7 Questions with: Rich Braun, Libbie Higgins & Chad Wallace

Three comics, seven questions, asked monthly. This time out, we bother Rich Braun, Libbie Higgins and Chad Wallace.

What types of mindset are ideal for creating good comedic bits? Do you work best with deadlines? Do you writing under pressure? Or do you work more productively when life’s playing nice? Have you worked something that’s happened that day into a set?

Braun: For me, there are two parts to writing. The first is the idea, which tends to happen when I’m going about my daily business and something strikes me as funny, or irritating, or otherwise “off.” I usually put a note on my phone with as many punchlines as come to me in the moment. After that, it’s a matter of forcing myself to sit down and flesh the rest of the bit out. Inspiration can happen in any mood, but when I’m doing the work of writing, I kind of need to be happy and in a somewhat-confident mindset, which is less common than I would like.

Deadlines are rare for somebody at my level (I’m not doing that Netflix special any time soon), and I hate deadlines, but I have to admit they make me get the work done. The few times I’ve needed to have something ready for a specific date, it’s forced me to be productive.

There have been a few times when I’ve been able to take an event that’s happened that day or within the past few days and quickly create a bit out of it that I might try that evening, but those bits were far from polished.

Higgins: I feel like I create my best bits when I’m not trying to intentionally write a bit. When I’m just hanging with other funny people and we are riffing off each other or when I’m creating an online video, that’s when I can stop worry about the process of thinking of new bits or jokes. It’s the ideal way for me to come up with a bit because I’m not judging myself and what I’m coming up with. There really is no time for that when you’re just doing it improv style. I don’t do well under pressure. In fact, a strict deadline will make me completely shut down. I often will work something into my set that may have happened the same day, and they tend to get the bigger laughs.

Wallace: Having the mindset that any and everything around you is a potential bit. Just be in the moment. You could be at work, home, Taco Bell… if a conversation or situation makes you and another person laugh, something’s there. I think most comics will say there best jokes “write themselves”; they were lucky enough to either remember or write down what happened and shaped it into joke form once on stage. Deadlines, being on a showcase or the minutes before an open mic… those get my adrenaline pumping and the creativity going. The positive about working with deadline is a little pressure forces me to write more because good comedy comes from producing a ton of material and finding the good jokes. The negative is I’m tempted to try jokes that I just came up with minutes before a big show, which usually do horribly. When life’s playing nice I tend go have experiences so I can have stuff to talk about on stage. If something “funny” happens to me it ends up on social media instead on stage. Talking about something fresh to me comes off as ranting and I’m no Louis Black or Bill Burr, I’ll leave that to the experts.

Similarly, describe your experiences with open mics and how important (or not) they are in how you shape a set, or incorporate new material?

Braun: Open mics are huge. Repetition is huge. It’s like practicing a golf swing at the driving range. It might be boring or painful doing the same jokes to the same roomful of comics every night for several weeks, but it’s the only way I know to hammer out a bit.

I usually have a different goal for each mic, depending where it is or what I’m working on. I use certain mics to work on stuff that’s unfinished and raw, because it’s a great chance to be on stage saying those words out loud and looking for the rhythm of a joke. Even if the audience doesn’t laugh or isn’t listening, there’s value in working through the bit with a mic in my hand and lights in my eyes.

Like a lot of comics, I use the mics at Funny Bone, Helium, and Laugh Lounge to do stronger bits that I’m at least 80% happy with. That’s partially because there’s an audience that’s there for a comedy show and you get some real world experience with a bit, and partially because I want to do well in front of people who book the clubs.

Higgins: Open mics are an important and necessary part of my process. I need to see how people will react to stuff that I think will work. I will think that something is hilarious, only to find out that the jokes needs tons of revision and tons of time in front of an audience. The most important part of an open mic, for me, is to be on stage and feel all the really uncomfortable feelings that I get while I’m onstage. I have some very serious stage fright. I need the repetition of going on stage while feeling anxious and scared and then realizing that I survived it.

Wallace: I’ve been fortunate to have the privilege to run the open mic at the Heavy Anchor (The Comedy Shipwreck). Having that stage time every week allows me to not only work on jokes but allows me to have a stage presence that you have to learn from experience. Testing material with multiple crowds is very important in order for it to work on any given night. At one point, St. Louis had an open mic on every night of the week and that was when I had the most growth as a comic.

Do your sets involve topical humor, i.e. based on the news, politics, current events or “now” pop culture? Or do you enjoy working with more evergreen types of material?

Braun: I mostly stay away from political or topical humor, which is a shame because if there’s one thing the world needs, it’s another middle aged white guy giving his opinions on hot button issues!

But I don’t write political jokes because it’s so hard to do it in an original fashion. How many more ways are there to make fun of Donald Trump?

Comedy has to have a point of view, and it’s hard to find a unique take on topical issues. I love comics who can do political humor and do it well- the ones who can find that joke that’s not already been done 100 times and make you laugh regardless of whether you agree with them. I just lack that ability, so I stay away from it.

I tend to stick to stuff about my self, my family, relationships, things that I’ve experienced, or things that I think are odd in the world. There’s always some element of me in there.

Higgins: I will throw a current events joke in the mix every once in a while, but I stay the heck out of politics. We get enough of that nonsense on social media. Sometimes I will drop a quick bit in if it’s something that happened very recently, but it’s not planned and will just be off the top of my head.

Wallace: I’m a mixture of both. I have some jokes that are about family and relationships which never get old but I’ll change tags to reflect what’s trending. I admire comics that can joke about current events. I hope to be one of those comics one day.

Any recollections of your first set? Went smoothly? Better left in the past? What stands out weeks, months, years later?

Braun: My first set was a success in that I lived through it, even though I wasn’t funny and I had to force the words out of my mouth.

The thing that really stands out in my mind from that first mic was that certain comics made it a point to be helpful and encouraging. Specifically, Chad Wallace, Cameron Keys, and that night’s host, Ryan Dalton. I’m eternally grateful to them.

Higgins: My first four-minute set was at an open mic. It’s been about four years since that dreadful night. I had been attending mics for months, just to watch, trying to size up the scene and get my nerve up. I worked and worked on my four minutes for quite a few weeks. I thought my jokes were top-notch hilarious work. I quickly discovered that I knew nothing about writing jokes or delivering them I’ll never forget the awkward and uncomfortable laughs I got that night. I am cringing and breaking out in hives just reliving that moment.

Wallace: My first set was at the Westport Funny Bone open mic and I didn’t bomb! I got some solid laughs and left feeling accomplished. What stood out was the preparation. I put a weeks worth of writing into that set and it set the tone that you have to work hard to get a quality finished product.

If given the choice, would you prefer to: deliver a technically solid, polished, rehearsed, all-cylinders-firing set to a middling-into-it audience; or would rather offer up a loose, spontaneous, messy, circus-wire performance to an appreciative audience?

Braun: I want them laughing. I’m all about audience approval, so in the moment I’ll take the messy set to an audience that loves it.

When I listen back to the set the next day, I hate myself because even though they were laughing, I might have messed up a punchline or rambled too much on a setup, or some other technical thing that irritates me. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m bound to hate my performance no matter what, so at least let them laugh.

Higgins: My brain tells me that the safer choice would be to have a very solid, polished set. My anxiety definitely would choose a well-rehearsed, polished set, as well. But my heart would choose a loose, improv, tons of crowd work kind of set. My favorite ,and some of my best sets, are those that include spontaneous interactions with audience members and reactions to things happening in the room. That kind of set can be terrifying because of the unknown, but can be the most rewarding for me.

Wallace: First starting out, I was that well-rehearsed, stick-to-the-script, word-for-word guy, but as I became more comfortable on stage the looser my sets became. You never know what type of crowd you’ll get, so it pays to be able to adapt to the crowd.

The set’s over. People are milling around the room. What’s the best way to compliment a performer’s set? What’s the best comment that you’ve heard of late, whether it be a compliment or a smart observation? How much do you wanna hear from patrons, as opposed to other performers?

Braun: The best compliment to me is always, “You were really funny.” If they mention something specific that struck a chord with them personally, even better.

Higgins: Even though it’s often hard to hear compliments and I often feel very awkward while on the receiving end of one, I still need that validation at times. I think a good way to compliment someone on their set is to tell them one thing that you really liked about it. Or tell them which joke made them pee pee in their pantaloons. The best comment I’ve heard recently was from Christine Compas. She said, “When you are just being your authentic self on stage that’s when you really shine.” It was such a beautiful compliment because isn’t that what we all want?

Wallace: Best compliments are the simple ones: “I had a good time.” “You’re funny.”or the ultimate ” I laughed so hard I farted. Best comment of late was “You told the absolute truth” I did a set about being single and he related with every viewpoint I had. I don’t mind hearing from patrons because they’re our customers and their feedback gives me the opportunity to get better connecting with the audience.

When are your next, planned public performances?

Braun: I’ll be at Kool Beanz in Granite City, IL on July 7, and in The Legacy Room at Reinhardt Circle in Jefferson City on July 14; I’m doing History Schmistory on July 22; and on July 31, I’m headlining at Jackson Street BrewCo in Perryville, MO.

Higgins: July 5 at 8 pm Helium/ Funniest Person Semi-Finals; July 7 & 14, at 10pm, Improv Shop for an improvised kids show not for kids; July 25, Funny Bone Showcase.

Wallace: Each and every Monday, I host “The Comedy Shipwreck open mic” at the Heavy Anchor at 10 pm. On Friday, July 13, I have the Nothing Special About 43 birthday show at Heavy Anchor, feat. Chris Cyr, Christine Compas, Tony Gardiner and JC Sibala.


Chris Denman Discusses We Are Live’s New Thursday Comedy Show

The Southtown Pub, or more specifically, the affiliated Nano Pub (located just one door down on South Kingshighway), is now home to a weekly comedy event, compliments of We Are Live. The radio show, podcast and production company is featuring a blend of styles and approaches to the weekly, Thursday night gig, with a classic, three-standup lineup the rule over the first couple of weeks.

Ala this Thursday, May 10, when the WAL Thursday Night Comedy lineup will include: Larry Greene, Bobby Jaycox and Angela Smith.

Travis Terrell (left) and Chris Denman (right). Provided by We Are Live!

We typed back-and-forth with one of the We Are Live principals, Chris Denman, who hosts the daily WGNU program with Travis Terrell. He gives us the scoop on the event, itself, the scope and mission of We Are Live and, to conclude things, a doggone long list of his favorite local performers.

What’s your elevator pitch about We Are Live, as an overall brand? To what degree do you feel that live shows are a needed component of that overall brand?

We Are Live! is a growing entertainment and media brand that includes morning radio, podcasts, event management, content creation, promotion, and regular live comedy shows. Live shows are important for growth, I believe. We’re not big enough to just hang our hat on being a morning radio show in Saint Louis, and we are fans of a live experience being part of who and what we are. We are so lucky to have a great group of listeners, friends, and regular attendees that spread the word when we’re involved with something. If that didn’t exist, I would feel much different about the work, stress, and financial backing live events require. I feel like its a tangible way for us to say thank you to people for enjoying our radio show or podcasts. Once things settle down a bit, we’ll be doing more regular live performances through live podcasts and comedy shows, outside of putting them on. I was told by an executive, who formerly worked at Williams Morris Endeavors, that his client has grown from live shows that people enjoy, I’ve taken that to heart. The particular conversation I’m referencing really gave me faith in some of the shows we’d done and plan on doing for live audiences.

When planning on producing a new, standing, weekly showcase, what are your needs, exactly? Obviously, a room with chairs and access to beer, but, beyond that, what types of elements are you looking for, re: vibe, feel, etc.?

Honestly, for me and where we are at as a business, location is vital. Southtown Pub is somewhere people that like us and like to have fun will go if you provide them with something interesting to do; maximum effort is still required, but its less of a sell to someone. In Saint Louis your event, show, fundraiser, etc. isn’t always competing with some other show that is similar, you’re competing with a professional baseball team that draws 40k people downtown on a Tuesday or even competing with their neighborhood bar’s specials. Creating something that people feel is worth their time is really important. Additionally, working with a partner like Sam Ruby at Southtown, who is genuinely excited about using the space as an exciting piece to expand their offering to the public is super important to me, personally. If you have someone who half-asses their commitment to you, doesn’t do their end of the promotion necessary, or does not truly believe in it themselves, I do not have time to waste on something that isn’t being given the proper attention. So, it’s important to establish upfront that although we’re putting something together, the bar has a few things that are important they’ll need to accomplish also. We’re putting our best effort out there to make sure the show is well attended and staking our reputation on the comics that are booked, may sound cheesy, but its tough to beat a good team effort.

Going weekly: that’s ambitious. Who is curating this series? Yourself? Yourself and others? Any worries having a deep enough bench here to keep each show fresh and varied?

It definitely is! It’s a ton of work, but I think once everything is lined out, we’ll have four different shows, potentially with three different folks running them. We will maintain two Thursdays out of the month with two slightly different show concepts. Chris Cyr and JC Sibala will be taking one of the Thursday’s for what will surely be a very entertaining regular gig. I’m contemplating a few different show ideas with a couple of others that we’re not quite sure on just yet. So far I have put most of everything together, but my co host/business partner Travis Terrell will be taking on more of a creative role as we roll out the final set of shows, and a few other folks pitching in. Its really impressive how much everyone wants to help; I’m looking forward to it. As far as worried… no, I am not; this is something we’re really passionate about, and I tend to get pretty hard-headed about things I really care about, so there won’t be any lack of trying thats for sure. I do think its important to keep things fresh, but I also think there is such a growing pool of comics and comedic talent here that if we work hard and stay creative ourselves, we’ll be more than fine. Additionally, I’m proud of the network we continue to build. While The Nano Pub is a smaller space, the right-size talent that has an off day, or is looking to book a last-minute show, we’ll be that home as well. After doing two nights of our roast tournament there last year with full crowds both nights, I really think we have the ability to keep it unique and eventually a bit of a destination.

And not to make this piece a collection of worries, but is there any sense of saturation in the market? In essence, when planning something like this, how aware are you of the other indie shows taking place around town?

Comedy feels like its booming and if it bursts; St. Louis won’t feel it until five years after, right? There are several clubs, countless bars, and so many great venues that allow people to get up and do their thing. I think the way to avoid saturation is to know who you’re asking to come to your shows. While we are small compared to a large FM radio station or even a traditional powerhouse AM radio station, we still have an audience we bring to the table that enjoys our events and isn’t necessarily familiar at all with the comedians we will book. If I was attempting to get the same 100 people to come out each Thursday, I feel that would end up being a failed venture. Opening up the doors to new audience members each week is key and will continue to be our goal. Asking people to bring a friend who’s never been and making sure everyone has a fun time so they come back, that’s the key. Reminding people who tune into our radio show when we have a popular athlete or columnist on them in the morning, that “Hey we’ve also got this cool comedy show we’re putting on, you trust our judgment, you listen to us for three hours every morning, oh and hey you get discounts on Urban Chestnut Beers… come out and kick it for a bit.” I think ultimately, yes, we will have regular visitors who just enjoy the vibe of the place and the quality of comics that are there. But, I’ll constantly be marketing to new sets of eyes and ears to make sure we have a fresh turnover of new people enjoying Thursdays in South City.

Without getting you into trouble through omissions, who are some of your favorite STL-based comics right now? What about them catches your attention?

I’m gonna list too many for you to use, but man I’m being honest. I love seeing all these people just get better and better; 99% of people I’ve had the pleasure of booking on our shows, I’m fans of in some capacity. Here’s a way-too-long list of talented people.

* Libbie Higgins, the way she makes people realize they have an aunt or a neighbor that does exactly what she’s describing is priceless.
* Duke Taylor, who makes me smile really really big when he’s on stage. The dude is just up there enjoying it.
* Rafe Williams, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen versions of his sets, and I laugh every damn time. I want him to be a huge star, I think he’s an amazing representative of the comedy scene and what’s good (and highly talented) about it. He can work a room full of corporate folks from West County or a small room with a more indie rock feel to the crowd.
* Bobby Jaycox, he tricks people. They’re like hey there’s this guy I’d like my daughter to date on stage, he’s not gonna say anything surprising… then bam!, you’re doubled over because he’s making fun of children from Jefferson County.
* Tim Convy, he puts his writing talents and stage ownership to amazing use. He’s got this smug look on his face and hits you with just the right amount of obvious with a well thought out joke.
* Chris Cyr, the man has the perfect amount of faux pas that almost makes you cringe, he adds that into a meandering story that keeps everyone super-interested. I said this before we worked together, I think he gets 20% funnier every time I see him.
* Tina Dybal, she has gotten so effective at being descriptive and tells you exactly how the night is gonna go. You’re gonna laugh and think about the exact situations she describes as it pertains to your life, friends, and experiences.
* Nathan Orton, easily one of my favorites. Self-deprecating tone while you’re still looking at him like “this guy thinks he’s smarter than me, doesn’t he?” I genuinely love how he can work a white or black room. He does such a great job of getting an audience to enjoy him and I respect that as someone who enjoys different types of rooms or comedic experiences.
* Angela Smith, she targeted me with a joke where she flipped a Ghandi joke into my sexual preferences with women. She can write the hell out of a joke.
* Larry Greene, I’ve seen him twice, he reels you in and you feel stupid if you’re not enjoying the hell out of what he’s saying.
* Matt Wayman , so calm on stage and he uses that to his advantage, I love his delivery and he almost walks the audience to a big laugh. They’re like ‘”hey we’re here!!’
* Kenny Kinds, who makes everyone laugh, all he has to do is shake his head in disappointment at himself. He’s the perfect “too tired to deal with your BS” comic.
* Jon Venegoni – I mean this in the best way possible, he’s like Michelangelo from the Ninja Turtles just bonged a beer and is here to eat pizza and make you laugh, and he’s all out of pizza.
* Spencer Tegtmeyer, his style is great. Really enjoy his timing. Also, when he makes the crowd realize they’re being hypocritical or ridiculous for groaning at one of his more biting one liners.


Q/A with Chris Ward of KDHX’s loudQUIETloud

Local man discusses his radio program and personal amusements.

loudQUIETloud was okayed when? And aired when, for the first time? How long had you been in queue for show? Had you been doing a lot of fill-ins?

My first official show was March 10, 2014. Here is what I played. I had first subbed for Ryan Heinz on Coin Operated Radio, may it rest in peace, at the old Magnolia Avenue Studio, while I was also Director of Marketing. I did a demo and put in an application. Once we made the big jump to Grand Center, the then-executive director called me aside to let me know I would finally have my own show. That was on a Friday. “I won’t let you down!” I distinctly said, no joke. Like a too-eager, rosy-cheeked Jimmy Olsen. I was over the moon. Then I was fired the following Monday morning as marketing director. But I kept my radio show, and have been doing it ever since.

Your background prior to KDHX? You came here specifically for a gig at the station, yes?

I moved to St. Louis in 2011, specifically to be interviewed for the marketing director job. Having zero experience, I was a perfect fit. My background was in print media: I was a staff writer and editor at Wizard Magazine and ToyFare Magazine, before they folded and/or became Robot Chicken. I also wrote a pretty well-received Barack Obama comic book biography. It sold 10,000 copies and I made $200. I was also a Certified Pharmacy Technician in Springfield, IL where I worked around narcotics, and I then worked at Jimmy John’s where I worked around narcotics before I got the job at KDHX.

Shows are curated in myriad ways, from pluck-off-the-shelf-the-night-of- types to those who have every second planned out. Where’s yours fall on that continuum?

I used to plan every single show out in a spreadsheet down to the second. Now that I’m comfortable on air, I never do that. The ideal show is to wing it completely and go where my mood takes me. In a live show in front of a crowd, you can read the audience and play off them. But I’m playing to the vacuum of space. I have no idea what’s landing and what’s not. And it sort of doesn’t matter. I hope that it causes someone to feel something, I don’t necessarily care what. I have had people tell me “when you played that song or said that thing, that’s exactly what I needed.” I’ve had people tell me “quick fucking talking.” I’ve had people say “You don’t talk enough.” I just want to put on a show, as opposed to just having a show. It’s FM radio in 2018, it’s like “whadda ya got for me?” Put on a great show, you know? There are a million options to do anything else. I’m at 11pm on a Monday, for Christ’s sake — take it or leave it. That’s my perspective. I’d rather be the best or fail spectacularly, there’s no reason to be audio driftwood or background noise. I just go into it feeling that, whatever I do, it might be what someone needs to hear at that time and resonate — whether it’s funny, or depressing, or earnest, or annoying, or irritating. A guy told me “I love listening because it’s like a train is about to go off the tracks at any second and I don’t know when.” That’s the balance I try to strike. A weird thing that has happened is I have extreme social anxiety now because of being so “on” in that way. There is almost never a time when I want to be at some public function, when I used to all the time. I used to love it, and now I super don’t. That could be my age, too. I get very freaked out and it’s a huge source of stress. I’m very much an introverted extrovert, which I didn’t know was even a thing until I learned about it and was like “AHHHH… yep. That’s it.” I think if someone who only knew me from the show met me, they’ve have a very different impression of me. Also, I never want someone to meet me. I just want to be at home.

What guests have appeared on the show and still register with you, in terms of how their appearances went? Which is to ask: who are your memorable guests and why?

Guests are weird, because … I don’t know. It’s hard for me to find a rhythm with guests on my show to play off each other in a natural way. Occasionally, someone will click. Jeremy Essig gets it, because he does a lot of radio shows and he’s a professional. Allen P. Williams is one of my favorite guests, and is hilarious and absurd. This is going to sound biased, by my girlfriend Melanie drops by occasionally and we play off each other really, really well. Like in a Howard Stern/Robin Quivers kind of way. She’s amazing. I do miss doing in-studios with bands, it’s been a while. I liked Cloud Nothings, David Bazan, Kishi Bashi, and Alec Ounsworth from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. We were able to goof around and they really got it. I hate interviews where it’s like “what artists inspire you?” I would rather argue about the best Frosty at Wendy’s. No one gives a shit about your music writing method. That’s not good radio. Getting angry about ice cream is good radio.

Your show seems to veer on interesting plane, in which it could operate as more of a standard, play-some-tunes show, or it could be a bonkers, sound experiment. Understand that you’ve had conversations with the station about where that fine line might exist. How do you ride that line?

To the station’s credit, they get it. They get what I’m doing and they’ve said as much. They’ve been really kind. And if my hand has been slapped, I try to be respectful if I feel I’ve earned it. I’ve been salaried staff there before, and I know what it’s like to try to keep KDHX running…the last thing I want to do is give them a headache for no reason. They get that it’s a show I’m putting on. I’m doing bits. It’s rooted in sincerity, but I’m doing a character, to an extent. I’m doing radio. Anyone who knows radio history knows I’m just ripping off Howard Stern, or Bob Reuter, or Phil Hendrie, or National Lampoon anyway. I’ll NEVER be those guys. They’re the best there will ever be. So I idolize and channel the spirit of what they do, and then I just try to be authentic to myself. It got bad when Trump was elected, I was relentless with screaming about him for weeks, and a guy called and said “I’m not going to give you money anymore if you insult our president” and I said “good, fuck you.” And hung up. And some people DID pull their funding dollars because of the relentless Trump bashing. But just as many people joined the monthly giving club because of it. You don’t have to listen to my show, you can just listen to another show. There are like 80 to pick from. That’s the beauty of KDHX. There was a concern at one point by management that I was being too divisive, because our mission is to build community through media. But my thought is… whose community? My community, the people I love in my audience I know are listening, are under attack, the way I see it. That’s the community I want to build and support — weirdos like me. This is our two hours to be weird. This is our two hours to say “fuck you” if we want. Or to say “here is an extended slide whistle solo, because today was a good day.” I like the manic nature of it. I was definitely told at one point “we love what you do…we want you to go right up to the line, but not cross it.” Well, “where is the line?” I asked. “We don’t know,” they said. Then we just sort of looked at each other. So that’s the rub. The average Howard Stern hater listens twice as long because they want to say what he’ll say next. It’s a show. It’s entertainment. Unlike Jaime Allman, I don’t drink my own Kool-Aid and become the embodiment of my own sad caricature. It’s a bit, but at the same time I won’t bullshit you either. I’m also maybe one of the few DJs who was a broadcasting major, and I’m not saying that to sound arrogant but to say I have a deep respect for the medium. And you have to know what the limitations are to play within them. “The devil knows the Bible like the back of his hand,” sort of thing. The Bible being the radio rules and regs. But I love that, because without something to push against there’s no creative challenge. Is it illegal to play a song called “Assassinate the President”? Actually no. Is it in bad taste? Depends on who you are I guess. And I didn’t write that song. I’m not saying those things. It’s on Spotify, and it meets their terms and conditions. Don’t shoot the guy pressing play. Don’t shoot any guys, for that matter. We’re just putting on a profoundly stupid show here by design. Maybe don’t think about it so hard. Maybe if I’m getting under your skin, that’s on you.

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What are your other favorite shows on the station and what about them do it for you?

I’m not just trying to bullshit, but just about every show has something so special I wish I could bottle forever. I know that is sappy. The entire station means so much to me. My friend Scott and I still text each other, randomly, “It’s 4 O Clock on a Blursday” though they, sadly, stopped their show. And we probably always will. Every show has these little iconic things about it that are just part of my life forever. But let me narrow in on one: C-Sides with Rick Comello. And here’s why. Rick is on after me every Monday at 1 am. One of the most positive people I’ve ever met. When I’m leaving, he’s coming in 1 am to 3 am. It’s really weird to form an actual friendship based on the 5-minutes a week we’re switching over shifts. And that’s all we see each other. But I look forward to it every single week. And not once has Rick played a song I know. The names of the bands, and the songs, are the most batshit insane thingsyou’ve ever heard. “Sleepytime Gorilla Music.” What the fuck is that? I’m just in awe of his devotion to a generally thankless time slot, and the kind of person he is, especially since he has a really early morning job! I work in the morning, too, and it’s not easy after that shift. I’m like “How do you do it man?” And Rick says “Oh, I just call it ‘Tired Tuesdays’.” Like…really? You just give it a silly name and that gets you through work the next day?? Guy is incredible. The next pledge drive that comes around, show a little love to those Dead of Night guys. Because they’re wonderful human beings.

As I don’t know: what kinds of performance have you engaged in? Bands, yes. Any improv or standup or storytelling? (Have seen you at Sorry, Please…,  but figure there are some/many things I’ve missed.) In short, your stage experiences over time have included: ___?

I think I was on the very first “Sorry, Please Continue” at Foam, which was then called something terrible I can’t remember…you’ll have to ask Jeremy Hellwig, Kenny Kinds, and Kris Wernowsky. I think I might have suggested they should just call it “Sorry, Please Continue” because they kept saying that during the show. I can’t verify that, or remember it too well. But I definitely said “this is like the Moth Radio Hour meets Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and that description stuck. I’ve done a few of those shows, and I’m never a good guest. I’ve guested on the best show in North America, which is Fatal Bus Accident. People should know it’s a fucking honor to be on that show. I was terrible on it, but I was so nervous because it’s so wildly beyond anything I’ve seen before. For a few years, I did a show with Jeremy Essig called “Loser: A Live Action Game Show” at the Heavy Anchor, which was very loud and very stupid and annoying. Those are all things that just don’t come naturally to me, so we retired it. I’ve tried stand up, and I ain’t great at it. Stand Up is the kind of thing where, like, if I worked at it really hard I might be able to pull it off and be good. I don’t mean that in a snobbish way like “Oh, I could do that.” But I mean I really feel like I could if I put in the work. But I don’t want to work at it. I don’t want to go to open mics and have social anxiety for 40 minutes and bomb in front of 10 people for seven years. Stand Up is fucking hard, and I admire anyone who puts that work in and gets up there but it just stresses me the fuck out. I’m also obsessed with stand up, and the history of comedy so it’s, like, who am I to have the ego to say “I can run with that crowd, and be that good some day.” That’s like “my band is gonna make it!” You’re not. You’re not gonna make it. It I’m better at writing, and I enjoy it more. I know my wheelhouse. I don’t need another thing I have to work at that stresses me out. But when the time comes that comedy demands another white man’s unique perspective on life, I might get a tight 5 together.

Lightning round:
A book to read: Wayside Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
A magazine that you still pick up in print: Cat Fancy
A national comedian who makes you laugh: Norm MacDonald. Always Norm.
A recent scandal that bums you out: What’s this shit about “no added sugar” to Capri Suns???
A recipe: Toast an Eggo Waffle. Put a Snickers Ice Cream Bar in the middle. Fold it. Take a bite like a taco. Don’t ever tell me pot hasn’t ever brought genius ideas into the world.

Which reminds me: what’s this about you and pizza?

I have a strictly underground pizza operation that will soon be public. You’ll know when you know.


7 Questions for Randy Cash, Meredith Hopping and Ben Johnson

Each month, we’ll feature a formatted, seven-question Q/A with a variety of St. Louis standup performers, from those just breaking into the artform, to those who’ve taken their talents on the road. Look for these conversations on/around the first of the month, as they did in a previous incarnation at stlmag.com. (See end of story for prior e-conversations). Our first crop of participants in this new setting include: with Randy Cash, Meredith Hopping and Ben Johnson.

What types of mindset are ideal for creating good comedic bits? Do you work best with deadlines? Do you writing under pressure? Or do you work more productively when life’s playing nice? Have you worked something that’s happened that day into a set?

Cash: I haven’t been doing stand-up for very long. So I don’t feel a lot of pressure. I try to make notes of anything that I think is funny and people may relate to. Then I’ll try working it out at home to see if it goes anywhere. My neighbor probably thinks that I am a psychopath because I tell the same joke over and over to my couch as I pace my living room. I played music and did comedy/talk radio for many years. The creative process within the different mediums is relatively similar. When the creativity is flowing, it’s flowing. When it’s not, it’s not. And when it’s not flowing, I don’t try to force it. And, yes, I have worked something into a set that happened to me on that particular day. During a very personal and private moment, the image of Donald Trump kept popping into my head and I could not shake it. Not the best time to be thinking of The Donald.

