Flyover Comedy Festival Performer Profile: Jon Venegoni

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to show you some of the great performers who’ll be walking the boards of the stages in The Grove for Flyover Comedy Festival.

This morning, have a cup of coffee with Jon Venegoni. Jon has been a mainstay of the St. Louis Comedy scene, both in comedy clubs and on the independent scene, since 2010. He’s one of the creative powerhouses behind, Fatal Bus Accident and has opened for the likes of The Sklars, Greg Fitzsimmons, and John Witherspoon.

What are you looking forward to most at the festival this year?

The pie eating contest! Is this questionnaire a good place to suggest that we have a pie eating contest?

When/where are you performing at the festival?

Fatal Bus Accident on Thursday at Improv Shop and then I’m hosting a showcase on Friday in the small room.

Give us your social media information!

Twitter @jonvenegoni
Instagram @jonvenegoni

It’s Halloween season, so……did you wear a costume? What was it?

Yes-I was Cat Jesus. I had an old Jesus costume and some cat ears and one thing led to another.

Do you even lift?

Yes- I’ve been lifting spirits every day my whole life. (Editor’s Note: Awwww…)

Plug something. Commerce will save us all!

You’re going to love Fatal Bus Accident this time. Come check it out.

See Jon and all of the other comics joining him at Flyover Comedy Invasion November 8 – November 10 in the Grove.  Wristbands for the entire festival are on sale now.  Buy yours today!

Flyover Comedy Festival Performer Profile: Spark Tabor

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to show you some of the great performers who’ll be walking the boards of the stages in The Grove for Flyover Comedy Festival.

Where starting with one of our favorites. Visiting us from Cincinnati, Ohio is Spark Tabor. He’s a two time winner of the Funniest Person in Cincinnati, and has appeared on “Laughs” on Fox TV. In addition to Flyover, he’s been accepted into the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival in Atlanta, Limestone Comedy Festival in Bloomington, and the Women in Comedy Festival in Boston.

What are you looking forward to most at the festival this year?

I have several friends that are performing and live in the city, so seeing them will be so much fun.

When/where are you performing at the festival?

I have 3 shows at the Improv shop.

Give us your social media information!

I am @sparktabor on everything

It’s Halloween season, so…in that spirit, would you rather be covered in spiders, or live in a world without tacos?

Tacos are fine, so it wouldn’t be too hard to live without them.

Do you even lift?

I do, my friends and I do challenges to keep ourselves motivated

Plug something. Commerce will save us all!

https://www.patreon.com/SparkTabor

I put stuff on here i don’t put anywhere else, just a good way for people to support and connect with me.

See Spark and all of the other comics joining him at Flyover Comedy Invasion November 8 – November 10 in the Grove.  Wristbands for the entire festival are on sale now.  Buy yours today!

Flyover Comedy Festival – Nov. 8 – 10, 2018

We’re just 2 weeks away from Flyover Comedy Festival, St. Louis’s premiere celebration of all things comedy.  From November 8 through November 10, The Grove will become a hub of laughter as local and nationally touring stand up comics, sketch comedy groups, improv groups, podcasts, and other performers take to the stages to entertain the masses.

St. Louis Independent Comedy is happy to help support the hard work of the festival’s organizers in any way we can.  So, over the next two weeks we’ll be bringing you snapshots of the performers selected from the hundreds of applicants.

So check in here each day to learn about your new favorite performers.  And,  buy a pass to the festival.  A three-day wristband only costs $40.

We’ll see you in The Grove on November 8th.

Tom Brown Discusses The South City Comedy Series

Tom Brown’s behind the popular, new(is) show at Apotheosis Comics & Lounge, a South Grand venue that’s found a surprise Saturday night hit by hosting standup comedy. We’ve asked Brown a bit about how the South City Comedy Series came to life and quickly came to find an avid, weekly audience on Saturdays.

How’d you come into the knowledge of Apotheosis as a potential venue? Are you a comics guy, who happened in and conversations emerged? What was the process? 

