Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Joe Hafkey originally found his hometown lacking when trying to satisfy his comedic desires.
Hafkey grew up with sketch shows like Mad TV & SNL, and was a fan of heavy hitters like George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld. At first he wasn’t sure that comedy was going to be a focal point in his life. But when a job at the local (and really only) venue in Richmond eventually led to a guest spot on its established show, the hook was set. Not satisfied with the opportunities in the local scene, Hafkey did what many comics have done – created his own. Running 2 years, the show he created provided a more open and inclusive space for comedy in Richmond.
Avery Moore. Avery Reed Moore is one of those people who you just want to hang out with to see what happens. One way you can do this is by watching Funniest – a documentary which has been well documented on Comedy Wham about Cap City Comedy Club’s Funniest Person in Austin Contest. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.
I’ve had a professional friendship with Maggie Maye for several years now – four, five? I can’t recall. I do know that this incredibly talented comedian has expanded her comfort zone and horizon exponentially since I first saw her on the Punch Comedy Showcase at Cap City years ago. Her energy, and enthusiasm on stage is as much a part of her set as her jokes about growing up in Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
Maye grew up smarter than most. Reading at four and switching the TV from Sesame Street (boring), to watching Joan Rivers on Hollywood Squares made her love comedy at a very early age. Besides the late great Joan Rivers, Maggie Maye found inspiration in Whoopie Goldberg’s comedy work along with Chris Rock and others.
Despite double majoring in marketing and television production during her first stint in college, Maggie Maye found herself hanging with the theater kids and trying to get in on their projects. After a bit of cajoling and endearing herself to them by not leaving, they let her participate. Later, Maye found herself at UT Austin taking classes to prepare herself in the illustrious, high-risk career of Pharmacology. Then she discovered the Velveeta Room.
With a list of credits as long as the river she grew up near, Maggie Maye has a bright future. I enjoy her sets so much that whenever Moontower Comedy Festival comes around, I make sure I see her perform. This is despite the fact I can catch her anytime of year, or could. It’s bittersweet to say Maggie Maye is Austin’s latest comedy export to Los Angeles. It’s hard earned and well deserved. Sure, it’s gonna suck not seeing regularly at Punch! or in the FPIA contest but I’m confident her hard work will land her a Netflix special, and that my friends would be awesome. In the meantime, check out Maggie Maye’s website for appearances and shows.
URGENT AND TIMELY HEADS UP: Make it a priority to grab tickets to the February 19th live taping of Standup Empire. Go now. We’ll wait.
Done? Great. Let’s continue.
Comedy fans in Austin will almost certainly be immediately familiar with the name Brently Heilbron. Whether from his twisted emo puppet band Fragile Rock, or the ongoing PBS series he hosts, Standup Empire, you’ve almost certainly run across Heilbron’s work. It’s always a pleasure when Valerie Lopez finds a kindred soul with a fascination for the art behind the art, and this interview is an a shining example.
Heilbron got a very early start in performing, trading schoolwork in 8th grade in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, for the arguably more valuable exposure and healing experience on the stage. It was a pattern that continued after he moved to Austin to study at the University of Texas and ultimately had to make a choice between his theatre studies and honing his craft. You can no doubt guess which path he chose.
With a career that includes fascinating and sometimes randomly crossed paths with big names like Woody Allen and Paul McCartney, Heilbron has accumulated knowledge, skills, and delights in a variety of comedic formats. From writing a musical about the ass of an iconic American actor, to the aggressive ditties he bangs out on his ukulele, there’s simply no denying the joy he gets from the limelight and – something he adores – providing a place in that light for others. While Standup Empire is Heilbron’s show, he makes it patently clear that it’s first and foremost a platform for others, and for the Austin comedy community.
There’s simply no way I can capture everything Lopez and Heilbron cover in this episode, so download and get listening.
Now that you’ve grabbed those tickets (seriously, not going to say it again), check out more of Heilbron at his website, and on Twitter. For music for all moods, but mostly the emo puppet kind, check out Fragile Rock on their website, Twitter and Facebook pages. He’s also starting a monthly column in the Austin American Statesmanin March about the Austin comedy scene, so keep your eyes peeled.
All comedy is about voice. Whether it’s the writer, the performer, or sometimes even the audience – the voice guides you to someone’s soul, and what it is they have to say to the world.
When Jesse Hensley sits down with Valerie Lopez, there’s simply no way to miss his powerful, addictive, North Texas timbre. (Nor would you want to). Hensley hails from the little not-quite-a-town of Diana, Texas. Diana is a geographical crossroads, one hour away from Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
Hensley grew up absorbing performances of names we’re all familiar with, like Mitch Hedberg and Dave Chapelle. Still, comedy wasn’t always a given in his future. Two years ago, during a brief bout as an aspiring author, he got the bug to head to Coldtowne Theatre and try his hand behind the microphone. It wasn’t a home run, but it became the first step on his journey to making comedy a full-time passion.
The ball really started rolling for Hensley after he got a guest spot at Cap City facilitated by one of his idols, Nate Bargatze. That led to opening spots and multiple runs in Funniest Person in Austin. As he honed his style, Hensley found himself trending towards storytelling, one of my favorite formats. A great storyteller can build a structure to suck you in and hold you on edge waiting for that sweet, sweet payoff. It’s a craft that is a mixture of rhythm, refinement, and even a bit of math, which we know is near and dear to Valerie Lopez. His philosophy of comedy, and what it means to the billions of us walking the planet, is fascinating.
Hensley appears in many Austin shows, including Drink Up: an outdoor, booze-themed experience. It runs the first and third Mondays of the month at The Parlor Room. In the interview, Hensley drops the secret phrase that may even score you a free drink. See more of his upcoming events at Last Gas Comedy, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Our first comedian from the rural town of Santa Fe (Texas, not the other one), Roy Janik is a powerhouse on the Austin improv scene. Janik (“Yawn-ick,” not “Jan-ick.” Don’t tell his family he says it that way.) has an interesting comedic pedigree. While growing up, he was fed a diet of Mystery Science Theater 3000. He didn’t find his passion for performing all at once, but in a series of fortunate events later in high school and while doing college radio.
Janik holds a Masters Degree in Computer Science, which almost went another way. He hit a major turning point in his professional improv career with his initial performance in Maestro at The Hideout Theatre. This early success, plus a pressing need to guarantee the future of The Hideout Theatre, drove a rapid involvement, responsibility and ultimately co-ownership of the theater where he first got his start.
Not only did The Hideout troupe lead Janik into a new phase in life, it also turned out to be the setting where met his future wife, local multi-faceted improv/artist/actor Kaci Beeler(-Danger). Janik takes Valerie Lopez through the fairy tale of how it transpired, and how it ties into his very family-like ties to the improv group.
I am blown away by the breadth of Janik’s creativity and depth, as he and Valerie dig into some of his ongoing shows like Parallelogramophonograph (“PGraph”, for brevity’s sake, and timid spellers). Based loosely on concepts found in Haruki Murukami’s novels like The Wind Up Bird Chronicles, the format and flow of the performances are fascinating.
When not on stage, Janik, leads improv classes, some of which turn into gateways to festival appearances for the performers. This has taken the troupe across the world – from Canada to London and on to Spain, with more on the horizon.
I could go on for days about Janik’s work, but it’s in your best interests to get out and catch him and his troupe at The Hideout Theatre. In addition to PGraph, check out the many specials and ongoing shows like Squirrel Buddies, improv classes for kids, and more. Be sure to check out Roy Janik’s website as well.
Time flies. Just over a year ago, Comedy Wham started recording interviews with Austin area comedians. It started with an interview with the hosts of Sure Thing, a pretty rad showcase every Saturday at the Austin Java on Lamar and Parkway. Brendan K. O’Grady and Duncan Carson are basically the Batman and Robin of the Austin comedy scene… wait, I’m not fan of D.C. Let’s do a Marvel reference: Cable and Deadpool? Ironman and Captain America? Oh well, you get it.
Valerie Lopez catches up with Brendan K. O’Grady to catch up on things and see how Sure Things Records is going. O’Grady is excited about where things are going regarding the record label. Two of their seven releases topped the iTunes comedy charts. That’s something to be proud of considering the amount of content being put out on the site.
With the success of the record label and the continued standing room only shows, O’Grady and Carson have no plans to leave Austin in the near future. The quality of the comedians this city fosters is incredible. It’s not surprising they leave to bigger cities like L.A. and New York to grow their careers. It’s good to know (from a comedy fan’s perspective) Carson and O’Grady have decided to stay here.
Always cheery and affable, Brendan K. O’Grady gives a lighthearted rundown of Sure Things Records’ upcoming plans, teases their latest album and discusses any future compilation albums with the Terry Gross of Austin’s comedy scene. If you want to check out Sure Thing Records go to their website. All records are available for digital download. As for O’Grady, well, he can be found all over the web and of course, at Austin Java every Saturday night.
(Quick housekeeping note: While Valerie normally does two part interviews, we’ve decided to make some changes in the interview format, moving from two segments per episode to one. It’s the same great content, just now in a single juicy interview. We hope you enjoy it and be back for many more to come.)
As you know, Comedy Wham focuses on Austin comedy. While many have traveled the road to be here, it’s rare to have someone land in our midst from as far away as Tai Nguyen.
Born in Vietnam, Nguyen had a brief stint in sunny California before making Austin his home. Unlike many comedians who had a steady diet of US or British humor in their early years, he came from a much more isolated environment, with nary a TV or radio (or toilet) to be found at home.
Of all things, an interest in rap videos happened to give Nguyen his first glimpse into stand-up comedy. he took an immediate liking to it, but it would still be over 5 years before he took in his first experience with live comedy. Like many other comedians in Austin, Tai Nguyen found himself being called Velveeta Room thanks to its doorman, Michael David Park. He spent many a night in the darkness of the crowd in that club. It wasn’t until June 2015 that encouragement from coworkers led him to take the next step into stepping behind the mic himself.
Besides relentlessly practicing his sets, Tai Nguyen has quickly expanded into more projects, including video sketches and perfecting his onstage “mad rap skills”(with Austin local Sam Harter) as The Ying Yang Broz. Check out their very first performance on YouTube, and find more videos weekly at their home at YingYangBroz.com. He has also appeared on Punch, and the 2016 Funniest Person in Austin Contest, barely a year after his first open mic. Nguyen is in love with the rush of performing, and it shows in everything he does.
To see more of Tai Nguyen, you can catch him co-hosting Live at Coldtowne every Friday at 10pm with Sam Harter, and find more upcoming appearances on his Last Gas Comedy page. During the interview, he even reveals an exciting project in the pipeline.
Writer, producer, director, comedian… Adrienne Dawes has many hats. She wears them well and often at the same time.
Adrienne Dawes has taken a different approach to concept of comedy than our other subjects. You’d think being shy would be a detriment for her. Instead, it proved advantageous since it gave her the opportunity to observe. Observing inspired her to write which is how she chose to approach comedy.
Dawes was raised in Austin since the tender toddler age of one and after graduating high school she went to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY which is near Yonkers, which is north the Bronx. From this point, her life was broken into four year increments. Four years in Austin, then to Chicago where she studied improv comedy at Second City. Along the way she dabbled in stand-up and musical improv which is a story you must hear here:
Dawes returned home to Austin after being unable to secure a school to pursue her Masters in Fine Arts. She returned home to her family, and home to The Salvage Vanguard Theater and her performing arts family. It was discouraging for her but she didn’t quit. She kept writing, she launched her own production company, Heckle Her. She brought a comedy musical named Never Have I Ever from Chicago and put it on stage in Austin. She networked. She kept working. She kept creating and gave Austin shows like Doper Than Dope and Doper Than Dope 2.
Adrienne Dawes drops some serious life advice in her second interview with Valerie Lopez. It’s advice many of us need. It’s about drive, creativity, and how it leads to happiness. It’s about breaking free of social stereotypes, rules, expected roles, and doing what you want to because you can. Dawes should be an inspiration to anyone feeling they’re caught in a rat race and want to break free.
Feel free to check out Dawes’ website for updates on her various project. In case you were wondering about the books she mentioned in the interview, here they are:
Banvard’s Folly – by Paul Collins
The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth – by Richard Conniff
I have a favorite video I watch once a year, that I feel perfectly captures my love/hate relationship with my never-ending stream of hobbies and diverse pursuits. On meeting Enzo Priesnitz, and listening to Valerie walk through his life in comedy and beyond, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit.
Born and raised in Austin, Priesnitz was interested in comedy from his early years, binging on late night Comedy Central feasts of well-known comics like Dave Attell and Zach Galifianakis. These early passions paved the way for a series of changes and personal growth taking him into the next phase of his life where his own comedic aspirations would begin playing a major role.
In Part one of their conversation, Valerie digs up how a chance late night hang out with some big names gave Priesnitz an auspicious bridge into breaking into the open mic scene, including his first time in Funniest Person in Austin.
Enzo Priesnitz has continued to hone his comedy chops beyond stand-up, with multiple projects completed and in the works. He recently wrapped a role in the crowdfunded comedy Call me Brother with another Comedy Wham alum, Christina Parrish. Call Me Brother is a uniquely (dare we say loving?) look at incest; it’s no easy feat to take the topic and make it hilarious. He also just had a hand in a locally shot major motion picture that we must keep secret under pain of death (and because he wasn’t allowed to tell us).
In Part two, Valerie manages to knock out not one but two Comedy Wham firsts: meeting a professionally trained blacksmith, and the only time (so far) surgically sharp instruments have literally landed on the interview table.
To see more of Priesnitz’s metalworking Valerie was lucky enough to lay her hands on (along with many other projects), follow him on Instagram at @bluegill_forge. Keep up with his upcoming stand-up dates and projects on Facebook. Lastly, keep an ear out for Priesnitz on the Gross Lonely Boys podcast, with Andrew Clarkson and Danny Goodwin, coming soon at Body Tape International.