“Hey, do you think that they would get mad if I wore the milk jug costume?”
“Do you care if they get mad?”
I look back at my days in Austin frequently, reminiscing in my mind sometimes feeling so glad that I left, moved to San Diego, then to Houston, and who knows where to next, and at other times I’ve felt so sad that I ever said goodbye to that city. I’ve never seen the level of creativity and original comedy at an open mic, than what I witnessed during those first few years at the Velveeta Room.
The Velveeta Room now seems to me to be a present to the city of Austin from the lovely people of Esther’s Follies and a present that hasn’t always been appreciated. There was such a variety of comedic styles on any given Thursday that you might see just regular stand-up comedy, then maybe a quick musical act, at least one guy taking off his shirt, or a sketch comedy routine, it was just so comedically random at times that being able to describe a typical night at the Velveeta Room during that era presents quite a few challenges. Sometimes there would be a decent sized audience there and of course as the saying goes “If it’s packed, do your act.”, but then sometimes it was really slow, without much of an audience in attendance and believe it or not those were sometimes the best nights. No, you wouldn’t experience a room full of strangers laughing together, which is just amazing, but there was a certain sense of freedom when there were very few audience members there. It was almost as if you could get away with pushing the envelope a little more, since there weren’t many witnesses and at that time in the historical timeline of recordability, we were still at the camcorder days, and not a lot of broke comics had video cameras. Some did, but not a lot.
There was a sense of expiration to the evening. Once the night was over, it would be done, no video to post online, no tweets to send, no evidence at all. Just do whatever the fuck you want to do, and for the most part we did. The original and creative comedy wasn’t done by me of course. I still sucked as a comic during this time, I’m just not that good yet, but I did get good later, when I was working at the Comedy Store in La Jolla. I was good then. I was really good for a little while, until my demons took center stage. We’ll get to that. Eventually.
The Velveeta Room was its own place, original in so many ways, differentiating itself from other comedy clubs even without really trying. It sits on Austin’s 6th Street right there next to Esther’s Follies, where Esther’s could help make sure that the bills at the Velveeta got paid on time etc., since there’s just no way that the room itself could make enough revenue on its own merit business wise. Are you fucking kidding me? I would love to hear the stories of how they juggled those two rooms, Esther’s and The Velveeta Room sometime, especially since I’m about to have a master’s degree in business.
The small nature of the club, the door guy Michael who barks down the street. “C’mon in and make her grin here at the Velveeta Room!” trying to make eye contact with the lively 6th Street crowd, “Free admission with your Esther’s ticket stubs!” Mike will advertise as the perpetually sold-out crowds from Esther’s pile out onto the street or right into the Velveeta Room via the side door at Esther’s only to be ushered right past the Velveeta Room stage, almost shocked to see a comedian performing so close to them as some of them sit down to enjoy the performance, others just walking by the stage as fast as humanly possible in order to escape the possibility of being engaged into an type of conversation with whoever the comic was onstage at the time.
There is one guy that is probably the best all-around comedian that I’ve ever seen work a crowd. His name was Charlie Shannon. I saw Charlie Shannon do things with what might be considered a bad audience that was just amazing. An audience so bad that it would make other comics scratch their names off of the list, but not Charlie. Charlie wasn’t scared of a fucking thing. I would love to fill a few pages with nothing, but Charlie Shannon jokes and I’m so tempted to, but it would almost seem wrong to do so. There are several reasons why, but I’ll just name the top 2. The first reason is that he and I weren’t really close at all. He was nice to me and gave me advice occasionally, but I knew him better another way. And the second reason is that Charlie could be so unscripted, that if taken out of context, some of his jokes may not seem as funny. You just had to be there. Charlie seemed to be able to sense things in an audience that other comics couldn’t see, and he just knew where to take them. He didn’t follow the rules. Charlie’s fashion sense was almost as if he went into Goodwill and asked if they had any clothes that weren’t as fancy as what they had hanging on the racks. He wasn’t trying to find an outfit to look his best on stage as the rest of the majority of comics that I’ve known have down at least once. No, Charlie must have just not given a shit, because I guess, and this is just a guess, he knew that his jokes were his fancy suit perhaps, or again maybe he just couldn’t give a fuck. Man, he was good. No, he was the best.
