Hogan Allcorn Focuses On Stand-up As A Craft, Not As A Career. But Things Have A Pesky Way Of Going Well For Him Professionally.
Hogan Allcorn exercises an admirable purity when he sits down to write jokes.
He follows the simplest, most obvious criteria (although, to be frank, too many comics tend to overlook one, or several of these steps): Have a setup, get to the punchline and make it funny.
He consistently delivers on all three of those benchmarks, too. Especially the last one.
In the span of a one-liner, Allcorn can take something mundane in a ridiculous, sometimes jarring direction. He can also start far off any identifiable center, and steer the audience into a fantastic punchline. He also avoids sharing his political beliefs or any details of his life; he just goes onstage because he loves writing and telling jokes, and that’s what he does.
That laser focus extends to more than just what he puts into his notebook. Allcorn insists that stand-up is something he doesn’t see as a career path, and that beyond working a paid weekend show at Hyena’s Comedy Club – a feat he’s already accomplished – he has no other goals. Of course, he’s still performing at the Dallas Comedy Festival this Saturday, and, with only three years experience in comedy, he’s set to perform in his first theater venue, at the Waco Hippodrome, on April 29. Oh, and he spent a semester in college in an internship at Comedy Central in New York.
When it comes to not pursuing comedy as a career, he seems to be doing a terrible job.
I spoke with Allcorn about his approach to joke-writing, his start in comedy (including his enviable prelude to stand-up at Comedy Central) and how he balances the need to share his wildest, most flagrantly creative material with his goal of crafting jokes that can work for a wider range of possible audiences.
So you’re performing this Saturday as part of the Dallas Comedy Festival (DCF), correct?
First time performing as part of DCF?
Yes, it is. I’ve heard the Saturday show is a good spot. I’m on the third stage, which means I’m really important. [Laughs.] It’s a fun lineup, I’m excited. I’m gonna try to see some shows, too.
Any shows you’re particularly hyped for?
The James Adomian one, that should be fun. I don’t know if it’ll get sold out though, or not. I’m gonna try to go on Thursday.
Is this your first festival?
I did the Heart of Texas Comedy Festival in Waco, and… that is it. This is the first one that’s a bigger one, where it has improv and sketch and stand-up. The Waco one was smaller, but it was still a lot of fun.
What motivated you to apply?
I’ve heard [the festival] is great, and it was inexpensive to apply. And I love going to their open mic. The crowd is great and attentive, and sometimes too easy. It’s different from a Hyena’s crowd; it’s more indie and hipster, a ton of performers in the audience, but also improv performers who love stand-up.
What do you mean by “too easy”?
When you perform at DCH, there’s a lot of people who look like me. [Laughs.] My age group, white, similar interests. But if you’re performing on a weekend in Plano at Hyena’s, it’s older, and it’s… just a little different. Material isn’t going to go over as well as it would with a DCH crowd. You can get a little soft if you’re performing for easier crowds.
Do you not like tailoring your material? Are you more of the “Here it is, take it or leave it” kind of guy?
No, I do like tailoring. Well, I try to have my material as open as it can be. It’d be great to have more jokes for wider audiences, but it’s also fun to make your friends laugh. But if you can’t use it to on a paid weekend…
It’s that struggle of “Here’s what I really want to talk about” versus “Here’s what I think will get me work.”
Yeah. But I’m still not above an online dating joke. As long as you make it funny, do it. Even though everyone has online dating jokes, I’m OK with it. Just try to make it the best online dating joke, Bill Cosby joke, Jared from Subway joke. It doesn’t have to be some weird premise only your friends will get.
I did want to talk about your material. You’ve definitely grown over time, but you seemed to have a more coherent idea of what you wanted to bring to the stage when you arrived than most people.
Right. More traditional jokes, not a lot of personal stuff. A lot of my jokes even counter some of my personal beliefs. But if it’s funny, I don’t care. I’m not trying to push some agenda or my views. I don’t think I have any jokes that reflect my personal life. There’s some jokes where you can kind of see where my view is coming from at times, but it’s not intentional.
You’re definitely not afraid to tell a joke that can paint you in kind of an insane light.
Oh, absolutely. And I think I’m a pretty normal person. A chill, nice person.
Definitely. That’s what’s great — meeting you the first time and you seeming like a good, down-to-earth guy, but seeing you onstage for the first time and having a… different impression.
I can be weird, and… I don’t know, I never really think about it. I just write these jokes, and if you string them together, they can come across really weird. But it’s not intentional.
Have you written something and had that “I don’t know if I want to be the guy saying this…” reaction?
I always say, if you’re gonna be a painter, you’re probably gonna paint a few boobs and wieners, and maybe some things you’re maybe not proud of. But you’re going to explore your style, and find your voice. That’s kind of what you do at open mics. I’ve said things I would never say in person. But you just say it, throw it out there, and you just go back to the drawing board. That’s what open mics are for. I’ll say jokes at open mics, and it’ll go well, but I’ll know that I won’t say it at a show, because it’s too risque or it just won’t work. You can go to open mics for the art, and you’re not really working for the weekend paid show. You’re really just exploring the artistic side of your comedy persona. But you might not use some of those jokes at a paid show.
But it is nice to have opportunities to share those things.
Yeah! Oh, yeah. I mean, if it’s funny… yeah. [Laughs.]
Is that what you got into comedy for? Just to exercise that joke muscle more than anything else?
I was always a big fan of comedy, and I wrote jokes for years — maybe five years — just in a notepad. Never had any intention to tell the jokes onstage. I did an internship at Comedy Central. Have we talked about this?
I did not know about this!
