Aaron Brooks Has This Story
This Austin comic's skill at shaping bits of life into laugh-filled tales may soon put him out of a job
When I first meet Aaron Brooks, a stand-up comedian and writer, he has had to "duck out of work early" on a hot day in Downtown Austin. "Like most comics, I have a day job," he laughs, and while full-time employment sounds enjoyable to me, he considers it "definitely a supplemental thing until all of a sudden, it's not." But Brooks is not wanting for gigs: In the month before our conversation, he has performed on the storytelling podcast RISK! as well as in a half-dozen different venues around the city. This week, he's part of the 2016 Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival. Now, after almost a decade of "supplemental things," it seems he is getting close to successfully abandoning them.
As Brooks tells me, he "always loved stand-up, first and foremost," though he performed in plays and studied radio DJ'ing at a "small technical school" in St. Louis. It wasn't until 2009, after playing in a band for years, that Brooks started doing brief sets at Comedy Etc. II, a club in Fairview Heights, Ill., run by Art Vieluf. For the comic, Vieluf was "a bit of a father figure," and his mentorship helped Brooks to get emcee gigs within a few months. The club owner was the kind of guy who "gave a shit and was trying to foster good comedy," a rare combination in an environment where the comics Brooks saw would "sink to the lowest common denominator" to get laughs. Vieluf led his protégé to think: "If I worked really hard at getting good, I could maintain some kind of artistic integrity."
Over the next several years, Brooks began to tour, performing at "terrible biker bars and VFW halls" in the Midwest before moving to Austin in 2012. Immediately, he found that he was cut from a different cloth than many of his local peers. "I remember telling my mom, 'I don't fit in. I really don't fit in,'" he says. Where Austin headliners such as Mike MacRae or Mac Blake were joke machines, and others, like Martha Kelly, were alt-abstractionists, Brooks preferred to narrate his own life. "Here's what happens for me: I have this story, and I know there's something funny about it, and the kernels of it are already there. Then I need to get my back against the wall as a means of figuring it out." He landed on "a more story-oriented" persona somewhere between the affable sensitivity of Mike Birbiglia and the absurdist bluster of Patton Oswalt.
Although his punch lines are always funny, Brooks' quietus and earnest delivery exemplify the "not for everyone" trope. Yet because of his warm demeanor, he excelled when he was being viciously heckled. In a show at South by Southwest in 2015, he told a typically extended, punctuated story at a rundown club, where a drunken crowd had barely listened to the previous three comics. But Brooks beat back several badgering attendees and salvaged the show. Reminded of the feat – something I've seen him repeat on other occasions – Brooks says, "I have done stand-up in the worst environments for the better part of six years, so if someone wants to come at me, I'm fully prepared to verbally spar with them and make them look stupid. Some people do comedy with every word perfectly prepared and written-out. If they get off script, it frazzles them. I'm the exact opposite of that."
Since last year, the comic's fan base has grown, in large part due to a series of performances at the Spider House Ballroom. Twice a month, he and reigning Funniest Person in Austin Danny Palumbo host a show called Bounce House, which regularly attracts a parade of local stars like Jon Mendoza, Michael Malamud, and Kath Barbadoro. Like many of his colleagues, Brooks also jumps around among venues like the Velv Comedy Lounge, ColdTowne Theater, and Cap City Comedy Club: "I go up pretty often, or I try to. Four to five times a week, if possible."
His popularity has given him some cache, and he's featured for "comic's comics" like Marc Maron and Andy Kindler. In February of this year, I saw Brooks deliver another monologue at the RISK! Live show at Stateside at the Paramount. Kevin Allison, a former member of comedy troupe the State and the show's host, attracted hundreds of podcast fans to the event. Brooks' segment, which he prepared over several weeks, "went from a six-minute bit into a 15-minute story." The comic received ecstatic applause.
Aaron Brooks performs with other local comedians in the show Austin Towers Thu., April 21, 8:30pm, at the Velv Comedy Lounge, 521 E. Sixth.