I am very much NOT a comics guy. I had like two comics growing up: a copy of Count Duckula and a issue of Beetle Bailey that I am pretty sure was older than me. Though, if it is Star Wars related, you can probably grab my attention.  How this came to be: I thought it would be a cool venue for a show. It is a comic book store, but it also has a bar. When I pitched the idea to the owners of the store, and they were immediately on board. Originally, this was going to be about once a month, but decided that it might actually be better weekly. It’s not a traditional bar that could replace us with a Karaoke machine or a cover band or a DJ. It’s good two-fold: for comics, a place to perform on a Saturday night; and additional revenue for the shop through the bar.

Had you previously run any shows? If so, what were they? If not, what made this a good opportunity?

 

I have been running a show at 66 Cigar out in Sunset Hills. The June show got cancelled, and that actually led to me deciding to pitch the idea to Apotheosis. I do have at least one more show booked at 66 tonight on October 12th; we will see (if it continues) after that. That has been a fun show that the comics have enjoyed being a part of. Also, way back in 2011, I was the host of a weekly improv show at Lemmon’s.

How do you go about curating a night’s event, in terms of who to ask? And let’s take a step back here and tell folks what they might expect, in the vein of how the show’s structured?

 

Right now my goal is to book three comics to do 15-20 minute sets. A few of the more “established” St. Louis comics and people who I believe deserve more opportunities to perform. I have also included two guest spots that are a little shorter, comics that I would like to see a little more of before getting them some more time. The show format is pretty basic. As host, I’ll do 5-10 minutes upfront to try and warm the crowd up, then stagger feature, guest, feature.

What makes the room special in your mind? Is there anything gained having a comedy show take place in a colorful, creative environment like this? Also, you’re doing a show in front of large, street-side windows; any interesting interactions with the passing public because of that? 

I love the fact it’s on South Grand. There are a lot of great places to go and enjoy a great meal, but not that many forms of live entertainment. I’ve literally pulled people off the street and into the show. I’ve heard a lot of, “Well, maybe after me and my friends finish our meal.” And, shockingly a lot of people have followed through on that! The most interesting interaction was Ron Finger arrived in the middle of my set… dressed as TV’s Batman (the Adam West version). I thought I was killing for a second, turned my head and it was Ron.

Are folks using this venue as a place to try out new material, or work with some of their battle-tested stuff? Any early highlights, so far, where you thought, “wow, (Performer X) really brought their A-game today?” 

It has been a combination. Like I said, Ron Finger showed up as Batman and did his set as Batman. While you’re getting a lot of the battle-tested stuff from features, we’re getting some great sets out of the guest spots. John Green really killed it a few weeks ago. Coming to this show, you’re going to see something you’ll tell your friends about at work on Monday.

What else should people know? 

The show is $5 cash at the door. It is 8pm every Saturday. There isn’t any drink or comic book purchase required (though it’s highly encouraged).
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Guest Editorial: No Stage Time For Piven – Kelsey McClure

Editor’s Note: Kelsey McClure is a comic in St. Louis, MO.  She also ran Comedy In The Lou, which once served as the only dependable source for information about the STL Comedy Scene.  She has worked with national headliners on stage, and has interviewed them for print and digital media.   Her opinions are her own. I agree that these are discussions worth having and it doesn’t do us any good to pretend these issues don’t exist. – CDC

I was able to interview T.J. Miller in 2014 before two sold out shows at The Firebird for The Riverfront Times and it was a career highlight. Never had an interview been so relaxed and light hearted. As the interview wrapped, he told me to find him at the show as he owed me a beer. I did, and with a full, warm-hearted embrace he hugged me and thanked me for the interview. I have reveled in the experience since and probably with a few drinks in, bragged that T.J. Miller knows my name.

This morning T.J. Miller taunted me and boasted that like Jeremy Piven, he too will see me in St. Louis. Rewind.

