INTERVIEW by CARLY BALDWIN | BR!NK PHOTOGRAPHY by KELLEE MATSUSHITA
For someone who got into comedy for the free beer, Brendon Walsh has done pretty well for himself, by all accounts. Originally from Philadelphia, PA, Brendon made the move to Austin, TX in 2002 where he started stand-up at the not-so-tender age of 29. Within a few years, he won “The Funniest Person in Austin” contest, he toured as the opening act for Doug Stanhope, and was featured in the “New Faces” Showcase at the Just For Laughs comedy festival. He has appeared on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel, and in 2011 was handpicked by John Oliver to be on the Comedy Central show “John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show.” He also participated in this year’s wildly hilarious and successful SF Sketchfest. (Check out some pictures of the event on Wired.)
Do you remember specifically who you saw that made you think “Oh, I’d like to try comedy”?
Chris Fairbanks was living in Austin [when I was] and I had actually gone to an open mic once before, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the vibe there, I thought the comedians were all kind of like bullies-ish, and they weren’t welcoming to new people. So I had the attitude of “screw those guys, I don’t want to be part of that.” And then a couple of years later, Chris Fairbanks, Martha Kelly, and Michelle Biloon, and a handful of comedians who were about my age were in town, and they were funny. I was talking to Chris Fairbanks one night and asked him if he wanted to do something that weekend and he said, “Oh, I can’t, I’m going to be working in Houston featuring for some comedian,” and I was like, “Well, what does featuring mean?” And he was like, “You’re the middle act, it’s a three man show and you do like 20 minutes and then there’s a headliner,” and I asked him how much it paid and he said it paid like 600 dollars and I was like, “Oh, well, that’s about how much money I make a week at my job, how do I do that?” And he was like, “Just go to an open mic” and “enter this contest” which was the Funniest Person in Austin contest, which was coming up, so I wrote some jokes and went to a few open mics and entered that contest and made it to the finals, and then it just progressed from there. I achieved my goal of making 600 dollars a week pretty quickly and it’s kind of leveled off for the past ten years. So I guess if anybody wants any advice, set your goals high.
Do you think you would have been on the same path had you gone to New York or Chicago or right out to L.A. to pursue the arts?
You know, I do think about that sometimes, but it’s hard to say. I do sometimes have regrets. I definitely regret not starting sooner. I was 29 when I started, which is really late for a comedian. Generally comedians my age have way more experience under their belt, but it just took me a while to figure it out and to start doing it.
Do you feel like the atmosphere in Austin shaped your comedy in any specific way?
Specifically… it sounds negative, but I think it kind of made me a little lazier and not as edgy, and I think I would have gone to a different place. I think I did hold back a bit because people weren’t as thick-skinned in Austin and I really enjoy ballbusting, edgier humor, etc. Just the overall comedy community — people were just nice to each other. There wasn’t any kind of good-natured ballbusting. You think of guys like Jim Norton, Patrice O’Neill, Greg Giraldo… oh jeez, everybody is dead that I’m naming… like Dave Attell, Louis C.K., and Todd Barry. There’s just more of a harder edge to them, I think.
What did you do before you got up to that 600 dollars a week with comedy?
The craziest job that I had in Austin… I had this friend, Shawn, who worked for this guy who was an event planner, and sometimes there would be extra money left in the budget and they did this circus-themed party one time, and he paid my friend to be a drunken clown at the party. And one time for a Spin Magazine party during SXSW, he wanted two drunken clowns. He asked my friend Shawn if he knew anybody and Shawn called me and I was like, “Yeah, that sounds great, what do I have to do?” and he said, basically, go rent a clown suit and let’s get drunk and go to this party and harass people. So I was in. That first party was amazing. There was a line of people around the corner and we show up, and we’re fucking tipsy drunk, and we walk to the front of the line and the guy’s like, “the clowns get in,” and they open the rope and we go into this amazing party in the basement of this office building. And then we proceeded to just go around and be complete assholes to everybody and then we each got paid! We did like three or four of those drunken clown parties and then the work dried up for some reason… well, I know why the work dried up. He hired us for a party one time, and we get a call Friday night, the day before, and they guy’s like, “You know this is a daytime party, right? It’s at 9:30 in the morning. And you guys just have to be regular clowns.” You know, for, like, running games and stuff. And we were like, “What? Fuck that.” So we all agreed that we were going to get drunk anyway before that party. It was like a company picnic, there were kids running around. It was awful. So we were drunk and it didn’t go over well. We weren’t being super obnoxious but we were pretty obviously drunk and, you know, parents aren’t into that kinda shit. When you’re standing there by a bouncy house to make sure no kids get hurt, they don’t want you to be drunk.
