Funniest: The Life and Times of Austin Comedy

(Credit: Dustin Svehlak, Font: Mario DiGiorgio)
(Credit: Dustin Svehlak, Font: Mario DiGiorgio)

Audio by Valerie, Words by David

I’ve known Dustin Svehlak (pronounced “Sway-lock’) and Norm Wilkerson (pronounced “Norm”) for some time. As I wrote in the Katie Pengra article, I met Svehlak several years ago while he was recording material at Cap City Comedy Club, and in other venues around town. I’ve seen Wilkerson at some intentionally blue comedy shows like the Punch Comedy Cringetacular and Wilkerson’s own, Comedy Séance. He likes to occasionally cosplay as Jesus Christ’s Ivan Drago, Satan.

Wilkerson started in the comedy scene while living in the Washington D.C. area. He began his career at an age older than most of our interviewees. He quickly embraced the gritty, blue style of comedy popular in D.C at the time and brought it with him to Austin – where he’s endeared himself to the local scene. Wilkerson’s self-effacing, nonchalant style of comedy makes you love the guy, and while his comedy may make a few sensitive types cringe, it will make you think.

We’ll be seeing both of them again soon in a documentary called Funniest. Well, we’ll be seeing Norm Wilkerson along with several other Austin comedians. As for Dustin Svehlak, he was behind the camera and in the editing room with Katie Pengra.

Comedy Wham Presents: Funniest

Funniest follows Wilkerson and his peers (representing a cross-section of Austin’s stand up scene) over several weeks surrounding the 2015 Funniest Person in Austin Contest that’s held annually at Cap City Comedy Club. I could write several hundred more words about Funniest, but I want Valerie Lopez’s interview with Svehlak and Wilkerson to do the talking (no pun intended).

I will say this. Funniest isn’t only about stand-up comedy. It’s about the people behind the scene, their lives, and the events that shape their personas on the stage.  Svehlak and Pengra follow Wilkerson and his fellow comedians as they nervously have a smoke before performing their sets; deal with illness; care for loved ones; choose the path less taken; and fight time, age and the daily grind. It makes you want everyone to win the contest. Unfortunately like Highlander, there can only be one.

Details

Ah, it looks like I wrote those extra words anyway. Here are some details:  Funniest is premiering at the Austin Film Festival 8:30 pm on October 16th in the Rollins Theater at the Long Center.  If you’re unable to make that date, there will be another showing at 9 pm on Wednesday, October 19th at the Stateside Theater.  To keep up with the Funniest documentary, follow it on Facebook.  Svehlak’s other projects can be found at Voltaic Video.

As for Norm Wilkerson, despite being grey headed and a new father of twins, he’ll be donning the dark lord of Hell’s garb once again on October 29th for the annual Comedy Seance at the Spider House Ballroom at 7:30 pm.

Twitter

Funniest

Norm Wilkerson

Dustin Svehlak

Valerie Lopez

ComedyWham

 

 

Lashonda Lester: The Kitten From Murder Mitten

(Source: Austin Jernigan)
(Source: Austin Jernigan)

Lashonda Lester is a sweetheart to talk to. She’s always approachable and easy to chat with. But beneath that friendly exterior is an iron resolve forged in the fires of The Motor City.

12 Years ago Lester left her native Detroit, MI. for Austin. Several years later, she seriously got into the comedy game and has been going full throttle ever since. In part one of their interview, Lashonda Lester tells Valerie Lopez about sneaking around and listening to “dirty” comic albums, and her very first open mic in Detroit. Go ahead and click the link below.

Lashonda Lester Pt. 1: The Past

In part two, Lester talks with Valerie about medical setbacks, and getting her momentum going again. She also talks about giving back to the comedy community by hosting comedy seminars. In fact, I took my son, Tommy to one last year. We had a great time and found the seminar insightful. Tommy still carries a little notebook with him where he jots down joke ideas. He won’t let me see it though. Anyway you know what to do, right?

Lashonda Lester Pt. 2: Current

Recently Lashonda Lester has started ramping up her performance itinerary. In the immediate future she’ll be performing with Matt Sadler as they open for Ron Funches at Moontower Comedy Festival, and performing in other showcases. She’s also competing in the Funniest Person in Austin Contest this year; and in May, she’s putting on her popular show, Weird True Hollywood Tales at the Salvage Vanguard Theater.

Deets

Lashonda Lestser

Valerie Lopez

ComedyWham

Yusef Roach: The Adventure Begins

Yusef Roach (Source: Facebook)
Yusef Roach (Source: Facebook)

As soon as he could, Yusef Roach left his home in the Vrigin Islands, and its conservative culture, in the proverbial rear view mirror. Oddly enough, he ended up in St. Louis and much like fellow comedian Aaron Brooks, he left St. Louis for Austin. St. Louis wasn’t all bad though. Yusef Roach did his first open mic in the Gateway to the West.

In his interview with Lara Smith, Roach talks bout his early stand up influences, his partnership with Martin Urbano and his quest to find his comedic voice.  The take away for anyone listening to the interview  is to keep working. Nothing is earned by rubbing some lamp you found in the desert.  Anyway,

Listen to the interview here

Yusef Roach is always going to open mics and showcases in an ongoing quest to perfect his comedy game. The best way to find out where he’ll be is on Twitter.

Twitter

Yusef Roach

Lara Smith

Comedy Wham

Chris Sebilia Is Your Comedic Swiss Army Knife

(Credit: Skippy Leland Photography)
(Credit: Skippy Leland Photography)

Words by David Thomas

Interview by Valerie Lopez

Behind Chris Sebilia’s low-key demeanor is a very funny comedian. As with our other interviewees, his journey to the Austin Comedy scene is unique. The California native holds a masters degree in structural engineering  from the University of California at San Diego. He came to Austin seeking a job in his career field and found a love of performing comedy.

Sebilia chats with Valerie Lopez about his early influence and the discontent that lead him to the Hideout Theater’s doorstep.

Since his start in the Austin comedy scene, Chris Sebilia has taken on many projects that also include acting and writing.  In part two of his interview, Chris Sebila talks with Valerie about being the host of ATX Tonight, performing in a variety of festivals and the upcoming Funniest Person in Austin Contest.

While Chris Sebilia will be passing the helm of ATX Tonight on to Blake Wilson, you still have plenty of opportunities to check out his comedy. In fact, you can see him try to become the Funniest Person in Austin on April 11th at Cap City Comedy Club.  For other appearances, all you got to do is check out his website.

Twitter

Chris Sebilia

Valerie Lopez

Comedy Wham

 

 

Comedy + Creativity = Katie Pengra

(Credit: Skippy Leland Photography)
(Credit: Skippy Leland Photography)

The title of this article is one of those base level mathematical formulas so simple, you won’t have to Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.

Born in Arizona, Pengra wanted to beat feet to California as soon as possible, but her parents insisted on college. Find out how this, Peewee’s Playhouse and Maria Bamford affected her early comedy career in part one of her interview with Valerie Lopez.

Part two of the interview adds another element to Pengra’s story. Dustin Svehlak (sway-lock) pops a squat and chats with Valerie about several projects they have in the works under the Voltaic Video banner. Svehlak can be seen around town, filming Cap City Comedy Club’s FPIA Contest and sets for any comedian who want it done.

Katie Pengra considers herself more of a creative person rather than pigeon holing herself as a “comedian.” Stand-up, acting, writing are just a few of the feathers in her cap. She also owns and operates Skippy Leland Photography and is responsible for many of the head shots used by Austin area comedians.

Twitter

Katie Pengra

Dustin Svehlak

Valerie Lopez

Comedy Wham

 

2015 Funniest Person in Austin Week 4 Round Up

Headshot of Michael Foulk
Michael Foulk is another TNM Theater Alumni to find success at FPIA (Credit: Henry Linser).

The 2015 Funniest Person in Austin Week Four prelims ended just as strong as previous weeks. Being caught up with the Moontower Comedy Fest threw me off kilt a bit so I apologize for this last minute round up.

Sunday 4/26/15: Round 9

Lashonda Lester, Allie Amrien and Sonny Castillo moved on the the Semi-Finals in the conest. and David McQuary grabbed the alternate spot. I know Lashonda Lester and I am happy that she advanced. She’s a busy bee as well. Lashonda curates the monthly True Hollywood Tales show at the Salvage Vanguard Theater and has been featured in many showcases around town. The Detroit Diaspora participant also isn’t scared to do stand up in the valley where the paranoid wives of American oil company workers pack .38 Specials in their garter belts.

Monday 4/27/15: Round 10

Andrew Cooksey, Jon Mendoza and Allen Edwin Butt grabbed the Semi-Final spots, with Michael Foulk earning the alternate spot.  Jon Mendoza is one of those joke tellers I love to listen to. Like Cody Hustak and Ali Safar, Mendoza’s set up and delivery are clean and simple. It’s his timing and word play that makes the judges want him to move up in the competition.

Michael Foulk is another New Movement Theater alumni who’s met success in the Funniest Person in Austin competition this year. Along with Martin Urbano, Vanessa Gonzalez, Ella Gale… and you know what?  Just read my previous entries in this series. Foulk is a talented sketch performer with Bad Example and has costarred with Lisa Freidrich in the indy thriller, Meet Me There.

Tuesday 4/28/15: Round 11

Andrew Murphy, Kerri Lendo and Tafadzwa Gwaze scored those sweet Semi-Final envelopes. Cody Greenlee earned the alternate spot. Lendo is coming off a pretty successful Moontower run. She was featured on one of the Four Eyes shows at the Vuclan Gas Company and hosted for Maria Bamford at the Stateside.

Tafadzwa Gwaze is another comedian I’ve seen around town. He takes a new approach to race relations and mixes it together with a healthy dash of off beat pop culture references. I dig it and want to see him perform more.

Deets

Tonight kicks of the final week of the 2015 FPIA prelims. Ticket information can be found online at Cap City’s website or over the phone at 467-2333.

If you want to contact me here at Comedy Wham, the email is David@Comedywham.com or hit me up on twitter: @comedywham.

2015 Funniest Person in Austin Week 3 Roundup

Rob Gagnon smiles for the camera
Rob Gagnon advanced to the semifinals in FPIA (photo credit: The New Movement Theater).

You 2015 Funniest Person in Austin Week 3 update is here! Cap City Comedy Club snuck in another week of Funniest Person in Austin in the face of the up coming 4th Annual Moontower Comedy Fest. The competition is getting tougher and the judges jobs are getting harder.

Sunday 4/18/15: Round 6

Ali Safar, Kath Barbadoro and Martin Urbano moved to the next round in the competition while Dean Kirkpatrick grabbed the alternate spot for the night.

I have not heard Ali Safar’s comedy before this show and his set hit a bullseye for my sense of humor. He’s a joke teller so its set-up and punchline. Mechanically he’s similar to Stephen Wright, or Cody Hustak but his jokes aren’t as non-sequitur. I dug his set and look forward to seeing more of him.

Kath Barbadoro was rock solid. I’ve seen her multiple times around Austin, notably at Punch! Comedy, The Velv and other Cap City events. She’s insightful and her jokes reach out to a broad audience. Martin Urbano had a very creative set leading him to lip sync and act out his jokes while an audience member read  them verbatim.

Dean Kirkpatrick won the alternate spot among stiff competition from the likes of Chris Tellez, and Jared Hawley (who had such an epic set that folks are still talking about it a week later).

Monday 4/19/15: Round 7

I was extremely happy to find out that Rob Gagnon, Brian Garr, and Ryan Cownie made it through the prelims. I have had many opportunities to see these dudes do their thing and I can confidently recommend all three of them.  Rob has a show called Drunk vs. Stoned vs. Sober. Brian Gaar is a father, a comedian a gamer over the age of 35 and is pretty Twitter famous. Ryan Cownie is one of those dudes you want at your party. Always funny and can freestyle rap in a pinch.

Promotional picture of Brian Gaar
Brian Gaar (photo credit: www.atxsketchfest.com)

Vanessa Gonzalez captured the alternate spot. I am happy to see this sketch comedy vet crossover into the stand up scene. She can usually be found on Saturday nights performing with Bad Example at the New Movement Theater, and she’s just wrapped up a successful tour of her one person show, I Don’t Know Dating.

Tuesday 4/20/15: Round 8

The week wrapped up with Duncan Carson, Robert Segovia and Abby Rosenquist grasping those much sought after envelopes that moves them on up in the competition.  Michael Priest grabbed the alternate spot.

Duncan Carson co-hosts Sure Thing at that particular Austin Java with Brendon K. O’Grady (who’s already moved on the semifinals this year).  I take my stepson to the show since it’s legally all ages. I remind him that, despite Carson’s bit about education and life, that he should pay attention in school because if he doesn’t, his mommy becomes  and that isn’t fun. But I digress, the boy is pretty rational and knows the difference between a bit and reality,

Rob Segovia can be seen doing his thing at the New Movement Theater with Taken Seriously. He also has a show at Cheer Up Charlie’s called LaLa HaHa.  Segovia has the Half Empty podcast in which he and Terence McDavid interview local improv, sketch and stand up comedians.

I am not sure if I’ve seen Abby Rosenquist perfrom around town, but I am looking forward catching a set. Michael Priest is a solid comic, and I have also been lucky to see him at Punch! and Sure Thing.

Deets

Week 4 of the 2015 Funniest Person in Austin contest starts this Sunday, 4/26/15. Tickets are available online and by calling Cap City Comedy Club at 467-2333.

 

Be sure to follow Comedy Wham on Twitter: @ComedyWham

 

 

2015 Funniest Person in Austin Week 2 Roundup

Ella Gale has advanced in the 30th Annual FPIA Contest (photo credit: www.ellagalecomedy.com).
Ella Gale has advanced in the 30th Annual FPIA Contest (photo credit: www.ellagalecomedy.com).

This year is seriously shaping up to be the most competitive Funniest Person in Austin that I can remember.

Sunday, 4/12/15: Round 3

Raul Sanchez, Jay Whitecotton and Yusef Roach all moved on to the next round in May. Doug Lewis grabbed the alternate spot.

I’ve seen Raul Sanchez at a couple of places around town. He’s got a style that tickles the nostalgic part in my brain. I grew up in S. Texas and Sanchez reminds of that kid in high school who was the class clown everyone liked, including teachers. I can’t explain it better than that but it translates well into his comedy set.

Whitecotton aggressively takes on controversial topics like religion and sexuality while Roach pokes fun at pop-culture and turns it on its head.  It looks to me like the judges are pretty eclectic this year, which is good. These three comedians are an exceptional cross section of Austin’s comedy scene.

Monday, 4/13/15: Round 4

Monday’s results are indicative of my opening statement. Ella Gale, Brendon K. O’Grady and Joe Halfkey all moved forward in the competition while Aaron Brooks earned the alternate spot.

Each of the winners host, or co-host shows around town. Ella Gale has a cool show the first Sunday of every month at The New Movement Theater called Naughty Bits. Brendon K. O’Grady is co-host of the wildly popular Sure Thing! showcase at the Austin Java on Lamar and Parkway. Joe Halfkey and his partner (former FPIA winner) Mac Blake host Jazz Cigarette at the Spiderhouse Ballroom and All’s Well at Cap City.

Tuesday, 4/14/15: Round 5

Week two wrapped up with Avery Moore, Daniel Webb, and Mary Bourke moving on up in the 2015 FPIA. Christina Parrish earned the alternate spot.

I am a big fan of Avery Moore. I’ve seen her many times at many venues and she never fails to entertain me. Whether she’s singing at Kat Ramzinski’s benefit event or expounding on the awkward side of dating. She’s clever and charming and if you’ve not seen one of her sets, you’re missing out.

Daniel Webb is a dude who made waves last year thanks to an interaction with President Obama at Franlkin’s BBQ. This most definitely shouldn’t be his only claim to fame as his comedy reflects the complicated situation that being gay in Texas presents. It’s scathing, brutally honest, and sincere. Oh and don’t let Mary Bourke’s sweet Irish accent fool you. Her comedy is sharp commentary of the senility of humanity.

Deets

Cap City Comedy Club’s Funniest Person in Austin Week 3 kicks off tonight with round 6. The show starts at 8pm. Call the box office at 467-2333  or visit their website for ticket information and details.

2015 Funniest Person in Austin Week 1 Roundup

Cody Hustak will make mom's blush.
Cody Hustak will make mom's blush.
Cody Hustak is the 2014 FPIA winner (photo credit: www.thevelveetroom.com).

The 30th annual Funniest Person in Austin Contest kicked off last Monday with a bang. This year, I’ll be providing you with weekly updates of who moves on to the next round, joke of the night winners and so on.

Monday Night

Monday night had three ladies advance to the next round. Kat Ramzinski, Maggie Criss and Sara June all advanced to the next round of the Funniest Person in Austin Contest. I don’t recall seeing Maggie Criss or Sara June live but I’ve seen Kat Ramzinski on many occasions and she’s rock solid. There’s an edge to comedy that makes you think she’d be a good person to have your back in a bar fight.

The winner of the alternative spot was Bob Khosravi.

Tuesday Night

Tuesday saw John Buseman, Zac Brooks and Casey Crawford advance to the next round. Besides stand up comedy, John Buseman is a sketch comedy vet, and can frequently be found at The New Movement Theater (seriously, this theater keeps working its way into my articles). I’ve seen Zac Brooks at Punch!, Sure Thing, and at other shows across town. He’s participating in the Moontower Comedy Fest along with Buseman this year as well.

The winner of the alternative spot was Arielle Norman.

Details

Comedy is subjective and the best way to help your favorite comedian advance is to get to the club on the night they’re competing and support them.

Cap City Comedy Club’s box office opens at 10 AM and tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 512-467-2333. The Funniest Person in Austin contest will being going on until Monday, May 18th when the Funniest Person in Austin will be crowned. Please remember that the club has a two item minimum policy and NO HECKLING!

Feel free to follow this site on twitter: @ComedyWham

Doug Mellard Is On a Fart Safari

Entrance to The New Movement Theater.
The New Movement Theater is located at the corner of 7th and Lavaca.

It takes all types to make the world go round. It’s the same for the comedy world as well. Doug Mellard, born in Victoria, TX, raised in Plano, Austin comedy vet, and now resident of La La Land, is returning to his comedy home to record a live album at The New Movement Theater on October 10th and 12th.

 A Decade of Experience

According to his website, Mellard originally wanted to be a superhero.  At the same time, he discovered a love of comedy. Mellard reminisces, “I remember watching [David] Chapelle before he was Chapelle. I also remember watching Austin Stories. I think the first show I went to was at the Velveeta Room where Howard Kremer, Matt Bearden, Laura House and Brad “Chip” Pope were doing stand up.”

Doug Mellard records his live album this weekend (photo credit: www.capcitycomedy.com).
Doug Mellard records his live album this weekend (photo credit: www.jenbertrandphotographie.com).

After several failed attempts at becoming a superhero via spider bites, and probably several trips to the doctor, he gave up and grabbed a mic. That was in 2003.  In 2006, he found himself winning the Funniest Person in Austin title. In 2010, with stars in his eyes, and moral support from his family, he made the big move to Los Angeles.

Recording With Stand Up! Records

Now it’s 2014 and the comedian has returned to Austin for a series of appearances. The live recording is this weekend at the New Movement Theater which is located on 7th and Lavaca downtown. The theater has limited seating so if you want to see Doug Mellard do his thing, get your tickets now. He will be there on the 10th and 12th. The live recording is for his album, Fart Safari, produced by Stand Up! Records.  If you’re unfamiliar with Stand Up! Records, they’ve produced albums for a plethora of comedians.

Upcoming Events

Mellard is hanging around Austin for a while. If you can’t see him this weekend, you’ll get a second chance to see him as he headlines Cap City Comedy Club from October 15th – 18th. After that he’ll be rocking the yellow stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest from November 7th – 9th.

 

Mellard crowd surfs at Fun Fun Fun Fest (photo credit: www.dougmellard.com).
Mellard crowd surfs at Fun Fun Fun Fest (photo credit: www.dougmellard.com).

I’ve seen Doug Mellard perform several times over the last few years and I enjoy his style of comedy.  His influences of Stephen Wright, Mitch Hedberg, and Steve Martin definitely comes to surface as Mellard launches into a rapid fire mix of one liners and stand alone jokes.  Segues? He doesn’t have time for that. But you should make time to see him not have time for segues.

If you want to see Doug Mellard during his visit to Austin, check the following websites for ticket sales:

Feel free to leave a comment or find me up on twitter: @eldavidthomas