How is it already June?! I’m still catching my breath from this year’s fest! And it’s not just because I’m out of shape! If you were at the festival this year, chances are you were out watching shows and may have missed some of our interviews with the incredible talent at this year’s Moontower. Kerri Lendo and I were thrilled to be able to talk to so many headliners and up-and-coming comics this past April and we even set a new record for interviews logged. There are so many highlights that I can’t even begin to name my favorite bits. It was an absolute honor meeting heroes like Jonathan Katz and Patton Oswalt for the first time and old favorites Andy Kindler, Maria Bamford, and Brendon Walsh were reliably hilarious. Take a look back and let me know what your favorites are!
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.
How did you guys meet and what made you decide to do a podcast?
I met Brendon at a bar next to a comedy theater in LA, he was at the bar waiting in line to order a drink and I was across the room. We made eye contact, and then he started licking the back of the shirt of the person in front of him in line. He kept eye contact with me and kept licking the guys shirt, I kept motioning for him to stop, but he didn’t, and the guy never noticed his shirt was getting licked. We realized we had similar senses of humor and become friends.
During the big podcasting boom of 2012 we decided to give it a shot, and we struck gold. Ever since we’ve been wealthy from it.
How would you describe your podcast to the uninitiated?
The Bone Zone is super silly. Its like when you were 8 years old and you would record yourself on a tape recorder, except now that we are adults we know more about boobs and know more swear words. Often times the podcast focuses on blatant lies, confusion, good ideas, prank phone calls, sound effects, being annoying, and poop songs. But sometimes we just chat and tell true stories, and have a good laugh.
What can we expect to see at the Bone Zone taping?
The last live podcast we did, was on mothers day and we called my mom, and Brendon asked her if my dad ate her out on mothers day. It was really rude, but I don’t think she heard what he said. It was a ton of fun, and this one will be no different. We have a couple of great guests, and we might even invite some audience members to step into the Rant Corner (we play heavy metal guitar music while someone talks about what’s chapping their ass).
Jonathan Katz is a hero. A phenomenal writer with a deadpan delivery, Katz found mass appeal with his beloved Comedy Central show Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist which will forever have a place in the comedy geek canon. He was kind enough to answer three quick questions.
What’s one thing that nobody knows about the early days of Dr. Katz?
I took my role too seriously. I didn’t know I too could make jokes.
You’re one of the great joke writers of all time. What makes a good joke?
Efficiency. Giving the audience just enough information to make the joke work.
Who inspired you when you were first starting out?
Dom Irrera, Ronnie Shakes, Johnny Carson and Sandy Koufax and many others. Rita Rudner, Bill Maher, Fred Stoller, Bill Braudis, Lenny Bruce Burns and Schreiber but mostly, David Mamet.
Tickets for Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist Live are onsale now. Guest patients include Dom Irrera, Maria Bamford, Andy KIndler, Dana Gould, Emo Philips, and more!
Emo Philips is frequently listed among the greatest comedians of all time – Jay Leno called him “the best joke writer in America” – and his material has been passed around the internet since the first modem was plugged in. His wandering, child-like delivery belies a razor sharp wit and an uncanny knack for timing. He was kind enough to answer our three quick questions ahead of his Moontower performances.
What’s your favorite snack?
How has the comedy landscape changed since you started?
Not as many gigs at discos.
What’s the first joke you remember writing?
I went to the bathroom and there was a dead postman in the tub. I thought, “That’s strange. It’s Sunday.”
Emo is performing at multiple shows at this year’s Moontower Comedy Festival including two sessions with Dr. Katz. More information here.
One of the coolest events coming to Moontower this year is Come to Papa LIVE, the live version of the popular radio show hosted by comedian Tom Papa. For the unfamiliar the show features scripted sketches performed by comics, stand-up sets, and musical guests. Come to Papa was voted Best Podcast of 2013 by Time Out NY and regularly features comedy heavyweights like Amy Schumer, John Mulaney, and good pal Jerry Seinfeld.
Unlike many podcasts, Come to Papa is tightly scripted and bears more in common with classic radio than the sometimes aimless podcasts of today. This is a great opportunity to see your favorite comics perform together live in a show that will never be repeated. Highly recommended.
Take a listen to last year’s holiday show below with guests Matt Damon, Sarah Silverman, Michael Sheen, Maria Bamford, Tim Minchin, and more.
On Thursday April 23rd, celebrated comedian Jonathan Katz will take the stage with some of the biggest names in comedy on the 20th anniversary of his seminal television program Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist. The live show will span two nights and feature comic heavyweights like Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, Emo Philips, Todd Barry, Dana Gould and more.
It’s hard to remember that just a few short years ago, nobody really paid much attention to standup comedy. We’re in the middle of the so-called second comedy boom, the first having taken place in the 80’s, but there was a pretty dry period in the 90’s and early 2000’s where standup was decidedly uncool. If you want to keep up with comics today, you can listen to thousands of hours of podcasts, watch innumerable comedy and sketch shows on cable and Netflix, and follow (and sometimes interact with them) on Twitter.
When Dr. Katz premiered in 1995, the landscape was very different. Sure you could catch the occasional comic on late night, and bigger names still had specials every now and then, but there were lots of extremely talented comedians who weren’t getting any airtime. Dr. Katz changed all that.
If you’re unfamiliar with the show, the story centers around Dr. Jonathan Katz, a professional therapist whose patients were all comedians. Katz would interact with the comics who generally performed a version of their stage material. Katz’s dry humor and reliable wit often added to the comics tried and true routines, in a perfect marriage of improvisation and scripted material. For comedy nerds such as myself in the 90’s, the show was a godsend and the first introduction to comics such as Todd Barry, Dom Irerra, and Marc Maron, who was still a relatively unknown club comic at the time. Knowing that they will all join together on stage 20 years later, careers thriving, feels like some kind of victory for us comedy junkies. If I were you, I’d get tickets for both nights. Whoops, you know what the music means – our time is up.
Tickets for Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist Live are onsale now. Guests vary from night to night.
Be sure and follow Chris on Twitter and catch him at Moontower next month. Also, check out his podcast Cancelled where he and a guest talk TV shows that only aired for one season (the most recent one is Cop Rock with Norman Wilkerson).
Saying Mike MacRae is an impressionist is a bit like saying Michelangelo painted ceilings. MacRae’s Don Draper impression is spot on but the routine is more than mere mimicry. His Draper delivers a pitch that ultimately breaks the fourth wall to reference the bit itself before folding in on itself in a surprising way. His comedy is smart, thoughtful, and most of all hilarious. Ask any comic in Austin who their favorites are and MacRae is often at the top of the list. So when I heard Mike was putting together a podcast where he interviewed rock legends and would be playing every single character, I was intrigued. I spoke with Mike about his first time performing, performing for Letterman, and why he decided to focus on classic rock.
What can you tell me about your first time on stage? What kind of comic was young Mike MacRae?
I used to bring my “act” of teacher impressions to the assembly stage in high school and in college I would do whatever my post-adolescent conception of what stand-up was at campus events at Rice and U of H (tapes of both exist, locked away forever in that warehouse at the end of Raiders of The Lost Ark), but I suppose you mean the first time in a proper comedy club. That would be the Monday night open mic night at the Houston Laff Stop on West Gray. It was either the last Monday of October or the first of November, 1999 – it was also the first time for my dear friend Sarah Tollemache, and we both never could quite remember which it was. Once and I was hooked. The first few times on stage I was presenting my college act, which got some cheap laughs from the crowd but garnered nothing but scorn (rightly so) from the local comics, who, naturally, I wanted dearly to impress. Eventually I came to the realization that I could get away with doing impressions if 1) I did ones that people were not used to hearing, and 2) couched them in a genuine joke or otherwise funny concept. The structure of my act was forged in the crucible of the scrutiny of my soon-to-be peers. And I’m glad for it.
You started out in Houston doing shows at the now defunct Laff Stop. What do you remember about the scene? Any favorite stories?
As a young dope interested in stand-up, I could not have walked in to a more fortuitous place and time than the Laff Stop in 1999. Then-manager Mark Babbitt had admirably groomed the already hoary venue to be one of the premiere comedy clubs in the country. Louis CK (among many others) chose to record his first CD there; you can hear all of us laughing in the background. Babbitt joined his mission of booking original and fearless yet warhorse-funny headliners with an almost zealous preoccupation with cultivating the local “scene”. His favorites were given ample stage time in front of some of the hottest crowds in the country. He even changed the show format to have occasional split-feature sets (one doing 10-15, the other 15-20) so we could work on honing a solid road-worthy 30. That was the goal back then: travel, the road. Making people laugh for a long amount of time. Looking back, it was ridiculous the stage time that I and others got WAY before we were ready. But it helped develop us. Then everything slowly went to shit, like it does.
As Letterman inches closer to retirement, what do you remember about your appearance on the show?
What can I say? It was great, nerve-racking, a monumental headache getting the final go-ahead (wanna know how much “same-day” Fex-Ex from Louisville, KY to NYC costs? No, you don’t), and the greatest sense of accomplishment when it was over. Also, David Letterman is painted traffic cone orange and it’s weird when he walks up to you. Eddie Brill told me after my set that Indiana native Dave asked, “that guy, was he a Midwesterner?”, Eddie asserted yes, and Dave said, “I could tell. He clearly has our sense of humor”. I will always be very thankful to Eddie for telling me that. As a kid growing up watching Late Night I always marked that Letterman was from the same region of the country as I was. I think there is a certain sense of humor that comes from growing up where everything is kind of boring.
What people can expect to hear on your podcast? How did you come up with the concept?
Well, it ain’t for everybody, that’s for sure. It’s pretty niche. But hey – that’s what podcasts are for, in my opinion. “Legends of Rock with Mike MacRae”. Yeah, so I’ve always liked (for lack of a better term) Classic Rock, but also found it – and the culture surrounding it – to be very amusing. I’ve always have had bits about it here and there over the years; I had a track on my first CD called “British Invasion Bands”, there was a bit about why Southern Rock bands had like 12 people in them (that only Henry Phillips liked), and I did an Ozzy Osbourne impression (going back to the Laff Stop days, my Kurt Loder interview with Ozzy was my first “signature bit”). But since I grew up steeped in the culture of midwestern classic rock radio, with the Sunday night obscure album shows, the retrospectives, “Rockline”, plus the remastered CDs with bloviating interview tracks that I’d actually listen to and liner notes that I would assiduously study in the pre-internet age, I have much more of a “nerd” pre-occupation with the topic than what could elegantly inform a functional stand-up act. This project is an outlet for all of that stuff. It’s basically a fake interview show where I (as an eponymous character, a la Colbert) interview David Gilmour, Ian Anderson, Lemmy Kilmister, Robert Plant, Gene Simmons, etc., but, you know, it’s all me. Just a bunch of fake bullshit. And interspersed with other bits, conversations with Musical Director Pat Dean, fake commercials, and other fun stuff. I hope people like it. My goal is to make it amusing for people who aren’t necessarily well-versed in the subject matter, but not at the expense of making it really something special for Classic Rock boneheads such as myself. We’ll see. Either way, it will be done season by season. We’re gonna do about 7 or 8 and if people like it we’ll be doing a second batch. It all depends on the schedule of my trusty EP Dustin Svehlak. He’s got his hands full dealing with that diva Norman Wilkerson.
Mac Blake is one of the most talented and celebrated performers to rise out of the Austin comedy scene. He’s performed at the prestigious New Faces of Comedy Showcase at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, Funny or Die’s Oddball Festival, SXSW Comedy, and more. In 2013, he won the Funniest Person in Austin contest. In addition to stand-up, Blake is part of the acclaimed sketch group STAG Comedy, a regular performer at ColdTowne Theater, and co-host of The Mascot Wedding Show podcast. And he’s just released his first comedy album.
I spoke with Mac about comedy influences, his all time favorite standup albums, and a drifter named Patches.
Photo by Lauren Logan
Who inspires you comedically now?
I just did a weekend with Dave Attell at Cap City. Name drop! He’s in the hall of fame of face-melting. Watching him was inspiring in that if I ever want to be half as good I have a lot of work to do and better get to it. Also Tom Scharpling, host of The Best Show, is an inspiration for a lot of reasons.
What about when you were growing up?
Growing up there was an old drifter in our neighborhood. Patches was his name. He would entertain us kids with stories about airplane food and the differences between black and white people, men and women, cats and dogs, you name it. I feel like those stories laid a lot of the groundwork for who I am today. It’s a real shame Patches was shot to death by cops who thought he stole a Diet Coke.
Also. The Simpsons, Hartman/Foley era Saturday Night Live, and my family.
What’s the most recent joke you wrote and how did you come up with it?
Probably something dumb I thought of in the car on the way to a show. I talk through jokes a lot when I’m driving. For some reason being focused on something else, the road, kind of frees up the rest of my brain.
What makes a good comedy album?
I honestly just want a comedy album to be funny. On Joe Mande’s album slash mixtape he mixed his live recording in with hype sounds & skits. It certainly wasn’t a traditional stand-up album, but it was great.
What are your top five all time favorite comedy albums?
Look, I don’t claim to be an expert on comedy albums. Tae Kwon Do? Yes, I am an expert in that. Come at me and I will crack your skull open. But here are some of my favorites.
Feelin’ Kinda Patton by Patton Oswalt. I think his second album, Werewolves in Lollipops is probably better. But Feelin’ Kinda Patton was the album that made me want to do stand-up. I can’t understate its importance to me.
Bigger and Blacker by Chris Rock. This was the first comedy album I ever bought. It hit so huge. Everyone I knew, regardless of what they were into, loved this album. So damn good.
Chewed Up by Louis CK. You could probably switch out a couple Louis albums for this one, but Chewed Up is my favorite. Cinnabon. Hating deer. Great.
The Art of the Slap by Scharpling and Wurster. “Whoa, a non stand-up comedy album? This guy Mac Blake is an edgy motherfucker.” Calm down, guys. The Art of the Slap is a collection of calls from former radio show, now podcast, The Best Show. The host, the aforementioned Tom Scharpling, takes calls from a variety of characters all voiced by Jon Wurster––who is also the drummer for Superchunk and the Mountain Goats. Everything they do is solid gold. The first call is from a computer repair technician named Horse who works for Jock Squad, a bizarro roided-out version of Best Buy’s Geek Squad. I could not love these guys more. There’s an homage to them on my album if you listen to the end.
The Top Part by John Mulaney. The title of this album, like Chewed Up, is a great reveal when you find out the context. Mulaney is just a perfect writer. His story about selecting Tom Jones’s “What’s New Pussycat”, twenty one straight times, on the jukebox of a diner––I think the first time I heard that I laughed so hard I ripped a whole in the space time continuum. Sorry universe!
What’s next for Mac Blake?
For the rest of the month, I’ll be co-hosting All’s Well with Mac & Joe, with the very funny Joe Hafkey. That’s every Tuesday at 8pm, at Cap City Comedy Club, until the Funniest Person in Austin Contest starts.
I’ll also be going on a Sure Thing Records mini-tour with Brendan K. O’Grady and Duncan Carson, the comics who run the record label. Those dates are all on my website. Then some festivals in the summer.
Oh and I’ll be at a certain thing April 22nd to April 25th, but I don’t think I’m supposed to say anything yet so I won’t. You certainly couldn’t find out more information about that thing on this very blog. Again, I wish I could tell you more about super fun mega festival, but I can’t.
Then later this year I’m getting married to my favorite human on the planet, so that’s pretty cool.
Mac Blake’s Bird Drugs is available now. Check out a clip below and follow him on Twitter.