Recycle your glass and cans – and stay for the comedy

Donna Terek
The Detroit News

Comedy club. What visual just popped into your head? Dark bar? Subterranean room, exposed brick backdrop? Well, scrap that. Detroit’s “underground” comedy showcase Chuckie Finster takes place after hours at a Detroit recycling center.

Zech, just Zech, 29, left, and Brett Mercer, 26, host a monthly comedy showcase in Detroit's recycling center Recycle Here!

Not so surprisingly, Recycle Here! is not your typical municipal drop-off center. If nothing else, the exclamation point in the title should tip you off. Owner Matt Naimi commissions art for the interior and murals for the exterior and hosts arts events, makers competitions, music and some of the best parties in town. So why not incubate a comedy showcase?

Chuckie Finster is the brainchild of video editor/motion graphics designer Brett Mercer and Zech – just Zech – who’s worked at Recycle Here! for the last 5 years.

After half a decade soaking up this arty vibe, it was pretty natural for Zech to stage a show here, and his partner in comedy crime Brett Mercer couldn’t agree more. The two comics met while making the rounds of Metro Detroit’s comedy open mic nights.

The name sounds familiar

So what about that name Chuckie Finster? Chucky is a character from Nickelodeon’s animated television series “Rugrats” as well as a film trilogy.

Their first show was the same weekend as Jobbie Nooner, that afternoon of boozing and sunning for thousands of boaters on Lake St. Clair.

“I had no idea what exactly it was, I just knew that I really, really liked the name,” said Mercer, “the way it rolls off the tongue. So we wanted to match that syllabically.

“But the joke is why can’t two things have the same name and not be related?” said Zech. “You might know two guys named Mike. There was no collusion in naming those guys Mike; they’re just named that.

“We figured it would be something that people would recognize but we would immediately dismiss as ‘just a coincidence.’”

‘It really helps that it’s free’

“There’s very little to be gained from this except being those guys who have that cool show,” Zech said.

They do accept donations but there is no cover charge. Their main concern is providing a place where their friends who do stand-up will find a receptive audience. At the September show roughly half of the 70 or so people in attendance were comedians.

“We just want to see everyone grow together as a community,” Zech said.

When they first started doing comedy clubs around Metro Detroit the only model of success they had was climbing a ladder of progressively larger clubs until they’d “made it.” But there is not much room for advancement since there are only two clubs where comics can get paid, they said.

“Very few people we know are making money and the ones that are, they’re not making a lot,” Zech said. “They’ve still got regular jobs. One guy we know is living in a van. We don’t know how to fix that but what we’re doing is not just for us. It’s for everybody.”

Comedy as theme shows

Zech and Mercer consider what they do more performance art than simple stand-up. It’s all about creating the show. They refuse to play traditional roles. Said Mercer, “I think the straight man/funny man dynamic shifts minute to minute.”

“When you take the money out of it, there’s nothing else left but the art,” said Zech, who has an identical twin brother who goes by the single syllable Zeph. They may have inherited this penchant for mono-monikers from their mother, the chanteuse behind the vaudeville showcase Torch With a Twist. She goes by Grace Detroit.

A part of their art is creating an atmosphere and coming up with themes for the shows. They did a parody of Ted Talks. For a Wrestlemania-inspired show they called Chuckiemania they built a wrestling ring as a stage. Once they staged the filming of a season finale show for a TV show that doesn’t exist. They called it “Chuck,” which also happens to be the name of an actual TV show – just a coincidence, of course.

“And there was that one time we fixed the economy by printing our own money – Chuck Bucks,” said Mercer.

“We saved Blockbuster Video,” added Zech.

”Oh yeah, we did a fundraiser for Blockbuster,” Mercer said. “We raised $27 for them. We got a really big offer from Netflix but we thought it would be funny to turn them down and go with Blockbuster,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek. The franchise declared bankruptcy in 2010.

“Oh, and we filmed a half-hour show for Comedy Central,” Mercer added. Comedy Central may never know about it “but we can say we filmed a show for Comedy Central.”

“We kind of see ourselves as punk rock comedy,” Zech said. “We’re doing as much as we can with as little as we possibly can.”

From left, Cedric Williams of Harrison Township, Halee Adams of Detroit and Sean Nelson of Detroit, crack up during a stand-up set at Chuckie Finster.

Detroit’s comedy reputation

Detroit is not known as a comedy hub. Second City tried to make a go of it in the ‘90s with their satellite club in what is now the Hockeytown Cafe. It moved to Novi in 2005 and closed two years later.

The Chucks would like to see Detroit become a comedy town. “We’d like to see people coming here to do comedy, but before that happens we have to make it a place where people are coming to see comedy,” Zech said. “People have to hear ‘Detroit’ and say ‘Hey, they’ve got a great comedy scene there.’”

But back to their borrowing that irresistible name. “We have not yet been contacted by Nickelodeon with a cease and desist letter, but as soon as that happens we will know that we have made it as a comedy show and that letter will be framed and put in the archives,” Mercer said.

“The day we get a cease and desist letter is the day we double down on Chuckie Finster,” Zech added.

If you go

WARNING: This is adult-oriented material. Comedians like to talk about sex and boy, do they swear a lot.

Zech and Brett host Chuckie Finster at 9 p.m. on the last Saturday of the month at Recycle Here!, 331 Holden in Detroit’s New Center.