Yesterday I tweeted about a Denver open mic that shamed T.J. Miller off stage in hopes of setting an example for the debut of Jeremy Piven at Helium Comedy Club. Piven’s three-day, five-show run begins tonight. The timing is downright disastrous with the incarceration of Bill Cosby, outing of Aziz Ansari and most notably Louis CK (who has already found his way back to a stage) what comedy does not need right now is not another predator with a platform. We are also at the crux of the #BelieveWomen movement, a result of our country being neck deep in the Kavanaugh hearings. So it was not within me to sit silent and think, “gross.”

My course of action included posting on social media, a couple ugly and fierce pillow cries and reaching out to Helium Comedy Club as well as a number of news and entertainment outlets in St. Louis. T.J. Miller is an excellent comedian who too is a sexual predator because I #BelieveWomen. He is not welcome to take the stage from, while maybe not decent, but certainly less controversial comedians. Jeremy Piven, however, is not a stand up comedian which follows at a close second as to why he too is not welcome to take the stage in St. Louis. Jeremy Piven has taken to stand up when his television career bottomed out on account of the sexual assault allegations made against him. ‘Lil homie doesn’t even have an album under his belt, no Netflix Special or even a Comedy Central Half Hour. Which begs the questions, what is it he intends to do at a comedy club?

Sexual predators do not deserve a platform in St. Louis. There are eight allegations against Piven and one against Miller. Miller was also arrested for slapping an Uber driver.

I demand St. Louis continue to be a safe and productive place for comics to approach the most difficult, dark and intimidating topics on stage. If we lend our platform to predators like Jeremy Piven (and now T.J. Miller in December), we will lose what we have worked so painstakingly to create, an art form that is re-defined every time a comedian takes to a microphone.

There are no prerequisites for sexual assault. We have learned who sexual predators are and who they can become (i.e. Supreme Court Justices) and I, Kelsey McClure, a distinctively average comedian, will not stand to lend my stage to any of their sort. In my city, in St. Fucking Louis, sexual assaulters do not get a platform.

So while Piven is making his rounds on various entertainment (105.7 The Point) and news (Fox 2) platforms in St. Louis to promote his shows… Here I am, asking you, yes, you specifically, to take the lead and start a conversation. Do you #BelieveWomen and if so, what is to be done?

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.

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Tour Stop STL: Your Uncle’s Girlfriend

On Monday, June 11, the Heavy Anchor will host another edition of the weekly open mic, Comedy Shipwreck, helmed by Chad Wallace at roughly 10:00 pm. A special treat’s in store early, though, as an indie tour shares the venue with a 9 pm start time.

Dubbed Your Uncle’s Girlfriend, the tour features New Orleans comics Laura Sanders and Kate Mason. After a stop in Memphis, St. Louis’ gig will be the second on their June tour swing.

The bio for the show reads like so: “Laura and Kate grew up mere hours apart in Columbus and Pittsburgh, respectively, where they honed their loud voices, love for mushy foods, and ability to fake confidence to avoid ridicule. They met in New Orleans where together they host the beloved weekly open mic, Bear with Me, at Twelve Mile Limit. With over 15 years of stand-up, sketch, and improv comedy experience between the two of them, their credits include being featured on Fox’s LaughsTV, Limestone Comedy Festival, and Denver’s High Plains Comedy Festival. Laura’s comedy album, Oh God Please Like Me, debuted at number one on the iTunes comedy charts.”

Writing from home in NOLA, Mason notes that “this is a single tour, but we would like to do more in the future, so it could end up being a recurring one! We’ve built the tour through friendships with comics in other cities. We’re really lucky to have this network, because each show becomes like a trust fall with the local indie comedy scene. We’re so excited to see who local show producers have picked to be on the shows with us, and get to know each city’s local comics even more.

“This tour is actually a friendship anniversary for us,” she adds. “Laura moved to New Orleans in the fall of 2015. We dodged each other for as long as we could, but by June of 2016 we were unable to deny that friendship was inevitable. Laura started hosting the mic on Monday nights at Twelve Mile Limit around the time we became friends, and I jumped on board a year later.”

The pair look forward to road life.

