Mitchell Clemons Hates Networking, But He’s Managed To Make Connections And Open For Mick Foley — Twice.
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.
While Mitchell Clemons generally hates networking, the chance at a dream gig — and a few drinks, he admits — motivated him to reach out and ask for the opportunity to open for wrestling legend Mick Foley.
The move worked: He got the gig, and then he would go on to open for Foley again when he returned to the area.
Despite his aversion to networking, Clemons has done pretty well for himself. He’s been able to perform at the different comedy clubs in the area, made connections and formed tight friendships. That doesn’t mean his resistance hasn’t made things difficult. This August will mark Clemons’ seventh year doing stand-up, and he’s trying to process what his professional future should look like.
Clemons can lead an audience to some wonderfully dark places in the span of a couple of sentences. His writing is lean with ideas whittled down to their essence, and he’s fearless enough to find the uncomfortable humor behind the most seemingly benign interactions.
As much as I love Clemons’ material, I’m looking forward to watching him perform without any of it as part of an all-crowd work show at Dallas Comedy House this Saturday. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the hosts of the show).
I spoke with Clemons about that show, how the availability of stage time in DFW has changed between when he started and now, and about opening for Mick Foley twice — a thing that, OK, I’m maybe slightly jealous of.
I asked you to be on an all-crowd work show at Dallas Comedy House. How are you feeling about it?
Nervous. [Laughs.] I’ll do crowd work at an open mic, but, I don’t know, it always feels different, because that’s just me not giving a shit and being tired of my material. So that’s just a way of making it seem organic even though it’s calculated, I guess. Just being like, “Hey, how ya doing, lady?” Or just some pithy remark about the person before me or whatever. I don’t even like looking at the audience, if that’s a thing. Do you…?
I look at the audience. I kind of have to because otherwise it’s too easy to talk at people instead of to them.
I do the thing where I look over them, I guess. I hate locking eyes on someone for more than a couple of seconds. It’s like, I’m telling jokes, but I’m looking at you but I notice you’re looking at me, like I’m in a public place or something. It’s bad.
I mean, typically when we do shows and club work…really we aren’t even allowed to do crowd work at clubs generally.
Well, Tyler [Simpson] is on the show, right?
Well, he’s a master at it. Who else…is Dalton [Pruitt] doing it?
He’s the one who came up with the idea.
Dalton I’ve seen do crowd work and it’s interesting. Tyler’s a master at it – let me do it before him.
[Laughs.] OK. You’re also doing the Friday Night Stand-Up showcase at DCH soon, right?
Yeah. I’m glad they’re giving more opportunities [to do stand-up]. I like DCH, it’s a fun place to be. I love the owner, Amanda [Austin] has always been very kind to me. She calls me “Smooth Mitchell,” which is the opposite of true. But yeah, the once a week thing is great.
You’ve been at it for about seven years now?
It’ll be seven years in August and I kind of hate saying that.
I feel like I should be a little bit more accomplished, but I just let laziness get in the way. But yeah, it’s crazy starting out at twenty-two. I feel like we’ve gone through two or three cycles since I started. You’ve been doing this for three years?
I guess three and a half now.
When I started, the old guard was people like Dustin Ybarra, Nick Guerra, Mark Agee, Tone Bell, Justin Foster, Raj Sharma, and they all moved. And then me and all my friends started, and we formed this great connection, and then we all just progressed little by little, and all these other people that weren’t in my group also just kept getting better and then they started moving. And then since I’ve known you, people who started when you did are moving away. It’s just gonna be me and Dave Little.
It’s funny, I’ve noticed in the scene there’s a pretty common mentality of cycles, like, people keep good track of who’s shown up when.
And I can’t even keep track of time anymore, where it’s just like…it’s just a “seven years and 60 pounds later” feeling.
Do you have a favorite “cycle” of time?
I would probably say the first two to three years. I don’t know if this is just reminiscing or whatever, but you would see my friends who we started out with at the same time, just almost on a weekly basis. And now some have moved or some have moved onto different things, and now you only get to see them sporadically or whatever. Getting to see Angel Rosales every week, Brad LaCour, Chris Darden, and then meeting Grant [Redmond] and Christian [Hughes], Clint Werth, Michele Benson – Matt McGinnis, one of the funniest people I’ve known, I only get to see him a few times a year now. Josh Johnson‘s another one…my ride or die guys, if you will. But yeah, some of those people kind of moved on, and you have to form more friendships or whatever. Getting to do shows with them….we did a show at the Improv five or six years ago, and then we got to do a month’s worth of shows at DCH at that same time period, which was a lot of fun. Just hanging with those guys, forming memories. We had a few backyard cookouts or whatever. That was the most fun time. Plus, like I said, the people who moved like a year and a half into my doing this were just killer dudes and have just gotten better and better.
