It’s a common trope that comedy is born out of personal darkness. While Melody Shifflet has had her share (and maybe yours) of hard times in her past, she definitely doesn’t let it define her life and stage persona.
A native Texan, Shifflet started her life in Pasadena before coming to Austin, and has spent the majority of her time here ever since. In Part one of her interview, She takes Valerie Lopez through a variety of stops on a journey that served to teach her about her strengths, weaknesses, and how each help her evolve for the next phase in her future. We also learn how a zine with friends led to that tantalizing first step onto stage that has brought her to being a mainstay on the Austin comedy scene.
When she’s not working on her joke noodle arms, Melody Shifflet has found time to be a semi-finalist in the Funniest Person in Austin contest, and has guested on the The Listening Room, a long form podcast. The ListeningRoom is one of the many showcases of her passion for writing. In Part two of her interview, Shifflet and Valerie dig into how she continues to drive and refine her skills in the area.
Coming up in early 2017, look for Shifflet in a new season of Stand Up Empire, the PBS series on comedy filmed right here in Austin. You’ll have to listen to learn how she’s planning to prepare her set – it’s all the rage these days.
Find more about Melody Shifflet and her upcoming shows on her Facebook and at Last Gas Comedy. She also does the picture thing on Instagram, and muses on Twitter. If you’re looking to check Shifflet’s comedy out in the near future, here are some opportunities:
Bar 512, Thursday 12/15
WE RUN THIS (a stand up and storytelling show) at Coldtowne on 1/3 and 2/7
How is grossly insulting someone similar to that classic, vaunted, form of prosaic delivery itself, iambic pentameter? These are the kind of questions that flow through Kath Barbadoro’s mind, and will now be inextricably linked in mine. I think I have a new goal for a skill to develop in 2017.
Every interview of Valerie’s that I cover teaches me something new about comedy and the science and art involved. I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that her time with Kath took that to an entirely new level.
Born in New Hampshire, Kath Barbadoro grabbed her major at Grinnell College, in Iowa (shout out to Joe Barlow, fellow Iowan graduate and recurring influence in her story), before making her way to Austin. In Part one of their interview, Barbadoro takes Valerie on a journey through her early inspirations, how she chose her current home base, and how she landed an unexpected (and well deserved) role on ATX Uncensored(ish).
Kath Barbadoro is in constant pursuit of perfection in her art, and in Part two of her interview, we learn more about her ambitions beyond stand up, and the story behind some of her more well known appearances like Comedy Central: Roast Battle, where she faced off with another Austin favorite, Chris Cubas, and Master Pancake, where she’s appeared with other Comedy Wham alums like Ella Gale. We also get to hear early news about an unreleased upcoming special, and her promise that, no matter where life takes her, she’ll always return to Austin. We have it on tape, Kath, and we’re holding you to it.
If you do the Twitters, you owe it to yourself to follow Barbadoro to keep up with her latest views on politics, life, and a million other topics. Find clips, press, upcoming dates, and more at her website, kathbarbadoro.com, and on Facebook. If you listen to podcasts, be sure and check out Wigsnatchers, featuring Kath Barbadoro, Chris Cubas, and Ralphie Hardesty.
Remember the holy trinity of childhood humor: Garfield, the Far Side, and Mad Magazine? Maybe that was just my religion, but David McQuary and I seem to have worshipped at the same illustrated childhood altars. Valerie talks with a lot of comedians, but not always on the topic of actual comics. While this subject, and others, weren’t specifically the roots of David McQuary’s comedy gene, they definitely played a role in where he would go, and one in particular convinced me that cows really do plot regime change when we’re not looking.
McQuary was born in Texas, spent some time in South Carolina, and returned to get a business degree at UT before moving to the Houston area he now calls home. In part one of his interview, he and Valerie cover the beginnings of his passions for illustrating, writing, and stand up, and how a costume malfunction [eventually] led to David being a finalist in the Funniest Person in Austin contest 2 years running.
Austinites, and UT students especially,may be familiar with the Texas Travesty. This is where David McQuary cut his publishing teeth – in a collaborative, writer’s room style environment. Part two of his interview, he lets us in on how an open mic coincidence landed him the gig, and the series of events that took him from there to a writing fellowship at The Onion; leading to him spending his days in a contributing writer role at the satirical paper, while still finding time to perfecting his craft for his Austin stand up appearances.
To stay up to date with David, follow him Facebook and other social media sites. He promises you’ll get something out of it. If you haven’t had the chance to see him live yet, check out one of his sets from TNM Tonight, or find some of his many video appearances like That Guy Class on YouTube.
