floral dress and powered by a doggie wheelchair, sat in the front row all night. One married couple, Colleen and Geoff Leonard, drove down two hours from Peekskill with their chihuahua mixes Batman and Lucy (wearing a batman and shark outfit, respectively), to attend the show. They were essentially recruited, or at their dogs were — invited via DM after they liked one of @bark’s recent posts from their dogs’ account @batmanandlucy, they told me.
Haller told me that in the year they’ve been doing the show, it’s now appealing to more than just dog owners. “It used to be everyone in the audience had a dog. And now it’s people who are like, 'Yeah I’ll come pet some dogs. I’m a crazy dog person, I don’t have a dog, but I’ll come,'” she said.
The 29-year-old does comedy in venues around town, where the crowds tend not to have canines. When I asked her how that makes doing a set different, she said, “You can always go to a dog. If it gets awkward, you can be like — let’s look at this pitbull wearing pearls!”
In fact, that was my surrogate canine companion for the night — a tripod pit wearing pink pearls, who throughout the show would intermittently nuzzle my shoulder and make a small whining sound. (Maybe he did not find the jokes funny?)
When I got home, I told Phoebe all the best bits, and I slept like a dog, my anxieties abated.