Clint Werth Compares the Dallas Comedy Scene to Eating Broccoli. But, Y'know, In A Good Way.
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.
Clint Werth is a fearless writer (sometimes for us!) and his courage in that regard allows him to lure audiences into dark places. Better yet, he's also agile enough to confidently lead them through what should be whiplash-inducing shifts in tone.
These skills have given Werth an almost preternatural knack for discovering unique and deeply funny truths about whatever subjects he wants to discuss. They've also earned him opportunities to work with top comics like Doug Stanhope and Neil Hamburger, along with gigs at the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival.
This Thursday, he'll perform as part of Central Track's new variety show, “Oh, Snap!” at The Whippersnapper. (So will I, by the way!) This event is packing live art, music, comedy, and fortune telling into a single package; it's an ambitious, unpredictable show, and that's what should make it a perfect environment for Werth's stand-up.
Here, I talk to Werth about what people can expect from his show on Thursday and find out what lessons he's learned along his stand-up path.
So you and I have a show coming up on Thursday at The Whippersnapper. Can we talk a little bit about this show?
Sure. I don't know all of the details. I know Pete [Freedman, our editor here at Central Track] asked me to do it, and I said OK. I guess [The Whippersnapper] used to be the Slip Inn, which, I'm not cool, so I don't know all the cool people places. I guess it was a dance club? Still is a dance club? I don't know. I'm 33. I'm too old for this shit. But they wanted to try, like a, variety show concept, and I'm the first comic they asked who didn't have something going on on a Thursday, so…
Hey, I'm the second comic, I get it.
[Laughs.] It should be fun, there's a fortune teller. That's a new thing we have to compete with. It used to be just us and cover bands and DJs. And now there are fortune tellers. So that should be interesting. And live art? I'm not sure how that works — if it's like a caricature artist or what's going to happen. But I'm looking forward to it. It's something different, and if Pete's on board with it, I'm sure it'll be great.
I know you've worked some at booking shows and events in the past. You worked with the Twilite Lounge, and you had the hook of bringing in somebody who was known in the area, but not for comedy.
The idea was I would get someone “famous” — and note that I'm doing finger-quotes while I'm saying famous. Someone well-known in the area, but who's never done comedy before, and who's willing to do comedy. That's the trick. And I thought that would bring a bunch of people into the shows. But it didn't. It never did. And I had Pete do it, and he was one of the most excited people to do it, and the only person to come see him was Cory Graves [another Central Track writer]. And he didn't even come to my show, he came to the open mic [Pete] did the day before my show at Dallas Comedy House to make sure he didn't make a fool of himself. And he did, at the open mic. He had to reevaluate his set that he'd been working on for two weeks. Now I can repay the favor to Pete by having no one come out to this show to see me, because no one cares anymore. [Laughs.]
What is your mindset when you agree to book a show? What do you feel you commit to when you take something on?
Y'know, it's weird. I'll agree to most shows. If I like the person putting them on, I'll agree to it. And then the day of the show, when it finally rolls around, I'm just filled with loathing and dread — that, “Oh God, I have to go do this now.” It's always this awful feeling. But what's interesting is since I quit drinking, I've agreed to a lot less shows. When I would drink — especially when I lived in Deep Ellum — the worst thing I ever did while drunk was get excited about bad ideas. And, for some reason, I would go into… I wouldn't call it business guy mode, but I would book shows while drunk. I'd walk into some terrible dive bar and convince the guy to put on a show, and then when I sobered up I'd be like, “Fuck, what did I just agree to? Why do I keep doing this to myself?” Now that I've quit drinking, I pretty much don't leave my house, so I don't have as many of those moments anymore. But for a while, it was a problem. Like I couldn't go into a bar…
You were a compulsive booker?
Yeah. I couldn't go into a bar without walking out with an open mic. [Laughs.]
That kind of dovetails into my next question. How has your approach to comedy over time in regards to booking and as a performer?
