Former ‘Funniest Person in Austin’ winner Eric Krug is set to close out Austin Sketch Fest with a live album recording for Sure Thing Records on May 29th. A limited number of tickets are still available. Krug won the Funniest Person in Austin contest in 2008 and has since appeared on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, WTF with Marc Maron and was selected as one of the New Faces of Comedy for Just for Laughs in Montreal. I spoke with Krug about his time in the military, depression as a motivator and US presidents.
Talk to me a little bit about your beginnings in comedy.
I was in the Air Force in 2005-2006. I was going to be getting out and I didn’t really have anything better to do but I didn’t want to stay. I didn’t want to serve my country anymore. I had enough of that. I had enough of the country and the service.
Basically I was a real big pussy for a long time and I would go all the way down to Austin from San Antonio to watch comedy. I really liked the comedy scene, but I was still too scared to get up on stage. Then my ex broke up with me. We were still seeing each other casually even though we were broken up and then I went over to her place once and she was on her way out on a date with another guy and that’s when she decided to break up with me.
Classic comedy beginning. Always starts with a little bit of heartbreak, some depression.
It really does. It’s a good motivator, I think cause it really is I think the thing that motivates people more. You either do it to get back at a girl, or to try to get a girl. It really doesn’t do either of those things, but at least it gets you going.
When you came down from San Antonio to watch, did you talk to anyone? Did you meet any Austin comics at that time?
No, I liked to sit in the back and just stare at people. That was kind of my thing, that’s what I did. The first show I saw, cause it was the year John Ramsey won at FPIA and it was the first time I went up.
I was at an open mic before the semifinals started. I didn’t know about the contest. It just so happened to be an open mic where a lot of the really good comics were there. Dan Jackson, Doug Mellard, Bryan Gutmnan, Jeremy Neal, and Lucas Molandes were all there working on their semi sets. That show was honestly one of the best comedy shows I’ve ever seen and it was an open mic. That’s immediately what got me going. I thought, “Oh this place is great.” They mentioned the contest, so I thought, “Oh, I should check that out.” I came up and watched the semifinals and the finals that year. I loved everybody I saw.
Sometimes the best shows are unexpected ones where something’s in the air. It feels a little bit magical. At the very least it feels like something you’re never going to see again.
Yeah, even though they were working on the semi sets, it was very loose. Everybody went off script a lot. I think that was the show where Doug was so excitable when he came up on stage that he hit his mouth on the microphone and he was bleeding through his set.
I think I remember him jumping on Daniel’s back during part of his set too.
I do remember getting the bug to try stand up comedy back in 2001 when I lived in New York for a hot minute. I went to open mic in New York, but it was just awful. It was like I was going down into a drug dealer’s basement.
Tell me a little bit about that.
I was in a very lost period in my life where I didn’t really know what I was going to do with myself. I went to New York on a whim. It didn’t last very long. I moved there for five or six months before 9/11. I got to be there right when 9/11 happened-
I’m going to stop you right there. You say, “Got to be there for 9/11.”
I always say that. I always betray my feelings when I’m like, “Hey I got to see the big show.” I went and tried and failed at being in New York but at least it was a time when there was something historic going on.
Right and you are a huge fan of history which we’ll get into in a minute.
I thought you were about to say, “You’re a huge fan of 9/11.” I was going to say, “Yeah, I am.”
You’re an American history buff!
I mean I actually wrote a movie script when I was there with my friend who was a film school student. That was back when I was still really into film. I just kind of did that in my free time. I think I just wanted to try to do something creative, but I really didn’t have any direction, or anything.
What attracted me to stand up back then is what attracted me to it again in 2005, which is that it was autonomous. The thing about film was I wrote that script and it was a fun creative process but I don’t know any producers. I don’t know any actors.
“Now I need 5 million dollars.”
Yeah, so with comedy it was, “Oh well I can write something. I have a finished set and can present a finished product.” That was what attracted me to that art form.
All right, so flash forward and tell me about going up in Austin.
It was November when I had that bad break up. I think there’s sort of that thing when you’re in a position that you’re just like, “Oh well, there’s nothing to lose. I might as well embarrass myself.”
It puts you in the right mindset. So I just wrote a bit the break up and did it. It went fine. I think I did good for a new person. Although, my voice was shaking. I’ve always had a real problem with public speaking. My mom has always talked about how I would get zeros in speech class because I would rather have an F then go in front of the class. I hated it that much.
I remember my first set. I’d never been on a stage before so the first thing was the bright light really annoyed me, so I walked all the way to the side of the stage. I was just in the dark on the corner of the stage because I didn’t like having the light in my face. Then when I finished my set I couldn’t figure out how you put the microphone back in the stand. I was fiddling with it and then I was nervous because I wanted to leave because it was just quiet. I just sat the microphone gently on the stool and walked away.