Like the origins of comedy itself, my feelings about Ella Gale may be best represented as a quantum superposition: two states at once -both joy and sadness. The former comes from the hilarity and presence she has brought to the Austin comedy scene, and the latter from the fact that she is moving to Los Angeles in early 2017. At the same time I’m also happy about her future success there. So that’s three states at least. Physics is amazing, y’all.
The oddly technical intro up there came about after listening to Valerie cover Ella Gale’s dual lives in performing and engineering (R.I.P. to the second life as of when this was recorded). I can relate to how she methodically approaches comedic endeavours and the many videos and sketches she’s created and refined.
For a young comedian, Gale has a hefty, and worldly, history behind her. Her path led through Colorado, Montana, Yemen and Austin is definitely one rarely traveled. In college, Gale took advantage of varied Liberal Arts and Sciences topics. She picked up skills in areas that ultimately make perfect sense for the rigor and creativity she brings to stage and video. In Part One of her interview, we learn more about her history, how a bad job market and coincidental connection led to re-igniting her performing career, and how she became involved in several projects that local comedy fans will certainly know by name.
Fresh off a performance at the Bridgetown comedy festival in June, Valerie jumps into Part Two covering the major changes happening in Ella Gale’s life and careers. We discover how to slake our unending thirst for general (and just accurate enough) knowledge about giraffes, Los Angeles vs New York, and finally reveal the name of her agent. Don’t forget to check out Ella’s YouTube channel; she’ll know if you don’t.
Catch Ella Gale on Naughty Bits on November 11th and December 16th, the only two remaining with her at the New Movement Theater. She also has two upcoming Master Pancake shows on November 11th and 12th at the Alamo Ritz. Find more show dates and videos at her website, ellagalecomedy.com. Be sure to follow her on Facebook. Her latest video covers a new dating service that is sure to have many rolling over in their graves, or, if you’re lucky, your bed.
Here are a few more topics to check out from the interview:
What does it take to be a comedian? I don’t know. I’m not a comedian. Arielle Norman is, and from what I’ve learned from her interview, it takes willpower.
Norman was a Mormon who grew up in Houston to devout parents. This means her exposure to comedy growing up was extremely limited. In fact, her early influences were her Dad’s puns, a bootleg copy of a Bill Cosby album and Garfield and Friends (Man, that Nermal was something). It wasn’t until she turned seventeen that Norman found the good stuff thanks to Yahoo and as you can guess, Pandora’s Box was opened.
Arielle Norman’s life has been much more complex than her conservative religious upbringing. She’s struggled with OCD, which peaked during her teens and early 20’s. Religion, OCD and other elements have forged an amazing backstory that is best told in her own words. Fortunately, our intrepid interviewer, Valerie Lopez, got it all on audio:
After crisscrossing the country in a way that looks like Michael J. Fox drawing on an Etch-A-Sketch, Norman and the love of her life, Katie, settled down in Austin. Katie farms, Arielle does comedy and they love it. In the year and a half they’ve been in Austin, Arielle Norman has locked down a show every Saturday night at the Hideout Theater. Located in the upstairs theater, Off Script starts off at 10:30 PM.
The Umbrella Show is unique since it’s comprised of four smaller shows. Depending on which week it is, Norman is either hosting Riff Raff, A Heckling Show, Crowd Workaholic, or Director’s Cut. The mini-shows all have a single common theme: teaching comedians to think on their feet. Arielle Norman uses this quote for both the comedians and the audience, “Out of the head, and on their toes.” Yes, it’s a late show, but it’s worth it.
Arielle Norman can be found in a plethora of places on the binary sea that is the World Wide Web. The center of the web is her site, Off Script Comedy, which is where you can find out about her upcoming shows and appearances, and see if her brand of comedy tickles your fancy.
How did Nebraska become a comedy Petri dish? Is there something in the water? The corn? Maybe it’s the atmosphere. Regardless, America’s middle child has sent Austin talented comedians like Cody Hustak, Adam Hrabik, Abby Rosenquist, Ryan Cownie and, and… and Joey Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, who is new to Austin, got his start in comedy at 21 while attending the University of Nebraska. He’s of the generation that had comedy pretty much on request. When he mentioned watching South Park while growing up, I immediately developed rickets and went outside to shake my fist at kids playing on my lawn (I’m getting old and crotchety). Age jokes aside, Zimmerman and his chill demeanor gives me hope for the future and many of us should learn from his go-with-the-flow attitude.
He decided to focus his studies in film and poetry but his parents convinced him to switch to advertising. After graduating, he got a job copywriting and learned that advertising wasn’t his thing and quit. Zimmerman took up a bartending gig and sought out comedy. After a coin flip, Zimmerman packed his bags and marched south to Austin.
