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. Carey Denise: The Veteran
Carey Denise and I sit in silence in the DCH lobby as I jot down my set before our interview. I had told her I wanted to wait until after I went up, but the truth is I was procrastinating. I've always been a little intimidated by Denise. A 10-year veteran of comedy, she's both an incredibly generous performer who is comfortable sharing her deepest weirdness and darkness without flinching and also a gifted writer who describes each painful story or hard-earned insight in vivid and hilarious detail. Offstage, whenever Denise sizes you up with her ice-blue eyes, you feel terrified that with her nimble comedic mind and powerful emotional IQ she might be able to totally destroy you using only her jokes. Luckily, tonight she just gives her usual easy laugh and replies that, of course, she wouldn't mind starting the interview early, with one caveat:
You should know that I hate being interviewed and I love being interviewed—at the beginning I'm like "Yay, this is gonna be fun," then I'm horribly disappointed at the s**t that comes out of my mouth.
I'm sure you'll be very clever and charming. When did you start comedy? In 2005 in Austin, the very first open mic of the year. January, right after New Years at Cap City. I did some poetry slams and stuff where I'd go up and do stand-up, just to do that, because I didn't want to start at a comedy club
In front of comics. Right. There was a little group of homeless people, hood rats, they call them drag rats, they live on the drag, and they'd come and watch me. Austin is a lot smaller, too, you just run into the same people all the time. They were these little homeless kids who'd come watch me do stand-up at poetry open mics and then finally they were like, "You're ready!" I made it my New Years Resolution to do that after the holidays.
Along with your throng of admirers. I never saw those people again.
What?!?! (laughing) Why did you decide to start doing stand-up? There's the obvious reason and the in-the-moment-dramatic reason where you're like, "I'm doing this now!" I did theatre as a kid, and speech and debate and Humorous Interp in speech, it was a mainly male-dominated event, and I was really good at it, and won state, blah blah blah—it was voices and characters and stuff.
Really? I did D.I. [Dramatic Interpretation]. H.I. was indeed mostly dudes. Yeah. When that was over, I got first in state and went to Nationals, I didn't do well, but that didn't matter. I got to fly for free. And it was after high school, I was a senior, so I'd already graduated by the time Nationals happened, so over the summer I went and I was flying back home and I was like, "Well... what the f**k do I do now?" I never made good decisions ever. I always did whatever was in front of me. So I went to college for other stuff, for English, because I thought I wanted to write, and I was living in Austin after I graduated. I was substitute teaching, because I didn't want to actually teach, I didn't want to do anything. I just got super depressed—had a horrible, awful relationship. I moved to Austin for them, and they were living with someone else. Just never had the balls to be like, "Don't pack your stuff!"
So I didn't know anybody, and I didn't have any friends, and I kinda went a li'l nutty. And then I was like, maybe I'll try stand-up.
Doing interp is the closest thing to stand-up, I've always thought. Yeah, I was always, "Where does this skill translate?" I don't know why it didn't occur to me earlier to do it. I always loved stand-up. I was obsessed with Robin Williams. Richard Pryor was the only one my mom wouldn't let me watch, but I would sneak it. Gallagher, and all that. From an early age, there was a foundation, but it never occurred to me to actually do it. Then I sort of did in speech and debate without realizing it, and I was really good at it, and when it was over I was like, "This is dead! Where does this exist in life?"
How long did you do stand-up specifically in Austin? Collectively about seven years. Off and on for 10.
How do you think the scene compares to Dallas? Austin is indisputably a good scene to start comedy in. There's always been this unspoken or spoken rivalry between Dallas and Austin. Scenes change. I've been around for so long, it's different for people in both pots now, but when I was first starting and full of myself, the idea of being a comedian and living in Austin—everybody talked about how good the scene was, and it was really good. I think it's a little too stagnant, a little too much of the same thing now, and I think everybody knows that. That's just sort of the dynamic that exists right now. White-bearded hipster dudes—although that's sort of the whole world now.
I think the Dallas-Ft. Worth scene is good, but it would be better if it wasn't so spread out, and that's really nobody's fault, it's just the dynamic of the cities. Gas is expensive, people from Ft. Worth don't want to go to Dallas and vice versa, and in the middle is all the s**t towns. Unless something starts happening in Arlington or Irving in that area.
Also bar mics die so quickly here. Do you think they thrive better in Austin because there's more young people interested in watching stand-up? I don't really know what can be expected of a bar mic, that's the fruit fly lifespan of a bar mic. Some take off and they last but that's more abnormal. I mean, you're not charging for anything, and it's usually just comedians that come and hang. It's usually on an off night, the bar's already slow, and you can promote it but you shouldn't put any money into promoting something that's free. I don't really know what the answer is to that.
I haven't been back in a long time, but I see Austin comics plugging a lot of recurring shows and open mics in smaller venues on Facebook that are continuing in a way they aren't in Dallas. Yeah it's fun to go places with your friends and do an open mic, but logistically speaking, how does that operate? People call it their "show"—it's not your show, it's your open mic.
Have you been on tour before? I'm not a headliner, so as far as I'm concerned, no, but I've worked the road and I've gone with people. I'm going to Killeen with Josh Johnson this weekend. I haven't done any road work in the past few years. Mostly been hanging out in different cities. I'm trying to book more comedy. I have a problem with making comedy where I make my money because for me it kind of ruins the experience. I stress out about jobs and money anyway. I'm usually halfway homeless—it stresses me out thinking, "How am I going to get money from this?" I've been doing this for a very long time, mainly open mics, I get booked on all kinds of stuff but nothing that pays. I do road work, I traveled as an opener when I shouldn't have early on. I did gigs I could barely afford to do and barely made any money and slept in my car because I was all gung ho and excited about it.
But I bet you learned a lot... I learned a lot! And gained a lot of weight since then. It wasn't realistic. I started way too early, and now I feel like I've waited too long to try to do it again.
I don't know about that...they say it's a marathon. What's your favorite memory of doing stand-up? I went to Doug Stanhope's house for New Year's Eve one year and did a comedy contest in his living room where nobody knew me—everybody knew each other but they didn't know me—and I won. I beat my ex-husband. He was my husband then.
Do you have any advice for stand-ups just starting out? I'm in a really weird spot right now. I'm really angry about everything that's happening in the world, and I'm wondering is comedy the medicine or are we all just licking our wounds? The theme of being a comedian is "I'm so broken!" but like you're clearly not doing anything to help yourself...(former interviewee Andrew Woods walks up and tells Carey she's up next) I didn't know I was on the list. (she gets up)
So no, I don't have any advice for anyone starting comedy. You're on your own.
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.