If Paulos Feerow Wants to Make You Laugh, He’ll Find the Weirdest Way to Do It.
Welcome to Humor Us, our column in which Dallas comedian Alex Gaskin interviews other area comedians about the ol’ funny business in order to help introduce DFW at large to the burgeoning comedy scene blooming right under its nose.
Paulos Feerow brings an admirable integrity to his stand-up. As tempting as easy punchlines can be, he pushes himself to find humor where no one else has thought to look. When he approaches any subject — even those that might initially seem familiar — he does so in ways that are wonderfully unorthodox.
It’s a skill that’s served Feerow well as he’s recently started working with performers Julia Cotton, Jade Smith and Jerrell Curry. Together, the four have formed a new sketch group called FCC Presents that’s about to start performances of its first show, called “The Wrong Party,” at the Dallas Comedy House from August 4 through August 13. All four group members are committed to pursuing the freshest possible angles on any idea they tackle, and they share a goal of wringing unique comedy out of themes like identity and isolation (among many other subjects).
In advance of that show’s debut, I reached out to Feerow to discuss his thoughts on sketch shows, what it’s like to teach stand-up to others and, of course, the ever-changing local comedy scene.
You’re debuting a new show with a new sketch group this week! What can you tell me about the upcoming show?
It’s kind of… four people of color at Dallas Comedy House that have been asked by other groups to participate in stuff, and we all noticed, “Hey, we’ve never done a show together.” So we decided to write a show together. It’s called “The Wrong Party.” It’s gonna be a pretty fun show, I think. We’re trying to tackle some interesting things. Like, it’s not about being four black people; it’s about being the odd man out, or feeling not included sometimes. Or even, like, having some issues with your own identity. We’re trying to play on those themes. There’s some things that are very obvious, but then there’s some really weird and absurd things we’re playing around with — sketch-wise, anyways. In a nutshell, that’s it. [Laughs.]
So this is the first time all of you have worked together, correct?
Yeah. Actually, this is the first time I’ve written, and the first time I’ve been performing with any of them, yeah. Whenever I collaborated with anyone, whether it be improv or sketch, [when] I collaborated with people at Dallas Comedy House specifically, it was never with any of them. But I noticed they were always collaborating with other people. So, like I said, I realized we had never worked together. This is one of those things we had all talked about for months, but never did anything with. But Julia Cotton, who’s kind of like the coach/player of the group, just kind of sat aside a time for us to meet up. We talked about what the show could be. To be honest, she’s kind of put it all together. It was an idea that all of us had, but she’s really kind of the person who put it all together.
So after the Wrong Party, will we see more from FCC Presents?
We haven’t really talked in detail, but there’s a reading we’re going to be doing. I don’t know if he’s OK with me saying this, but Jerrell Curry, who’s also in the group, is moving to California soon. So we’re trying to do one more thing with him before he takes off and betrays us, and betrays Dallas comedy. [Laughs.]
I’ve seen you do stand-up for years now, and when you do talk about race, you tend to find the most unorthodox approaches to talking about it. Is that something you intend to do, or is that just how it tends to play out in your writing?
When I started doing stand-up, I never liked to talk about the obvious thing. It would be like saying to a woman in stand-up, “Oh, you gotta talk about being a woman.” Or telling someone who’s gay, “Oh, you gotta talk about being gay.” I always felt like it was very obvious when I get onstage that I’m black, so I don’t really have to talk about it. So I really stayed away from talking about race when I started, but I had a lot of people come up to me and say I needed to talk about being black. Some people were trying to be helpful, but I think some were just trying to make the obvious jokes that I could’ve made. So this was a conversation I had to myself — I’ll do it, but I want to do it my way, which is to make it weird and absurd, and find the one detail no one’s played with. Because otherwise it’s just an obvious joke. Stand-up is a thing where people are expecting you to reverse something on them, and there are easy ways to do that. I try to stay away from the easy thing and go for my weird take on it.
You’ve worked with DCH before. You’ve done other sketches and shows. Can we talk about your experience as a sketch performer in DFW?
Dallas Comedy House offers the sketch program. I took that with a bunch of our friends — Lauren Davis, Sean McEwen, Grant Redmond, Christian Hughes, Susie Falcone. It was a bunch of stand-ups who wanted to take a class together. That turned into us having three shows for the class. From that, there was an idea that everyone really enjoyed, which was Law & Order: The Musical. That was originally a 10-minute sketch. Then we wrote out the entire thing, which was Law & Order: The SVUsical, which became pretty popular, I guess, within Dallas comedy. It was really cool. I always like to tell people, especially in comedy, in Dallas primarily, there’s sketch, there’s improv, and there’s stand-up, and I think they all inform each other. If you like to write, you’re probably doing stand-up, but you can also… that’s very much what sketch is, writing a performance and trying to make it funny. Improv informs the performance part of it as well. I don’t even know if I’m answering the question. [Laughs.] But it’s been fun, trying to find out how to balance writing and performance. It’s made me very aware of what I can do, writing-wise, and what I can do performance-wise.