Joey Zimmerman gets deep in part two of his interview with Valerie Lopez – going in depth on why he digs telling stories, and how he works out his ideas for bits and stories. This is another one of those episodes that’s great for aspiring comedians since it peels back the curtain a little bit to the joke and story creation process.
Zimmerman has a couple of shows he puts together in town. Good Vibes is a free stand up showcase at Alderbert’s Brewery the 2nd Wednesday of every month. He also has a fresh story telling show at Genuine Joe Coffee Shop called The Listening Room on the 2nd Saturday of every month. If you’ve not gone to a story telling show, you must. They’re fascinating. Be sure to check out Zimmerman’s website where you can see his satire of EDM Deejays.
Some folks are good at thinking outside the box. John Tole excels at it. The walking epitome of the fused brains of Bill Hicks and Ken Kesey is establishing a clean comedy showcase named Come Clean in town between his busy touring schedule and other projects.
A Family Friendly Show
Here it is in a nutshell, Come Clean is, well, a clean comedy showcase – one of the few, if not the only one in Austin. There’s plenty of comedy in town. There are several clean comics but I don’t think I can recall a purely clean comedy show… unless you count that youth minister who travels around to guitar churches but even that doesn’t exactly apply here.
Tole is always looking for a challenge and the positive potential for a clean, family friendly show was too much for him to turn down. He explains it like this:
“Working clean is a whole different energy, and working with ideas that cross generation leads to an opportunity where a kid can have their first comedy experience with their parents. I saw Eddie Murphy with my dad in the 80’s and it’ll be something that’ll be with me forever.”
Tole has decided to kick off the show with a bang. He said it wasn’t hard getting a few comics willing to do a clean show. Maggie Maye, Pat Dean and Carina Magyar have stepped up to the plate and will be performing on the inaugural show.
Phil’s Icehouse in the Austinville shopping center is the location. If you’re unsure of where this is, it’s next door to iFly at 13265 US Hwy 183 N. Why Phil’s Icehouse? Here’s why:
“We wanted to work with Phil’s because I’m a huge fan of their culture and having a buddy who works for the company made it real easy to lock in. It’s a different experience: No stage, all ages, and the background (weather permitting), will be the activity on a jungle gym.”
Paying It Forward
I’m excited about a show like Come Clean, it’s the type of show I can take nieces and nephews to without their parents losing their collective minds. The best part is that John Tole wants to grow it into a form of mentorship –paying it forward to future generations of young comedians by pairing teenagers with comedians. Even if the comedy angle never pans out, it’s a good way to learn public speaking, which is still a top fear of Americans.
Come Clean’s first show is tonight, August, 17th, at 7:30pm. It should run roughly an hour which means families can get their young’uns home by a fairly decent hour. Also, Phil’s Icehouse will be fully staffed and as always, it’s right next door to Amy’s Ice Cream. What’s more to ask for on a Wednesday in August?
Tole keeps himself busy with comedy, music and his podcast, Cart Path Diem. As usual, we list the best way to follow him. Don’t forget to visit Phil’s Icehouse online and in real life.
Aaron Brooks’ describes his past as appreciative, and himself as an open book both on and off the stage. The interviews he made with Valerie Lopez are indicative of this openess. What’s great about these interviews is how he enlightens Valerie Lopez to the processes of writing, joke crafting and how they differ from each other. He also talks about his very personal style of fearless comedy.
The St. Louis-ish native killed it his first time on stage at a 7th grade talent show telling Gallagher jokes. Officially he got his start at the St. Louis Funny Bone Comedy Club but it was quickly put on old. In 2008 he put the hammer down on his comedy career, found a club, with an owner who took a shine to the young Brooks and… and you’ll have to listen to part one of his interview with Valerie Lopez:
After getting professional advice from Jesse Joyce and talking with Mike Macrae and JR Brow, Aaron Brooks decided to move to Austin in 2012. He immediately got signed to the Out of Bounds Comedy Fest, and quickly found open mics. Brooks’ time in Austin has been very productive for him and even landed him a guest spot on the RISK! Podcast with a story that is mind blowing. There is so much more too:
Co-hosting Bounce House at the Spider House Ballroom with Danny Palumbo, performing at showcases and open mics, and shooting videos with Pat Dean and Dusty Svehlak makes Brooks a very busy guy. So if you want to see where he’ll be, check out his website, or his Twitter feed.
Dave Hill’s impact on my comedic preferences has been nothing short of epic. So, while his zipcode may not say Austin, if he’s in town, I’ll be there to watch him perform.
