Anyone Who Says Nice Guys Can’t Finish First — At Least In The DFW Comedy Scene — Hasn’t Worked A Stand-Up Set With Tony Casillas.
If I recall correctly, the first time I saw Tony Casillas do stand-up was at an open mic I run in at Killer’s Tacos in Denton. I don’t remember much of Casillas’ set from that night, but what I do remember is a very distinct personality. One that in my couple years of comedy at the time, I had yet to see but always wanted to be around when I got into the business of jokes.
Casillas was a film student by all measures. Outspoken, goofy and animated. Pretty sure in true film student fashion he was even wearing a Star Wars shirt that day. He was fairly upbeat and excited about comedy. Two things I most certainly am not.
Fast forward three years and Casillas is still that guy and more. Not only does this guy genuinely love stand-up, but it turns out he is easily one of the hardest working comedians in DFW.
Within the past month, Casillas has had his picture hung up in the halls of the famous Addison Improv, been promoted from opener to feature act at Hyena’s Comedy Nightclubs and even booked some headlining gigs out of state. Yet somehow, in between all of that hard work, he still manages to post a supportive “kill it brotha” or “break a leg” to nearly every other comic’s online self-promo. That’s just the kind of guy Tony is.
Comedy is hard. It is fickle, vicious and hardly lucrative — that’s probably the TLDR; explanation for why comics are jaded people. Casillas, however, has managed to evade that jaded perspective. He will be the first person to congratulate you on a good set and he will be the first to console you after a bad one. In the competitive world of show business, Casillas is the kind of peer that makes it worthwhile. The kind of person that makes you want to keep going. I think I speak for most of DFW comedy when I say not only is he one of the best comics I know, but he is one of the best guys I know.
Casillas’ next feature will be November 21 – 23 at Hyena’s in Plano. Kill it brotha.
Let’s start at Addison Improv. You just found out your picture made the wall? I knew it was going up. I just didn’t know when.
Man I remember that with Arlington Improv. They took it, had me sign it, told me it was going up, then I remember it feeling like eternity until I saw mine up. That’s how bad you want it.
It was like two months for me.
Did it feel longer though?
Yeah, because it’s one of those things where you’re like ‘what if they change their mind? What if they look at the footage and realize [I] wasn’t that funny.’ [Laughs.] But he sent me a picture, saying “It’s going up today,” and I teared up a little bit. Because it’s one of those things. I wrote in my post about it on Facebook saying about how Brian Regan’s special that he had taped at the Improv. I would watch that two or three times a year. One of my favorite specials. As a kid, you never think you’ll be able to be a comedian. Then you never think you’ll be able to perform at the Improv. Then you get to headline a night, then next thing you know they are putting your picture up next to to the comics you grew up watching and it’s a…
Have you had the chance to see it in person yet?
No, not yet.
It’s almost more surreal seeing it in person. Being under the roof of a comedy club and seeing your face on the wall.
Yeah, I don’t think I ever want to go back. I feel like he sent it to me almost as a prank. [Laughs.] And when I get there it’s just going to be down. Like “Tony was here.”
It’s going to be Carlos Mencia or something?
At this point in the interview Tony and I both were interrupted. Well, more so distracted by a grown man in Heelies, doing whatever the verb is for Heelies while simultaneously pushing his kid in a stroller. Not only was this spectacle seemingly unsafe but in the most Denton like fashion they rolled up to the tattoo shop down the street and went inside.
So anyway, things are going great for you at the Improv, but you also frequent Hyenas, where you just got moved up from host to the feature act, right?
Yeah that’s another weird thing. For a while, people asked me why I hadn’t moved up to feature and I had talked to the owner Randy about possibly moving up. but like six months ago I didn’t feel like I was ready. Six months ago I knew I had the time, but I just didn’t have the experience of doing those 25-minute sets. There is a big difference between doing 15 minutes and [25 minutes] — the order, what jokes go where, how to pace it. So these past six months I have just been trying real hard to book shows all over the country, whether it’s bar shows [or] going to the clubs. Really just to do that time because I felt like if I bomb at a [random] club, I really don’t care about it. Whereas I really love Hyena’s and love that audience — it’s my home club. And [my] first time featuring, I wanted to impress.
