Brian Gaar may have started later in his life than most comics, but he has quickly gained praise and attention through his Twitter account, making him one of the few comedians to successfully utilize it. A graduate of the University of Texas as well as a resident of Austin, Gaar has been able to raise a family while carving out a successful stand-up career. His debut comedy album, Never Gonna Be Famous, was released last year, and his debut stand-up special Jokes I Wrote At Work, which he recorded here in Austin at the Spiderhouse Ballroom, will be released February 5. You can buy it here.
How have you been?
Been good. Just got back from Portland [Oregon] a couple weeks ago doing stand-up. That was a lot of fun.
How was it?
It was fun. It’s a lot like this [Austin]. There are a lot of the same sort of guys, young hipsters or whatever, but the weather is a lot shittier. But it’s really beautiful: there’s mountains, there’s the ocean. So yeah. It was the first time I had ever been there.
Do you often travel for your stand-up?
I’m trying to do it more because I have a special coming out, so I am going to try to get out more support it. Like, I have friends out in New York and LA and whatever. Most of it is just laziness, too. [Chuckles] I’ll start to do more this year. It’s good to get out of town, too. The comedy scene here [in Ausin] is great. There are so many good comedians. And since this is a city, people go out. Going out is part of the culture, go out and see shows. That really helps.
What do you love the most about the Austin comedy scene?
I started six, six-and-a-half years ago in 2008, that summer. I remember because that was when The Dark Knight was out [Chuckles]. And there’s a lot of people doing it, but the quality of it is pretty good so people don’t except if you’re, like, not good. If you’re not good, you’re not gonna last because here’s the bar, and if you can meet that or beat it then that’s great and welcome aboard. But if not, you don’t get work and sort of fall by the way side. It’s kind of shitty if you can’t get work, if you’re just an open micer year after year. But it’s like, important too, y’know. I think it is. Everyone here is pulling for each other. We’re competing with each other, but we’re pulling for each other in the end. It’s not competitive on the level of New York or LA where you have, like, thousands of people trying to make it. I think it’s harder to stand out in places like that, whereas in Austin I think if you’re good you’re going to stand out. It happens every year: it could be some 19-year-old studying at UT who nobody has ever heard of and then they just sort of kill it in the contest [like Funniest Person in Austin]. That’s where a lot of people get noticed for the first time. There’s been a lot of Travesty people who have done this. David McQuary is one; he started when he was 20. Matt Ingebretson is another that was before him, probably a bit older.
There’s also Dan Treadway and Jermaine Affonso.
Yep, that’s right. I think Austin just has that, like, mini version of the music scene that attracts comics for whatever reason. People move here from bigger cities than Austin, but because you can get noticed a little bit, you can get like – ‘cause Comedy Central comes through town or Conan’s people have come through town, usually for like South by Southwest or something, but then they usually have a little showcase. It’s not New York and LA, but it’s looked at as a good place to start, to do your first couple of years at.
Do you think Austin is more for the art of stand-up, like 1980’s San Francisco?
I think it’s many things. I think Austin comedy is very much more about the writing than other cities, or at least that’s my experience. Like, I’ve been in LA doing stand-up before, and there’s really good stand-up there. But I think it’s a little bit more about the energy there, where it’s a lot more demonstrative.
It’s more about “selling it”?
Yeah, which I think is good, you need to do that. But I think Austin is much more low energy. It’s much more about the writing and sort of being clever and being smart than being sort of being Dane Cook or whatever. You have people coming from other cities who will come here, and there are just stuff that doesn’t work here in Austin. Like people will come in from San Antonio, and try like (and not all of them. We usually get good comics from there.) racist jokes or whatever, and it does not work here. Not super bigoted jokes, but ones that are sort just stereotypes, and Austin crowds do not go for that, which is good. It weeds out a lot, since those people tend to not come back.
Yeah, they go back to San Antonio.
What made you want to go into comedy?
It’s funny. I went here to UT, and it’s weird being back on campus.
Is it the first time you’ve been back in awhile?
I mean, it’s funny because I drive by here, but if you don’t go to UT then there’s no reason to go here . It’s kind of like a little bubble, y’know-
That keeps out the real world?
A little bit, but what’s weird is when I was at UT all we wanted to do was hang out in Austin. You didn’t want to hang out on campus, you wanted to get the hell out and explore. It’s been a few years [since I have been on campus]. I spoke to a UT class about journalism several years ago. They were like, “What’s the industry like?” and I was like, “It’s fucking terrible. Don’t go into it. Change your major.” But I never tried stand-up while I was here. I wasn’t really aware that that was a thing you could try ‘cause I had only seen comics on TV, really polished like the Tonight Show or MTV or something. I didn’t realize there was a process where you start at open mics, really bottom of the barrel stuff. There was a comedy scene here back in the 90’s, but it wasn’t like it is now. I was in Waco the first time I did it. I was working. It was my first year out of college in 2003 or something, and I had opened for a friend’s band. I did like 20 minutes. Nobody how long I could do. I was like, “Can I do some stand-up before your band?” and they were like “Yeah, sure.” and I was like, “How much time do you want?” and they were like, “How about 20 minutes?” and I was like, “Yeah, that sounds reasonable.” It’s completely not reasonable. You should start with, like, three minutes. So I did 20 minutes of comedy. Some of it was great; some of it was just awful, awful, awful. But most of it was kind of ok. So afterward I asked, “When can I do it again?” And so I wrote 20 new minutes. That was awful, just apeshit. And there’s no comedy scene in Waco, so I moved back to Austin because I got a job with the [Austin] Statesman. By then I knew that I wanted to do comedy, and so a couple years later I got into the mix. I mean, it’s like that one thing that you always wanted to try to do, and you always thought, “Oh, why didn’t I do that?” It was always in the back of my mind. I didn’t start until much later. Most people start in their early twenties, and I was like 32. [Laughs] I think it was UT, though. Like, everything was slower in the 90’s. The internet was dial-up.
People wouldn’t be able to use it if someone was on the phone.
Yeah, exactly. I remember I had a friend of mine at Jester, and he would like up their lines the whole time because he was just downloading porn. And not like videos, just pictures that would take like thirty minutes. And then all this porn would be showing up. This was all like 1994.
What’s your friend doing now?
Oh, he’s like a hardcore Republican in Houston, of course. But yeah man, you would go into – I don’t know what the SMF is now – but back then it was huge computer lab. Like, back then, people didn’t really have their own computers; it was kind of a luxury. You would go to a computer lab and sign in. There were rows and rows of them. And you’d just walk in, and people would be doing all sorts of shit. Some people would be working on their shit, and then some dude would be watching porn online. Yeah, that was a weird tangent to get off on. A lot of shit is the same, but a lot has changed.
Kind of a bit of a weird trip, I guess?
Yeah, but it’s fun though. It’s fun to come back. Austin’s great. It’s always been great. It’s gonna get bigger or whatever. Downtown wasn’t what it is now with all these huge buildings, but it’s always been that center of gravity for young people who didn’t really fit in wherever and wanted to get out of wherever shitty town they lived in. It was like that back then, too.
Do you think there’s a lot of overlap between journalism and stand-up comedy?
I think in a weird way kind of. I think comedy is kind of journalism. I mean, you’re telling stories – or at least I do – on stage, and they’re usually true. Though, comedy is sort of embellishing a lot. There’s something that happened, but then you take that and sort of run with it. I don’t know. Journalists sort of have a sick sense of humor, too, because you sort of have to deal with a lot of fucked up stuff as a journalist, like murders and humanity at its worst. They sort of develop a gallows humor. Like, I had never seen a dead body before I became a reporter. I was a police reporter first job out of college. So you see this stuff, and you do end up with this gallows humor. So guess there’s a connection. But when I first started, I remember my editor was like, “Why are you doing comedy?! You’re not funny. Ken over there, he’s funny.” I was the quiet guy in my office, so I wasn’t that guy in the office with that big personality. I was never really like that. But it’s cool. People come out to the shows. People from the paper came to the special; that was fun. I talk a little bit about my work in my act, what it’s like working in a newspaper in 2015, which is scary sometimes [Chuckles].
What do you think the future of journalism is?
I don’t know; it’s hard to tell. It’s like with any print media. Like, you probably don’t get the daily newspaper, and I don’t either. I never have. And I, y’know…So, nobody really knows. I mean it’s like, where do you want to get your journalism? Do you want to get it from a news outlet, a traditional new outlet like Fox or the New York Times, or do you want to get it from Buzzfeed or Raw Story? Do people see any difference? That’s one thing I wonder about. Do people share shit from what I would not consider a reputable source? “Fluoride in the Water is Bad” or something from Alternet. Or Infowars [Chuckles]. They’re my favorite.
Do you have to read a lot of these fringe outlets for journalism?
No, ‘cause we’re sort of, y’know – I’m a business reporter, so I do my own, original reporting, pretty much, whereas a lot of those that are online are pulling stuff from outside and are trying to comment on it, whereas we’re just doing original stuff. People probably still want it, but I don’t know.
Eh, I think people will always want to something from reputable sources. I see people share stuff from the New York Times or the Washington Post all the time. I think people go to Buzzfeed for stuff, like, “What it’s like to be a 40-year-old Disney fan.”
Or like, “What it’s like to be from Tampa.” Well, back in the day, pre-internet, if you think about it, newspapers and TV, they were the internet. That was how information got transmitted, and that was the entire thing. And they made a shitload of money. It was very profitable, but now I think we’re just one little stream in a big river of information among a ton of different streams. I think it’s good that there’s more voices out there. I mean, the internet has helped me a shitload for comedy. Like Twitter, that’s been one of the biggest reasons I’ve gotten any attention as a comedian. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I would do showcases and stuff, but people weren’t looking for 38-year-old dads with beards [Laughs]. That’s not something they were wanting.
How did you figure out to use Twitter to get your comedy out?
Oh, it must have been three years ago, and I was at an open mic at Cap City. I had a good set, and after it I said, “Hey, follow me on Twitter.” And then, right after the set, five people followed me, and they were tweeting out my jokes and they were like, “Isn’t this so funny what Brian Gaar said?” And I was like, “Huh, cool.” And so I kept on tweeting out jokes, and one of them did really well. I tweeted something about how, if two people are having an argument and one of them goes, “You know what…”, then it’s about to get awesome. That just went crazy for a second. I just have that real anal personality, like, “Let me see if I can do that again.”So I just started tweeting, and there’s a lot of funny people on there too. You meet a lot of funny people, and there’s a lot of people in the comedy industry on Twitter. It’s good. I’ve gotten jobs off of Twitter. But, it’s one of those things like, if you go to Austin, you have a good set, and fifty to a hundred people see you, that’s great. But, on a local level, how many of those are going to remember your name and go, “I’m going to read more about that guy”? It’s probably not going to happen. But with Twitter, you’re name is by it [the joke], your picture is by it. It helps. It really does. I think nowadays with the comedy industry, their looking for people who are doing their own things and already come to them with fans. They’re going to boost you, not take you from the ground up and develop you. Yeah, I don’t think it works the other way anymore. Or at least, I guess. I think the old way of doing things is, you sort of labored in obscurity, and then a scout would come along and put you on the Tonight show or whatever. And if you did a good enough job, then, overnight, you were kind of famous, and so you could work bigger clubs and stuff. I mean, it’s still great to get on TV, but it’s not like what it was.
Do you think the internet is the big equalizer here, from geek culture becoming prevalent even among jocks to the growing support for LGBTQ rights?
Good question. I think it’s good for people from different groups to communicate with each other that wouldn’t normally come in contact with each other, so that’s like different countries, different backgrounds, different whatever. I think it’s just a way for people to trade stock notes too. Like, I don’t know, the Mormon Church has had to come up with all this stuff like admit Joseph Smith was polygamous because kids of the church are going online and finding out all this shit. There’s a common encyclopedia now. It’s cool. For me, doing comedy here, I’ve got a lot of friends now who like are your age, like 20. Like, usually you tend to hang out with people your age, but comedy is so diverse. We have people ranging from college students trying it to people in their 60’s. There are lawyers, eye doctors, borderline criminals [Laughs], people who are just on the very margins. Then there’s the kid who’s living with five roommates who’s just trying to make it. But it’s good. It’s kinda like high school in a way. Just a random ass group of people. It’s like they say. It’s kinda a meritocracy. Either you’re funny or you’re not. Either you figure it out, or you don’t. I mean, some people are shitty for a long time. I was. But you figure it out and make it work.
What’s your favorite memory from being from UT?
Oh man, my first couple years I was a business major because I didn’t know what I wanted to do—I was one of those kids. I don’t think I realized comedy was what I enjoyed most doing. I know I liked being funny but I didn’t know how to make that into anything. I made shitty grades all through UT, I don’t know how I graduated. Then I switched over to Journalism, worked for the Daily Texan, that was awesome. I think the Travesty just started, it might’ve been a smaller thing. The Onion was huge, kind of like our National Lampoon, and continues to be great.
I don’t know like, turning 21, and going to Sixth Street, and just going up and down with the whole like “Hey, it’s my birthday!” And when somebody hands you something and you just drink that…you know when you hit that point when your just like “I can’t drink anymore.” I just sort of hit the wall.
But my friend Mike—we were about to call it a night it was close to 2:00 but the tables still had beer or whatever—said “no no I got it” took a beer, shook it up, and just shotgunned it back. He took another one, and shotgunned it back. So then we were like cheering him on at this point. After a third one and he goes, “ah I don’t know if I can do it…” Then he got up off the stool and runs to the bathroom.
And then a friend of mine, after that, took a lot of acid—he took like four times what you were supposed to—and he tripped his balls off. And he called me at four in the morning just screaming—that was my 21st birthday. I had to go get him and babysit him for the rest of the day. He didn't want me to leave the room, I don’t know, worried that maybe the demon would come back. He was in a friend of mine’s trailer. They both were trippin'—the more experienced tripping friend went to sleep.
Just stupid college stories like that. You don’t realize it, but college is the last time you are going to be around people your own age. When you graduate you’re gonna work somewhere and most people are going to be significantly older. So just a real fun time in life. No responsibility. Just freedom and fun—you sort of think you have problems, like you’re girlfriends mad at you—but you have no problems. You’ll be friends with some of those people you meet forever.