He wasn’t the only bad ass though. I’ve mentioned the two Howards earlier, Beecher and Kremer, but there was a group of really good comedians there. I mean really good. The following comics are not listed in any particular order, but these were the funniest, at the time, according to me. Eddie Gosseling was one of the funniest motherfuckers that I’ve ever seen period. The dude was a fucking beast. He wasn’t screaming or yelling, he was just calm as fuck, but he could just blow the fucking roof off of the place. He went up with this puppet one time…never mind. It was so offensive, but so fucking hilarious and I’ll never mention it again, but all of the Velveeta Alumni know exactly what the fuck I’m talking about. Blew the roof off of the place and it would never happen in the present day comedy scene. It was too edgy.
They also did a roast of Eddie Gosseling when he left for Hollywood, where he ended up being a writer for the Daniel Tosh tv show as Daniel Tosh would be around Austin a lot in those days. But during that roast there were some of the funniest moments, that I once again, I’m just not going to discuss the material, because it could be taken the wrong way if you were not in the room at the time. That’s one of the things about really edgy comedy like that. You have to see where the room is allowing you to take it, but every once in a while, you get an audience of straight up deviants that just want you to take it as far as possible. Try that set the next show, you’ll start to walk the audience. Laura House is a comic that is in LA now and I’m not sure how often she performs, so if you ever see her name on something, Go See Her! Laura House is about as genuine and funny as you are going to find in a comic, and I believe that she has done some acting and writing. Tom Hester was a comic from Houston that was older than I was, but we got along very well. Tom is such a great storyteller that he can just get an audience to go wherever he wanted to it seemed. When Tom is in his zone you can hear a pin drop while he is onstage, the audience is so captivated, and then when his punchline drops…watch the fuck out. Nancy Reed was an absolute powerhouse as well. Nancy always reminded me of what Bonnie Raitt would have been like if she picked up a microphone to tell jokes instead of to sing while playing her strat. There was also Chip Pope, who was a very original, kind of like a Beastie Boy, swear to God the dude looked like he should be listed as the lost Beastie Boy that got kicked out of the group just before they made it big. I’m pretty sure that Chip went on to be a writer. There was a comedy team called Scott and Stacy that were kind of nerdy funny, and they would do these great quirky sketch comedy routines that were just so amazingly creative and original that I would just find myself mesmerized by their performances. There was also the very funny J.R. Brow, who never really liked me after I fucked over Rabon, but he is still working the road and telling jokes. There of course were others that either got good later, or that I’ve just forgotten about, but those were the top ones that I remember from that time period. I apologize if I left anyone out and I reserve the right to add to this list later. There were others of course that got better later like Matt Sadler and Matt Bearden, but that happened later than the point in time which I’m currently discussing. I know that I mentioned it before, but I really must irritate how much it helped my depression to have a place to go once a week to hear other human beings laugh. There was something about being in a room watching comedy and it sometimes seemed like the Velveeta Room was just kind of a room for fuck-ups to make other fuck-ups laugh.
