Comedian Chris Tellez Left Dallas For Austin Early Into His Stand-Up Career, And The Dallas Comedy Scene’s Loss Was Austin’s Gain.
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.
Chris Tellez’s easy-going charisma and storytelling knack sometimes give his sets a conversational vibe, but his unorthodox perspectives and sharp writing skills help him stuff those seemingly relaxed performances with outstanding comedy.
The Dallas-raised, Austin-based comic may refer to himself as lazy, but Tellez stays plenty busy. Some of his time is regularly taken up by his own projects – like running the popular Shit’s Golden monthly stand-up showcase with Pat Dean or co-hosting the “Why Should We Care?” podcast with AJ Henderson. He also consistently performs on popular Austin showcases and has earned opportunities to work with standout headliners like Baron Vaughn and Kyle Kinane.
Tellez’s comedy focuses on material grounded in jokes he’d want to hear as an audience member. His aim is to continue developing comedy that suits him, even if a new direction isn’t necessarily what he expected. When creative growth means building an act around more semen and poop jokes, he commits to it.
I spoke with Tellez about what he sees as important for a comedy scene, how he got set up with his podcast and showcase and how he’s changed (or hasn’t) as a performer over the years.
Just to get people who are less familiar with Austin and its comedy scene up to speed, let’s talk about the projects you run out there. I know you help run a stand-up showcase, Shit’s Golden. What else are you involved in?
Right now, out in Austin, I do that show and I do a podcast called “Why Should We Care?” Those are the main two things, they’re fun, I like them both.
How long has Shit’s Golden been running now?
About five years. It’s five years, four months, somewhere around there. We started it at New Movement Theater, we did it there for a year and a half or two, then we moved it to Spiderhouse Ballroom, and at that point I added Ryan Cowney as co-host, then he moved to LA, and then Pat Dean came on to co-host, and it’s been downhill ever since. I think it’s because of Pat. [Laughs.]
What motivated you to start the show?
When I got out here, Chris Trew asked me if I wanted to try to run a show because another show they had stopped, it was called the Hashtag Show, I think? He asked me if I wanted to do a show and asked if I wanted to do it monthly. And so it just kind of happened because Chris asked me to do it. Before that I’d wanted to run a show, I was just too lazy. It just kind of fell into my lap.
The podcast is newer, right?
Yeah, we started that a few months ago. We have, like, almost 40 episodes under our belt, and we already have over 2,000 subscribers. In my opinion, it’s the most popular podcast by a comic in Austin. [Laughs.] But there’s a lot of good ones out here. There’s this couple, Ethan Billups and Donna Bourgois, they built a studio in their house, like a professional studio, and they started a network called Body Tape Intl. They started having some comics try podcasts and stuff. I was on somebody else’s, and they asked me if I wanted to start one. We got together and came up with an idea, and we started doing it weekly — it comes out every Friday. I was surprised people were subscribing and people were giving feedback so fast. It’s the most popular podcast on that network, but they have a lot of good podcasts.
The concept is that you guys bring in a guest who tries to convince you to get into something they’re into.
When I was putting it together we were thinking of how to format every episode, and I’m like, I know I’m lazy, and I know it’d be easier for me if I just got to go in and be myself, and for AJ [Henderson], so we were like, well, let’s make the guests do all the work. [Laughs.] So the guest comes in and brings in a hobby, or something they’re just into, whether it’s an album, or a book, or a movie. Just anything they’re into. We had one guy come in and talk about fishing. And they talk to us about why they like it and try to convince AJ and me why people should care about it or why we should give it a shot. And so me and AJ are very honest about it, if it’s something we don’t care about, I think the listener can feel that in the podcast; if it’s something we care about, it’s pretty clear. We have Ryan Cownie call in sometimes, and he calls in playing an audience member who always listens to the podcast and calls in to throw in his two cents, it’s always pretty fun. We’ve been interviewing comedians, musicians, y’know, other people who do podcasts. We want to start interviewing professors one day, really challenge ourselves.
It seems like there’s a trend of people reaching out and asking if you want to do stuff, between Shit’s Golden and the podcast.
