This weekly blog series features interviews taking place at the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) open mic with me and some of the funniest stand-up comedians in the area, most of whom just happen to be my best friends! Read to learn about your favorite local funny people and about the curious emotional makeup of people who like to go onstage alone every night to get laughed at. Joe Karr: Comedy Bard
Both onstage and off, Joe Karr, nee Schwartzott, is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered presence, nimble of wit and quick to self deprecation. Joe's concise, clever one-liners and deadpan delivery make him one of the most unique acts in Dallas stand-up, as well as his use of guitar and parody songs in his act. But what perhaps makes this multi-talented introvert stand out the most is what a kind, genuine person and supportive member of the comedy community he is. I sat down in the DCH garage with Joe and talked with him about music, comedy, prank calls, and the challenges of being a performer with anxiety.
What inspired you to make the stage name Joe Karr? There was a drummer from KISS whose last name is Carr, and I was a drummer also. But when I googled Joseph Karr, the only thing that came up was a winemaker. And so I thought, "That totally fits. It has to be that."
You were a musician before you were a stand-up. I played around here, Deep Ellum. The music scene on these streets was insane. This was a long time ago. Deep Ellum was happening, they were signing a lot of bands back then, there were skinheads running around. I was in the sh***y nerdy bands that no one's ever heard of. I was playing Club Dada and whatever this place used to be.
Like around the time of the Old 97s? Yeah, they started out at the Barley House. Tripping Daisy, the Toadies. Now we're all old people. Deep Ellum...I drove down here tonight, and there are so many new restaurants, every time I come down here there's something else. I started playing music as a child, because my teachers said I was disturbing the other students. I was hitting my desk a lot, and so they bought me a drum kit. By the time I was in a band, I was playing guitar.
The coolest thing I ever did was open for Flock of Seagulls on Elm. There used to be a bar called the Video Bar. We were playing with them, and they were doing sound check, and I was like, "Oh wow, the singer's got a roadie to set up," this balding older guy, and then I realized, that's the lead singer! That's the guy with the hair but the hair is gone! This is not gonna work!
You combine singing and playing guitar in your stand-up act. When you're writing a comedy song, how do you first approach it? The song's title lends itself to silly fun. Anything...like Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy"...I'll tell you about the songs I couldn't write, because I just didn't sound good singing it. I know what I can do, and I don't try to overreach. I wanted to write "If I Make You Coffee" because I love the way that song sounds, it's so good, but I just sounded hideous singing it in my living room.
What goes into a song like "I Got Fired," which is my favorite parody song of yours (inspired by Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire")? Generally, when the title comes real quick to me, I like it a lot and it's memorable, I'll write it real quick, usually at work. If it makes me giggle to myself, I'll go ahead and do it. I grew up doing parodies of s*** in my room or with my friends. We'd make videos, so it's fun for me to do now. Pre-Internet, that was what we used to do for fun, tape parody songs or make prank calls. They did characters. My friend did a character called "Gilby." We would call the cheerleaders at our school, "This is Gilby playing at the Scottish Moors," and we'd have this bagpipe album playing in the background, ask the family members if they knew their family crest.
When did you first start comedy? I saw David Jessup do open mics here. He went up onstage in the summertime, and I couldn't believe he was going up. I was so nervous. I was like, "You're really going to go up there and talk to these people?" And he introduced me to comics. And I'd go to work and be like, "I thought of this funny thing!" and he'd say, "You're not going do it anyway. You're too scared." And I said, "You're right." And I asked my girlfriend, do you think I should just go ahead and try? She said yeah, she was so sick of me talking about it. So I went to Dyer Street open mic. I mean, I knew I'd never do it,
But you do do it! I still can't believe I'm doing it, I'm very high anxiety like you-- I'm nervous talking to you now!
Me too! This thing has changed my life, though, because I just don't care anymore. I used to be so nervous talking to people, but when you go up, and you start choking up because no one is laughing, you have that one terrible night and it just opens up a door. How much worse can it get? And now I talk way too much! (We laugh, nervously.)
Lauren Davis is an improviser and stand-up comedian from Dallas, Texas. Currently a student at the DCH Training Center, she can be seen weekly performing improv with her troupes LYLAS: Girl on Girl Comedy and Please Like Us, as well as doing her stand-up act at clubs around the area.