Austin's comedy scene has become a big conversation. Unconventional venues have sprung up across the city, improv classes are a standard activity for young adults and events like Moontower Comedy Festival pair big names (Maria Bamford, Anthony Jeselnik, Reggie Watts, and Amy Schumer) with the best in upcoming stand-up, sketch and improv talent.
With soil that rich getting noticed isn't as easy as it was a handful of years back, so when Mac Blake outcompeted 200 comics for the title Funniest Person in Austin, well, it was kind of a big deal.
I've followed Blake since his less-visible days, when he and co-collaborator David Jara blocked off an unassuming hour of airtime on KOOP, Austin's community radio station, and called it 'Mascot Wedding'. A twisty blend of riffy, pranky dialog, the weekly program developed a cult audience. We tuned in each Saturday to hear Blake, Jara and their revolving cast of pals call-in using false voices or just pick-apart comic books, city-centric living, fast food atrocities and all the stuff in between.
That show's since morphed into a podcast, both fellas now perform with John Erler's popular Master Pancake empire and collaborate with a core posse of improv and sketch comics in a group called STAG!, which serves live and video bits to sell-out crowds.
A few years back Blake started messing around with stand-up; now he's one of the most recognizable figures in Austin's comedy scene. Part of that is because he's, like, super tall. The rest is because he's really fucking funny.
He's back from Montreal's Just for Laughs festival where he was chosen to perform on the Fresh Faces Unrepped stage, a showcase for talent that's gonna be big, but doesn't have large-scale representation...yet. He'll perform with fellow Austinite Ralphie Hardesty (The Encyclopedia Show) and Dallas dudes Barry Whitewater and Dan Jenniches at 11 p.m.
Blake's an old friend, so I thought it was time to catch up and get some A's to my Q's and see what exactly is happening down in the Capitol.
Mixmaster: You've been super busy. Mac Blake: Yeah, ever since I won the Funniest Person in Austin Contest it's been a lot of gigs, some of them fun... some of them not-so-fun.
It's a pretty big deal getting that title. Was it like Highlander? Did you consume the powers of those you conquered? I have the feeling those powers would be weirdly contaminated...
Quick, what would they be contaminated with? Comedy grease.
I didn't expect to win either. The competition was really strong -- I mean, I'm happy, I'm thrilled about it, but when the competition is that strong it makes it much more enjoyable.
I feel like Austin's comedy scene has exploded. Is that a supply and demand thing because there are so many clubs and people who are participating? Is it the DIY drive that Austin has? Or everyone's complete inability to stay sober? I think it's kind of a culmination of all of those things, especially the last one. At the moment I think the DIY one has actually outrun the infrastructure. Everyone's like "I'm gonna get this mic up here; I'm gonna start this thing." And that's great, that's what Austin is for.
We don't have the industry that New York, Chicago and L.A. have, but it's super easy to get a show here. But now that there's a lot of shows and everything, that doesn't mean it's all good. I think the enthusiasm is great, but now it needs to be matched with a concentration on quality. I feel like a jerk for saying that.
No, it makes sense. When I moved here two years ago even the crustiest hippie on the farm I was working at was in a sketch troupe. And you have to wonder at some point: "When is that going to contract?" Right, and while I do think there's a whole lot of shit, I think there's been an upgrade of the quality as well. So I feel like we're misallocating our coverage a little bit, but at the same time, there has been an increase in shows that are doing it right.
I originally knew you through your radio-turned-podcast program 'The Mascot Wedding Show.' Could you explain a little about that set up? I was working with this guy David Jara...and he introduced me to this show called 'Best Show', on WFMU. We thought "let's do it," and got a show on the community radio station and tried to make each other laugh -- either by having conversations, or pretending to be other people and calling in. It toiled in obscurity and it continues to toil in even more obscurity as a podcast.
I love it though, because kinda like 'Best Show', you guys bring your friends on and it's like listening in on this great party that's happening. But then there's also that Phil Hendrie quality, where you pose as different characters but you don't acknowledge it. It's sort of morphed into show about Austin comedy now that it's a podcast where we just have local comedians on. We've been meaning to work the characters back into it, but this thing happens where you start having a conversation... before you know it, an hour has passed.
"Ghost Bros" by STAG Comedy. Mac Blake is the Ghost Bro.
Is there any interest in getting STAG! up here anytime soon? Yeah. Actually that's 100% my fault. I've meaning to email back to Dallas Comedy House, so that's on me. I did a show up there and really loved the venue. We've got a couple new shows that we'd like to take up to Dallas, it's just a matter of finding the date.
You don't think Dallas Comedy House is too tiny? Just for the volume of physical space that you guys would require? If we were playing there we wouldn't have to mess with loud mics. We could just do it projecting our voice, which would solve a lot of problems right away.
When did you go from sketch to stand-up? And did you take classes for [stand-up], or did you freeball it? I did stand-up here and there. But it was around the time I started doing stuff with STAG! that I started taking it more seriously.
Tell me about your first or worst open mic. The first time I did stand-up it actually went really well. I was so nervous about it, that I actually made a plan that if I peed myself, I'd pull it off as a joke. I'd point to myself and say "Oh, I put a juicebox in my pants." Like someone would say "Typical. Someone carries a juicebox with them onstage. Typical." But I have no idea how it went well, magic I guess.
You got to take your set up to the Fresh Faces Unrepped part of Just For Laughs recently? I did, that was super cool. I tried not to nerd out too much around people.
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Who was there that you wanted to nerd out really hard to? I was talking to somebody and Nick Kroll walked by and he said 'hi' to the person I was talkin' to and walked out. I was 'Omigod that was Nick Kroll.' He said "Yeah, he's our shithead friend."
starts at 11 p.m. and costs $5. There's no drink minimum -- but there's also no maximum, so go get it.