“One thing that I think is surprising to many people,” Mason adds, “is how amazing comedy shows are in cities that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with great comedy. People tell us how impressed they are by shows in New Orleans all the time, and I think the same goes for a lot of small-mid size cities across the U.S. People are producing incredible, creative shows with fantastic talent all over the country, and you don’t need to pay a lot to see it.”

(In fact, the this Monday’s gig is a “donations accepted” affair, so open your wallet to the sum that moves you.)

Here’s Kate Mason at work:

And here’s Laura Sanders:

Everything else you need is found on Facebook.

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7 Questions with: Hillary Anger, Lucas Hinderliter & Shon Don

Our goal each month to: a) present a nice Q/A feature on three very different comedians, at varied points in their career and with unique goals; and b) to get that live on the first of the month. On the latter, we’re one day late. On the former, we struck gold, with three comics discussing their craft from very singular perspectives. Enjoy the following piece with Hillary Anger, Lucas Hinderliter and Shon Don.

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?

Anger: My best mindset is when I get triggered about something going on in my life. When this happens, I write a set straight from beginning to end, and otherwise things are sporadic and slow going. I work horribly with deadlines, both in comedy and my job. I’m a professor at Wash U., trained as a psychologist, and do research on topics about business psychology. My best comes out when I have all the time in the world, which is when ironically I work my fastest and most efficiently. Deadlines and pressure make me feel like I’m “working for the man,” so to speak. As a professor, I’m lucky not really to have a “boss.” Technically, I work for the dean, but he doesn’t know where I am at any given time or what I’m working on, so it’s very independent. It’s hard for me to write a set and perform it the same day because I try to rehearse a lot before going on stage. My best comes out when I’ve read a set out loud to myself 10 times beforehand, over the course of a couple of days. I’m basically the opposite of improvisational.

Lucas Hinderliter

Hinderliter: I think the best mindset to write comedy, for me, is after I’ve been entertained myself. After seeing a funny show or a great concert, I always feel inspired to write more and create something that will make others feel the way I just did. I don’t really write a lot about my real life. I typically just try to take common observations and situations and twist them in a way that makes them funny. And as far as deadlines, the only thing I’ve had to write under a deadline is this Q/A and, well, you see how that’s going.

Shon Don: I’m at my best creatively when I’m in a hood headspace. I wouldn’t say that I work best under pressure but I have performed well when the heat was on. When life is kicking my butt, I can come up with a good premise, but there’s a disconnect keeping me from a fully realized joke. Anytime I’ve worked the day’s goings-on into a set, it’s been freestyling and crowd work.

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

Anger: Open mics are the only viable option for material that isn’t ready for a showcase. I do mostly open mics because I’m still new to the scene. But I have young kids, and it’s hard to get out at night because most of the mics are during family time. My most frequent one is the Crow’s Nest, which is after the kids’ bedtime. Crow’s Nest is a supportive environment, but the wild card element can be intimidating because it forces you to improvise after your set.

Hinderliter: Open mics, to me, are very important. They are a great place to take risks and try stuff that you wouldn’t typically do on a booked show where the stakes are higher. The more open mics you do, the more you become confident in that risky material until it’s no longer risky, but just another joke that you know works. The open mic process in general sucks, but that’s just part of the game.

Shon Don: Open mics are awesome. I wish I could do more. I love the camaraderie, and comics interacting. It’s the gym where we go to train. Since real life keeps me from hitting more mics, I have to do a lot of formulating in my head. That leaves a lot of material that I could be shaping & working on in limbo because most jokes need to be bounced off of a crowd at a mic.

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?

Hillary Anger

Anger: My sets are intensely personal, and I don’t do anything about current events or really anything that isn’t about myself. When I started, I was worried about being “relatable.” My first mentor in comedy told me that I needed to bring the audience to me, rather than come to them. So I try to be authentic and see if anyone thinks that is funny. If they don’t, at least I had fun with it.

