True Hollywood Stories

Texans who took a chance and headed west tell all

True Hollywood Stories
Photo By Eli Kooris

Joe Hursley, performer

It's another perfect Southern California afternoon in Silverlake, a community built upon the smaller ridges of what is better known as the Hollywood Hills. Joe Hursley is trying to explain himself, but his cell phone keeps interrupting, ringing a theme song from some show he used to watch as a kid.

"People I haven't talked to in years have been calling," mutters Hursley, finally conceding the inevitable and turning the phone off. "I mean, I appreciate it, I really do – but come on: You were my old roommate's friend's ex-girlfriend!"

Hursley hasn't gotten used to the attention garnered by his newfound celebrity. As the star of You've Got a Friend, the newest addition to MTV's Sunday stew of reality shows, he finds himself in an odd place, somewhere between game show host and comedic actor. More specifically, cast contestants must take Hursley on as their "new best friend" for 48 hours and not divulge the secret to anyone – parents, girlfriend, boss – lest they lose a guaranteed $15,000. With so much room to improvise, the show at least sounds like a lot of torturous fun.

"It put all my talents to the test," admits Hursley, scratching his stubble. For a moment, he looks exhausted, but with the next, he's off on another tangent, his energy forcing him out of his chair to act out the punch line of what he is feeling. And then he is sitting again, talking about his upbringing in Texas:

"I had really bad acne in high school and I was terrible with the ladies – not to say I'm any much better now. But that's where my humor came from. Making people laugh cuts through all those physical and social barriers. Not only could I survive with it, I could hide behind it."

With newly licensed freedom, Hursley would stray away from his parents' Northwest Hills subdivision. One haunt was a weekly karaoke night at the Northeast Austin bar and restaurant La Palapa, a setting that was foreign, slightly rowdy, and where – most importantly – the waitress didn't ID. After a few Long Islands one night, Hursley took the stage and belted out "Born to be Wild," the only song he knew by heart. Oddly, this would lay the foundation for his future.

"I became addicted to karaoke," says Hursley, absolutely straight-faced. "I set up speakers and microphones in our garage and would practice for hours on end."

Despite chagrined neighbors, "Karaoke Joe" began picking up gigs at private parties and bars all over Austin. He honed his performance, adding a tangible comedic element to it – the lanky, hyperactive personification of the rock star inside all of us. Purportedly (from a number of reliable sources), Hursley can do "Rebel Yell" better than Billy Idol himself. At 22, he was booked five nights a week, awash in money, and known as a local celebrity around the capital city. Hursley decided it was time to take a shot at L.A.

"I'd done pretty much everything I could do for my career in Austin," he admits, adding that "it was just time to move on."

That was a year and a half ago. Even in his short residence, Hursley has felt the highs and lows of the entertainment business, from winning a national VH1 karaoke competition to a stint as a Silverlake pizza delivery boy. Now, with You've Got a Friend, he has a solid national stage to display his talents.

"I believe making it out here involves a lot of luck with a bit of talent. The stars just have to be aligned right."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle