Byron Stamps Just Left Teaching To Be A Full-Time Stand-Up. Is That Even Possible in Dallas?
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.
Byron Stamps has performed stand-up for more than seven years now. But this year, he’s leaving behind his day job as a teacher to solely focus on it.
He’s built up working relationships with people in different parts of the country, and he’s proven his skill in conventional and alternative comedy settings, but the jump to full-time comedy is always formidable.
Fortunately, Stamps is good at what he does. Relatability is key to much of his act, as he tends to pull from his own experiences to talk about himself, his friends and family, and his teaching work. That being said, he has outlets for his more esoteric streak, too: Of late, he’s been working on intriguing, exciting and sometimes combative character work through #NOSHOW, a DIY, anything-goes comedy series.
The diversity of Stamps’ skills speak well to his understanding of how to deliver a great show in any environment.
Beyond that, one way Stamps intends to set himself apart professionally is by embracing his past work in education to develop a hybrid performance/presentation that emphasizes the value of humor in the classroom. He’s also bent on establishing more ties to the local comedy scene, developing the #NOSHOW events that pop up in different parts of DFW. Starting October 8, he’ll kick off his first stand-up showcase series at Intrinsic Smokehouse in Garland.
Here, I talk to him about those ventures, as well as any fears he has about leaving his teaching gig behind.
What motivated you to get into comedy?
When I was younger, I was struggling in school a little bit. I was at a point where I said, “I want to do stand-up.” I’ve always been funny around my friends. I wanted to do something I think is cool, and that I think would make me happy. I decided to go do an open mic in Memphis, Tennessee, and I did it. I didn’t do great but I was like, “I like that feeling.” And I stuck with it. That’s where it all began for me. When I moved to Texas, I was teaching and working, and read online that Dean Lewis had a class. I went up there — the first class was free. I liked it, I stuck with it, and I was like, “I’m not stopping.” That was that.
This year marks a big change for you, as you’re trying to become a full-time comic. You’re no longer a teacher.
I went on and made the decision. I just decided I don’t want to be 65 and wondering, “What if?” I gotta give this a shot. I want to take some time and really invest in comedy — take some time, come up with ideas, understand the business side of it, and use my skill sets to see what I can make happen. I’m all-in right now.
Was that something you’d been thinking about for a long time, or was it more like one of those epiphanies where you just suddenly have the realization?
I’d been thinking about it a long time — but, Alex, I’ve always been on the fence. It was just the safety net of, “I’ve got this job, I have a job that I enjoy.” I’m making a certain amount of money every month and I’m guaranteed. It was hard to let that go. But at the end of the day, it was the only choice that I could make. I had to make a decision. Am I really gonna put in the time necessary towards comedy? Am I really gonna do both, and just enjoy my position as it was? I had to make a decision.
Does this change what you’re going to be doing in comedy?
Somewhat. I’ve kind of changed my focus a bit. Comedy clubs, shows, I’m definitely into that. But I also want to use my skill sets as both an educator working with young people and comedy. I definitely want to do some things in that arena as well. It’s still the same, but I’m kind of redirecting. I’ve got some other things I want to do as well.
Can you talk about that idea of using comedy and education together?
I want to do some things talking about humor in the classroom with educators, and building relationships with students. As far as performing comedy and giving seminars on humor in the classroom, I feel like when I was teaching, one of my strengths was I was funny in the classroom. I got Teacher of the Year three times. I don’t feel like I was just like this phenomenal teacher as far as strategies and stuff, but I could build strong relationships with the students, and I was using humor to hold their attention. I want to do some things to merge those worlds of education and comedy.
Is it weird to suddenly be in a position where you need comedy to be more lucrative?
Absolutely. I’m terrified every day. I’m like, “Man, I need this to start working! I need this to start happening now!” I still have to be patient — like, you gotta lay the foundation first for the things that you want to do — but there’s definitely been a sense of urgency. My last check as a teacher is this weekend. I gotta get out there and make this happen. It’s terrifying; there’s a sense of urgency, but at the same time, it’s the only decision that just feels right.
You do a bit of traveling for comedy, and you work different areas. How did you go about building relationships outside your hometown?
For me, it started with comedy festivals. I got into a couple of festivals. The benefit for festivals to me is the people you meet, and the relationships you build with people. Like, I’ll go to Chicago and meet some comics. I’ll go to a festival in Memphis. You’ll meet comics, you build relationships with these people, and it’s like, “OK, I’ll be in this city on this day,” and you can contact them to get on shows. Or they’ll ask you, “Can you do this?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll be there.” It’s also a thing to where comics can fill you in to other cities that you might be going to. For me, it started with comedy festivals, building relationships with comics around the country, and then getting doors opened to me that I wouldn’t probably be able to get opened to me by calling clubs, cold-calling clubs and trying to get on [shows]. I guess that’s how it started.
So you’d recommend comedy festivals for comics.