You’ve begun teaching a class for beginners in stand-up. What can you tell me about that?
Lauren Davis was asked to start a stand-up class at DCH. She and I wrote a curriculum — we didn’t want to make it a stand-up class in the sense of, “We’re gonna teach you to be a comic, and then tomorrow you’re gonna write an hour [of material].” We didn’t make it anything grandiose like that. What we agreed on was that, when we started, there were things no one told us. No one told us what the light means, no one said, “Make sure you’re not bothering the host every moment.” Y’know? Knowing the proper structure of a joke, where to pull ideas for a joke, that sort of thing. So we used those ideas, and made a seven-week curriculum on how to help people figure out how to… not to promise anyone that they’ll be funny, but this is open mic etiquette, and this is the proper way to structure a joke. And where to pull ideas from. The class really begins right after you begin and start doing open mics. That’s how we all learn. We listen to everyone else. If you see someone failing onstage, you tweak what you’re doing; if you see someone doing great, you tweak what you’re doing.
Has teaching it made you re-evaluate how you started stand-up?
Oh yeah! It’s really weird, because a lot of the people who take the class, I should probably mention, don’t want to do stand-up. They’re people in the corporate world, they have to speak for their jobs, and they just want to get comfortable speaking. That’s really interesting to me. But they’re also really funny people, and they have really funny ideas. Sometimes it makes me feel like a fraud. [Laughs.] I wish I’d started this just wanting to be a little more articulate, instead of wanting to be the best at comedy. Because if you’re really into comedy, you’re trying to be the best one, which is stupid.
So you get to engage with people at their nascent stages, while you’re well into your fourth year. Do you feel like the Dallas comedy scene is changing?
I think it has. When I first started, there were a lot of… there are a lot of talented people in Dallas, but when I started, there were a lot of really talented people who moved to different areas, and it felt like there were all these openings. It felt like everyone was trying to get a spot. I was young in comedy, so I didn’t expect anything to be given to me, specifically, but I noticed that everybody stepped up their game. That was interesting. I think we have a really good scene, and I think there are a lot of really good venues for people to try stuff and get work. The one thing I do like about Dallas is that a lot of people stay competitive out here. I’ve done comedy at other places, and sometimes I’ve noticed people kind of phone it in, depending on what the audience looks like. Like some people will say, “Oh, this is a really good audience, so I’m gonna do my A material and win them over,” but it still kind of feels like they’re phoning it in. I feel like a lot of stand-ups in Dallas are very competitive, like, “Oh, Alex just went up there and killed, I gotta do better than that.” In some cases. In other cases we kind of just shit the bed, too, but whatever. [Laughs.]
Have your ideas of what it means to succeed in comedy changed?
Yeah. I used to give myself small goals in comedy, like, “Make sure you get a laugh,” obviously. Make sure you have five minutes, do a show, do all the rooms in Dallas, move away and become a big star. It gets unreasonable. I think a lot of people define success in comedy, or in Dallas comedy, as doing all the available rooms — but that’s kind of selfish. I get to do a lot of cool stuff in Dallas, in comedy, that doesn’t necessarily translate to me working every club every weekend. I’ve been fortunate enough to play a lot of the cool rooms in Dallas, but I’m not consistently getting work there. Does that mean I’m not successful? I guess it depends on how you define success. A lot of the cool stuff I’m doing is on my terms, so… yeah. If you were to talk to me when I first started, success would have consisted of doing every room consistently, throughout the year. Maybe not getting to live the life, or primarily getting my income from comedy specifically, but being able to say I’m working all the rooms. That would’ve been me in the beginning. Me now is like, I’m gonna be doing four shows in the next week that I don’t get paid for, and I love it, because it’s stuff I believe in that’s really cool. I’m writing another sketch show with Tyler Simpson and some other friends, and we previewed three sketches the other night for DCH’s Block Party, a free show where people can experiment with ideas, and that was probably some of the most fun I’ve had onstage, just experimenting with this cool idea that we all thought about and riffed about, and brought to life. Am I getting paid for that? No. Am I happy that I did that? Fuck yeah. I got to have fun with my friends and do a cool thing.
So one last thing. We’re assuming that your partners in FCC Presents will be reading this, right?
Anything you want to say to them?
Guys, I’m so sorry I’m more popular than you. I’m sorry that I’m cooler than you, more talented. Here’s the thing, I didn’t do this for selfish reasons. I did this for you, and for us, but more importantly, I did this for me. I love you guys!
Cover photo by Jason Hensel. FCC Presents’ “The Wrong Party” runs August 4 through August 13 at the Dallas Comedy House. Head here for tickets and more information.