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‘Wham,’ bam!



A vegetable oil-powered bus of visual artists, musicians and comedians is puttering toward Oklahoma at 50 miles per hour, tops. This french fry-scented chaos is a branch of the Baltimore-based Wham City Collective, currently in its sophomore cross-country tour.

The Wham City Comedy Tour can’t be distilled to a single descriptor. The two-hour show includes a stand-up comedy, but also experimental theater, improv, sketches and videos. And if you’re wondering how 11 creatives became a sort of unified entity, Ben O’Brien offers an explanation.

“The core of us came from Purchase College,” he said. “Since it’s so close to New York City, and it’s kind of an art school; you get a lot of scrappy, weird artists. It’s definitely known for being a little bit off.”

A few academic generations of Wham City eventually assembled in Baltimore’s thriving scene and morphed into the current incarnation.

“Baltimore has a good art reputation. There are a lot of working artists here and also the warehouse scene,” O’Brien said. “That’s where (Wham City) originally formed. It branched out to friends and people coming to shows who made cool stuff and wanted to collaborate. Wham City is this amorphous beast that sucks people in, spits people out and keeps moving around.”

Along with performance artist Mason Ross, O’Brien hosts Baltimore’s monthly Wham City Comedy Night, while the collective’s other members participate in a variety of artistic pursuits. Suffice it to say that Wham City operates under the umbrella of individualism, and for good reason.

“That’s why we work together. These people are really good and really funny,” O’Brien said. “Because we’re a collective, we generally try to allow people to just do what they want, but for this tour, we’re trying to have some guidance.”

For Wham City, however, “guidance” doesn’t translate into predictability — not by a long shot, as evidenced by recollection of a previous tour stop.

“We set up in the backyard for a house show, and it was beautiful, and we had all these lights and a fire pit. Then it started raining,” O’Brien said. “We rushed all our stuff inside and performed in a dining room while people watched from the living room. We used to start the show with a dance, and we had to do the dance completely in place, and it looked ridiculous ... but it looked ridiculous even done a 100 percent correctly.

“I kind of wish we had another house show on this tour; I like how it shakes it up. We’ve talked about it — if we’re at a show with no one there, we’ll pull parts out of a hat and switch acts — like I’ll do someone else’s stand-up. I think that’d be really fun.”

For Tuesday’s Opolis stop, he has other hopes.

“I hope we have a show on this tour that just blows,” he said, “but mostly, I hope it’s very well attended. But we’d love it if you drive people away and tell them the show sucks. Just kidding!”

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