It depends on what you’re looking for, y’know? For me, for what I was looking for, yeah. I definitely would recommend it as far as being able to go to different regions and areas, getting on quality shows, seeing if your material is portable. If you’re looking to see, like, “I’m gonna go to this festival, somebody’s gonna discover me,” then I don’t know. That may work for you. But, to me, I don’t feel like festivals are necessarily good in that aspect, unless you’re in a big festival, like Montreal or something like that. But I definitely feel festivals serve a good purpose, and I’d definitely do it again. I slowed down a little bit on submitting. But, down the road, I’m definitely gonna try to get in some more festivals.
So you get to see other scenes for contrast. What’s your impression of Dallas’s comedy scene versus other areas where you travel to?
I feel like Dallas is a real good scene. We’ve got strong comics. One thing that we do have that a lot of other scenes don’t have is the number of clubs in this area. You’ve got three Hyena’s clubs, two Improvs, you’ve got Backdoor Comedy Club, you’ve got Dallas Comedy House. If you want to do a Saturday show, you’ve got six or seven clubs in the area. Most scenes don’t have that. It’s a great place to grow as a comedian. The only thing I see in other cities that other cities have more of is DIY shows, do-it-yourself shows. It’d be nice to see a little more of that. We’ve got some DIY shows here — but, like, you go to some other scenes, like San Francisco or Chicago or Austin, and it’s a ton of DIY shows all week, which would be nice to see more here. And those DIY shows be poppin’! it’s packed! I wish we could see more of that here. But, as far as quality, we’ve got it here. Dallas has a damn good scene. Sometimes I wonder if it’s under-appreciated, but it is what it is.
What do you think a scene gains by those DIY shows that a club can’t provide?
I feel like you can grow in your own way, through your own things. You can really express yourself and grow material-wise. You can find your voice. It’s not as much pressure as maybe some of the demands a club might have. Like, say you’re hosting or featuring or whatnot. You just get to grow and expand. And, if it’s your show, you get to learn some of the business side. You’re booking talent, and talking to venues, trying to get stuff to happen. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.
Talking about the DIY type environment versus conventional environments, I’ve seen you perform in regular environments, but I’ve also seen you lately doing the #NOSHOWs, and it seems very different from what you normally bring to the stage. Can we talk about that?
Man, I love the #NOSHOW movement. It’s basically something you can’t put in a box. It’s experimental comedy — it’s experimental whatever you want to do. I like the fact that, when I go to the show, I don’t know what to expect. The crowd could go crazy and love what I do, or there could be crickets, like, “What the hell is this?” Typically, I’ll play some type of character. The first show, I did this inspirational singer. The second show, I just taught algebra, which I love. The third show I did, I was a connector, trying to get people to know each other. All of them were really fun and really different. It’s just a fun environment where people can come and just do whatever you want to do. For the most part, it’s all been accepted. Sketch, improv, stand-up, solo performances, artistic comedy — it’s a real good movement, and it’s been getting stronger each and every show. I’m loving the #NOSHOW movement, man.
How much experience did you have with alternative forms of comedy versus stand-up before you started doing this?
I took improv classes at Four Day Weekend. I wouldn’t call improv “alternative comedy,” but my only experience outside of stand-up is improv. I took classes at Four Day Weekend, performed with a couple of troupes — Mr. Sir, and the Hammock District. But as far as the characters, really, it’s just stuff that comes up in my mind, and I’m like, “Yeah, I want to try that.” And it’s OK what the outcome is gonna be. I’m just gonna throw this out into the universe and see what happens. And it’s always a great time doing it.
Do you think taking on these characters will change how you approach your stand-up?
I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about maybe possibly adding some characters to my stand-up. But I don’t think it’ll change my approach. It might help enhance some of the concepts in my stand-up — like as far as act outs, when I’m talking about somebody in my set, it can help me act out that character. But I don’t think it’ll change my stand-up at its core.
A lot of times when you’re working material onstage, it seems like you like to draw from your own life. Has that always been the case?
For the most part, yeah. Whenever I try to come up with this idea, like some synthetic thought in my head, it rarely translates well onstage. It’ll be funny in my head, but it never translates well onstage. The things that really resonate with me, and I feel have gone over the best onstage, are things that I take from real life experiences from me, or maybe from a friend or family member. But the things that really stick in my set for the most part are real-life experiences. As time went on, that’s generally the direction I like to go.
So now that you’re looking at doing full-time comedy, I have to ask: Do you even think you can do that in Dallas? Or do you think you might need to move?
The common sense thinking is you have to move to LA or to New York. And eventually? Possibly, yeah. But the things that I want to do with the education and the teaching, I feel like I could be based here, and still make things happen. I love the scene here, and I kind of don’t want to go and grind in another scene, unless I necessarily have to. It’d be nice if I only go when LA or New York calls. I like the scene here. I feel like this is fertile ground, and great things can happen from here. And with the other things I’m trying to do, merging education and stand-up, I feel like that could be a viable venture financially that I don’t necessarily have to go and pay those dues with the wife and the kids while I’m going through that. I think I can do it here. Time will tell.But I’ll be here for the foreseeable future.