Yeah, I mean, I’m a freak of nature and people know that. [Laughs.] No, I think that’s a good thing. I like…the reason I moved to Austin is there’s a lot of exciting people doing exciting things. Everybody’s creative out here, some people have the oomph to get off their butts and make it happen. Whether it’s shooting a short or a podcast, stand-up shows, writing a movie. I’m flattered every time they ask me to be part of something. I’m self-motivated, but I also fall flat a lot of times. Keep asking me, more than likely I’ll do it. [Laughs.]
You started performing stand-up in Dallas, right? How long did you perform here?
I spent my whole life there, but I only did stand-up there for about a year before I moved to Austin. I had to get out of there. I love Dallas, but I felt like Austin was more the city for me at the time.
So it wasn’t leaving Dallas so much as coming to Austin?
If I could have done anything at the time, I would have moved to LA or New York like everybody wants to, but I’ve always been a man of not much money. Austin was three hours away. I visited a couple of times and I already liked Austin for the city as it was, but when I saw the comedy scene, it was just more of a melting pot out here. Comedians from all over the country are out here. I made a pretty quick decision to move. As much as I like Dallas, I just didn’t see as much of a comedy scene locally as there was locally here in Austin. So that was it.
Beyond that melting pot aspect, was there something in particular here in Austin that you couldn’t find in Dallas?
It felt really good to move somewhere no one knew me. I spent my whole life in Dallas. I think going somewhere and just having a clean slate, being a nobody, it gives you plenty of time to focus on what you’re doing. You’ll fuck up new relationships in a new city and that’s fun, too. But I think it’s just good – for me, I don’t know about everybody else – but for me, at the time I didn’t realize I was doing it, but I would kind of just do things and hope for the best. For me, what it did was it excited me to come out here and there’s a lot of competition because there are a lot of really good comics, really good shows. I wanted to be a part of it. It seems like, comedically, the city of Austin – the people who run Cap [Cap City Comedy Club], the people who run Velv [Velveeta Room], ColdTowne Theater, they really challenge their local comics to be an attraction, develop your talent and get better. Because they want to build their clubs and theaters around local talent. I saw that immediately.
You still come back to Dallas occasionally, right? Is it weird running into people you knew when you started out?
Yeah, it’s always weird because I don’t go back that much, but when I do go back, I always run into some comics that have gotten so much better, comics who were good that don’t go out anymore. It’s always weird. I think the weekend I met you, I met a whole batch of comics I’d never met before in my life. Either guys who hadn’t been doing it back when I started or who I just didn’t get a chance to know. One thing I’m hearing is people are thinking Dante Martinez is good? Like from a lot of people.
You’ve known Dante for a while, right?
He was the waiter at the restaurant where my friends and I used to hang out, and I’d see him at some of our parties. But yeah, I started improv out there and he started right when I started, and he was in my class. And then I started stand-up and he started right around the time. Then he started to kind of look like me; he’s another reason I had to get out of there. People were gonna start thinking we were the same guy. [Laughs.] When I met Andrew Woods, he told me Dante was one of his favorite comedians, and that’s really cool, but also, ever heard of a guy named Dave Chappelle? How can Dante be your favorite comic when Dave Chappelle exists? [Laughs.]
Can we talk about your development as a comic, as far as your material and starting out and now?
When I started out in Dallas, I felt like I was starting pretty late. I was 28, but I always wanted to do it. I felt like if I was going to take it serious, I had to do a lot of writing and really tell myself what’s funny and try my hardest to be good at this right out the gate. I guess now it’s the same. The biggest fight I have is I have to fight being depressed, being lazy. It’s just self-motivation, that’s all it is. It isn’t a big secret for me, like, “What do I have to do to be good?” All you have to do is actually write something and go to a mic. I think at any level you get to, you can always go to a mic. You see big names drop in at open mics all the time. You’ll never know what’s funny, I think, unless you exercise it in front of an audience. Now I just keep my ears open, keep a notepad in my back pocket just because you have to get better – I’ve tried to get better at catching things, writing it down and go to a mic immediately. If that works, you can just mold it into your material. That’s all it really is.
So just a natural observation?
I hear people overthink it all the time or they write these real smart pieces on social issues or whatever, they try too hard to educate the audience, rather than just be part of the audience and just tell a damn fart joke. I think avoiding pretension is something I try to do, treat the audience like I would want if I was in the crowd, I guess.
Just tell the jokes you want to hear?
