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.
Justin Foster left Dallas for Los Angeles roughly four years ago. The jump to LA is daunting for anyone in any field of entertainment, but Foster’s gambit seems to be paying handsomely — he performs regularly with nationally recognized comics, and headlines his own shows. He’s also appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience, and hosts his own podcast, Foster the Podcast.
Before Los Angeles, Foster was a popular fixture on Dallas stages, and he’s still one of the scene’s biggest cheerleaders. He may be welcome at venues across the country, but it’s evident that he’s proud to have sustained roots in DFW.
With an act that veers between shrewd, spirited observation and sporting self-deprecation, Foster has the nerve to occasionally push at the edges of an audience’s comfort zone, and the charisma to make them enjoy the intrusion. During the interview, we talked about his move to LA, his enduring connection to the Dallas comedy scene, and what it takes to take a chance on pursuing comedy as a full-time endeavor.
You’re in town right now to do feature sets with Michael Malone. He’s someone you work with pretty regularly, correct?
Yeah. I work with him pretty regularly. I opened for him in Dallas four years ago, but we had both just moved to LA, and we were both just here by coincidence, it was really cool.
What’s it like having someone you travel with?
It’s fun. There’s a couple of dudes that I’ve been traveling with lately — Michael Malone; Nick Guerra, [who’s] from Dallas; Tone Bell; and my buddy Drew Lynch. It’s been really cool because it’s like, they’re your buddies. So you’re not just doing the shows, you can do stuff during the day, bounce ideas off of each other. It makes traveling a lot better, too.
Is that usually how it goes? You pick someone you click with on a personal level?
Yeah, usually. Someone you’ve worked with a couple of times, and hit it off. Like, “Oh, that guy’s pretty funny, he’s cool. Let’s share a hotel in Ohio together.” [Laughs.]
This is something I’ve wondered about. Some headliners like to have the same feature act with them, others just let the club where they’re performing pick. Is there a particular logic behind how they choose?
I’m not sure. I know that I’ve headlined before, and if I have the option, I like to bring people I know, because it does make the experience better. And you know what’s going to happen before you go onstage. You know your buddy, you know his material. It’s not gonna be the same stuff — you’re not going to have to change your material before you go up because someone did something kind of like it. And if the crowd’s really good you have someone to say, “Oh, this was a really good show.” If it was bad, you have someone to bitch to about it with.
You started in Dallas, and you’re back now for a couple of weeks. How often do you make it back here?
I try to make it back at least once a year, it’s usually about twice, though.
When did you make the move to LA?
I moved to LA four years ago — four years in February. It was the first place I’d ever moved to from Dallas, I went straight from the South to the West Coast.
So you’d never lived anywhere else but here?
Never. Never anywhere further than, like I-635.
What motivated you to make that jump?
I was doing a lot of stuff here. I was pretty well established here already. I had a lot of buddies move out there already, then a couple of us decided to move out there together. My buddy Mark Agee and Tone Bell, we all just moved out there. There were four of us out there, living in a two-bedroom apartment.
I started doing comedy here almost three years ago, and I’ve heard about how right before I started there were a lot of people who migrated out to LA almost at once.
Yeah. It felt like everybody left at the exact same time.
It wasn’t planned. [Laughs.] You know how it is, a couple of people go out there, you see on Facebook that your buddies are performing at these spaces and killing it. And you think, “Oh, I’m gonna be performing there next week!” And then you learn, no, not that easy.
So you made the move to LA, which seems like a pretty firm commitment to the idea that you’re pursuing standup as a career. Did you start with that mindset already in place?
I think so, yeah. I was young and arrogant, and I just assumed I was going to be famous within a year. I’d always been driven to comedy ever since I was a little kid. It was that classic, like, voted class clown in the yearbook, or “Most Likely to Host a Game Show.” That was always my personality. So when I discovered stand-up comedy, I was very gravitated towards it, I kind of knew that’s really what I wanted. And my first show was amazing. I was like, “Oh this is so easy! I’m gonna be on TV in like two weeks!” So the first show was the best show I’d ever done in my life, to this day probably. And then the second show was the worst show I’ve ever had in my life, and it was like, “Oh no, this is comedy.”
You’re not the first person to say that the first show was really motivating, and then the second show and beyond bring you right back down to earth. What do you think is going on there?
I think it’s balance. Comedy is the most humbling profession that I know of. Sometimes in the same night — in the same set — it can be like, “Oh, this is great! Oh, this is the worst.” [Laughs.]
So how many places have you traveled to for comedy at this point?
Just this year alone, probably twelve different states. I had a little map at one point, but I lost track. But quite a bit, actually. Especially since I moved, a lot in the last few years.
Do you feel like the place where you’re performing has an influence on how you approach your set?
Not really, because there are a lot of times where you land, and then you go to perform. I don’t really have a chance to check out the city and see what works, and what doesn’t work. Every now and then there’ll be something I do and it’s like, “Oh, you guys don’t like that here.” But pretty much I don’t really have time to change anything. Sometimes it’s easier if you can get to the town and feel it out, or pop into an open mic and see what people like, but most of the time you have to feel it out on the spot.
What about Dallas? Just in terms of the audiences, do you feel like it’s changed?