You mentioned shows at the Improv and DCH. Were those shows that you and your buddies booked or were the clubs reaching out to arrange those shows?
I think a little of both; I was never really on that side. Some of those other dudes have always just had better networking skills or whatever. I’m not good at networking or I just don’t choose to be. I always remember hearing that word in college and it just seemed like such horseshit. Like, “This isn’t gonna lead to anything!” It does for some people, but I’m also just not persistent enough to follow through with it.
So you’ve never been a networking guy.
No. I don’t travel enough either to where it would come in handy. “Hey I’ll be in this city, I’ll be in this city.” If I wanted to go to Austin or Houston I think I could get on a show. I met Gabe Bravo last week, very funny dude from Houston, he said he could probably hook me up. The Austin-Dallas dynamic, I don’t know what it’s like down there, but everyone I know who’s come through here from Austin has been very nice. Jay Whitecotton, Bob Khosravi…I’m sure I’m forgetting more names.
For a guy who doesn’t network, you’ve got more than a few names to mention.
Yeah. I guess seven years of going to shows and open mics, you’ll meet enough people, get to know them. That’s the big thing in all this, there’s so much downtime, which leads to copious amounts of drinking and smoking and passing the time any way you can.
You make it sound like a prison sentence.
[Laughs.] Well that’s the best part about all of this, is the hang. Sometimes I don’t even want to go up when I go to open mics, I just want to bullshit with my friends. It’s just a bar where they happen to have a microphone where you talk about your dick.
[Laughs.] Talking about shows, you’re the guy who got the gig I’m probably most jealous of – you got to work with Mick Foley.
Twice. Can we talk about that?
That was amazing. I’m trying to think of how I got it the first time. Karen Cunningham was booking it. I can’t remember if I saw that he was coming…I think one night I saw he was coming and I sent a drunken Facebook message just begging to be on it.
You sent it to Karen?
Yeah, I think. And then I think I got the call the day before, she was like, “All right, Mitchell – can you do this? Don’t let me down.” The first time I did it I was on Cloud 9. I was so excited, this dude I watched almost kill himself for however many years, and I get to open for him. He gets to know my name. And couldn’t have been nicer, super sweet guy. The first time wasn’t…I didn’t bomb, but the second time was a lot better. I remember [the second night] was the night of a championship game, and it was just wrestling fans. I’d done a guest spot two days before and the first three minutes I was killing, the last couple of minutes was a new bit I was working on and it completely tanked. I remember there was all this goodwill that built up and just went away. So that had me nervous for the next 48 hours. And then I thought I had a really good set, got to meet Mick again, got to take a picture with him again. He’s an amazing storyteller.
We’re talking about doing shows – the Mick Foley thing is out of most of our control, well, out of everyone’s control but his, but for the other stuff you mentioned, do you feel like the amount of stage time has changed here from when you started?
Yeah. It seems like there’s less bar shows now. It seems like there’s always stuff going on in Denton, but I don’t know anyone out there. I know people that get on the shows, but I’m never out that way. But I don’t even know if having more shows is a good thing, it’s really more about a good venue and good performers. I would say if you’re going to do a bar show, don’t do it weekly, no matter what the managers say. A monthly is the best because most of the time most of the customers don’t know it’s happening, they just get annoyed. Brian Breckenridge books great shows. Even when he was booking open mics, he was good at picking good venues. I definitely wouldn’t go out seeking fifteen people showcases or whatever because then it just turns into an open mic. But yeah, talent and having a max show of six people – if you’re at a bar, not more than an hour long or something.
Would you consider booking a show?
If I knew the right venue, I’d maybe give it a try, but I don’t know where that would be. I’m not a confrontational person, so I’d hate horning in on someone’s territory without them knowing or whatever. I might at the local bar in Allen or whatever. I’d like to do it, maybe, just a one time thing or every few months. Give it a shot just to say I did it. I know enough people that I could put together a strong lineup.
True, you were just talking about being friends with some of the best comics who’ve come through DFW.
That’s why they call me the Miss Congeniality of DFW comedy.
[Laughs.] Is that something people have referred to you as?
I gave myself that nickname. [Laughs.] I gave it to myself because it’s funny to me when people give themselves nicknames, it’s lame. Like Kobe Bryant just one day decided, “Oh yeah, call me the Black Mamba.” And people agreed with it. That’s dumb. So I thought, what’s the dumbest nickname? People seem to think I’m a nice guy, even though that sounds like such an arrogant thing to say after a self-professed nickname or whatever. It’s not like Mr. Warmth with Don Rickles. [Don Rickles voice] “I’m just a nice guy!”
We were talking about people moving to different scenes, have you thought about moving to an LA or a New York?
