Ask anyone who runs a music venue, and they’ll probably concede that their stage is pretty much open to anything that brings bodies through the door and to the bar. Sometimes that means burlesque shows or even rock-paper-scissors competitions. In that anything-goes-that’ll-bring-in-people ethos, Main at South Side (1002 S Main St, 682-707-7774), colloquially known as MASS, is no different. The Near Southside rock club has been adding stand-up comics to its calendar at least once a month for the past eight months.
Branded as Laugh Your MASS Off, the comedy shows are the brainchild of local comic Brian Breckenridge. Over the past few years, he’s shifted from hosting open-mics to booking mid-level comedians from out of town. Last May, he pitched his comedy night idea to MASS co-owners TJ Weber and Alan Brown (who also books the venue). Weber, himself a huge fan of stand-up comedy, was instantly on board.
As MASS is a legit venue, it offers a spot for the touring, working comics who aren’t yet on Hyena’s radar to play a room that is more than a just a PA set up in the corner of a dive bar. Breckenridge’s shows are typically on Sunday or Wednesday, according to the headliner’s routing, usually on the way to or from Austin.
“I got sick and tired of seeing comics driving through or flying over DFW,” he said. “If they’re not a club comic, then they’re not doing a weekend here.”
The first Laugh Your MASS Off event in May was headlined by Memphis’ Mo Alexander, who’s made a name for himself after appearing on Comedy Central’s Hart of the City. Prior to that first LYMO gig, he’d performed at some of Breckenridge’s DIY shows at The Grotto and the Sunshine Bar. That 30 people showed up on a Sunday night at MASS to see him again indicates that his draw here in Cowtown is growing.
Helping road comics build a fanbase is one of Breckenridge’s main goals. Laugh Your MASS Off shows give the comics more stops on their tour, comedy fans a reason to leave the house, and reaches people who go out to see bands but might not ever drop into Hyena’s.
That second type of comedy fan is who Weber wants to reach.
“I would love to see the same crowd that’s here to see War Party show up to see comedy,” he said. “I hope that we can make Laugh Your MASS Off the kind of thing where it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s a Laugh Your MASS Off show? We’ve got to go to that.’ ”
To that end, Breckenridge is going as big as he can. Headlining Friday night’s LYMO is Mishka Shubaly, who Breckenridge describes as “like Tom Waits meets Bukowski meets Johnny Cash.” Shubaly might not be a name like Patton Oswalt or Kyle Kinane, but he’s been in the game for a long time, touring with veteran comics like Doug Stanhope and lecturing at prominent institutions like Yale University after his 2011 Amazon Kindle single “Shipwrecked” (essentially a short story about literally getting shipwrecked presented in audiobook form) gained him a cult following. Shubaly’s direct support is JT Habersaat, known nationally as the “Godfather of Punk Comedy.” Mike Wiebe, who has fronted Austin-by-way-of-Denton punk ’n’ roll band the Riverboat Gamblers, opens the show.
Habersaat and Breckenridge are buddies, and Breckenridge credits the Austin-based comic for helping him make connections in the national comedy scene.
“He tours relentlessly,” Breckenridge said. “And he sends a lot of people he does shows with in my direction.”
Booking working comedians on the road helps them out, and it also helps the local performers do some networking and resume building. And as Breckenridge’s shows get bigger –– he said the crowd for headliner Kyle Pogue’s December’s show was twice as big as the first LYMO in May –– he thinks they’ll inspire more Fort Worth comedy fans to get behind the mic themselves.
“I’m seeing a lot of people get the bug,” he said.
Cover to Friday’s show is $5.