One of the first shows that comedian Chris Tellez organized sounds like the nightmare scenario of any aspiring comic.
He started a regular monthly stand-up show called "Pillow Talk" at a dive bar in Oak Cliff that didn't have working air conditioning. The place was packed with sweaty people trying to drink away the heat of a drought-stricken Texas. Tellez was pounding back the drinks but he wasn't just battling the heat. He was also battling his own nerves.
"I was not as experienced as I am now," he said. "So I just was so nervous that I got really drunk before the show and I was really trashed and it was such a weird thing. Some guy was crowdsurfing during my comedy set. I don't think anyone else had someone crowdsurf during their jokes. It was really fun."
That was just under five years ago. These days, he works the crowds and the clubs of Austin's comedy community but he still comes back to his proving ground for shows like the one he's doing at 10:30 p.m. Friday at the Dallas Comedy House with Austin comedians Ryan Cownie and Mac Blake.
Tellez says he started slinging jokes at just about any place with a microphone including restaurants, coffee houses and even a barbershop that turned into a bar after sunset. His very first set was at an open mic where he was the only person who didn't have a musical instrument or a song to sing behind the mic.
"I would carpool with comedians and just go to shows in Dallas and do a bunch of open mics in Fort Worth," he says. "A lot of it was do-it-yourself style shows in Dallas. The comedians would set up their own open-mics at bars and barber shops to find places besides the comedy clubs in just the most random spots."
The shows had mixes of packed houses and places where only a handful of drinkers stumbled in for the night but Tellez says it was a good place to train.
"I definitely felt like I needed to move to a different city where there's a bigger scene but doing it in Dallas definitely helped because you get used to performing in packed rooms but also rooms where there's not many people there," he says. "You get to perform under that kind of stress that you put on yourself and it just desensitizes you to performing to a smaller room."
It also gave him time to develop a style that worked for him. Tellez says he started out as a traditional joke teller but eventually found that his natural storytelling style worked better on such a unique mixture of crowds and audiences.
"I was just trying to think of things I thought were funny and I'd always write down ideas," he says. "So when I went to the open mics, it just felt natural to do one or two-line jokes but as I started to get more comfortable on stage, I just started doing storytelling because that's how I am as a person. A lot of comics say, 'Oh, my friends told me I should be a comedian' but my family always did tell me that after I would just tell a dumb story."
Since then, he's further honed his storytelling skills at festivals such as the Moontower Comedy Festival, the Out of Bounds Festival and Fun Fun Fun Fest as well as his own shows in Austin such as one he created with Cownie where he takes the stage for 12 whole minutes without any planned material.
"If you just go up there and do jokes word for word and don't ever acknowledge the feeling of the room, it won't go as well but if you take the time out and acknowledge the feeling of the room and just try to be more relatable, it's more successful every time because it's more organize," he says. "I try to picture my sets as if I'm talking to a bunch of my friends or just people that I really want to like me."
Christopher Tellez and company take the Dallas Comedy House stage at 10:30 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $10. More information at dallascomedyhouse.com.
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