I love watching Bryan Gutmann get frustrated. The former Funniest Person in Austin winner is such a nice guy that when he gets worked up about something, it’s a thing of beauty. Whether he’s directing his wit at people who “didn’t know he could cook” or lashing out against “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” (“I think when you get to the point of spraying the stuff on your mashed potatoes, it’s time to believe”), he never fails to entertain. The Austin based writer and performer is taping his first album this Sunday during Austin Sketch Fest for Sure Thing Records. I spoke with Bryan about his writing process, the evolving comedy scene in Austin, and getting Eric Krug out of Mexican prison.
How do you write a joke? Can you give us some insight into your process?
It’s definitely changed over the years. When I started writing jokes, I would literally write them out, word for word. I still enjoy writing, but I don’t force myself to do it for every joke. I guess eventually you have gone through the whole process enough that if you get the general idea for a bit your brain can just sort of go “I’ve got this” and that’s enough to hit the stage. The best combination of all those techniques, for me, was this whole chunk on the concept of the past being called “The Good Old Days”. I went on stage with some general ideas, and after just going on stage and talking it out for about a month I sat down and wrote it out. Sort of as a way to assess what I was working with up until that point. Then I was able to add to it, edit, all of that stuff. Writing out a joke is almost like injecting a truth serum into you bit. You see it on a piece of paper and go “Is this really what I’m saying out loud to people?”
How has the comedy scene in Austin changed since you started? Have any locally based comics influenced your approach to material?
It’s interesting, on the one hand it doesn’t feel like the scene has changed so much as it has simply grown. The scene has grown so much. The reason why I say it hasn’t changed is because the one constant since I started is Austin has always seemed to have the reputation that it has. One of my favorite parts about starting comedy in Austin was you could go to Cap City and see these incredible comedians come through. Mitch Hedberg, Maria Bamford, Marc Maron, Dave Attell – they were all coming to Austin back then. But the scene has certainly grown. Not to be the “this all used to be fields” old man about it, but it really has. When I started there were two open mics – the end. Now you can get on stage every night of the week, and not just open mics. Jazz Cigarette, Buzzkill, Sure Things – all of these fantastic shows that have their own following. It’s really great. And I think it will be very interesting with things now like Sure Thing Records and Voltaic Video to see how that will help the scene here grow even more.
Locally based comics have absolutely influenced my approach, or at the very least have most definitely inspired me. I feel really lucky for the comics that all started around me. There was a real enthusiasm for writing and trying things out, and really a lot of very different styles. Comics like Doug Mellard, Kerri Lendo, Lucas Molandes, Eric Krug, John Ramsey, Jeremy Neal, David Huntsberger. Just deciding to start doing comedy was already an exciting thing to do, but then to be surrounded by those people you couldn’t really ask for more. Doug really inspired me to write as much as possible. If anyone knows Doug they probably know that he can tell roughly 30 jokes in 5 minutes. We would work together a lot, everything from jokes to sketches to entire feature-length scripts. He’s the best at lighting that fire under you. I also have very fond memories of meeting up with John Ramsey to bounce ideas around. We would go to this little burger joint near UT campus and just talk stuff out. We’ll still occasionally e-mail each other with different things we’re working on to get any sort of thumbs-up or thumbs-down on things. And of course Eric Krug and I have also been long time contributors to each other’s stuff, but I think he’s in a Mexican prison now or something.
What are your favorite comedy specials/albums?
The unedited half hour special that Mitch Hedberg did for Comedy Central is amazing. They actually included that on the DVD and it is so fascinating to watch. Zach Galifianakis’ “Live at the Purple Onion” is something that definitely still holds up for me. There was silliness and subtlety and I just really enjoyed the stand-up/road trip/documentary art mash up that it was. That’d be a fun thing to do some day. I think the first comedy album I owned was Jerry Seinfeld’s first and only album. It’s interesting – I listened to it not too long ago and I was surprised to hear how much silence is on that album. Not “silence” as in lack of laughter, I mean there are a lot of quiet moments. Jerry lets all of these long pauses happen, and even delivers a lot of the material in this reserved, quiet sort of way that I had forgotten about. It’s a style I don’t think he would go for now. There’s also a lot of stuff on Bill Burr’s newest special that really excited me. He’s becoming this dude who can really paint an entire cinematic scene on stage.
Tell me a little bit about your taping on Sunday? What can people expect? Are tickets still available?
It’s all happening at Spiderhouse Ballroom, which I’m very excited about. I really, really like that venue, and Spiderhouse as a whole. I knew pretty early on that I wanted to record there, because it’s one of these spaces where, when things are going good, they’re going REALLY good. It just has a fun energy. As far as what I’m doing, it’s going to be all of my favorite material from the past ten years or so. I’m really happy with how it all fits together. And I’m going to see if the Mexican government will release Eric Krug so he can open the show. There’s still some tickets left, so people should scoop them up at ATXSKETCHFEST.COM
Bryan Gutmann will be taping his first ever stand-up comedy album on May 24th at the Spiderhouse Ballroom. The show starts at 7pm. Tickets are available here.