I did an internship in college called “Baylor in New York.” I went to Baylor University. I did an internship at Comedy Central, in Talent and Specials. One of the jobs you do, you just go and see a ton of shows. I loved it, and that’s… I always liked comedy before, stand-up. But that’s where I really loved it. I had written jokes for a long time before then, but I started writing a lot more. But after, I moved back to Abilene, which is where I’m from, and there’s no comedy there. But every now and then I’d get to come to Dallas, and I did the whole thing where you sit in the back of the room three or four times, and you realize, “I’m funnier than some of those people,” and I have all these jokes, so I should definitely try it. So I did. It’s been fun ever since. The first four or five times are rough. You go up really late, the crowd’s not there, and you also are really bad. But about the sixth or seventh time, it’s good. Well, it’s OK. My first time to where I could do it regularly was about a year in. I would drive three hours from Abilene to Fort Worth to do Butch Lord’s comedy class. It was weird. There was a lot of construction going on at I-20, so I would get back at 2 or 3 a.m. on Sunday night, and have to work the next day, and it was miserable. I moved to Dallas about two years ago, and that’s when I started to doing it regularly.
I had no idea before this that you’re the most connected person I know. I should be nicer to you.
[Laughs.] I was really bad at finding talent. I’m such a bad judge.
One time, I went to the Comedy Cellar, and there was a guy with a guitar. We all had this goal — we had to find three talents. I was like, I’m gonna find one no one’s heard of, I’m gonna find one mid-range, and then I’m gonna find a big talent. The lower talent was Joey Gay. I was like, this guy should be on the Live at Gotham show – remember that? So I came back with him and they were like, “Yeah, he’s already done that.” The next level was Theo Von to get a half-hour special – and that was actually a good suggestion. The third one… I can’t even remember his name, but he had a guitar, and he had a spoof song of a Lion King song. For some reason, he killed at the Comedy Cellar, and I thought, oh, that means he’s really good. So I mentioned him, and the people who were booking every half hour show were immediately like, “Yeah, this guy works cruises, he’s not good.” [Laughs.] I also remember somehow Anthony Jeselnik came up, and they were really high on him, but I saw him at the [Comedy] Cellar a few days before, and he truly did bomb, and I told them, but… that’s kind of Jeselnik’s thing. You can imagine that act bombing more so than, like, a Jim Gaffigan style. I was not good at discovering talent. And I do keep up with my immediate boss here and there, but I never had a desire to go back to New York.
Did you do any comedy while you were in New York?
No. I went to a few open mics because I had a friend who did them, and they were pretty bad. They’re not a lot different than here, maybe more competition. But they have more opportunities. It was fun. That was when John Oliver did his show, John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show. I saw all six of the first episodes. They did the half-hour, I’m trying to think… Pete Holmes, I think, did his. Rory Albanese. Jeff Dye – I like Jeff Dye a lot. It was amazing. I probably saw 50 shows in a semester. It was crazy. It was really fun.
And then you went back to Abilene.
I went back to Abilene.
You made it as hard as possible to do comedy.
Well, I didn’t think I wanted to do comedy, ever. I just wrote jokes.
You just had to get them out in the world.
So now that you’re in comedy, do you have long-term plans?
Nope. I only wanted to do a weekend at Hyena’s, that was my only goal. I mean, it’d be cool to work up, but I never thought it could be a job, and always thought it would just be a fun hobby. Obviously, I would drop everything if some magic talent agent was like, “We gotta get you signed!”
You just have to run into your former self.
[Laughs.] Right? What’s your goals? I never talk goals with people. I know this is an interview about me, but…
No, no. It’s… I know how daunting it is for this to become a career, but I want to keep moving up where I can.
Would you ever move to L.A.? Is that part of the plan? Or New York?
I’d rather move to L.A., honestly, just because I know more people there. My only thing is, I want to go with some level of internal preparation. I did an interview with Dean Lewis, and he said once you have 10 minutes of material, go. That was… Anyway, you’re obviously not of that mindset.
No. No. I mean, we have enough guys who can start working from Dallas. It would take them forever. But you can start a sketch show in Dallas, you can do a podcast in Dallas. It’s a lot easier to become a star out there. But Dallas could almost be a better place to work on writing and jokes than L.A. or New York, because the crowds are so… they’re different. Maybe not New York, but definitely L.A. You can maybe become a better performer here – you can’t get discovered here like you can in L.A. and New York, but there’s so many other ways to get noticed, and you can do a lot of those here. Sketch, a YouTube channel, whatever. There’s so much DIY stuff, it’s so easy to get equipment and find a buddy who has a camera.
Is that something you’re looking to get into in the future?
Maybe. I was always the kid who did videos for church and school projects. I loved doing those. I never, ever thought I would do stand-up, but it would be fun to get back and do little sketches here and there. We know a handful of people who do really funny ones. It’s just a matter of putting in the effort, finding the time. Stand-up is like, “This is when the open mic happens, you can be there and do it.” But with a video you want to do, you have to get off your butt and do it yourself.
Do you ever look at what you’ve done so far – weekend shows, the festival, and you’re doing a show in a theater in Waco soon, right?
Do you ever look at all this and think, Jesus, I just wanted to tell my jokes out loud? How’d this happen?
I’m very grateful for everything. I mean, I’m not getting a record deal or anything, but I’ve been really happy with all the friends and connections I’ve made. Like I said, I really only had a goal to open up one weekend. I’ve done that. I got to do it a couple more times, thank goodness. But I don’t really have any goals right now. Everything else is really a bonus.
So, final question: Are you ready for all the people looking for more information about your possible Comedy Central connections?
[Laughs.] I don’t know if I really even have a connection. No one’s going to ask that. [Laughs.] I can’t do anything for them.
Is that your official statement? “I can’t help.”
Like I said, I was really bad at it. [Laughs.]
Cover photo by Patrick Bullion.