Comedy superstar Louis C.K. recently explained the origin of his stand-up career to Jerry Seinfeld on HBO’s Talking Funny, an hourlong panel discussion on comedy.
“I just wanted to be one of those guys,” he said. “I was OK with not being great. I just wanted to be one of those guys.”
After attending the inaugural Unlikely Comedians event at MASS this past Wednesday, I get the feeling that’s sort of where it starts for everyone.
Brainchild of tireless local comic Brian Breckenridge and fellow comic Sam Dobbin, who also plays guitar in spacey post-rockers Tiger of Bengal and cracks wise as a principal of the Shut Up and Prance comedy troupe, The Unlikely Comedians is a fresh take on stand-up: a variety pack of laughs, employing both seasoned entertainers and inexperienced first-timers.
The first installment of UC was hosted by the show’s co-creators, Breckenridge and Dobbin, and featured the seasoned stylings of professionals like Javoris James, Alex Gaskin, and Monna alongside newbs like Lola’s bartender Carrie Hungerford, Jason Alford (co-owner of the Boiled Owl Tavern and frontman for shoe-gazers Slumberbuzz), and Wondercrust/Shut Up and Prance sketch artist Naaman Rodges.
“I’ve had a lot of people come to me, especially since our Wondercrust trip to L.A., and ask about how to get into comedy,” Dobbin said. “I think it can be really intimidating to get into, because unlike doing music and playing a show with a band, you’re up there all alone. We had the thought about, what if we do a pro-am type show and almost trial by fire for your first show, yet still in a comfortable environment, because instead of total strangers, the new comics are performing for friends?”
Lots of people think they’re funny, and as a citizen of the Earth, you have undoubtedly crossed paths with a number of people who have this impression of themselves – even though you are fairly certain they are mistaken. Still, how many of those jokers have put in the work for stage time? How many class clowns out there could really handle night after night of performing to no one at open-mics, of bombed performances, of misguided bookings at noisy rock festivals, and of jokes that fall flat on a disinterested audience? I asked a few of the amateurs of the night why they agreed to participate in this experiment. I wasn’t surprised to hear that many of them had deep-rooted, albeit vague, dreams of being a stand-up comic. I was surprised that the main motivator seemed to be fear itself.
“One of the scariest things for me is being all alone in a creative endeavor,” Rodges said. “That’s why I’ve always done improv and sketch comedy. Strength in numbers. Stand-up has always been a big looming scary beast of a thing. I got tired of being afraid of it, so I agreed to do it.”
That fear of shattering your own self-image may be the biggest thing that separates your “hilarious” friend from the folks actively pursuing a career in stand-up comedy. In the aforementioned HBO special, Chris Rock sympathizes with struggling through the early stages of a career in laughs, explaining, “The first fear is people not paying attention. If they pay attention, and they don’t laugh, it’s still a show.”
According to both Dobbin and Breckenridge, more people with the ability to gain an attentive audience are precisely what the Fort Worth comedy scene needs.
As a raw and uncompromising comic, Breckenridge was initially leery of the idea of bringing in amateurs, but after some consideration he agreed to hop on board in the hopes that collaborating with other Fort Worth art and culture communities would draw in larger audiences. From what I witnessed from this inaugural endeavor, Unlikely Comedians is a step in the right direction.
On May 31, MASS was bustling with a sizable and giddy crowd when the curtain went up at 8pm. By the time the opening act hit the stage, experienced comic James, the audience’s enthusiasm was palpable. The crowd was all about the experience –– whatever it was going to be.
“It’s fulfilling to make people laugh, and I currently wouldn’t change very much,” Dobbin said. “The only thing I want to change is to see more people in our town get interested in comedy and not only coming to shows but making their own and getting involved with making people have fun.”
The Unlikely Comedians will be a monthly feature at MASS, though next month’s date has not yet been announced.
Cameron Smith is the principal singer-songwriter for the Fort Worth post-punk band War Party and performs as a solo artist under the pseudonym Sur Duda. Smith also is a co-founder and owner of Dreamy Life Records and Music, LLC, a Fort Worth-based record studio, store, and label.