You’ve seen Hill on @midnight (he won his last 3 appearances), the Metal Grasshopper web series, and you’ve heard him on This American Life, the Dave Hill Podcasting Explosion and hosting the Goddamn Dave Hill Show on WFMU. You may have even read his 2 books (he’s currently on tour supporting his second, Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) or his guest columns in the New York Times. Or, maybe you’ve heard of his 90’s band Sons of Elvis or his current band Valley Lodge (their song “Go” is the opening music for Jon Oliver Last Week Tonight on HBO). In any event, I’ve been a big fan of Hill for several years and I’m hell-bent on making sure that everyone knows how great a force he is.
Hill agreed to an interview with me during his book tour stop in Austin and he waxes poetic on many subjects: Abe Lincoln, donuts, Oreo cookies, Gordo’s, family, and being unquestionably awesome. I think once you give it a listen, you’ll agree. I consider Hill an honorary Austinite and if he ever gets sick of New York City, we’d welcome him here with open arms.
My Comedy Wham cohorts mentioned picking shows and performers for Moontower Comedy Festival is like picking your favorite kid. I’d love to get in on the analogy but due to the brouhaha, I got to get to brass tacks.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
I am already torn. Missing Austin Towers at the Velv Comedy Lounge would be a travesty. The show starts at 8:3opm and features an amazing cross section of Austin comedy. Andrew Dismukes, Pat Dean, and Derek Phelps alone make the show worth seeing. Then they throw in Brian Gaar, Zac Brooks and Kath Barbadoro and that still isn’t the entire lineup. This is a show I normally wouldn’t think twice about.
This year though, I do have to think twice about Austin Towers because Maria Bamford is headlining the Paramount Theatre at 9:30pm with Erin Foley and Jackie Kashian. If you’re an Elite or Ace badge holder, or if you’ve purchased a ticket to the show, then beating feet from the Velv to the Paramount may not be a big deal. If you’re holder of a Fan Badge, you may be forced to choose between the shows, since Fan Badge holders get in after ticket and upper level badge holders – making it a first come, first serve scenario.
I’ve recently immersed myself in Bamford’s comedy and I would very much like to see her live. Besides, she’s also performing with Jackie Kashian and Erin Foley. I’ve been able to see Kashian and Foley on past Moontower Comedy shows and I dug their sets. Austin Towers or Maria Bamford… maybe I should rethink my intro paragraph.
Friday, April 22, 2016
SheBang is a female themed showcase taking place at *pm from 800 Congress. Greg Behrendt (not a female) hosts a fun crew of female comics including Erin Foley, Jackie Kashian, and of course, Austin’s very own, Maggie Maye. If you recall my dilemma from my Thursday recommendations, you’ll note that two out of the three performers from Maria Bamford’s show are on SheBang. So if you’re a fan badge holder and chose Austin Towers, this may be a bit of a consolation for you/us (I won’t make up my mind until I stand in line on Thursday).
My experiences watching Jackie Kashian, Erin Foley and Maggie Maye have always entertaining. On top of that, what other time will you be able to see Janeane Garofalo, and The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams in a smaller venue?
At 10pm staying at 800 Congress is a good idea for the Stars in Bars showcase. Locals Mike MacCrae, Matt Bearden and Martha Kelly tell jokes alongside Ari Shaffir, Hasan Minhaj and others. I enjoy line ups like Stars in Bars. It lives up to its name. Bearden, MacCrae and Kelly are old school members of the Austin comedy scene and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see them live, let alone on the same show.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest checking out the Ping Pong Slapdown at Stateside at the Paramount. The event starts at 2pm and is hosted by the Sklar Brothers. Believe it or not, the comedians participating get very competitive. It’s a fun event and there may be a chance to get some free stuff.
Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes are recording their podcast, Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, at 5pm from Speakeasy. This is one of several podcasts being recorded over the course of the weekend. This event is badge only and seats are sure to fill up fast.
This Is Not Happening is… ahem, happening at 8pm from The Parrish. Many of the acts on the bill have been mentioned in my other recommendations. The reason why I suggest this show is because of Kurt Meztger and Kat Ramzinski. I love these two comedians. The NYC based Metzger’s blunt style of comedy is appealing to me and Ramzinksi is one of the rawest female comedians you’ll come across. Austin is lucky she calls it home.
Wednesday is the official start of Moontower. While the schedule is light, there are shows at Stateside at the Paramount, Cap City Comedy Club, and the Paramount Theatre.
The Stephen F. Austin bar serves as the official lounge of Moontower Comedy Fest. It gets the busiest after the shows start wrapping up. While they accept cards and open tabs, it’s a good idea to take cash to make things quicker at closing time.
Many comedians are on a variety of shows during the festival. If you miss a particular act, you have a good chance of catching it again.
Be sure to pay attention to the time your shows start, and travel time between venues.