When Ed Schrader was 5 years old, growing up in Utica, N.Y., he would line up his stuffed animals in his bedroom and pretend he was a talk-show host. He took pride in ferreting out how the stuffed animals felt about each other, at least in his imagination. And if one of them gave an "incorrect" answer, he might toss it out the window.
Nothing like that happens now to the guests of the Ed Schrader Show, a monthly variety show held at an art gallery and performance space in the Station North area.
"He's kind of like the David Letterman of the arts scene of Baltimore," said Sarah M. Williams, the owner of the Metro Gallery, where the show is held. "Every show seems like it's gotten better and better."
Though the show may have the same format as the Late Show With David Letterman, the similarities end there. Schrader injects absurdist humor into the typical talk-show formula. The result is a humorous, abstract hodgepodge that helps bring together members of the city's arts and music scene.
"Having a showcase for all of these different things is kind of an honor because there are so many cool things happening," said Schrader, 29. "I think what makes the show work the most is the goofiness of it."
Schrader normally starts in typical talk-show fashion with a monologue. But from the get-go, it's anything but ordinary.
Once, he pretended to be Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Dr. Phil stuck in an elevator for 10 minutes. Some audience members either didn't understand the skit or were annoyed by it, he said. But a number of them laughed hysterically the whole time.
"I don't always go for A plus B equals C type jokes," he said. "I like to go for jokes that hit you when you can't fall asleep one night. You're like, 'Oh, that was cool; now I get it.'"
Some of Schrader's jokes attract more attention when later uploaded to the video-sharing Web site YouTube. Volunteer cameramen tape each show, and the clips are edited for online viewing.
During the show, Schrader looks the part of the consummate late-night TV host: dark, combed hair, suit and tie. He found two of the old suits he uses for the show on the loading dock of the Copy Cat building where he lives. He tried them on, and they fit perfectly.
"It's almost analogous with the absurdity of taking this worn-out medium of the talk show and doing something fun with it," he said.
Schrader, who moved to Baltimore in 2006, originally met members of the local arts collective Wham City, such as Dan Deacon, during the semester he spent at Purchase College in New York years ago. He has held nearly 40 odd jobs along the way, from janitor to freelance writer, he said.
"I can acclimate to most any group of people," Schrader said. "I think that does help with the show and me relating to people in the audience. I think I have a broader sense of the human experience than maybe some contemporary comedians."
Deacon, a friend, came up with the idea for the show shortly after Schrader moved to the city. Deacon thought Schrader's enthusiasm for conversation would make him an ideal candidate to host a talk show, he said.
"He doesn't shut up," Deacon said. "The man has no ability to stop talking."
Some of the show's funnier moments come when guests unsuccessfully try to find gaps between Schrader's sentences so they can answer his questions, Deacon said.
"Those gaps are few and far between," he said.
Schrader starts planning each episode a month in advance. He searches for colorful guests and musicians who he thinks would be a good fit on the show. One requirement: Not only must they have interesting music or art, they must also be engaging interviewees. Otherwise, the show falls flat.
"I try to get somebody who is musically talented but somebody who is dynamic and interesting to talk to -- which is not often easy," he said.
Since Schrader's subjects are often not well-known, he spends time finding out all he can about them, and conducts a pre-interview to make sure the actual interview is thorough and stimulating, he said.
"Ed fancies himself an intellectual, and he likes to come across as such," said Connor Kizer, the show's announcer. "He has these really overly thought-out questions which take the interviewees by surprise. It's really fun to watch from the sidelines."
Schrader tries to pick guests from different music and arts scenes and put them on the same bill, which often brings out a diverse crowd and benefits the artists.
"It takes them out of a particular pigeonhole," said Rjyan Kidwell, an ambient techno composer who was a guest on one of the first Schrader shows.
"It could be really easy for him to throw up three people from the Wham City music scene or put up three video artists from YouTube," Kidwell said. "Spreading it around makes it ... a much bigger deal."
When Schrader has scheduled the lineup of guests, he retreats to the Dunkin' Donuts on Guilford Avenue to hash out ideas for his monologue, video segments and skits and to outline the show.
The end product usually lasts about an hour to an hour and a half with an intermission. Ideally, Schrader said, he'd like to trim it down to an hour max. The crowd size can vary, but the show has drawn as many as 200.
Schrader wants to keep the show based in Baltimore, but also occasionally take it on the road. He will travel to New York City next month, and would also like to host shows in Philadelphia from time to time, he said.
Even after a year and a half, the show has yet to generate a steady income for Schrader, who freelances for the City Paper to earn a living. But he's encouraged by the community's response, and thinks it will only continue to grow.
"I'm putting out a signal to other weird people in the world who are like me when I was 13 years old," Schrader said. "There's a place in the world for really insane people. I can do this."
Copy Cat building in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District
Janitor, freelance writer
On the Ed Schrader Show
"The show has cost me more money than I've made. But like anything, you have to invest. George Lucas had to do that. Not to compare myself. But I'm suffering from a bit of hubris today."