This weekly blog series features interviews taking place at the Dallas Comedy House 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. This week: Ron Lechler—The Comic That Got Away
Ron Lechler and I sit at an outdoor picnic table at the East Side bar in Denton. Lechler wears his trademark browline glasses and is sporting a winter beard as he sips his beer, all lanky arms. We've just performed in a sold-out show he organized at J&J's Pizza Basement in Denton featuring Dallas and Denton comics like Lechler himself, as well as an all-woman hip-hop outfit called "Gross Bitch." The eclectic lineup is indicative of the shows put together by the group known as the "Denton Comedy Collective," an industrious crew of stand-ups who work hard putting together fun and funky shows to ensure the city's scene continues to grow and thrive. Like the Denton scene itself, Lechler's stand-up is a blend of irreverence, cerebrality, and strangeness. Lechler is a work horse—he is not only a stand-up, but a graduate student and teaching fellow in film and television writing at UNT. In the little spare time he has, he writes, directs, and performs in short films. I sat down with Ron for the first time in a few months to understand what drives his relentless diligence, and also like, for closure.
AGH. I left your book that I meant to give back to you in my car. The one about comics... Mock Stars!
Yeah, it's like interviews about comics. I never read it, but I feel like maybe it gave me the idea for this series, like through osmosis. Is that it? Because I honestly thought this interview might be a trap, where you corner me and call me a pig, and I called my ex-girlfriend and said, "Does that sound feasible?" Because you and I haven't spoken in awhile.
We have not. When did you first start comedy? I started telling jokes when I was 16. I was still in high school.
What was your first set like? It went really well, because I papered the crowd, there were a lot of people who were there specifically to hear me tell jokes for the first time. It went really well, then my head got big, because I was like, "Everything I say is funny, apparently!" and then my second set was just... dog s***. Dog s***. Really, really bad.
Do you remember any of the jokes? My first set I had a joke about how Freddy Krueger lives in hell but he wears a sweater...? I just thought that was badass. It's not funny. I wasn't funny til I was like 24. I'm 25 now. I'm also very modest.
You lived in several places throughout your life— I've been called "The Comedy Alien" by Paulos Feerow.
Did you do stand-up in all those places? I lived in a place called Kalamazoo. I started doing comedy in a place called Howlin Michigan that no one's every really heard of. It's where I had my first set and stuff. And then when I moved to Kalamazoo for college, I started telling jokes there and I found my group of people. There's the Kalamazoo comedy scene and the Grand Rapids comedy scene and we all kind of joined forces basically.
And there are dudes from Lansing and dudes from Detroit. Not everything's as spread out as it is in Texas. It's a little different.
How else does it compare to the Texas comedy scene? Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids got really tight eventually after I left, everybody started getting really friendly after I left, so they're like this united front like the Western Michigan comics. The thing that I've noticed that's really different from Dallas is people actually listen to your comedy in Michigan. In Dallas, Alex Smelser described it to me as it being an island jumper in the Pacific War—everyone knows you're going to be dead in a week so they don't bother to learn your name. I thought that was really poignant but also kind of an astute observation.
So there's more of a sense of camaraderie, being in the foxhole... Community, yeah. I used to perceive Dallas as really distant and jaded and now I have a group of people in Dallas who are not just comics, they're my friends. That makes everything so much different. I feel like I'm not funny in this, Andrew was so funny. I read all of these by the way. What if I just said p***** for five straight minutes? Would you type it all?
Maybe. I'll probably leave [you saying] that in. I'd like it censored though, my mom's going to read this. She asks how you are by the way. I mentioned you once.
(clears throat) Uhmmm what brought you to Denton? Graduate school. I think I'm the only one in the scene who's an academic.
What got you started doing stand-up in Denton? I had already been doing comedy for four years when I moved here. When I got accepted to graduate school, I didn't really know what the outlets were in Denton, and then I found Alex and I found Matt Solomon and I found like a tight knit group of people and we started doing shows at like Rick's and really just sh****le places and no one ever showed up, and eventually we carved out a little area for ourselves
A niche. A niche market. And there are some decent open mics in town now. I mean the Garage Mondays is a sh****le, but if you do well there it means you're really good. And then Mabel Peabody's, the gay bar, is super, super awesome.
Yeah for sure. Let's get back to the "Denton Comedy Collective." I think it started a year before I got here. That's really all on Matt Solomon and Alex Smelser, they got that thing together. Then I showed up and I just kind of became a part of it. The way it works, I'm kind of part of the brain trust now. I don't know I got that position.
You guys put together some great shows and really showcase people from Dallas. We certainly try really, really hard. There's a lot of work and a lot of effort. I've seen shows put together really poorly, and I don't like to point fingers or blame people, but I don't want to be that guy. I want to be the guy who puts on the amazing show. And I want to be the guy who puts on a show that everyone wants to be on.
It was a super fun show you put together tonight. Yeah, tonight was super fun.
What are your goals going forward as a comedy writer and as a stand-up? I don't know exactly when it happened, but I had this sort of revelation that I had to write and be funny to be happy. It doesn't really matter what context I'm doing that in as long as I'm doing those things. Doesn't necessarily have to be stand-up all the time, it can be screenplays or sketch writing. Because I think the world gets a lot easier once you realize who you are and what you're here to do. When it kind of clicked, now I know what it is I'm supposed to be doing, and I'm really glad that I'm doing it, because I could do something I'm not that interested in like be a dentist and I could fail at that, too. I think it just makes more sense to try to do the thing you want to do.
You use many different mediums to communicate your comedy writing. First, let's talk about your short films. Are shorts a mediums to communicate a joke you can't necessarily tell onstage? Some stuff kind of translates well onstage, some stuff doesn't. I'm lucky I have the education and the experience to be working in the visual medium with cinema and stuff like that. I think it's really important to be able to understand your material and where it works and where it doesn't, because I have stuff that doesn't work onstage, and wouldn't work as a film, but I can make it into a sweet comic. I work with illustrators all the time, and I have stuff that just works as a tweet, and then it's over and I'm OK with that.
You made a film about comics. I made The Bottom Rung last year. It was the second-year film in my graduate program. It highlighted Alex Smelser and Martin Urbano, who lives in Austin now.
Fantastic comic. Martin is very, very gifted. I knew it immediately. He was 18 when I first saw him, and I told him how much I liked him and how he and I were going to be friends.
And now he's 19 (laughs). Whole different person. I thought it was important to highlight local and amateur comics, because I've seen documentaries about comedy before and they always sort of showcase people who are already famous, and I think that's a little bit redundant. I thought, I know people who are endlessly talented, but no one's ever put the spotlight on them before.
But seriously, why didn't you call me back? You didn't call me back!
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.