I remember John Ramsey was hosting and he just went up and picked up the mic and said, “Well, okay I guess that’s where that goes now.” I felt fine. I felt like I had at least gotten myself up there. I went in the corner and sucked down and entire gin and tonic in one gulp.
Then two years later you won The Funniest Person in Austin contest.
That was late 2005 so a little over two years.
That’s pretty good.
It was good, it was good. I moved because I was told that you can’t do the contest unless you live in the Austin area. I probably could have just lied. I’m sure they wouldn’t have cared but I didn’t really think of that. If somebody tells me there’s a rule I think I have to follow it.
One of the things that’s been driving me nuts lately when I go to watch comedy is when people run the light. It drives me absolutely crazy. When I started it was like “You do not run the light. That is disrespecting the club and you are in trouble and you are out.” Even at open mics, nobody runs the light and if they do they get the light shined directly in their face. Now everybody runs the light and I’m like “These kids have no respect!”
Well, you are a military man.
Yeah I guess maybe that has something to do with it.
When did you start thinking about going into the Air Force?
I told you about New York. Honestly I wasn’t doing anything there except wasting money so I just moved back. But then I was in a situation where I was going to move back into my parents basement and I’ll be that guy for the rest of my life. So that didn’t sound appealing.
The only jobs that I really had around that time were temp jobs. So I went back and I got another temp job. They sent me to this place where I was doing data entry. I pull the case folder out, there’s a little number on the side of the folder, I type that number in, hit enter, then pull the next folder out and do it again. And I did that for a solid eight hours. This was the first day and I stood up and ask the supervisor “Hey can I bring some headphones in tomorrow? Because it’s very quiet and killing me in here.” And he was like “Oh no they don’t allow music. They say it distracts us.” I literally just stared at him for ten seconds and then I said “I gotta go to the bathroom.” And I just walked out the door, got in my car and drove away.
At that point I didn’t know what to do and my friend Tom was going into the Air Force and he said, “You should come with me, let’s both sign up!” I was like “Tom, you’ve known me long enough you know you could never see me in the military.” But it was literally like “What else am I going to do? If I don’t do this I’m just going to be living in my parent’s basement.” So I said, “All right. I guess I do this then.”
I signed up in 2002 so Afghanistan was obviously going on but not Iraq. When you’re in the early part of your military career, when you’re going through basic training and you’re going through tech school, you’re busy with other shit, you’re busy with military shit. I wasn’t watching the news as much. You would think that I would be watching it more since I’m in the military but it was, “Oh I’m busy learning, training for this job.”
I’ve always been more of an interventionist. Whenever one of these things happen in Rwanda or Sudan, we talk a lot but we don’t do anything. So when I heard all that rhetoric, I was like “Yeah they’re gonna talk shit about Saddam but they’re not going to do anything like they always do.” Because everybody always talked about “Oh somebody’s got to do something about Saddam.” But then they just let him do whatever he wants.
When we first went in, I remember when we preemptively struck and the invasion started. I was actually kind of giddy and excited. I was like “Oh shit somebody actually did it! He actually meant what he said!” So my initial response was elation that we were actually finally going to get rid of the bad guy. I had high hopes.
But you know how that went.
So when I got sent to Iraq I was very excited that I was going to at least experience some part of it.
Talk to me about the process of putting an album together.
Well, it’s constantly stressing and thinking I’ve picked the wrong jokes all the way up until the moment just before I step on stage.
How do you have it planned out? Do you have an outline?
I literally have the script in front of me. Especially right now in these final weeks I’m going over it everyday. But I’m still constantly thinking, “Maybe this will work better at the beginning.” The other thing that’s a problem with me is that I like to write a lot. That was my schtick when I first started and I probably did that on purpose too. When I would come up from San Antonio, I came up for every Velveeta mic and every Cap City mic and I would always make sure I had completely different set for each open mic. I did that on purpose because I knew that you were really playing to the other comedians and also the guys that run the rooms and I wanted them to say, “Oh this guy can write. He’s not gonna do the same set of jokes over and over.”
I always like being a prolific writer but that’s kind of been a problem on this album. Every time I read through the script, I come up with a new line. And I’m like “Stop adding shit to this! Leave it alone. You’re doing the album in two weeks you can’t just keep writing new jokes in the middle of your shit.”
I’m in LA doing chunks of the album at each different show. It’s weird too because I’m very much a long form comic and so it’s sometimes harder to pull one chunk out of the album by itself. If you hear jokes about presidents in the middle of my album set that’s fine because it’s one hour long. But if you go to a show and you just do one whole set that’s nothing but presidents everybody’s like “That guy doesn’t do anything but talk about fucking presidents.”
Check out Eric Krug’s live album recording at Austin Sketch Fest this Sunday, May 29th. Fellow Funniest Person in Austin winner Danny Palumbo opens.