There were the really funny comics and then there were the rest of us like John Rabon and me that just weren’t that good yet, but we could host a show ok, not anything like Charlie Shannon, but we had been getting our chances around town. At some point we began to do a show at the Ritz Lounge on Wednesday nights. The Ritz Lounge had a movie projector screen and we would show South Park on that big screen followed by live stand-up comedy. We made small hand-bills to pass out that advertised the Ritz show and the Velveeta Room open mic and we began to put together a street team to pass out flyers for shows. I would bar-back after the show at the Ritz Lounge and of course, I would have a lot of fun up in the projector room night after night. I was still fighting depression as most likely I will forever I suppose, but I was making it through and looking forward to getting better at stand-up comedy. The frustration of seeing other comics getting better faster than I was had been getting kind of old, but I was trying to be patient and honestly, what the fuck else was I going to do? I’m fighting the constant urge to smoke crack and it’s really difficult not to. I’m still doing lines of powder coke a few times a week, but it’s not every night anymore. That’s the way my addiction was at that time. I would just keep trying not to smoke crack. I would have dozens of victories, where I would be so fucking strong, but all it takes is that one time when the cravings get too strong and then the cognitive dissonance that follows is just awful. Because if I fuck up just once… one slip-up, one moment of weakness… I’m just a crack head again.
But for now, I’m Teddy’s roommate and Teddy dresses up in costumes all the fucking time. He works at Esther’s Follies, it’s required. Plus, being around someone like that is fun. I’m about to go onstage at the Velveeta room and I notice that there is a milk jug costume inside the green room. Hey Teddy…
I’m 29 and don’t fuck with this milk jug. Check my expiration date. I’ve gone bad baby. I’m bad.
I have about 9 weeks of school left until I earn my MBA. I sat in a classroom last night discussing the Ryanair Harvard Business Case Study with some other MBA candidates and during a break I had one of those moments where my smile seemed like it was almost obnoxiously plastered to my face. To the point where I tried to hide the fact that I was so happy for that moment. I wiped my face, just because. I wasn’t sweating, no crumbs, random spider, nothing. It was one of those “what the fuck is going on?” moments where it’s so pronounced in your own mind, to where you can almost hear it audibly, in fact I caught myself asking internally “did I just say that out loud?” and then quickly realizing that no, it was just a thought. I slowly took a sip of water and thought “Oh, well. I have no idea how life works.”
And then a few minutes later the other students returned so that we could finish our debate. “Would anyone like a Kind bar? I have several.” I like to keep snacks in my briefcase and of course enough to share. I’m not a dick. And if you don’t care about being a dick then put some snacks in your briefcase or purse anyway. Seriously. The Rule of Reciprocity. Look that shit up and study it. For real. It’s one of the easiest, most available, most affective, and replicable negotiating or business tactics that there is. There have been countless, countless, countless, countless, countless, countless, countless, not a typo, countless, countless, and then probably even more experiments performed regarding the power of reciprocity and even in the smallest forms, it can be found to be extremely effective. I’m not going to go through all of the cases, but the items were small like a can of soda, or a candy bar, or even giving more than the usual amounts of post dinner mints to the diners at a restaurant as long as those diners were casually informed regarding the extra mints. “You guys are great, Hey, just for you, two more mints.” It sounds ludicrous, I know. Total bullshit. That is until you start looking at the quantitative data that supports it. The data that is replicated over and over from separate psychology departments across the country, those experiments backing up the findings of the others. The data will tell you what is right. Just trust he data. I love numbers and data now, but I didn’t pass College Algebra until I was 43 years old. And I failed math almost every year since 5th or 6th grade, so just being at the point where I’m still not great, extremely slow, but I eventually get the answer correct, almost, is just fine by me. It’s funny how an “almost” correct answer becomes more acceptable as the math get more difficult. “Oh well, shit man, you were close…that’s an A.”
I wasn’t a good comedian, but I was getting better, but I was unfortunately one of those comics that thought that they were much better than they actually were. I also thought that I had more material and more time than I actually did. For example. “Hey, Steven. How many minutes’ worth of material can you do?’ “I can do 30.” Right now, if any comedian or former comedian is reading this, they know exactly what the fuck I’m talking about. This is extremely common among new comics. I could probably do 7-10 good minutes, but even that wasn’t consistent. I couldn’t stay on script. I would always drift away to another topic, while I was in the middle of something else. Just a mess. I got better, but still. What a fucking mess of random thoughts interrupting prepared material.