I think so. I’ve never even been to those cities. Maybe at some point just because I feel like I know about 15 people in LA, another 5 in New York. But the thing that’s always scared me is how do you afford it? The affording thing, the cost thing…that would be the scariest thing. I hear about people living out in their cars or whatever. I once tried to take a nap in my car, I made it about 20 minutes. I don’t know how people do it. Voice-over work I think would be fun.
You are one of the very few people who can throw a voice into a set and with just the voice make me laugh. It’s usually something I don’t go for, but you can get me with voice stuff.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve heard people mock my voice. I’ve heard Grant do my material in my voice, but I’ve never heard a voice like mine. I’ve had people say I sound like I should be on the radio, and I’ve always liked trying to imitate people on TV or whatever. Not that my imitations are necessarily great, but I think they’re decent enough that you can recognize them.
I do want to talk about your material, because there’s a conciseness to what you write, it’s very lean.
There’s no fluff?
That probably means it started as a halfhearted idea and I couldn’t expand on it. [Laughs.] So the bit just ends up being just a two- or three-line thing.
That’s not the worst thing.
Well, one of the first things I remember someone telling me, not that this should apply to all comics, or even most comics, but that you want that laugh every fifteen to twenty seconds. And I like to have my material set up to flow together to where there’s not gonna be these awkward transitions, though sometimes there has to be. For writing jokes, sometimes things just pop into my head, and most of the time – I need to get my old phone fixed, just because I had three years of ideas stored there – I’ll just write something down or write it in a tweet and maybe take it to the stage or whatever. I’ve always wanted to do a set like Norm MacDonald. [Laughs.] I’ve never been one of those people who could just sit down and write and write and write. I was always jealous of people who could do that because then you become good at editing. I wish I could get in a writers’ group. I’ve only done it a few times, but they never last.
I always wish there was a way to arrange writing meetups before open mics.
I can’t remember the last time I sat down and wrote out something. I remember when I first started, I thought listening to stand-up while going to sleep would be a good way to get the brain running. Not taking ideas from someone, but a certain word would fall into your head and you’d say, “Oh, well I have thoughts about this, and this, and this…” And you get the ball rolling in a completely different direction. Don’t do my way of writing because there’s not really a system in place. Something funny happens, I’ll jot it down, and hopefully I can use this anecdote in a place at a later date. My best writing was just hanging out with Angel. We’d be at his house, or driving around, we’d just start riffing, and that’s how shit would happen. If it really made us laugh, we’d write it down.
We talked about the earlier cycles of comedy here. What are your thoughts on today’s DFW comedy scene?
I don’t get out as much as I used to, so probably the newest person I’ve met has been doing this for a year or two. I think it might’ve been better a few years ago, but it’s still really strong now. Maybe if I was comparing it to Austin, I don’t know if they have the depth that we do. They might be more top-heavy or something. I can’t really say. This isn’t the most artistically inclined city, at least when it comes to yuks, but it’s still really good. We might see more different types of audiences here than we would in Austin, just because it’s all walks of life just about every show you go to. I always get bummed out when I see a cool comic who’ll always do shows in the hipster-y places — Austin, Denver, Portland — and they rarely come though here. But then the times they do it’s at an offbeat location or they just don’t sell that well. It’s like, if you don’t see them then, you’re not gonna see them unless they blow up. But I think it’s still a good scene. We have people like Linda [Stogner], Paul [Varghese] or Dave [Little], they’re good people to go to for advice. If you have a question, they can kind of guide you in that direction. Butch [Lord] can give you advice, he’s been on the road and can talk to you.
So for all the people who’ve left, we still have people here who can share their wisdom?
Yes. I mean, even…I’ll get asked for advice from time to time. I kind of got annoyed, I met this one dude at an open mic a couple of weeks ago, he was asking for tips. I said to just try and start out getting five minutes [of material] and go from there. “Nah, I like doing new stuff every time.” I was like, you can ignore me if you want, just because it’s been said out there doesn’t mean it can’t be edited or polished in any sort of way. I’m just trying to help you. First you have to get comfortable onstage. Unless you’ve performed places before, you don’t know how bright the lights are up there. Even just something as simple as moving the microphone stand out of the way is something not everyone knows. Hell, the first time I went onstage I wore cargo shorts. [Laughs.] The only person I’ve seen who could get away with wearing shorts onstage is Dante [Martinez].
Just little stuff like that. You just need a few minutes or a few bits to build on. And that’s how you start transitioning into normal stuff. That’s my philosophy. You’re gonna suck starting out most likely. I don’t know if I sucked starting out, or if I had the wrong idea. When I first started out, I thought being offensive, as long as I got some sort of reaction, I was doing something to where people would remember me. But after six months it was like, yeah, they’ll remember you, but they’ll remember you for all the wrong reasons.
Mitchell Clemons performs Saturday, June 24, at the Dallas Comedy House’s “Men At Crowd Work” Showcase. Head here for tickets and more information.