Hinderliter: I haven’t watched the news since my high school current events class (shout out to Mr. Bennett) like five years ago, so I don’t even know what’s topical. My jokes usually come from taking a common phrase or situation, and making them absurd.

Shon Don: Both. I like talking about race, sexual orientation & things like that. Some folks avoid talking about that stuff, so why not? I try not to do it the same ol’ same, ol’ white folks do this & black folks do that. But I feel like if there’s an elephant in the room? Hell, let’s laugh at it. Now that we’ve laughed together & de-mystified it, lets examine it. I mean, I don’t go reading the news for material, but it helps to keep a pulse on what’s going on & what’s relevant. Then on the flip side I have crazy kids & crazy family like everybody else, so lets laugh about our wacky neighbors together, too.

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

Anger: It was a shock when my first set got laughs! How addicting! The topic was crazy things I’ve done in life just to see what would happen next. The material was more raw than a lot of what I’ve done since then. Some of it was about mental illness, and I realize now that I need more space to unpack that for the audience to come with me on a journey. That said, the one time in a showcase that I took 10-minutes to unpack a long piece on depression, no one thought it was funny. But I’m still glad I did the set.

Hinderliter: My first set went alright, mostly because I was using common joke formulas and doing a lot of shock humor. Years later, I’ve gotten better at recognizing what is an original premise and what has been done before.

Shon Don: Looking back, my first set was mediocre. But at the time, it felt unbelievable. It went about as smoothly as a first set can go. I got a few laughs, way too much fat on my set-ups, but I didn’t bomb so in my mind, I was Chris Rock-funny y’know? Haha.

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?

Anger: Definitely the former. I mentioned earlier being the opposite of improvisational, and rehearsed is most comfortable for me. As for whether the audience is appreciative, that matters to me only in an ambivalent way. Comedy is never going to be my day job, and so I have an easy time disconnecting from the audience’s reaction I’m lucky already to have my dream job, being a professor, and I’m doing comedy for self-expression more than for someone else’s reaction to it. At work it’s quite the opposite. Teaching MBAs, I can be on stage for eight hours a day, sometimes five days straight, and I need positive energy in the audience to make it work.

Hinderliter: The majority of my material depends solely on the wording and delivery. Straying from the polished, rehearsed lines risks the audience not clearly understanding what I’m trying to say. I try to deliver material in a way that seems like I’m telling it for the first time but for the most part, I stick to the script.

Shon Don: I would prefer a loose-spontaneous explosive set that gets a great response. But only for the sake of the better crowd response. Essentially the question begs, would I prefer to have talent or skill. I think my skill as a student, writer, & performer outweighs my raw talent to walk onstage, say whatever comes to mind & make it instantly funny. I’ve worked at this & I want that to be appreciated. Thats why we call it a craft. At the end of the day though, its all about that crowd so if I have to go off script to get em, I will.

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?

Anger: We live in a “white lie” society, where people tend to be polite to the exclusion of sharing negative observations. So I take most compliments with a grain of salt. To me the best real compliment is laughter during the set, and the most helpful feedback is dead silence. It’s only real friends who give you the feedback you need to get better. My best friend in comedy will sometimes ask innocently how I think it went, and then I know something was wrong.

Hinderliter: The best way to compliment a performer is to just tell them what you really thought. Whether it be from the audience or another performer, feedback is important. The best comment I’ve heard after a show is a guy came up to me and said “I got what you were doing up there,” implying the rest of the audience didn’t.

Shon Don: The best compliment is when people see you & start laughing all over again at a joke & retell it. “Omg, that one about your barber…”. Those are the best. One guy told me that he loved the way I took really hard topics to talk about & made em funny and relatable. That meant a lot to me because it was like he got it. Some of my jokes are just Dick Van Dyke tripping over furniture. A lot of my stuff is deeper-meaning type stuff. A lot of my jokes punch stereotypes on the jaw if you take time to unpack them. I love hearing from the crowd. It’s dope. I’m humbled by it. Respect from my peers matters a lot too. From the crowd I wanna hear that I killed it. From my peers I wanna hear the little nuances that can make a good joke great.

