Barry Blankenship: Comedy and Design
We’ve all seen the Bad Comedy Show Poster: corny cartoon font, olde-timey radio microphone, and that ultimate signifier of hilarity, the brick wall background. The Bad Comedy Poster is everywhere still, trafficking in its cheesy bygone lexicon, hearkening back to hokier, more Vaudevillian times (the 1980s) when there were less entertainment choices and fewer design templates. In 2012, this is abominable. Bad poster design makes standup comedy look moth-eaten and unreconstructed, an archaic parlor trick like fancy card-shuffling or mesmerism.
Barry Blankenship is dragging the art of the comedy show poster into this century. He makes posters that are a legitimate visual enticement, an aesthetically appealing advertisement that doubles as a comedy nerd collector’s item. Seattle has other talented artists in the comedy poster biz, most notably Mark “Pastey Boy” Allender and Marc Palm, but none are as prolific as Blankenship.
He’s been designing posters for the People’s Republic of Komedy for the past year and a half, and several of his designs for local shows have since made the leap to the national stage. His second design for PRoK, a poster inspired by the movie Metropolis depicting Tig Notaro as her character “Good One Robot,” was adapted for Notaro’s national tour posters and t-shirts. His poster for Chris Hardwick’s 2011 appearance at the Showbox found its way onto the set of Hardwick’s BBC show The Nerdist, where it’s visible, Blankenship explains, “off to the side of the main set. Every once in a while you’ll catch a glimpse of it.”
What’s compelling about Blankenship’s posters is that they don’t go for funny ha-ha, but instead treat comedy with a sort of dignity, reaching for something genuinely evocative of the artist they’re portraying. Often there are details in the illustrations that call back a comic’s act in ways that only a true fan could decode.
“I try to do research before I do a poster. Hopefully, I already know a little about them, but if I don’t, I’ll listen to a podcast they’re on, or one of their albums...Like, with James Adomian, I took all the different characters [he portrays]. For Pete Holmes, I illustrated one of his joke premises, so it was sort of like a movie poster for a joke.”
Blankenship‘s work is increasingly in demand. He recently did the album art for erstwhile Seattleite Billy Wayne Davis’s debut CD, along with memorable PRoK posters for Eddie Pepitone, Andy Kindler, Nick Thune, and Neil Hamburger.
The work keeps coming in, from all over. “I just did one for Rory Scovel for a show in Edinburgh, but he emailed me today saying it’s cancelled. But we’re gonna go ahead and do the posters anyway, and sell them as the show that never happened.”
“I really dig comedy,” says Blankenship, “I’m a comedy nerd, I hang out at comedy shows, but I don’t do comedy. I’d rather draw something cool for someone who is talented than try to do comedy myself.”
See more of Barry Blankenship's artwork here.