There is so much more pressure working any position at your home club. It’s crazy, I have talked to so many people about this but even as you get more experience, comic imposter syndrome is still very real. Like it took me having to be forced into the feature situation to realize “oh yeah, I can do this and I want to do this.”
No it’s the same thing [for me] where it’s like, if I didn’t get moved up, I would’ve been like ‘Ok, well now is not the time.’ But then I got it, I had a wave of fear come in, but then I recently did a show in Stillwater, Oklahoma, at a brewery. I had to do it in 30 minutes for less than 30 people and it went really well. It felt really good. So I was like ‘Ok, if I can make 30 people at a bar who really didn’t want to see comedy laugh, I can make a comedy club audience laugh.’ I’m still nervous, but I feel like most comics moving up are. That first weekend it’s like ‘woah what’s going on?’ I mean anything could happen at those shows. What if you blank or something? But really, I am excited. Because you know as a host, you can’t ever really relax.
Yeah, because even when the set is done, you’re still working.
Yeah, you have the time to maybe go out and smoke a cigarette then you’re telling yourself ‘They have been on stage for five minutes, what if they had a stroke?’ You can’t relax. You are constantly thinking about the ‘what ifs’ when hosting.
I am so thankful for all the hosting gigs and how much better they made me. Especially with Hyena’s and how ready it got me for featuring, but it really can be one of the most grueling jobs in comedy.
You are like the most important person for the show, yet nobody watching the show knows or acknowledges that. And it’s weird because here in America, it’s the newest comic on the show is the host and you move up from there, but in England they make you start out as the middle act. So in order of comedic experience you have middle act, host, then headliner. They do that because they recognize the host as being such an important job. I mean, [if] you have been on shows with a bad host, that host can can ruin the entire show.
There really is so much pressure in the hosting position, especially as a newcomer. I mean, let’s be real, most people’s first hosting gig isn’t going to go well. It just isn’t.
Exactly. Because you’re nervous. Also, you have to remember all this other stuff [like] the names of the acts, their credits, remember to fill out this and that — I mean there are all these rules and things you have to remember. And meanwhile, you’re over here like ‘but what about my dick joke?’
My first weekend as a host was a nightmare. Hyenas in Plano. I specifically remember just dying on stage and a loud bang came from the club’s kitchen area. It was such a loud bang and I was getting such little laughs that everyone in the showroom heard it, so I tried to play it off and get their attention back. I said something like, ‘don’t worry, that’s just my ghostwriters back there’ and without hesitation, some guy snapped back with ‘Hopefully killing themselves.’
[Laughs.] You wanna hear something funny?
My worst heckle also comes from Hyenas in Plano. Also one of my first weekends. I’m bombing, it’s like nine minutes in [and] zero laughter. Just eating shit. And this older lady is in the third row — and I don’t think she meant to do this like this, I think she was just hard of hearing — but she leaned over to one of the people at her table and loudly says ‘I want to laugh, but he’s just not that funny.’ And the entire room laughs. And I just start sweating more and more, I get red. Luckily, the one way I recovered, and this was really the biggest laugh I got that night, is I looked at her and said ‘Ma’am. I still have six minutes left so if you want to join me, I think you’ll be getting my biggest laugh of the night.’ That got a good laugh from them. Kind of like an ‘Oh, at least he can make fun of himself,’ sort of thing. This goes back to the featuring thing. The reason I want to be ready to feature is because when I started hosting, I wasn’t fully ready. I think I had the look, the material up until like eight or so minutes, and then I just really stretched a lot of topics. Not a lot of punches in my jokes back then.
You mentioned booking out of town gigs to help you get ready for your feature dates. We all know the best comedy stories happen out on the road. What’s your best road story?
So I get to go on the road with Butch Lord a lot. And going on the road with Butch is like going on the road with a pirate.
Oh yeah, I just went on the road with Butch for the first time. [Laughs.]