I think there's a certain level of comfort I've reached, the longer I've been doing it. Because, when I first started, I would stand behind the microphone stand like a statue. I even did the thing where I would put both hands on the microphone, even though it was still on the stand. Like, I was clinging to it for dear life. As time went on, I'd take the mic out of the stand, move the stand aside, start walking around. I'd still stand there like a statue, maybe pivot a little. But walking around some, becoming a little more animated. I've always, even to this day, even though I haven't written a new joke in like three years, and pretty much do the same set, I still take a set list onstage with me. It's the same style it's always been; I write down maybe one to five words to identify the joke. I don't know if it's like a security blanket thing, but when I take the set list on stage with me, I don't need it, and when I don't take it on stage with me, I'll just blank out and forget this thing that I've been doing forever. I don't know how that works. But the longer I've been doing it, the more I'm able to kind of break from just that, like… I did a show at Rubber Gloves, I've done a ton of comedy shows there, and once it closed, they wanted to do one last show there with Mike Wiebe, who's the lead singer of the Riverboat Gamblers, which is a band from Denton. He also does comedy. That show, I had my set list and these jokes I've told on that stage — that specific stage — and I've done that set like five or six times, and I just completely disregarded it. I did this stream of consciousness thing about how my sets would always get interrupted by the train that would pass by behind [the venue]. And then I just started opining on the difference between bums and hobos, about how the bums don't have the Hobo Code anymore. It was all ridiculous. I just treaded water for about six or seven minutes before I said “Uncle!” and brought Mike Wiebe up. I wouldn't have done that two or three years ago. I would've stuck to the script. I think that's one of the first things you learn, how to deal with whatever happens. Nothing ever goes according to plan. There's hecklers, someone will drop a drink, something weird will happen. If you only have what you brought onstage with you as far as your set list and your jokes, it can be really weird for people when you go right back to the script.
You've worked with some of the biggest names in comedy. You opened for Louis CK, correct?
I did the side stage at the Oddball Comedy Festival [the year] that he was on. There were a lot of pretty big name comics that year. The year before had Dave Chappelle. The year I was on had Louis CK, Marc Maron, Hannibal Buress, Sarah Silverman, Whitney Cummings and a couple of other people. It was four hours of comedy — five hours if you watched the losers on the side stage, like me. So I always tell people I opened for Louis CK, but I went on very first, and he went on very last at, like, a five-hour comedy show.
Does it change your perspective on comedy when you open for bigger names?
They always say don't meet your heroes, but it's not like… at some point they stop being your heroes and start being your peers. There's only so many comedians out there. What I find interesting is some of the people that are edgy or have whatever kind of reputation are actually some of the nicest people. Like, Doug Stanhope is one of the nicest people I've met. Maybe that's a recent thing, because he did burn a lot of bridges early in his career. I've heard stories. But all the interactions and dealings I've had with him, he's been an incredibly nice guy. Last time he was at the Addison Improv, he went and hung out with the wait staff at the service industry bar right across the street until it closed. He did that every night. Some comics are just assholes; they don't want anyone to talk to them in the green room, and then once they're done, they're just done. I've probably come across like that sometimes, because I'm very socially awkward and I genuinely don't want to be there. Especially now that I don't drink, and every place is a place that sells drinks. Like, alcohol sales is a huge factor in what we do. And drinking was a way that I dealt with the social anxiety that I have. Now I'm like, “I've gotta get out of here. I can't be here anymore.” And they won't let me smoke weed, so there's just nothing to take the edge off anymore.
We've talked about the cool gigs. What was the worst gig you've done?
