Sooner Or Later, Dallas Comedian Andrew Woods Is Going To Determine Why North Texas Just Can’t Get Its Comedy Scene Going, Dammit.
Welcome to Humor Us, a column in which local comedian Alex Gaskin interviews other local comedians about the ol’ funny business in order to help introduce DFW at large to the burgeoning comedy scene blooming right under its nose.
Andrew Woods is being recognized as someone you absolutely want on your show if you’re booking comedy, but lately it’s happening more out of Dallas than in.
To be clear, you should absolutely want Woods on your show when you’re in Dallas or pretty much anywhere else. His writing can catch even the most seasoned and jaded comics off guard thanks to his incomparable talent for finding the most novel spins on whatever topic he’s addressing. He maintains an even keel onstage, but his calm is perfectly complemented by the sudden turns his jokes can take.
Woods’ next show is at The Secret Group, a new comedy venue in Houston. His ventures into the Houston and Austin comedy scenes have shown him what helps comedy scenes thrive, giving him sharp insights into the obstacles Dallas’ stand-up scene currently faces. I discussed those issues with Woods, while also talking about his goals as a writer, and his thoughts on booking and producing shows.
I’m catching you just after you had a show as part of Dallas Comedy House’s weekly comedy show series. How was it?
It was good. I had a good set, but I had new stuff I wanted to work on, and I closed out my set with that. I started out really hot with some proven material and just kind of faltered at the end, but I was glad to get an opportunity to try new stuff I’m excited about in front of a real audience. They’re longer jokes that I’m not used to telling, so it was a lot of…dead air, I guess. I’m trying to figure out how to tell these longer stories as opposed to these shorter jokes that I’m used to doing. I started off with a lot of short jokes that were working well and tried to transition into these long bits that I don’t know how to say yet, really.
How long have you been working on this shift into longer material?
I’ve been…I’ve been thinking about doing it for the last ten years. [Laughs.] But the last six months, I’ve been actually putting pen to paper and trying to extend some ideas into longer jokes. I’ve tried it before, I’ve tried to sit down these longer jokes that I thought were a next level in writing, and I’d try them at an open mic and they’d bomb. And I’d go, “Well, I’m never telling that again.” I remember one time I wrote out these two longer bits that seemed so good, and I called my girlfriend. I was like, “I think I’ve turned a corner in my writing.” And then I went to an open mic and tried them and they sucked. [Laughs.] They were not good. And then I was like, “Well, moving on.” Then went back to writing glorified one-liners, I guess.
The way you’ve been writing, it’s not just that it’s impossible to know what the punchline will be, it’s hard to even know when it’s going to come. It’s writing that always manages to catch me off guard.
I try to hide the punchline as best as I can. I think that came from just watching people at open mics do jokes and really hit the punchline, and then everyone knows that’s where they’re supposed to laugh. So when nobody laughs, it just makes it that much more painful. So a lot of my jokes starting out, I put the punchline in the middle so I could keep talking if no one was laughing, and then they would just not know it was a punchline. So that’s something I like to do to make the audience think they know what’s…like, “Oh, I know where he’s going with this.” And then they don’t, because I’m a genius. [Laughs.]
How long had you been thinking about doing comedy before you tried it for the first time?
I’d wanted to be a writer for a long time, but I always thought I’d have too much stage fright to perform onstage. And then I did karaoke for the first time and had an okay time with…that was my first time being onstage since I’d been in a Christmas pageant in elementary school. I kind of got a good adrenaline rush from being onstage, and I thought, “Oh, maybe I could do this.” I was working at Mockingbird Station and found out they have an open mic [the weekly open mic at Hyena’s Comedy Club in Dallas]. So all right, yeah, let’s try writing some stuff down and seeing how it works onstage. And of course I sucked when I first did it, but I kind of got over that fear of being onstage pretty quickly.
You’ve got a really cool show coming up, but it’s not in Dallas – you’re doing a show in Houston called 12,000 Degree$, right?
Yeah, it’s awesome – it’s at The Secret Group, which is an amazing new comedy club/music venue in Houston that’s comedian-owned. They have three places in the venue where they can do shows, and they’re constantly putting stuff up there. This is a comedy show/rap battle hosted by Zach Dickson and Mycal Dédé. Two comics go head-to-head. They each do a 10-minute set, they both do a karaoke song, and then they do a rap battle, which I’m the most nervous about for any show I’ve ever done. But I, like everybody, loved 8 Mile, and always thought that I could rap, but now…
You have to prove it in front of strangers.
Who don’t care about me. [Laughs.] I’ve freestyled in the car with friends, but I’ve never rapped onstage in front of strangers. I’m looking forward to it.
I honestly don’t think I could even get past the karaoke part.
See, that’s the thing – I cannot sing, so the only karaoke songs I do are rap songs because I don’t have to keep a melody or anything. So that I think I’ve got in the bag. But if I had to do, like…if I had to sing a song I’d probably shoot myself.