No. I love Dallas comedy, I always have. Even out there, everybody in LA, I’ve talked about how great Dallas and Fort Worth audiences are. I don’t know what it is, maybe because I’m from here, I just feel more comfortable onstage here, but just the audiences and the crowds here are just my favorite. They’re very laid back, they’re very…even if they don’t necessarily like what you’re saying, they’re courteous to give you this, “OK, we don’t really like what you’re saying, but we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.” Some audiences, some markets you go to will be like, “No. We won’t laugh at these types of joke, we won’t laugh at these types of jokes…” But Dallas audiences kind of go, “Well that’s offensive and we don’t agree with that, but you’re still entertaining us so we’ll give you that.”
In LA, so many people come from different comedy communities. Do people tend to stick with people who came in with?
In the beginning, yeah. Everybody has their cliques in the beginning. But then there’s so many great comics in LA, like, the Florida guys are awesome, the Chicago guys are awesome. Everyone has so many commonalities we kind of mix and mingle and stuff, so everyone’s crew becomes bigger the longer you’re out there.
We talked a little bit about Dallas audiences, regarding the comedy scene (among the comics) here — do you still feel connected to it?
Yes and no. Like we were talking about, everybody that I started with is in LA pretty much, for the most part. Now there’s a new wave of people that I didn’t start with that are in LA. It’s really cool for me because I love Dallas comedy and Dallas comics. I did a show the other day and there were five Dallas comics on this show in Los Angeles. And there were four more just hanging out. So there’s this cool thing, like, “Oh, we’re still doing the same thing.” It’s like Dallas comedy came with me. So when I come out here there’s still guys out here that I like to hang out with and stuff, but it’s cool, it’s like we just moved locations. And Dallas has a really good reputation in Los Angeles. Like there’ll be club bookers in Los Angeles, and you can say, “Hey, this is my buddy, he’s in from Dallas.” And the booker will just say, “Fine, OK, I’m assuming he’s awesome, put him up.” It’s nice to have that kind of rep, especially in Los Angeles. People will move out there and the other comics will joke, “Jeez, another Dallas comic, we get it.”
So you’re back now, you make it back every so often. How would you say the scene here has changed versus when you started out?
It seems like there’s more DIY shows happening now. Everybody I talk to is running a cool bar show somewhere, or a basement show. There’s now the Denton Comedy Festival, and the Dallas Comedy Festival. There’s more Hyena’s [clubs] now, and the Improvs are killing it. So it seems like comedy’s doing really well down here. Deep Ellum I’ve heard has a really good comedy scene now, which is awesome. I love seeing all that.
You talked about seeing more bar shows here than before. Is that us kind of breaking out into a new thing, or is that something where we’re catching up to other scenes?
I don’t know. I think, from what I’ve found, that it was a lot of comics, which I guess is the same in every market, where you’re a little bit newer, and the bigger clubs don’t really know who you are and aren’t really messing with you yet, and you’re just like, “Cool, we’ll just start our own shows.” That’s how you get good, that’s how comedians are built, and comedians are able to grow. Instead of waiting around for people to hand-pick you, people are saying, “OK, cool, we’re just gonna do our own thing in the basement of this pizza restaurant.” Which is awesome.
You also do Foster the Podcast. Is that the only one you host?
That’s the one I host. There’s so many, everybody has a podcast in LA. I did Joe Rogan’s podcast, which is awesome for me, and I’ve guested on some podcasts, but my baby is Foster the Podcast. It’s me and a life coach giving dating advice.
How long have you been doing that podcast?
Actually, before I met you, I was editing our 178th show. So we’ve been doing it once a week for 178 weeks. It’s the most consistent thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. We’ve never missed an episode. Even when I’m on the road for weeks, we’ll stockpile four or five weeks, and I’ll just edit it on the road.
Is that the future of comedy? Are we all gonna have to get into it? Is that why you got into it?
No, I didn’t, it was just something I’d kinda been wanting to do for a long time, and I didn’t know that people would gravitate towards it. It was just something like, “Oh, this is a fun thing that will keep me sharp.” And then I added on Kristie [Marie Lacy], and people kind of gravitated to that dynamic of scumbag and a woman who’s got her stuff together. And it just became this thing. We started getting fans, which is weird. People were emailing us questions and stuff, so it kind of took on this thing that I didn’t expect it to. But yeah, I think podcasts, a YouTube, Vine, interviewing people, whatever you can do — what I’ve found is a lot of people are like, “Oh yeah, you’re a comic, you’re funny, but what else? What’s your improv background? Where’s your script? What’s your podcast? How many Twitter followers do you have?” I’ve found going out there, anything you can do to broaden that scope helps.
So let’s say I’m a comic who’s on the fence about dropping the day job and going full tilt into comedy. What’s your advice?
I would say do it for sure, make sure you have a little bit of savings in reserve. I know for me, before I moved out to LA, I knew that when I got out there, I just wanted to do comedy for a long time, and establish myself. So I busted my ass, and I bartended, and I saved up money, and I had a little bit of savings. And I think having that little cushion when things do go wrong, which, they will. If you want to do comedy full-time you’ll get to a place where if you have just enough money, something will happen, they’ll double-book you and you’ve lost the money, or you’ve gotta pay for a hotel room, or you’ll have a flat tire. Have a little bit of reserve. But I would say do it. It’s one of those — not to get too secret universe-y — but if it’s what you want to do you’ll make it happen. You’ll find a way to make it work.
Justin Foster performs at Hyena’s Fort Worth August 11-13. More info on those shows here.