Neil Young once wrote that “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Geek comedian Karl Custer, better known as Uncle Yo, did just that this year at Zenkaikon 2017 as he said goodbye to the convention that gave him his start.
Hailing from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Custer would go through hours upon hours of stand-up comedy when he was younger and developed a love for the genre. “I grew up watching stand-up comedy, the very early days of Comedy Central when they would just throw anything that they could in front of the camera,” he said.
“Any summer camp I would go to… any elementary school, I would try to do that for the [talent] show,” Custer continued. “It always frustrated me to repeat myself, or I always felt that I was not being listened to or absorbed at all. So getting up on stage was a great way to convey an idea.”
It wasn’t until when he went to New York Comic Con in 2006 that he found the inspiration to do the specific genre of humor that is geek-oriented. “Everyone was dressed as something that I knew [and] recognized, that I had a quip for.”
There Custer did a panel with his friend Adam Hennessy called Anime Parliament. “The whole point of the panel is you bring up something to the court and try to defend it,” he said. “My argument was that, through all the inbreeding you have to do in Final Fantasy VII to get the Golden Chocobo, Cloud Strife should have his Chocobo breeding license revoked.”
Upon hearing of AnimeNEXT, a convention solely for anime, he immediately jumped at the chance to get his name out there. “I went and I staffed, I had a demo disk at the time, and I was trying to figure out ‘what do the people in front of me have that I don’t?’ And it turned out [it was] the timeslot,” Custer said.
Then, in 2007, a small multi-genre convention gave him his first shot, Zenkaikon. Since that first show, he has performed at numerous panels, released four albums, done podcasts, produced a puppet-based sitcom on YouTube called Dungeon Crawlers, hosted for various events including Cosplay Burlesque, and collaborated with various YouTube stars such as Nostalgia Critic Doug Walker.
On Friday, April 28, Custer jumped up on stage to handle his normal emcee routine for Cosplay Burlesque and gave some disheartening news. This year will be the last year that he will be performing on the convention circuit, which certainly came as quite a shock to his adoring fans.
“I am honored to have been a part of so many people’s Zenkaikon’s, but each of you were a part of mine.” – Karl “Uncle Yo” Custer
Custer certainly went all out this year at Zenkaikon 2017. Not only did he host the Opening Ceremonies dressed in a confusing but sexy octopus outfit, but he also took the stage for a performance on top of his hosting duties during Cosplay Burlesque as Castiel to Oliver Swisskey’s Crowley from Supernatural. As Swisskey stripped down, Uncle Yo remained stoic until the end when he shared a passionately aggressive kiss with the burlesque dancer. According to Swisskey the kiss was masterminded by Custer’s wife.
This year while hosting the show, Custer shared the stage with rookie host Boner Guy, a name he earned from a bad pun about Brook from One Piece. Together the two shared a unique dynamic that had the crowd in stitches. “He’s very collected, very methodical… whereas I kind of bounce around a lot, I’m all over the place… and I felt like our dynamics, in that way, meshed together perfectly,” said Boner Guy.
The following day, Custer took the stage once again for what would be his final stand-up show at Zenkaikon and once again, he did not disappoint. In his style of long-form rants about some of the things that just don’t make sense in anime and comics, he received rounds of applause and laughter from the audience. Then at the end he got a little more serious, reading a heartfelt poem he wrote that captured his feelings about leaving the stage and how thankful he was for all his fans supporting him over the years. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including his own.
Later on Saturday Custer was the Master of Ceremonies at the Cosplay Masquerade, a stage show where fans perform in front of the audience, reminiscent of his own beginnings on stage. That evening he joined voice actors Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie, and author Keith DeCandido for Guests Against Humanity, a panel where the four play a game of Cards Against Humanity with crowd picking the answer cards.
On the final day of the con, on top of hosting the charity auction and substituting talking about Harley Quinn at a panel, Custer co-hosted the Cosplay Pro Wrestling event with Princess Peach. During the final match between CM Pikachu and Sylveon, in true Vince McMahon fashion, Team Rocket boss Giovanni and his goons ran into the hall to stop the match and called out Uncle Yo to the ring. He promptly joined the fray.
In a 3-v-5 match, Uncle Yo, CM Pikachu, and Sylveon took on Giovanni and the Rocket Grunts, throwing kicks, punches, and elbow drops of justice. After CM Pikachu turned heel and bailed on the match, Uncle Yo and Sylveon were left to deal with the miscreants. Eventually the two prevailed with Uncle Yo pinning Giovanni, and they raised their arms in victory with the championship belt.
When the convention came to a close, with a heavy heart Custer had to say goodbye to the convention that started it all. “Zenkaikon was the first ever show to take a chance on me,” he said in a Facebook post. “I am honored to have been a part of so many people’s Zenkaikon’s, but each of you were a part of mine. Thank you to the people. The people whose presence and faces in one place every year made me excited for another Zenkaikon.”
Uncle Yo has four albums out which can be found on Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. As he rounds out his last year, he is scheduled for AnimeNEXT June 9-11.
As for what the future holds for Karl “Uncle Yo” Custer, he left with a cryptic, “We’ll see,” leaving fate up to its grand design.