I think I’d seen a little online, but you’re the one who introduced me to The Secret Group. You’ve spent some time in Houston and performed in Austin. On top of The Secret Group, are there things about those scenes that you particularly like?
Yeah, I think…I only spent six months in Houston, but while I was there, their independent scene kind of exploded where they just have shows all the time, like independent shows, bar shows that people consistently come out to. There’s a weekly show that’s just at a hip bar in downtown Houston. I do it every time I’m in Houston. And every time, y’know, there might not be anybody at the bar when I arrive, and I’m like, “Okay, this is the one that’s gonna suck,” but by the time the show starts it’s packed with people who are there to see comedy. And they get amazing people to drop in all the time like Ron Funches and people who are performing at the Improv, and they just have a lot of that.
So headliners at the Houston Improv will just show up…
Will come in on a Thursday and perform a free show. No one’s paying to be there, no one’s getting paid to be there. Any time you’re there [in Houston], you can usually find a show now. Whereas now, I think most of the shows I get asked to do are in other cities as opposed to Dallas.
You said you were in Houston while it blew up – was there anything you saw that you’d point to and say, “Oh, this is why things are taking off.”
Some of it has to do with a friend of mine named Gabe Bravo, who just has a mind for promoting shows and knows how to get people out to see live comedy or music events. I think with Houston, too, it’s a bit more compact than Dallas. Whereas Dallas, people kind of pick a neighborhood they’re going to go out to for the night. If your show isn’t in an area that has a lot of foot traffic, or a lot of people anyway, people aren’t really gonna go out of their way to see your comedy show.
You’ve also performed in Austin, which has a pretty well-regarded comedy scene. If you could take a particular element from those scenes that you could bring to this scene, what would you bring?
I don’t know. They just have so many young people looking for things to do that they can have multiple shows on a night and they can all pack out, they can get a good crowd. And they just…it just seems more supportive of the arts in general. And Austin is kind of a destination for people. Comics will move to LA and then move back because they prefer Austin. If those people are headlining the shows, people will go to a weekly show and be like, “That’s amazing, we’re gonna be back next week.” But in Dallas, it’s hard to get a consistent show going, because a couple of them are just gonna suck. They’re just gonna be stinkers, and no one’s gonna come back…you’re not gonna have repeat customers if you can’t get a consistent show going. And it’s not that I don’t think Dallas has good talent, it’s just not enough to sustain a scene in a city this big.
You don’t think we have enough people to keep a good show going weekly in the same venue?
I don’t even know if it’s that because you can get people from out of town to be on your show. I think it’s just there’s no…nothing’s been around long enough in Dallas to be an institution. I feel like the best shows have been running for years, and people know it’s there. I’ve done a lot of good shows in Dallas, but they’re one-offs. There’s no consistency to where people know, “Oh, every Friday night I can go to this bar and see really good comedy.” Because the good shows don’t last that long. No one’s been running a show for more than a couple of years here. Except Brian [Breckenridge] with Sunshine Bar in Arlington. But that’s Arlington. They need something to do there besides Six Flags.
You ran a really cool show for a little while, “How’s Your Dad?” – can we talk about that?
That was my baby. That was my intention with that show, me and Tyler [Simpson], was to have the cool show in town and have it run for a while, and when people come into town that’s the one they’re gonna want to drop in on. And the ones we did were great, it just kind of fell apart through…apathy, maybe? Or just, y’know, I don’t really know what happened there. We were – well, Tyler was busy, I wasn’t. It was hard to get on the same page to schedule things. We planned on bringing it back, but after you miss a couple of weeks or months, it’s just hard to get something like that going again. But hopefully, someday.
Are you thinking about a revival?
I’d love to, I just don’t know if I see myself staying in Dallas long enough to get it going. I’d love to start a show in Dallas, but like I said, I think what a show needs here is consistency, and I don’t think I’m gonna be here long enough to build that up. I don’t want to start a show that runs for three months and doesn’t find its legs and then give it up. But I think that is a problem, no one wants to stay here long enough to build the scene. It’s so much easier to go elsewhere and be a transplant in a scene that’s already developed for you.
It’s like when I interviewed Dean Lewis and he said once you have ten minutes of solid material, just go to LA, which I did not expect to hear from him. [Laughs.] Do you think Dallas, with the right conditions, could sustain an independent scene?
Yeah, I do, I think it would take some people like myself, and our group of friends, making the hard decision to stay and build up a scene. But it’s thankless, and I don’t know if it’s even worth doing. Because that was my idea a couple of years ago. We have a city with a couple million people. This is a big city, with lots of comedy fans – I think they’re out there – and why not just be the tentpoles in the community? It’s just a lot of work, and I’ve never been good at putting that kind of effort into anything.
Cover photo by Jason Hensel.