Ships and Giggles Show Tips Waitstaff Overboard
Comedian Rob Gagnon and friends take it to the river
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
11:00AM, Thu. Jul. 9, 2015
“I’m usually against daytime comedy,” says Rob Gagnon, local hardworkin’ performer of things both comedic and WTF, “but this is like, I don’t know how it’s gonna go, but no matter how this show turns out, it’s gonna be a story.”
This story, however it plays out, will ensue on one of those party barges that floats along Austin's portion of the Lower Colorado and stops for swimming opportunities (or swimportunities, as the kids say) along the way.
Masterminded by Tony Perez and Francisco Garcia III, the waterbound Ships and Giggles show on Sunday, July 26, boasts a solid roster of stand-up talent: Martin Urbano, Tyler Gregory Harris, Brent Peasley, Pat Dean, Ella Gale, Yusef Roach, and Liz Wheat.
And, yes, Rob Gagnon. “It should be a lot of fun,” he adds. “It’s not too often that I get to be outside, usually can’t get enough hours together in a row where everybody is free at the same time on the weekends. So to be able to kind of bring comedy and swimming together, yeah, it’s gonna be nice.”
But who is this Gagnon, anyway? We’re gonna tell you about the Ships and Giggles thing with a quote from him, might as well tell you, O General Reader, who he is, too.
For one thing, Gagnon – who grew up in (and quickly escaped from) Mansfield, Connecticut – was among the finalists of this year’s Funniest Person In Austin contest. For another, he … well, let’s let the man speak for himself.
“I do a showcase called Sandbox every Tuesday at 9pm at The New Movement,” says Gagnon. “And once a month, every third Monday of the month at 9:30pm, I host a show at Spider House Ballroom with Lisa Friedrich. It’s called ATX Comedy Hour, and Lisa’s more of the brains and brawn behind that one. If people are coming through town and they’re playing, like, Cap City on the next weekend, they might get in early and do one of our shows. So we always have some good locals, but also comics from out of town sometimes.”
And are these gigs open mics in any sense, or are they more curated?
"I curate these things,” says Gagnon. “ATX is absolutely a booked show. And certainly Sandbox is, too, but I like when people just come to me with a thing that they’re excited about. And there’s also Stoned vs. Drunk vs. Sober, which I host every month – also at The New Movement. It’s two stoned comics, two drunk comics, and two sober comics. And the drunks always have to have a ride home – we’ve helped people get home in the past, we take that very seriously.”
And how do you vet a show like that? Do you watch people drink, watch them smoke? Make sure that they’re really drunk and stoned?
“I make sure they have the opportunity to get high,” says Gagnon. “And you don’t have to ask comics to drink, usually. It’s the sobers that are hard to round up, like ‘Listen, are you sure you can do this?’ I like to have one person who’s, like, you know that person’s always stoned – whether they’re in the show or not – and another person who’s like, ‘Oh, I never smoke, I don’t like being stoned, I’ve never done stand-up stoned.’ So you have one person who’s totally into it, and another person who’s nervous about trying it but wants to try it. And it’s not like a super-serious competition – at the end of the night we just have the audience clap for whoever they like best. And, like ATX is Lisa Friedrich’s show and I co-host with her? Stoned vs. Drunk vs. Sober is my show and she co-hosts with me.”
[Note: Lisa Friedrich is Gagnon’s frequent partner in comedy, but they’re not romantically involved. Which we know because we, in all journalistic innocence, asked Gagnon. And were treated to a lengthy, impassioned paean recounting the myriad intellectual wonders, scintillating beauty, and general goddess-level loveliness of his girlfriend Ariel Greenspoon. He almost broke into song, this Gagnon, such was the intensity of his ardor. People at the Thunderbird Coffee on Manor where this interview took place, they were all looking at us, could probably see beating-heart icons floating in the air around Gagnon like in that Scott Pilgrim movie.]
“Lisa and I work really well together,” says Gagnon. “We actually just did a commercial for Fleshlight. Because I went on tour with the Air Sex competition, got to open and warm up the crowds, and Fleshlight is one of the tour’s sponsors – so I got to know some of those people and talked about doing some kind of commercial for them. And I got Voltaic Video involved – they film a lot of the shows at Cap City – and we were working up this thing … and then Fleshlight just kind of went quiet.”
They … went quiet?
“Yeah,” says Gagnon. “And I’m not the kind of guy who’ll angrily say, ‘Well! We don’t need them! We don’t need anybody!’ But I was like, ‘Eh, we don’t need them – we don’t need anybody.’ Because there’s always so much stuff going on, we’re so busy, no reason to get hung up on any of it. And Katie Pengra at Voltaic said, ‘Let’s film it anyways. And if they don’t like it, we’ll change the logo at the end, and it’ll be a commercial for, like, guys masturbating in general instead of with a specific product.’ So we filmed it, we edited it, did all this stuff – all local comics, all our friends – and we sent it to Fleshlight. And we wound up selling it to them. And if Katie didn’t have that attitude of Let’s Do It Anyways …”
It would’ve been a missed opportunity?
“It was nice to sell something. It was nice to get money. And it was really nice to get my friends money. We negotiated and ended up getting more than we originally were gonna get. And it’s not a big bunch of money, but I took a contact from a tour I did a year ago, turned that into a commercial that’s gonna be seen by a bunch of people online, and got my friends work and money – and hopefully more work in the future. That’s awesome.”
Sounds like Austin.
“It’s a really good comedy scene here,” says Gagnon. “And Lisa and I – and our buddy Pat Dean – we’re gonna be in a movie that we’re filming this fall. It’s called Trolls, about patent trolls. It’s a feature-length comedy, where I’m the lead, and Lisa and Pat and I are helping punch up the writing, and it’s gonna be amazing. And I would not be able to do that in New York or L.A.”
No, that shit happens here.
“That shit happens here,” Gagnon concurs. “Nobody in L.A. is gonna go, like, ‘Oh my goodness! You made a movie! Please come to L.A., we’re missing actors!’ And, not to sound arrogant, but I’m doing very good work here, and I’m getting better. And if there’s something more important than that, I don’t wanna be a part of it. Like, people will watch a Judd Apatow movie, or they’ll watch The Office, and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that must be so fun, I’d love to do that someday, look at Steve Carrell,’ and blah-blah-blah. Well, I already work with my version of Steve Carrell right now: John Buseman. And Buseman’s great. And all these people, who I believe I’ll be working with for a long time, they don’t wait to go somewhere else to be entertained and fulfilled. We’ve got real satisfaction right here.”