[Pause.] I mean, there's been a ton of bad ones. There's the ones where you drive. We drove to Oklahoma City once — me, Brad LaCour, Grant Redmond, and Mitchell Clemons — and there were three people that came. It was at a pizza place. And it was three people I knew. [The manager] was nice, but he just didn't do anything. We made, like, $20 combined, and it all went right back in the gas tank. There's a bunch of shows like that. Definitely the weirdest and most off-putting show I ever did was an after-party for the Fort Worth Gay Pride Parade at Rainbow Lounge. When I started, we did a lot of shows at gay bars because there were these two guys, Kyle Trentham and Todd Camp, and they would put on these shows or open mics at gay bars where they would give a $100 prize for the best comic of the night. And comics — guys you haven't seen in five years — would come out of the woodwork to collect that $100 prize. Because that's a lot of money for a comedy show. So we did a lot of shows at gay bars. It was always fun. I always say the gay community here are some of the last patrons of the arts. But, for whatever reason, they thought it would be a good idea to book four straight male comics at the after party of the Gay Pride Parade in Fort Worth. Which, I don't know, if it was me, I'd be like, “Yo, this is our day! Fuck off straight people!” But they didn't, so we were there. The parade was in the morning, and we got there around noon, and everyone was just drinking all day. And there was this fucking cover band that for whatever reason wanted to perform in between every comic. There were only four of us, and we're each doing maybe fifteen minutes, but we were all broken up by this hour-long set by this cover band. I went up last out of the four comics. I was out there all day in the sun. Comics don't do well in the daylight; it's not our natural environment. It was outdoors, by the way, on the back patio at the Rainbow Lounge. The part in my hair where my scalp was exposed got sunburned from waiting outside to go up — that's how long I was out there. By the time I went on stage, the sun had gone done, it was night, and it was pitch black dark. They had no lighting on this giant outdoor stage, so I couldn't tell what was going on. I knew there were two tables in front that were actually paying attention, and then there was some sort rail that went around the edge of the stage that people were leaning on, just talking and drinking, and they couldn't care less about what I was saying. And they probably couldn't see me, the same way I couldn't see them. Again, no lighting. So I went through my set, and no one cared. Maybe at like one table, one of the two tables, there was a couple of laughs. It was just awful. And I never had this happen before, ever, being on stage, but Todd came up behind me, and tapped me on the shoulder, and was like, “Yeah, this is done.” I didn't even say anything into the microphone after that, I just put it in the mic stand and left. I'd been there for like six or seven hours at that point. It was awful. That's the only way I can describe it, as awful.
You had a video game show running for a while. What was that about? Comedians on Couches Playing Video Games? Kind of a take-off on the Jerry Seinfeld's “I have a bunch of nice cars and have famous friends” show. I was trying to explore Twitch as a new outlet, because I am a huge… I don't want to say “gamer,” because after Gamergate that whole thing kind of got tainted. It's like, I play a lot of video games but it's not my identity. Once I put the controller up, I'm just a person. But I wanted to explore [Twitch] as a new way of doing a show, y'know? I watch a lot of the guys on Twitch, the streamers. It's kind of a new occupation, being a streamer. Just turning on a camera and playing video games for eight hours. And I said, “These guys aren't even entertaining, they're just fucking nerds.” People are either watching them to either troll them, or get better at video games. And I said, “What if someone who had experience in comedy and television tried to produce a show?” The problem was that, for people who hadn't been on Twitch before, it was this new, weird thing: “I gotta create an account, I gotta do this…” No one cared. And the Twitch community is made up of fifteen-year old homophobic racists. I had our buddy Paulos [Feerow] on, which, if you don't know, Paulos happens to be black. And there was this guy who'd started trolling us two episodes before. He had nothing better to do but follow me and my schedule. Mostly just homophobic stuff, like “Why don't you guys just fuck?” So I started this show [with Paulos], and there is like a five-second delay between real time and when people see it — and I'll be goddamned if it wasn't six seconds before this guy just started dropping N-bombs. Twitch has a lot of filters. That's the one word — you can turn off a lot of the filters, but that word is absolutely not allowed. But he already had his creative way of spelling it, where you know what he's saying, but it wasn't triggering the filters. So it wasn't the first time; he'd done this before. But, literally, a