Brian Gaar's monster following on Twitter paved the way for his first comedy album
In September 2013, 75 minutes after making a joke on Twitter about no one ever being "in danger of being crushed to death in a room with moving walls anymore," then-local comedian Chris Cubas came back to the site with a sentiment that's grown quite common.
"One RT from @briangaar and all the Gaar-A-Maniacs are running!"
Cubas, on hiatus in Kansas City as a comedy stringer for the Alamo Drafthouse there, may hold court as the most recognizable local comic in Austin. On Twitter, however, that distinction goes to Brian Gaar, the Austin American-Statesman reporter and stand-up man whose musings on geeks and geek culture have earned him a surplus of 60,000 followers, a number that we could consider to be "a whole stinking lot."
Gaar celebrated that fame last December by recording an album, his first, which he says came at the behest of his ever-growing fan base. "The second night was one of those sets where everything went right," he says. "I got off the stage thinking 'That's the album,' and that I wouldn't change anything. That was about as good of a 45-minute set as I can do."
Austin Chronicle: This is Brian Gaar's "greatest hits," correct?
Brian Gaar: Absolutely. I started stand-up, like really doing it, in 2008, and this is the best stuff that I've written and accumulated over those last five years. That might be a sad statement, but it's the best I can do.
AC: While not surprised to hear the idea for the album came from your Twitter followers, I still find it notable that people who know you from a 140-character medium have asked for a collection of long-form stories. It's really two different types of comedy.
BG: I don't read tweets onstage, and I don't do short bits. There might be an idea in a tweet that I'll elaborate on, or I might take a series of tweets along the same topic and mold them into a joke. But it's completely different.
I didn't write short stuff before Twitter. All I wrote were three- and four-minute stories. There are some comics around town – Cody Hustak is almost all one-liners, Ramin Nazer tells real short bits – but I was never like that. Honestly, it almost started just as an exercise to see if I could do it. But it's different, totally. You read Twitter. Nobody's telling you the joke. You can throw in any kind of reference, and people pick up on them a lot more.
AC: You mention Cody and Ramin. Where is Austin in the national comedic conversation? How seriously are people taking this city?
BG: There's more people now than ever trying to do comedy in Austin. I think the quality is high. As far as audiences, I think comedy's become more of a thing over the last five years because of podcasting. A lot of people say they got into stand-up because of Marc Maron. They're becoming fans of it as an art form and not just ... you know, comedy gets a bad rap sometimes. People think of bad comedy as being popular.
Good comics are popular right now. Louis CK is probably the most popular comic in America right now, and he's also an amazing comic. It's one of those things where, like in music, you have those eras where the best band is also the most popular. That's good, and I think that's happening in comedy right now. For the most part, Austin's scene is unforgiving of hacky comics.
The reason we have comedy here is because of things like the music scene. The reason there's anything is that it's part of the culture to go out and go to shows. That's why there's no comedy scene in Houston anymore, and Dallas isn't thriving. People don't go out the same way. People move here from all over because you can get more opportunities here, and industry comes through here. You can get your first TV credit living here.
It's one of those things about Austin: The great thing about it is also its drawback. There's a lot of creativity, a lot of talent. There are a lot of people doing original things. I've been to L.A., and the best shows ... Tuesday nights at Cap City are just as good if not better than anything I saw in L.A. But the drawback is also that the stakes aren't as high. You can be completely lazy, too, and I don't know how to get over that. I don't have to hustle for spots in Austin as hard as I'd have to hustle in New York. There's just not as many people doing it.
AC: What kind of effect has Moontower had on what's happening in Austin?
BG: It's kind of like South by Southwest. It's not like all of the biggest names are here, but there are enough big names in Austin for that weekend that we kind of become the center of the comedy world for those few days. For the comics, it's our chance to rub shoulders with some of the best comics. You're hanging with your heroes, and that's awesome. For the audience, if you're into stand-up comedy at all, or sketch, you get to go see some of the best stuff 10 minutes from your doorstep.
Brian Gaar appears at Moontower April 23-26: Wednesday, April 23, 10pm, at the Parish Underground, 214 E. Sixth; Thursday, April 24, 7pm, at the Parish Underground, 214 E. Sixth; and Saturday, April 26, 8pm, at Speakeasy, 412 Congress. For more information, visit www.moontowercomedyfestival.com.