It’s that time again! Everyone’s favorite festival coverage has returned for a third year running to cover all of the newest trends in music, comedy, and taco cannons (hard shells?). As in years previous, I can promise that it’ll be the hard-hitting pop culture coverage that you didn’t even know you needed right up until you needed it. What can I say, you’re a complicated person and it’s why I love you.
One new wrinkle this year, you’re getting pre-coverage! This means that if you’re in the Austin area there’s still time to catch all of the amazing things that are about to happen. There will be music from incredible acts like Gogol Bordello, The Outfit, TX, Wu-Tang Clan, and even Lauryn Hill!! A smattering of extreme sports and wrestling, and some really amazing comedy starring people like Eugene Mirman, Tig Notaro, and the Lucas Bros. Heck, I’m even giving out free high fives, so let me know if you’re looking for that action because I’ve been practicing.
Since live comedy is such an integral part of the show, I wanted to start out by talking to someone on the inside. With so much alternative comedy on the stage this year–sketch shows, live video improv, ummm… Air Sex (can be NSFW), etc.–I thought it would be cool to find someone who knew a lot about the alternative comedy scene and I found the perfect person in Chris Rose.
Chris moved to New York a few years ago trying to land a gig writing for a late night show. After trying for a while without any luck, Chris decided that if no one would let him on their show, he would start his own late night program and thus was born the Late Night Basement. Rose’s monthly live late night show has blossomed, being called the “Best Comedy Show – 2015” by New York Magazine. Featuring great monologues, hilarious ‘man on the street’ interviews, and an amazing guest list of folks like David Cross, Lake Bell, and tons of others, it’s really a treasure trove of incredible comedy.
I spoke on the phone with Chris on the eve of their show in Austin for Fun Fun Fun Fest (tonight at 10 pm at the New Movement Theater for anyone in Austin) about his show and about alternative comedy, and here’s what he had to say:
(Interview has been edited and slightly condensed.)
I’ve read in other interviews that you started Late Night Basement after you moved to New York to try and find a job writing for other Late Night shows, what made you interested in them to begin with?
CR: Initially it was Conan O’Brien, and his early stuff. Then The Daily Show in the early 2000s was a real revelation because not only was Jon Stewart the smartest person in the room, but he was also the funniest and he was right, which was an incredible combination. I really liked how topical it was too, I like that these people woke up in the morning and had no idea what their show was going to be about in 8 hours.
With all of the turnover in late night recently, the format of the shows have been evolving from the traditional Johnny Carson style. How do you think it is evolving and what do you see the modern format becoming?
CR: Colbert is doing the most interesting things of the hosts right now. I love the way that he took over from Letterman and made it feel familiar, but new at the same time. He’s kept a little bit of his old [Colbert Report] character while simultaneously being completely lovable and joyous.
For the form, I think longer think-pieces are going to start become more popular, kind of what John Oliver is doing right now on Last Week Tonight. Also, they’re probably going to become more and more like what Chris Gethard is doing, being really interactive with the fans.
Speaking of interaction, you do a lot of ‘man on the street’ interviews–the Guy Fieri and ‘Lil Jon or Shakespeare?‘ ones are incredible–and I’ve always been curious; how many people do you generally have to stop and talk to before you get enough footage for one of those?
CR: We probably shoot for an average of 3 hours for every one of those videos. Not everyone will talk to you and a lot depends on the weather and what’s going on around you, but when you do find someone who’s good, you have to try to keep them talking for as long as you can. Most people rarely catch on either. I would say we probably talk to about 30% of the people we approach, about 30-35 total.
You guys have done political comedy in the monologues and it’s a great time for it right now. With this enormous crop of presidential candidates, who do you think lends themselves to parody the most?
CR: All of them really! But this week has to be Jeb Bush. There’s a little Trump fatigue, and every week is different, but this week Bush had his “book” released, the one with all of his e-mails, his new ‘Jeb Can Fix It’ slogan, and his ‘nails’ quote about being tough (“I eat nails when I wake up, then I eat breakfast.”), they’re all great. Also, Bernie Sanders just because he’s such a great character.
I’m really intrigued by the format of your live show, and it’s a little different than coming to see traditional stand-up. Do you see growth in alternative forms of comedy and how do you see the form evolving?
CR: I do see growth and it’s becoming a great mixture of early Conan, back when he was scrappy and low-budget, and the comedy coming out of UCB [Upright Citizen’s Brigade]. I’ve always loved the kind of DIY approach to comedy in New York, it’s very organic. I started my show because I wanted to practice this sort of thing and get better at it.
After performing and growing the show for a while, does it still feel like practice for something?
CR: It does, but it also feels like it’s evolving into its own thing. It’s also opened some really interesting doors for me. I’m not an SNL writer, but with the exposure from my show I do get to submit 5 jokes every week for Weekend Update, which is cool.
The growth of alt-comedy scenes, local comedy that isn’t solely stand up, do you feel like this is something that can happen everywhere now, and how does social media contribute to that?
CR: I do. There are great local comedy scenes all over the country right now. New York and LA will always have great scenes, just because those kinds of people flock to those cities, but everywhere is growing right now. Denver has a really strong comedy community, for instance. I think it’s awesome for local comedians, people like Chris Trew who gets to live in Austin and New Orleans and make a living at it.
Social media is really what evens the playing field. There’s so much more exposure now. I mean, a lot of the big shows, like SNL, still recruit from the more traditional sources, but that’s changing. It used to be that, in order to write for shows, you had to go to Harvard and write for the Harvard Lampoon, and that does still happen. But look at Seth Meyers, for instance. He recruited this dude who lived in the middle of nowhere in Illinois because of how hilarious he was on Twitter.
Thank you for talking to me, I really appreciate it. Last question is, there’s a big UK basketball game in December in New York, do you have any comedy recommendations for anyone who’ll be there?
CR: Well our [Late Night Basement] last show of the year is on December 11th, so if they’re in town they should try to check it out. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a more traditional show you should go to the Comedy Cellar, but if you’re looking for great alt-comedy I highly recommend going to see Whiplash, which is at the UCB theatre Monday nights at 11 pm.