Who are some of your favorite comedians that people aren’t necessarily seeing on TV stand-up specials?
Duncan Trussell, Johnny Pemberton, Randy Liedtke, Davey Johnson, Chelsea Peretti, Rory Scovel, Chuck Watkins, Henry Phillips, Doug Mellard, and David Huntsberger.
There are a lot of funny people that people never hear of, and there are a lot of factors that go into being successful, but I do believe that if you are funny and you’re not a complete fucking psychopath or a raging alcoholic, things work out, ultimately. I don’t think that there’s a hilarious guy that nobody knows about. Comedy’s a pretty small community and everybody wants a new funny guy. Even if you go work a week in Sioux Falls or somewhere and the emcee there has a few funny jokes, people will hear about him. Most people find their way.
Some comedians feel strongly about regulating which videos of theirs can and cannot be on the internet, and other people don’t care. What’s your personal opinion on that subject, in regards to your material being on the internet?
I’ve had multiple things taken down. I don’t police it regularly, but every now and then I’ll check what videos are up there of me, and if there are things… like, I recently just had something taken down because it was… there was a bit online where it was the first time I had ever performed it, so it wasn’t even a joke yet, just a story. So I had that taken down. Because it’s a story that I’m going to be doing on TV. Anything like that. I guess a bad set, I wouldn’t care. If I was doing what I was doing and people were booing me, I wouldn’t care about that. The only things I’ve ever had taken down were things that were like, “Oh, that’s not a joke yet. I really don’t want that out there.”
Are you still an ordained minister?
Yeah, I don’t think that expires.
Did you just do the two weddings? Have you done any more?
No, I just did the two. And one of them just ended. They got a divorce. But the other one’s going strong. That can be my advertisement. 50 percent success rate. I guess that’s about the national success rate.
You are known as someone who likes to pull pranks. Do you have a favorite?
One of the first ones I did in Austin was when Sandra Bullock had just moved to Austin. I took an ad out in the “Shot in the Dark” section of the free weekly that said, “Jogging Trail. You, Sandra Bullock. Me, guy pointing and yelling, ‘Hey Everybody, look, it’s Sandra Bullock!’ You ran off before I could get your number. Drinks? Coffee? Maybe more?”
On Craigslist I tried to sell a bag of barber’s hair for $50, but nobody bought it. I tried to sell printer paper for a dollar a sheet and I got a lot of weirdly angry emails about that. Like, “What the fuck is wrong with you? You can buy like a thousand sheets for 3 dollars!” And I would respond to them just explaining how business works, like supply and demand, and how I need to make a profit. I tried to sell a 20 dollar bill for 50 dollars, but they took that down really quickly. I don’t know if that’s illegal…
Last year I took out an ad in the roommates sections of Craigslist and it said, “37 year-old Male Hoarder Seeking Roommate.” And in the ad it explained that I’m a hoarder, and that I had a room available that would be perfect for a college or grad student. No late night parties, no guests, and please be respectful of my house. And the pictures that I put were pictures of hoarders’ houses that I got off the internet. I got a lot of jokey replies to that, but then on one of the last days that the ad was up, I got an email from the Learning Channel that said, “Hey, we do this show called ‘Hoarders: Buried Alive’ and somebody brought your ad to our attention,” and basically I could have been on the show. If I was wealthier, I would have. But there was really no way to justify renting a house and filling it with shit.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
I would like people to be nice to each other and not be dicks.