Just tell the jokes I want to hear, not come off like an asshole – likability is very important. There was one comic I always saw, and I won’t say the name, but he was always one of my favorite comics in Austin. But the one thing I always thought he didn’t have was his material was so…I don’t know the word, maybe edgy? The crowd would become uncomfortable. But the jokes are good. Then years have passed and now the crowd’s always on his side because he doesn’t make them cringe anymore, he just comes out and tells solid jokes. That’s all it was. Just having a constant beat to your set. I’ve seen it happen. But I think likability… but if you’re not likeable and you’re funny, that proves my whole point wrong. [Laughs.] I don’t think there’s a real answer or a way everybody should be.
Is there anything you’re surprised to find yourself doing onstage now? Like something the new, 28-year old you would be surprised to find you doing?
It’s crazy because I always thought maybe when I got this far ahead, I’d be more mature, and talking about more mature subject matter. But in the last year or so, I’ve been writing a lot of shit jokes and lately I’ve been writing a lot of semen jokes. It’s just a lot of fun. It’s almost like I got tired of doing what’s expected or trying to evolve. Or forcing it. It was like, “Y’know what? I’m just gonna go out and tell the funniest things I can tell.” Almost challenge myself to pick the most immature subjects and still try to make them entertaining. I guess younger me would probably be proud of that. I guess that’s who I always was. I think I definitely have more confidence now than when I started. I think that confidence just comes with time. I still pace around before every set I do, whether it’s a mic or a big show, there’s always going to be nerves. But onstage, my confidence…I’m a lot more confident now than I’ve ever been. I would tell [younger me] just be glad I was patient and kept working because it’s ups and downs, nonstop. Eventually, you go through enough ups and downs that it doesn’t bother you. The downs happen. It’s just another night after a while. You just keep going. I believe I’m funny, so I’ll just keep going. The worst thing that happens is I have a lot of fun, y’know? If opportunities come with that, awesome.
You spent some time in LA not too long ago, right?
Right, I think last year.
Have you been able to do a lot of traveling?
I haven’t been able to lately, but by the end of the year I do want to take a trip to LA. There are some spots I want to go to again, I want to go back to New York. I’ve never been to Portland or Colorado, but they’re definitely two cities I also want to visit. Every time I go anywhere I have the time of my life, so I’m definitely gonna have to build to the kind of life where I can do that. That’s where I’m at now. If you want to put my Venmo account on here, if people want to donate money to help me make that dream come true, I’d appreciate it. [Laughs.]
So let’s say you’re getting pulled out of Austin, you can’t go back to Dallas, you’re going somewhere brand new – aside from media presence, what would your ideal scene consist of?
Ideal scene? Honestly, ideal scene would be seven nights a week, there’d be places to do comedy, multiple venues if possible. There was a big rise in open mics that were opening in Austin per week and I didn’t know how to feel about it for a while because I would hear one side, and comedians would be like, “There are too many comedians trying to run shows, there’s a lot of lameness.” But then I’d look at it like, if you’re not that good of a comic, but you love doing comedy, and you aren’t getting booked on shows, fuck it. If you could start a show, start a show. Do what you’ve gotta do to get stage time. If nobody’s giving you stage time, go make your own stage time. I think maybe there needs to be more of an embrace of each other, as far as the scene goes, no matter what your level is. But I think overall, I don’t know, maybe there’s too much meshing in a scene, like people feel like they have to support, and they have to be part of a community. I think ultimately what matters is if you’re doing well onstage or not. I think people need to work on themselves, rather than look for issues, what’s holding them back, social cliques. I was guilty of that a while back, I’ve grown out of that shit. Ultimately, all that matters is if you’re doing well onstage. I think seven days of mics a week, I love that there’s mics, positivity, and…I don’t know, weeding out all the shitty comics would be nice, but that’s never gonna happen anywhere. [Laughs.] Some people might read this thinking I’m one of the shitty comics, but I assure you, I’m not. I’m a king out here.
Before I let you go is there anything you’d like to mention? Any plans to come back to Dallas?
I hope to come back to Dallas soon and do more shows, I always have fun when I’m out there. People just need to get off their asses and come to my show when I come to town or I’m gonna stop coming forever. And that’s gonna be on the City of Dallas. [Laughs.]