Jesse Hensley and the Heartbeat of Comedy

(Photo credit: Eleanor Tapp)

Audio By Valerie, Words By Richard

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.

Comedy Wham Presents: Jesse Hensley

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.

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Jesse Hensley

Valerie Lopez

Richard Goodwin

ComedyWham

Tai Nguyen Finds His Comedy Zen

(Credit Jay Rohas, Seen it All Photography)
(Credit Jay Rojas, Seen it All Photography)

Audio By Valerie, Words By Richard

(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.

Comedy Wham Presents: Tai Nguyen

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.

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Tai Nguyen

Valerie Lopez

Richard Goodwin

ComedyWham

It’s the 2015 Sketch Fest!

Head shot of Joe Wengert
Joe Wengert is headlining Austin Sketch Fest this year (Credit: Austin Sketch Fest).

Austin Sketch Fest is celebrating its 5th anniversary, and it’s happening now. I have grown to appreciate sketch comedy. Especially when considering how much time goes into writing a show, practicing, and shifting between scenes. It’s an exercise in efficiency.

Big Talent, Two Theaters

Sketch comedy is being celebrated this week at Coldtowne Theater and Spider House Ballroom. The festival will showcase more than 40 acts from Austin, NYC, L.A., Chicago and all points in between. Headliners for the event are Brent Weinbach (Conan, Comedy Central) and Joe Wengert (Kroll Show, Comedy Central’s The Half Hour, Comedy Bang Bang!). The headliners lead a vanguard of talented out of town acts. Girls with Brown Hair, 2girls1pup, and 100% Stuff will be bringing their unique style of sketch to the theaters.

Vanessa Gonzalez doing a Pancake Demon sketch.
Vanessa Gonzalez as the lonely, depressed binge eating Pancake Demon

Local talent includes Vanessa Gonzalez, Master Pancake Theater, Bad Example and STAG! Comedy. Readers of this site will be familiar with some of those names if not, click the links. I have seen Vanessa Gonzalez perform since my featured published this winter and she only keeps getting better. I also highly recommend seeing Megan Simon. Every three months or so, she writes brand new music for her one person show and it’s rock solid.

Master Pancake Theater

STAG Comedy doing a police sketch during Out of Bounds Comedy Fest.
STAG! Comedy has been an Austin staple for several years.

For those of you brand new to Austin, and by brand new, I mean you have less than 10 plastic Rudy’s BBQ cups in your cabinet, then let me tell you about Master Pancake Theater. Imagine a couple of guys so funny, that the Alamo Drafthouse allows them to talk during movies. John Erlher has been lampooning movies with a rotating cast since the early 00’s, and nothing is sacred. Recently Kath Barbadoro has been spending time with Master Pancake Theater while they mock 50 Shades of Grey.

Just a Bit of Stand Up

Megan Simon singing to her audience.
Megan Simon is a Sketch Fest must see.

If you’re into stand up, Sketch Fest will be featuring a few local comedians too. Bryan Gutman will be recording an album from Spider House Ballroom for Sure Thing Records, Zac Brooks, Avery Moore and others will be doing sets as well. Zac Brooks is a comedian you need to see if you haven’t yet. He’s featured on the Sure Thing’s debut recording and has been everywhere in Austin.

Details

There’s still plenty of time to check out Austin Sketch Fest. Whichever venue you decide to go to, be sure to get there a bit early since parking can get tight. The Spider House Ballroom, at  2908 Fruth St, features a full bar and menu. Coldtowne Theater, at 4803-B Airport Blvd, is byob and sells snacks at the box office.

Tickets are an accessible $5-$15. Seating is limited. For ticket information, visit atxsketchfest.com

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