A comedian without a dark side is a rare thing. “There’s not one that comes to mind,” Clint Werth admits. A local standup comic who skipped comedy classes and jumped right into open mics, he pauses and gives the topic further consideration. “Some are not necessarily dark, but still troubled.” Perfectionists by design, comedians never seem to feel that their performances are adequate. Werth knows a 20-year veteran who still worries about bombing before every performance. He says that cynical and jaded is about as light as it gets.
Onstage, Werth is a thought-provoking comic who gets big laughs with material that is either dark or makes great use of misdirection. At 6’2 with long hair and a beard, he also has a striking stage presence. In hostile territory, after half a dozen comedians before him bomb, he has been known to singlehandedly get a crowd’s attention and leave them in stitches.
He has some great long form jokes that keep pivoting and forcing the audience to consider his subject matter from many different angles. After getting a crowd’s attention with dark humor, he will often continue with what seems like another trip to the gallows, perhaps mentioning the Book of Genesis. But then Werth spins it into an unexpected joke about Phil Collins.
Comedy isn’t an easy business. Comedians can quickly become overwhelmed by failure and disappointment not just in comedy, but in life in general. Even successful comics can still harbor a great deal of anger towards the industry as a whole. Knowing someone like Louis C.K. back when he was doing open mics can cause a person to regularly wonder why they missed out on that level of success. “No matter how well you are doing, it is not as well as you intended to,” Werth chuckles. He even cites comedians like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, explaining that they have material they have been sharpening for decades, still unwilling to retire it with a TV special or album.
“The big contradiction with being a comedian is that I don’t like performing,” he says with a smile. Werth admits that he doesn’t like people looking at him, even tends to prefer being alone. “Doing this is kind of insane,” he continues. It's not in his nature to care what people think. But as a comedian, he's forced to care, specifically about what makes them laugh. It’s an interesting predicament.
Werth’s first break as a comedian was as an intern for the Pugs & Kelly radio show. For years, he wrote dozens of one-liner jokes per day, similar to the work of a writer for a late night talk show. This also put him around comedians who were brought in to be a part of the show. But Werth did not particularly enjoy being a writer, even says he suffered from writer’s block, regularly finding himself staring at a blank screen.
One day he hopes to find another place for his comedy. “I don’t want to be the funny HR guy,” he laughs. But he hopes to add humor to something that is sterile and boring. At any rate, comedy won’t leave him alone. Like most comedians, he seems to be addicted to making people laugh. “I’ve never been particularly good at anything,” Werth says. “But I’ve always had a pretty good sense of humor, so people can at least tolerate me.”
Ultimately, Werth actually enjoyed being part of a radio station and likes the idea of being on the air as a third wheel providing comic relief, similar to what Patrice O’Neal did on Opie and Anthony. But in his view radio fell apart while he was in college, around the time Howard Stern left for satellite radio. “The entire industry went to shit,” he says. Ratings were calculated differently and that put lots of people out of work, the economy tanked, which destroyed some desperately needed sources of advertising revenue, and operating costs dramatically increased.
But even with a podcast studio sitting in his home, he could never get into podcasting. He starts recording and nothing happens. “It’s one of those moments when you realize you are not as interesting as you think you are,” he says. Werth sees discipline missing from most podcasts and notes that many of the successful shows are from people with radio backgrounds.
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But Werth is not as hapless as he lets on. He’s actually participated quite a bit with Deep Ellum On Air. Some semblance of a successful podcast or satellite radio show is actually his dream job. He would love to find on air work that allowed him to simply show up and crack jokes. For Deep Ellum On Air, Werth briefly had a show called Issues, which was similar to Loveline but with broader topics. Werth was the wiseass who played off co-hosts including Clark Gable III, Clark Cable’s grandson and the current host of Cheaters.
In person, crowds respond to Werth's unmistakable voice and he keeps them guessing. It’s hard to ignore him onstage and even if some find his material abrasive, he usually has a message or a point to make. He's working on taking his comedy in a direction that more people can relate to, while maintaining its dark roots. But at this point in his career, he can’t help feeling a bit jaded about certain aspects of the business.
Now in his 30s after doing standup for 5 years, the heavy drinking, insomniac lifestyle of a comedian has started to take its toll. “It’s a young man’s game,” he says. “You don’t see a lot of old guys doing it.” Werth was featured on a 2014 cassette compilation called The Texas Mess. With an average set time of 20 minutes, he is working on putting together enough material for his debut album. Otherwise, he is simply finding his way through an environment that is often toxic and even creepy, but full of laughs.
Clint Werth performs at Twilite Lounge at 10 p.m. Wednesday, June 24.