When are your next, planned public performances?

Anger: I’ve started hosting a new showcase called Basil Spice Comedy, along with Ella Fritts, where we take over a Thai restaurant on a Thursday every two months or so. It gets planned around when a very funny person is in town to feature, so we aren’t sure when it will be next. We may add an open mic component. I’m going to be in the Helium Funniest Person contest, with no expectation of doing more than having fun on the main stage! Other than that, it’s open mics a bit spontaneously whenever I can get time away from the kids.

Hinderliter: The Water’n Hole in Augusta, Illinois, June 9, and Brennan’s Comedy Penthouse on June 10.

Shon Don: I will be in the Funny Bone Comedy Competition this year, dates TBD. I’m performing at Hey Guys in Fairview Heights on June 15th & 16th, featuring for Matt Holt. I will be in Kokomo Indiana June 29th, and Elkhart Indiana June 30th with comedian Stick.

Here’s our April conversation with: Randy Cash, Meredith Hopping and Ben Johnson.

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Eric Brown Discusses His New(ish)”Patterns” CD

Eric Brown, despite the responsibilities needed to move over a holiday weekend, was kind enough to supply some answers to questions about his new(ish) comedy album, Patterns.

A comedy album. Is this an idea you wake up with one day? Or is it a slower-developing notion, which develops as you put together an hour’s set?

For me it was a slowly-developing notion. The reason I decided to record it was because my life was changing a lot and I was writing a lot of new material that reflected my current life. I was feeling guilty because I had worked so hard on all the material that was slowly becoming irrelevant and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I had pretty much quit doing all of those jokes and assumed they would just die a quiet death. Then one day I was in the shower and it occurred to me that I could record them and commit them to a project and that would be like a viking’s death for them. Kill them rather than letting them fade away. So I went for it.

And, to get this out of the way, you’ve probably heard “why do physical CD” a thousand times by now? So… why do a physical CD?

The physical copy is a bit dated in terms of stores and normal consumerism but on the road it is a chance for people who enjoyed your live set to help you out. If you’re in their town, sleeping on a couch or in your car and they know they can help you by kicking you $5 or $10 for a CD then they will. I sell buttons and they’re “pay what you want” and I’ve made as much as $10 off of one button before. Physical CDs are a less awkward way to let people tip me for the (hopefully) funny live show they just saw.

How much are you on the road these days? What towns are working for you? How has your touring shifted or changed in the past year, or so?

I go on the road about a week every 4-6 weeks. I currently have a full time job and it’s flexible, luckily, but I still have to be in town to make sure things are going smoothly. That said, I’m pretty much traveling anywhere that I can make a profit from when I get back home. This year so far I’ve been in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio. In late June I’m book in Cleveland, New York (state) and Pittsburgh; and late July I’m doing a tour through the south with my buddy Garrett Smalley.

As far as how it has changed, I am more picky with what I will drive to now because my time is more valuable than it was a few years ago when I would go anywhere for anything. I’m currently building the new hour and going on the road for a week is basically comedy boot camp so I’m trying to stay as busy as possible at the moment while balancing all of life.

Not actual family.

You have a real DIY approach to touring, if reading your social media correctly, to the point to staying in some pretty dodgy couch-surfing situations. Any anecdotes stand out, in particular?

I am very DIY because I’m too broke not to be! The strangest experience I’ve had was I found a place to crash through a website called Couchsurfing (which everyone should use to travel cheaply). Patrick Trowbridge and I were in Tulsa, OK and we stayed at a house that was mid-remodel. That doesn’t sound too bad except it was in the exact middle stage of a remodel. There was no carpet, holes in the walls, holes in the floor, dust everywhere. It was really awful actually. The owner of the house warned me that it was pretty rough but I assumed he was exaggerating. He wasn’t. I couldn’t breathe for two days after due to drywall dust floating everywhere.

It felt like a murder scene to be. I’ve quit drinking alcohol in the last few months but was still drinking at the time and I suggested to Pat that we get “very drunk to make this work.”