black guy pops up and he's immediately on it. So it's hard. And Paulos took it in stride, because he was incredibly drunk. That was one problem with the show; I would do one sober and one incredibly drunk, and they didn't work. There's one with me and Mike Wiebe from the Riverboat Gamblers where I played a bunch of Riverboat Gamblers music, and it got flagged for copyright stuff. And I'm sitting next to the guy who wrote all of these goddamn songs! And I wrote to Twitch to appeal their copyright stuff, and I never got any response back. So I've got racist trolls, copyright claims on shit that should be OK, and no one cares. It's just a lot of work. It didn't last as long as I wanted it to. I don't know. I think it's a good concept and I wouldn't mind bringing it back, but it's gotta be worth it. I was looking at Facebook Live, and I can't tell what or why a streamer would use that as a service because there's no way to monetize it. On top of that, you have to use a Facebook page in order to access the streaming key to use professional software with it. And when you're using a Facebook page, the algorithms are geared so that one percent of your audience will see what you post, unless you boost it. And so it's almost like, is this a new form of advertising? Live video on Facebook? Because I can't see any other reason to do it. It's all the Wild West right now, and people are exploring and experimenting with it, but it being Facebook, it just seems like another money sink. It's hard enough making money as a comedian that, if I'm gonna do something else, and put as much time and effort into it as standup comedy, then fuck, I gotta get something out of it. I can't work a 9-to-5 then spend all of my free time putting what little energy I have into my… art? If you even want to call it that. I just want to make a living doing this. That's the whole reason I explored [Twitch] in the first place, as another avenue for comedy that isn't just standing on a stage a cover band will be on the next night.
What are your thoughts on the DFW comedy scene?
I don't know. It's a weird incubator for talent, I think, but it's not anything anyone really gives a shit about. I think that's why people who leave here go on to be more successful than, say, people who leave Austin, where there really is a good comedy scene. Because the scene is equal parts the people performing and the people watching. You can't have one without the other. Here, it's just so hard. You have to fight so hard for every laugh at every shitty venue, and everything's so spread out. It's not just about Dallas — there's Fort Worth, there's Denton, there's Plano. And they all have very different crowds. In a smaller city where everything's concentrated in like a downtown area or something like that, it's a lot easier to have a string of open mics that you can go back and forth from, and people are more eager to find something to do. Whereas here, you're competing with everything. No one cares. I think “no one cares” is a good philosophy to have beaten into you, because then you don't ever get too full of yourself. It keeps you grounded when you eat shit every night for five and a half years. [Laughs.] Which, y'know, it prepares you for a city like LA or New York. Just because there's a lot of stuff going on in those places doesn't mean it's easy. Those are tough cities to move to and be successful in. You learn a lot of lessons here that apply to there, things that a city that's known for having a great scene might not have. I hear that Denver's has a great scene right now, but if it's anything like Austin, I have a feeling a lot of those people are just going to stay there. You can have a club where people smoke weed and watch comedy. Why would you want to go to LA? That's like shooting fish in a barrel; your only concern is that people get too high and start freaking out. I don't know. It sounds like a pretty sweet place. But here, I don't know. People don't stick around here long enough to really become big. Paul Varghese is probably the youngest person who's made it here. I can name other names, but they're people who started in the '80s, and are as successful as you can get without having left Dallas. They still go on the road, but their home base is still Dallas. There are advantages, but there are disadvantages with that. Without a scene, there's no comedy industry here. There's no one that's gonna notice you and help you move further in your career. Take The Funniest Comic in Texas, which was really just a gimmick by the Improvs here. While there would be comics from out of town sometimes, it was really the Funniest Comic in Dallas contest. Compare that to Funniest Person in Austin, which has run for 30 years or more at this point. The people judging it are the Vice President of Casting for Comedy Central and the booker for Just For Laughs, and all these other legit comedy industry people. Here, we'll just get the club owners who are already booking the people who're gonna win. It doesn't do anything for you. I don't know. It sucks. But sometimes shit that sucks is good for you. It's like eating your broccoli.