Hopping: The thing that has continuously served me well when it comes to creation of bits, is noting the extraordinary in the ordinary, as trite as that sounds. Every single moment, of every single day, has the potential to be a bit. And in that, I can find a lot of redemption or peace from experiences. Ones that might have been mortifying are heartbreaking, can have a sliver of humor or joy if looked at closely enough, and once that’s shared with other people, and brings them laughter, nothing better.

Writer’s Bloc, which is something Helium offers, allows me the chance to go over jokes, refine them, and also be challenged right before an open mic to try something in a different way.

I’m trying to get better about doing my “morning papers”. This is something Comedian Greg Warren shared at a workshop he put on at the Funnybone. It’s a way to have a “brain dump” if you will. A way to get it all out and take a look at your experiences and your thoughts and figure out what can be crafted into material. If it’s good enough for Greg Warren, my goodness it’s good enough for me!!! I have to set up deadlines for myself, or it won’t happen. I’m still learning as a person, and a woman in this world, that it’s okay to want to create something just for myself, for my enjoyment, and not because someone else says I have to. I think that’s going to be a lifelong lesson, but it’s very rewarding to be able to apply that thought to my writing in regards to comedy.  I once worked in an experience from that day into an open mic set at The Improv Shop. I just kinda jumped out there not knowing what I was going to say, because it’s a place I feel safe to do that. It. Did. Not. Work. And now I know that isn’t best for me, or for the audience/my peers.

Johnson: The best mindset for me to write something I like is happy and confident unfortunately. I don’t thrive under pressure so much as when an idea really has its teeth in me. Much prefer life playing nice. When I feel bogged down by worry I feel like those thoughts are eating up all my good thinking space. And when I try to write about the worry it’s usually a long-winded and tedious bummer.

Similarly, describe your experiences with open mics and how important (or not) they are in how you shape a set, or incorporate new material?

Randy Cash

Cash: Open mic night is currently where I am getting my stage time.  I’m still learning how to construct a joke for the stage. I’m learning very quickly how a joke that kills in one room will bomb in another.  I think open mic night is a great way to get immediate feedback on material, as well as working on the pace and flow of your material. And how to bomb (LOL). You can never have enough experience. The only way to get better at something is to get out there and actually do it.

Hopping: The repetition is what I have found to be so vital. I went on my “Home-School Mom Spring Break” as I titled it, and was in Chicago for a week. I was able to do shows five nights in a row, and the discovery of new things was invaluable. It was so exciting to come home to St. Louis with what I had added/edited. In St. Louis, I try to hit at minimum two open mics a week. If I didn’t have a family I would attempt to be on a mic every night. I’m excited because there’s a new one at Bar 101 that will be on Thursdays at 9 PM. So I can tuck everyone into bed (including my introvert husband with his favorite theology book), and then go to the mic. Even on those two nights I want to steward my time, and learn the most I can from whatever mic or show I’m on, because that’s still a choice we’ve made as a family for me to be away from them. But that’s what loving husbands, and children do. They see that this makes me come alive and that I’m passionate about it, and so they want to support me in it. We were at a playdate at the Butterfly House with another family a few weeks ago, and my seven year old turned to me, and said “It’s Tuesday, I take it you’ll be heading to The Funnybone this evening?” Open Mic’s have become a part of the whole family’s rhythm and I’m so thankful for that.

Do your sets involve topical humor, i.e. based on the news, politics, current events or “now” pop culture? Or do you enjoy working with more evergreen types of material?

Cash: Both. Currently, my favorite bit to do is Fifty Shades of Greitens. I can’t write down the jokes fast enough. I want to eventually incorporate more social commentary into my act with situations like these.

Hopping: I love incorporating pop culture. But also figuring out, what are those universal themes that I know can hit with any audience. Oftentimes, if I use a current pop culture reference, I’ll figure out how to tie it in with a historical reference, so that I’m hitting as many age demographics as I can. It’s not fun if the audience doesn’t know what you’re referring to!

Ben Johnson

Johnson: I feel like all the topical subject matter gets picked over by so many shows and so many writer’s rooms full of professional comedians that its best to just leave that to them. I like seeing what new and interesting ideas or observations standup can bring to the table. If I say anything topical it’s usually brief and off hand.

Any recollections of your first set? Went smoothly? Better left in the past? What stands out weeks, months, years later?

Cash: I remember verbatim the first joke that I told on stage. It was completely improvised. It was actually just a random thought that I happen to blurt out into the microphone. I think I was very fortunate because my first few performance had great crowds and went really well. I got a lot of laughs. Then I did the same material in a room full of nothing but comics and I bombed horribly. If there are people in attendance that came to see comedy, I will do my act. If it is a room full of comics, I will take a lot of chances and do new material. I try to film everything and learn from each minute of stage time I am fortunate enough to have. I am having a fabulous time and very much enjoying the experience of learning how to cultivate a joke. The one thing I have noticed is I am very comfortable on stage. Maybe a little too comfortable.

Hopping: I am so thankful I have it on video. It’s like a cherished memory I think I will always go back to. Could it have been better? Maybe. But I didn’t know yet how to make it better. It’s a fine line between dwelling in the “what if/what went wrong” and not caring about how you did. That can consume you if you aren’t careful. One of the ways I’ve grown as a person through comedy is learning to have grace for myself. I’m a creative perfectionist. OOFTAH. It’s been a lifelong struggle, and comedy has forced me to deal with it. If I didn’t have grace/wasn’t kind with myself after a rough set, I wouldn’t be able to get back up the next night, and do it again!

Johnson: I was drilling my jokes into my head the whole way there and did ok. My second set I walked in cocky, with a chip on my shoulder, did the same jokes, bombed, and was so shaky I ran into table getting off stage. Years later mostly wondering why I was wearing sweatpants both those first two times.

[This post brought to you by The Royale Food & Spirits. Tickets for the annual Derby Party are available at the bar today, for our biggest party of the year, featuring multiple screens of Kentucky Derby action, St. Louis’ best mint juleps and music by the Derby Dusters. Please continue reading our content.]

If given the choice, would you prefer to: deliver a technically solid, polished, rehearsed, all-cylinders-firing set to a middling-into-it audience; or would rather offer up a loose, spontaneous, messy, circus-wire performance to an appreciative audience?

Cash: Loose and spontaneous. I think my biggest problem right now is I am hyper focused on the amount of stage time I have and not being completely relaxed and focused on my material. I get better at it each time I get on stage.

Johnson: I’d say the first option is more indicative of putting in work off stage and the second sounds like an indulgent performance so I’d say the first option. I’ve noticed since starting the people who are doing the off stage X’s and O’s generally get further.

The set’s over. People are milling around the room. What’s the best way to compliment a performer’s set? What’s the best comment that you’ve heard of late, whether it be a compliment or a smart observation? How much do you wanna hear from patrons, as opposed to other performers?

Cash:  I am just honest with the person and tell them what I enjoyed about their act. There are a lot of really funny people in this town. A lot. The most complementary thing a comic has said to me was, “I wish I had thought of that line.”  I welcome constructive feedback from other comics. And I love feedback from patrons because they are the ones that actually pay to see people tell jokes.

The best is “I laughed so hard” or if they are laughing just at the sight of you, because it makes them remember how they felt! How thrilling! To have made that much of an impact, to have brought someone some levity in this crazy, crazy, world. In Chicago a couple came up to me and said “You aren’t really a Mom of three though, right? You’re too pretty to be a Mom. . .” I was both honored and offended at the same time! What does a “Mom” look like? Bah! When I stepped back from it, I realized, what a privilege to be able to shake up someone’s ideas of how things should look/be!

They are two very different things, and both are essential. I need patrons to tell me they enjoyed it (or didn’t), because that’s honest feedback that has nothing to do with their history with me. We don’t have a relationship, they don’t have expectations. I want to hear how people who have no idea what comedy even is experienced it, and also how avid comedy fans took it. Without those people there to laugh (or not), there isn’t a point. I want to always take the time to listen if someone feels like giving me their time.

That applies to fellow performers. They begin to know you, they become your friends, your sounding boards. They can say “the part in that set, could go really great as a tag in this set”, or “I know you might be upset with how that went, but I’ve seen you kill that joke before, shake it off”. Does unsolicited advice/opinion come sometimes? Sure. But if I start to get the same comment from multiple fellow comedians, even if I think it’s off base, it’s time to look at it.

Johnson: Shake my hand in front of somebody else on the show then give the other performer a real dismissive over the shoulder look. Or whatever bit made you think the most and what it made you think. But I’m not picky. Just love me. I’m desperate.

When are your next, planned public performances?

Cash: You will probably see me looming at most of the open mics. I’m trying to get out to as many as I can. I am in the Helium, as well as the Funny Bone Comedy competitions. However, I’m still waiting for my dates. I’m on Instagram and Twitter @rcashcomedy. I will post those dates there as soon as I get them.

Hopping: 5/2, Open Mic at Helium:  5/17, Yours Mine and Ours at Gezellig (every third Thursday); 6/10, Comedy Penthouse at Brennan’s.

Johnson: I’ll be performing on the first Loose Meat sketch show Wednesday May 2, at 9pm at the Heavy Anchor. May 4 at the Improv Shop 8pm I’ll be doing improv with two other standup/improviser hybrid people. On May 5, I’ll be in Cape Girardeau, Cup N’ Cork at 7pm.


Previous installments, via STLmag.com, circa 2017:

January: Carolyn Agnew, Rima Parikh, Angela Smith

February: Sarah Bursich, Kenny Kinds, Stryker Spurlock

March: Tina Dybal, Justin Luke, Ken Warner

April: Eric Brown, Ella Fritts, JC Sibala

May: Yale Hollander, Kelsey McClure, Tree Sanchez

June: Ryan Dalton, Jamie Fritz, Sam Lyons

July: Andrew Frank, Sarah Pearl, Rob Tee

August: Katie Davis, Brian McDowell, Duke Taylor