Anyway, I went over to hang out with a newer comic that had been coming around the Velveeta Room where my weekly Thursday night sets were becoming the preferred pee-break for regular audience members, “Kendrick’s up next? I’m going to the bathroom.” and at Capital City Comedy club where I had been starting to get noticed a little bit by the lower management, not the top. Nope. That would never happen, I fucked it up BAD and I’ll discuss it in about a month at the current writing pace.
Well, I go over to this comics house to smoke weed, grill steaks, drink, and talk comedy. This guy was just an awful excuse for an open mic comic. Just horrible. One of the worst that I’ve ever seen, and also pretty much a dick. I was only planning on staying there as long as it took me to eat my steak and smoke enough of his weed to compensate me for my time. There of course was an almost comedically tall, plastic bong with Mexican weed filling the bowl as my host goes on a 20-minute tirade regarding the overpriced good, indoor-grown, weed that he had just last week, but is of course all out of now, and the really nice glass bong that he broke, then swore NEVER to buy glass again. He did all of this in a Saddam Hussein voice. Then he did Saddam Hussein ordering at McDonalds along with a closer. Ah, shit. This motherfucker is doing material on me. WTF, damn it. I just sit there realizing the dilemma that I’m in regarding whether or not to begin heckling this guy in his own living room, and then his roommate comes home and puts on some music that sounds really fucking familiar, but I can’t quite place it. Then it hits me. (Wait, is that the fucking Beastie Boys? No, but wait. That is the beat that they used though. WTF is this song?)
I was just kind of floored to hear the original song where the Beastie Boys had found one of their beats from and I wanted to know more about it. Then the dude said “Oh, my roommate. Hey, do you listen to KLBG Morning Show with Dave Diddly, Brad, and Samantha? Yeah, he was the intern called Man-Boobs.” Holy shit. Fucking Man-Boobs? I was honestly kind of surprised. Man-Boobs was a motherfucking legend in Austin. That’s not the real moniker, but the amount of market penetration that was created by that morning show on KLBG with Diddly, Brad, and Samantha made Man-Boob damn near a household name. I cannot stress to you enough, because at that time there wasn’t access to any level of celebrity like there is now. When you got in your car in the morning you would turn on the radio and in Austin at that time, Jesus…radio was awful. B-93 or some pop shit, KNACK was fucking cool with their PSYcHo Baby stickers, but the absolute leader was KLBG, and the morning show was the most popular morning show in Austin. And Man-Boobs was the intern that got to do all of that intern shit. Running errands, getting sent to this location for a remote broadcast, getting sent across town to another location to get hit with golf-balls while wearing a protective suit, or while in a cage, I’ll have to check with Man-Boobs and touch on the details in a later post. It’s true, that the staff of KLBG kind of abused and beat up on Man-Boobs, but that was also just kind of the gig. He was kind of the clownish, but lovable Man-Boobs. Man-Boobs had his role on the drive-time early morning show Monday through Friday, but he also had his own Saturday or Sunday morning shows, where I began to listen to his radio show years before the day that I’m currently discussing.
I remember turning on my radio one weekend morning and driving to the real estate office where I was going to show an apartment to a prospective tenant. I was shocked to hear kind of a jazz sound coming from KLBG, which usually just played older rock. I really enjoyed the old music and I started to listen to Man-Boobs in the morning when I was awake at that time. Sometimes I was awake, just not fully rested of course. Not awake, I guess. STILL awake, is a little more accurate. Well, what do you know, the actual Man-Boobs is this guy’s roommate. Well, I get to know Man-Boobs quite well, but by this time he had recently been fired by KLBG and they had aired a lot of his dirty laundry, but Man-Boobs and I ended up being roommates and really good friends. For over 10 years Man-Boobs and I had a pretty good fucking time, should have gone to jail a lot more than either one of us did, and when Man-Boobs was drunk he would do a dance in the middle of a dance floor called “The Funky Butt”. Ha ha ha Man-Boobs was a fucking riot.
I’m 29 and I’m about to sit around another coffee table. Fuck, this again?