Let’s get to the album, specifically:

How’d you build the material? I.e., talk a bit about how different pieces have to come together for a thematically-sensible 60-minutes?

I built the material from 2012-2016 with no intention of it being an album; I was initially writing the material to fill 5-10-15 minute spots over the first several years of performing comedy. As some material stayed around for successful repetition and other bits fell to the way side, when I started wanting to record something (as referenced above) I just picked my favorite material from my first four/five years of stand up and found an order that worked. It’s chronological in a sense, for example, my son is three-years-old early on in the album and is six by the end.

It’s a collection of stories and bits I formed over years; how the structure really started clicking was by taking the hour on the road for about a year. There were several iterations before I settled on what I committed to the project. The hardest part was finding where to put the Walden bit. I open with it on the album but that wasn’t my original intention, I just couldn’t ever find a place to put it that didn’t feel weird so I moved it to the opener since it stands on it’s own anyway. Almost like a pre-track to the album in a way.

Technical stuff might be of interest to some readers, e.g., what’re the mechanics of recording, mastering, etc.? Is getting material onto Spotify a breeze, or a pain?

The mechanics of recording are something I don’t know much about, to be honest, I am lucky to have helpful and talented friends like Jeremy Hellwig and Mike Petrowich that made it all come together and not sound like garbage (except for my jokes). How we set up the room for recording audio; a direct line from my microphone to the PA and into a laptop and Jeremy placed Zoom digital recorders around, one in the front and one in the back of the venue to get room tone and audience reaction. We recorded two shows and both were recorded the same way.

For mastering, Mike took all the raw tracks referenced above and mixed them into two hour long versions of my album. The early show and the late show. We then sat together for about 6 hours playing with audio levels and editing the two shows together so that it would be the best version of each bit from whichever show. Some material hit harder in the early show and some hit harder in the late show so we chopped it all together to make it sound like I’m much funnier than I actually am.

As for getting it on Spotify, Itunes, etc., it’s incredibly easy, actually. There are many services that will handle digital uploading for you. I used Distrokid, which I recommend to anyone trying to get anything available digitally. I just uploaded each track, filled in some information and then submitted it with my payment and it was active a week later. The hardest part about Spotify so far has been getting my account separated from some smooth jazz musician also named Eric Brown. It’s a common name and unfortunately my Spotify pages gives the impression that we are the same guy. I’m working on getting it fixed but they’re taking their time.

What’s your favorite comedy record, yours notwithstanding?

Probably Weird Al – Bad Hair Day. I know you wanted a stand up album but I got this CD for Christmas in 1996 and t’s just as funny now as it was then imo. It was my introduction to dark comedy (“I Remember Larry,” “The Night Santa Went Crazy”) and absurdity for its own sake (“Everything You Know is Wrong”). That album is the foundation for most of my comic sensibility. To be compliant to the question: Kyle Kinane’s  “Whiskey Icarus” never gets old.

(Here’s your link to “Patterns,” via Spotify.)

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This Weekend’s Cinema: “After Hours”

As dark comedies go, Martin Scorcese’s 1985 classic, “After Hours,” is about as dark as they come. The film’s slated for half of this weekend’s doublebill at the Tick Tock Tavern (3459 Magnolia, 63118) alongside the complementary feature “Judgement Night”; both films are free and begin screening at 2 pm. The pair of films provide the second installment of the Saint Louis Video Society‘s “Survive the Night” sub-series, given over to films in which characters descend into night-long adventures of terror. Sounds hilarious, eh?

Well, here’s a deeper scoop: “In a Manhattan cafe, word processor Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) meets and talks literature with Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). Later that night, Paul takes a cab to Marcy’s downtown apartment. His $20 bill flying out the window during the ride portends the unexpected night he has. He cannot pay for the ride and finds himself in a series of awkward, surreal and life-threatening situations with a colorful cast of characters. He spends the rest of the night trying to return uptown.
(US, 97 mins)”

Here’s the spot for an obligatory trailer: