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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What do you get when you mix to friends who happen to be comedians with a video director with an eye for comedy? You get a web series called Pretty Awful, and it’s pretty amazing.
From a Skit to a Show
You may not know Dustin Svehlak, but I can almost promise you that if you’ve been to any comedy showcase, you’ve seen him. He’s the tall dude with a goatee and camera. Svehlak owns and operates Voltaic Video. It started in 2005 when Svehlak began shooting weddings and corporate events. In 2012, it became all about comedy as he began recording local comedy sets, and creating unique short videos and clips featuring local comedians.
A while back he was chatting with local comedian Amber Bixby about a small scene between two friends who were fighting. Svehlak and Bixby felt they had something more than just a couple of minutes of video. After talking things over, they decided to turn it into a web series and Pretty Awful was born. Without thinking twice about it, Bixby brought in her friend and fellow comedian Katie Pengra.
Beavis and Butthead Meets Mean Girls
For Amber Bixby, picking Katie Pengra was a no-brainer. While the two are real life friends, their characters aren’t representative of that relationship. Bixby explains, “Yeah, she’s a very good friend of mine – but the series is very much a work of fiction. It’s a bit absurd. We’ve been comparing it to Mean Girls meets Beavis and Butthead. It’s not based on our real friendship – the friendship in the series is pretty unhealthy.”
From what I’ve seen, the two star characters are going to be a glorious train wreck; and Bixby’s allusion to Beavis and Butthead meeting Mean Girls is a bullseye. Anyone who’s seen either of those shows knows what a perfect storm of misadventure is brewing for Amber Bixby’s and Katie Pengra’s characters.
The collaborative effort between Dustin Svehlak, Amber Bixby, and Katie Pengra is on the ball. As of right now, Season 1 is ready to go with 3 episodes and Season 2 is in the works. While Svehlak handled the direction and camera work, Bixby took the role of head writer while Pengra helped and punched up the writing a bit. But they weren’t alone, Dustin Svehlak recruited his wife, Jen, for set design / producing, Terance McDavid as production assistant, and Chelsea Robinson for audio recording and post mixing.
Svehlak, Bixby and Pengra are excited about their new project and they want Austin to celebrate it’s premier with them. Sunday, February 15th, they will be throwing a Pretty Awful premier party (get it?) at the Highball. The Highball is located at 1120 South Lamar Blvd, and they will have swag for sale in the form of t-shirts designed by David McQuary who also did the website art. This will be a good post-Valentine’s Day palate cleanser and I am personally looking forward to it.
Katie Pengra has been a staple in the Austin comedy scene for some time now and for the past year, she’s been hosting Buzzkill Comedy at the Buzz Mill.
A Year Old and Going Strong
I’m always curious about how a show gets its start. Katie Pengra happily shared the story of Buzzkill’s beginning with me, “I opened for a band at Antone’s a while ago, and one of the band members was the booker for the Buzz Mill at the time. they wanted comedy, and he liked my set so he asked me if I wanted to start a show. I figured it would be short lived, outdoor shows are never very successful.”
It’s been a year and despite her initial reservations, Buzzkill Comedy is doing extremely well. Pengra told me that the show has become one of the biggest business nights of the week for the venue. On November 5th, Katie Pengra and Buzzkill Comedy celebrated their 1 year anniversary with an extended line up and a pies and cakes.
Buzzkill Comedy Show is a weekly show featuring a healthy cross-section of Austin’s stand-up scene. What makes this show unique is that Pengra has a added an element to nip hecklers in the bud. She invites them on stage. Well, not all of them, just a lucky person who wins a raffle.
Creatively Engaging the Audience
This is the most creative way I’ve heard to fight those pesky hecklers. Maybe it’s because I’ve been more aware of them, but it seems like hecklers in Austin are spreading like the media thinks the Ebola virus is. Katie Pengra has opined on this very topic in the Austin Chronicle after seeing this plague on comedy infect a Tig Notaro show in October.
Pengra explains the details, “I have also started adding an additional element. People would come up to me every week saying that they want to try comedy, and they think they’re funnier than the comics so I should put them on stage. I’ve started doing a raffle each week for a 3 minute spot. Each week strangers put their name in, and i draw one person to perform 3 minutes before the headliner. But the caveat is that we get to make fun of them.
So what do you need to know? Once again, Buzzkill Comedy is at the Buzz Mill every Wednesday at 9pm. This is an outdoor venue. So dress weather appropriate. Also it’s a free show, which means there really isn’t an excuse to not go and check it out.
Click the links to find out more about Buzzkill Comedy and the Buzzmill: