Austin-based comedian Scott Hardy is a something of an anomaly. He’s a distinguished ‘80s stand-up veteran but also a performer whose material and demeanor still exudes a playful freshness. Whether performing in Las Vegas and Atlantic City or around town, Hardy engenders copious laughter with his keen observational eye and conversational-like delivery. And he is clearly still having a ton of fun. For example, Hardy will take a stage or go on local TV with unwinking commitment as the likable goober JD Moore. Fans and the uninitiated are well advised to catch him at the Festival. Comedy Moontower recently had the chance to check-in with Mr. Hardy.
Steve Birmingham: First off, can you address the persistent scuttlebutt that The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s elderly call-in regular, Gladys, is perhaps you and/or a Scott Hardy relative?
Scott Hardy: Gladys is my Nana. In many ways she is everyone’s grandmother, granny, or bubbie. She is a loving spirit who says what she feels and manages to never be mean-spirited about it. It’s great that some people speculate that we may be the same person. Ellen DeGeneres asked her directly that some fans want to know if she is real and Gladys answered, “I believe that love and laughter are real.” Nana G. is just so dang sweet and her mission is really simple: She wants to bring joy with her special brand of humor and awareness for Meals On Wheels & More of Austin and The Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary.
SB: My understanding is that you started stand-up in the mid ’80s in Florida. Was it a boom scenario where you were not for want for stage time?
SH: I got a lucky shot. I had 10 minutes on my first open mic. The owners of The Comic Strip Comedy Club in Ft. Lauderdale just happened to see me and asked me to perform on a weekend. As I developed they made me the house feature host. This club was open 365 days a year. I had 45 minutes a night on a great stage and I did that for two years. I worked with groundbreaking stand-up comics such as Rodney Dangerfield, Adam Sandler, Richard Belzer, Sam Kinison, and Alan King. When I appeared regularly at The Comedy Corner in West Palm Beach, I shared the stage with comics such as Bill Hicks, Emo Phillips, Judy Tenuta, David Brenner, Carol Leifer, Jeff Garlan, Damon Wayans, Rich Jeni and so many more.
SB: What was “Uncle Mullet’s” Cereal Bar?
SH: Ha! Uncle Mullet was a nickname given to me because I can honestly say I had a mullet. Interestingly, after I had my mullet removed, I could still feel it. I had Phantom Mullet. They say when you lose a sense that another becomes more acute. And when I lost my mullet, my sense of fashion became sharper. I still occasionally open the cereal bar. My wife Christine and I ran it at Cap City Comedy Club’s open mic for almost a year every Sunday. We bring free cereal, milk, and fruit to the comics and they gather in the main room at Cap City. They nosh and exchange ideas and wait to perform in the small room. Really Uncle Mullets’ Cereal Bar is my 401K. Perhaps these fledglings will remember me when they hit big and will send a nice holiday fruit basket to my retirement home.
SB: I thought the foray of comics like David Cross, Patton Oswalt and the “Comedians of Comedy” appearing at rock clubs was a vital moment for stand-up. But, I’ve always been enamored with the tradition of comedians like you opening for blockbuster singers/bands in huge venues. Who have you opened for and what was it like performing in that milieu?
SH: Dude, and yes I just said “Dude.” Not sure why. Maybe because the laughter from 10,000 people comes to the stage in what feels like a wave! I learned quickly to change my cadence and how it was possible to make a huge venue feel intimate for the audience and me. The crowd of ten thousand was Dolly Parton. Sweet lady. Fantasma Productions in West Palm Beach managed me and other promoters like Cellar Door tossed me some big bones as well. I opened for Mel Tormé. He, by the way, was called, “The Velvet Fog.” My mind heard “The Velvet Frog.” I mean he was kinda frog-like if ya think about it but he was terribly kind to me even those I was misinformed. Other concert openings are Jimmy Buffet, Whitney Houston, may sheet rest in peace. Arlo Guthtrie, Chicago, Hall & Oats, Gladys Knight, Suzanne Vega, Jim Carey, and Steven Wright.
SB: Aside from having super solid material, your command of crowd work is rather striking. I know you’ve opened for Paula Poundstone and I’m not likening your style to her same degree of interaction but you do bear to mind that level of comfort with improv and kibitizing. Can you elaborate on this distinctive attribute?
SH: We did a benefit together in Ft. Lauderdale and I had seen her a lot at The Comedy Corner. I instantly loved Paula because she was applying the same principles that I do on stage with regards to crowd work. Listen, as a comic you can arm yourself with anti-heckle lines. Most comics keep these in their arsenal and will unload on anyone that speaks up in the room. A “heckler” or someone that wants to get involved with the show is a great opportunity. The analogy I use is the peal. The room is the oyster. The heckler is the impurity, but with the right amount of pressure and time you can transform it into a precious pearl! I know there’s a time when some people just have to be kicked out because they have bigger issues than just heckling. I love a heckler. I learned from watching Paula. She listens and responds. I feel enormously comfortable on stage and I love letting the audience be who they want to be as well. So many elements are needed for a successful show besides the material and delivery. Sound and light are key. A cool room is better for comedy. Letterman knows that. He keeps his theater under sixty degrees! He says it keeps the comedy fresh but the reality is that people will also laugh to stay warm, and resist laughter in heat. An unfortunate audience cough on a punchline will kill a great joke. Comics that are in a rhythm of punchline, audience laugh, and comic sips drink, [they] cannot sip that drink if it does not get a laugh. The audience perceives it as a fearful or undeserved celebratory sip. These are things I have noticed. There is a math/science to comedy. It’s a learned craft with some degree of having more natural talent than others. Then there is the voodoo: Charisma. Where does that come from? I’m not sure but when any artist works from a true center it radiates a type of…truth.
SB: Please talk about the Austin scene. It’s renown for being super supportive and upping everyone’s game but what is your take? Also, you’re a mentoring figure and I wonder what you share with emerging comics?
SH: Austin Texas, and specifically the Cap City Comedy Club, have a tradition of goodwill surrounding the craft of stand-up. I was honored to be the General Manager of Cap City for a few years and it’s been such a mutual mentoring experience! These new kids on the block are so tolerant of me. You may have noticed that I’m a chronic namedropper. Robin Williams once told me to stop doing that. But it is truly an honor to help a performer find their voice. It’s like a birth…I just realized that I may be more of a doula than a mentor.
SB: I love that you went head-to-head at the Velveeta Room with your yokel alter ego JD Moore. I don’t mean this to sound so FUBAR, but does Scott Hardy get a little jealous of JD?
SH: JD refers to himself as my altered ego. Clever. We have had it out a few times. JD is funny and his improv skills are pretty stellar. I underestimated JD at first. He is not dim but I would not call him excessively bright either. He did respectfully beat me by one Dana Ding in this last competition [The Velveeta. Room’s manager/bartender, comedian Dana Smith, kept track of laughs with a tap bell]. We will do battle again on June 2nd, 2012, at the Velveeta Room.
Moontower badges are available now at www.moontowercomedyfestival.com. Single tickets on sale Thursday, February 23rd. Please check back with site for schedule and additional lineup announcements.