The funniest story with Butch is, we are driving to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Butch Lord, Lawrence Rosales, and me. We are driving through a snowstorm, in the midwest. So Butch, who doesn’t have a license nor do I think has driven in 25 years, was driving. I had [driven] for like nine hours and needed sleep, but I wake up and it’s just pure white outside. I look at the driver seat and Butch has his signature shades on, rubbed my eyes and asked Butch if it was snowing, and in that Butch Lord way he just shot back ‘Yeah! Can’t see shit!’ [Laughs.] And I am in a car I had just bought with like, five years of savings, thinking ‘we are going to die in a fucking forest.’ But we survived. We made it Cuyahoga Falls after hours and hours, so we stop at a CVS for shampoo and stuff. So Lawrence, this whole time, was in the back of the car, just totally quiet. Butch and I go into the CVS thinking Lawrence stayed in the car [and] we didn’t know he had gotten out. So we get the stuff, get back in the car — again, not knowing Lawrence wasn’t back there — and we just drove off to the club condo, and Lawrence had to walk all the way to the condo in the freezing cold. [He had] to show up to the owner of the club, covered in snow, still in sweatpants and be like ‘Hey, I’m your feature for the week.’ [Laughs.]
So out of all these road gigs let’s end with a question about my favorite stories — the shit gig, hell gig, whatever you want to call it. What has been your worst gig?
Also on the road with Butch, except this time Matt Mcelhone was with us. We were going to Jamestown, New York. We got there and promoted for the show, went to this Renaissance festival and the mall just passing out flyers. I got done passing mine out so I decide to walk to the club, which was down the street, to check it out. I get there and there’s four people in the audience. It’s like thirty minutes before showtime and I’m like, ‘Ok, you drove all this way for four people.’ Twenty hours. I was broke at the time. No money. We had a door deal with the club so I was hoping for it to be packed so we could actually make money. So I show up, four people, meet the owner and the first thing he says is, ‘hope you brought people,’ and I was like ‘well, we passed out flyers. Did you promote?’ And he goes ‘No, not worth it.’ I ask him why and he says because they are shutting down.
Like, they were shutting down after the weekend — our weekend. So, it being the last weekend, the owners didn’t give a fuck about us. It was so bad. The craziest thing is, it was right across the street from a comedy museum. Like, a s$60 million museum committed to comedy! John Mulaney performs in that town every year — Sebastian Maniscalco. I mean, Lucille Ball lived there. I mean, this is like the comedy town.
Sounds like having that club in that town is like having the Miami Dolphins move and play in Canton, Ohio.
[Laugh.] Yeah! So there was no promotion, no people [and] not only that, but the club owner was just like bumming our cigarettes all weekend. Like first off, we are getting fucked [and] now this guy is straight robbing us. He at least made good subs though.
Subs? Like sandwiches?
Yeah, he had like three businesses. He had a catering business that was successful and I think a laundromat. Apparently the comedy club started out strong but instead of weekly shows, he started doing bi-weekly shows. Not very consistent. The best part is, he kept trying to sell me the club all weekend. He goes ‘I will give you $10,000 for the room. $15,000 if you want all utilities.’ I was like ‘I am here for a door deal. You think I have fifteen grand just lying around to spend on a failing club?’
Maybe he just thought you were rich because you had cigarettes.
[Laughs.] Honestly, for a carton of American Spirits I probably could’ve bought half the club. Can I tell you one funny thing about Jamestown, New York? After 6 p.m. that town is dead as fuck. Nothing to do. So Butch and Matt went out to drink, [but] I didn’t really want to drink that night, so I went to the hotel and realized I ran out of cigarettes. I go to the gas station and it’s closed. Walk another mile to another gas station — closed. Then I realize there is no one on the street — there’s no cars, no people. I then finally see these guys smoking outside a bar and was like ‘Hey, can I bum a cigarette?’ They gave me one and I say ‘man, it’s Friday night, why is this town so dead?” I shit you not, the guy leans over to me and goes “well, it’s kidnapping season here in Jamestown.” And I go, ‘Kidnapping season?’ He goes “Yeah, and you look pretty young, so I would just go back to your hotel room.” So I just start running. [Laughs.] And I am not a runner. [Then] it clicks. Like I said, we went to a Renaissance festival that day to promote, and I realized ‘Oh shit. There were a lot of missing kids posters up there.’ It all just came together. I am in a town where it’s kidnapping season, at a comedy club that is closing down, across the street from a prestigious comedy museum and I just had that moment of realization. This is my life, and honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.