There are challenges to performing stand-up comedy in venues not set up for it. Capturing an audience’s attention while the TVs at the bar are showing the Mariners’ game is no easy task and being the person onstage telling jokes while the local team’s season goes down in flames is a recipe for disaster.
Comedian Brett Hamil knows the perils of performing in non-traditional comedy clubs. For the past seven years he’s been doing stand-up comedy in nearly every bar or club in the Seattle area that hosts a comedy night. During that time Hamil’s built a solid repertoire and a strong stage presence that’s now allowing him to venture out onto the road and into venues throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Hamil allowed me to tag along with him to a gig at VinoBella in Issaquah last year. I remember telling myself that this was not going to go well, but Hamil performed like a seasoned veteran and in minutes turned a stodgy room of wine sippers into a bunch of gut-busting belly laughers.
Hamil will be performing along with headliner Felicia Michaels on Thursday, Jan. 30 through Saturday, Feb. 1 at the Comedy Underground.
Name: Brett Hamil
Base of Operations: Beacon Hill
How long have you been performing stand up?
Hamil: I thought it was eight years, but I recently did the math and figured out that it’s only been seven, which means I instantly went from being a solid casino act to a total prodigy! It’s important that I remember this number, too, because I started dating my wife exactly a month after I started doing comedy (sorry, babe!)
What was your first time onstage like?
Hamil: Unmemorable. I pounded a bunch of beers at Dante’s by myself like a creep and then went next door to the now-defunct Giggles. I suppose I got a couple laughs from the sparse crowd because I don’t remember being totally demoralized afterward. My material was garbage, I had zero stage presence and I was way too nervous. Luckily, the jitters went away after only three years or so.
Is comedy a full-time job and if not what do you do to pay the rent?
Hamil: Comedy is my main gig, but I also write. I’ve got a monthly humor column in City Arts each month and usually a cartoon. I also do freelance copywriting, script consulting and punch-up for local production companies. And I produce the Bundt Cake standup showcase and make my own sketch videos for YouTube.
Do you have a favorite spot or a certain night you prefer to perform at?
Hamil: Laughs Comedy Spot is my “home club,” I’ve been performing there since they opened. Best booked room in the region. The owner is a comic and really cares about the craft, so he books great acts that are often just about to break nationwide. People like Marc Maron, Tig Notaro, and Kyle Kinane all worked Laughs before they moved up to theaters. Chances are if you see someone really awesome at Laughs, they’ll be playing theaters like the Moore within a few years. It takes exceptional acumen and, really, bravery, to book like that consistently, to develop your audience’s palate for new, original, and often weird standup. And to do that in Kirkland? Truly heroic.
Weekends at a club are the best gigs, and there’s plenty of good clubs in the area. The Comedy Underground is right downtown and it’s the closest in feel to a Manhattan “Comedy Cellar”-type room. Tacoma Comedy Club is run impeccably, like precision clockwork, and they seem to get the biggest crowds. Grit City is a smaller, scrappier room that books some of the brilliant local headliners that might get overlooked by the other clubs.
There, I think I’ve kissed enough ass to line up some Spring/Summer bookings. But definitely go see comedy in any of these venues, it’s still the best way to see standup.
You also produce YouTube videos, how do you respond to the comment trolls?
Hamil: I don’t. At all. To respond to a troll in any way makes them feel validated, so it is your duty as a citizen of the world to avoid giving them even the faintest glimmer of acknowledgement. On the other hand, lately if someone says something mean to me on Twitter, I find it funny to retweet it.
You’ve worked a lot of non-traditional clubs (wine bars/rock clubs) is there a challenge to dealing with audiences not ready for comedy?
Hamil: There’s nothing worse than a “hostage situation” but it happens all the time. I guess the key is to have a positive attitude about it. Usually when people can see that you genuinely want to entertain them, they’ll give you a chance: Dance, monkey! A lot of new comics will go onstage and immediately complain about the size/disinterest of the audience, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. You can’t complain that no one showed up to the people who actually showed up!
Every comedian has a story about bombing onstage, what’s it like?
Hamil: I don’t think of bombing in terms of particular instances but rather, it’s like a bleak parallel dimension you’re doomed to visit every once in a while onstage. Bombing is kind of like bullet time, everything’s moving too fast and too slow simultaneously. Bombing hard will shake your self-esteem to its very foundations. It’s awful. On the other hand, watching your friends bomb is the most hilarious thing in the world, so it all kinda evens out.
What’s the best way to handle a heckler?
Hamil: The thing to keep in mind about hecklers is that they are sociopathic narcissists who are attempting to destroy one of the only things in this world that brings me joy. Hecklers are terrible people who should be treated like pariahs. They should be captured, micro-chipped and tracked by the FBI. Bottom line: If you bring a friend to a comedy show and they heckle the comedian, immediately stop being friends with that person.
The other night at the Underground some guy yelled out “Your jeans suck!” And I was like, “Why would you say that? These are brand new Levi’s 514s,” because they are. Then I talked about how he was a mean jerk and his heckles sucked, and everyone laughed at him and he shut up.
Then everyone carried me out on their shoulders and toasted me with champagne while the heckler watched jealously from behind a pile of garbage. An old dog walked up and peed on him and we all laughed and laughed.
Hamil: I don’t do too many one liners in my act lately, but here’s some from my Twitter feed (@BrettHamil):
I wanna open a hat store for angry old people, I’m gonna call it “ALL CAPS.”
I saw in the paper that if you eat too much soy it can lower your testosterone, and when I read that I just cried and cried.
Finding a techno DJ flyer on your windshield is like getting a parking ticket where the fine is being reminded that douches exist.
I think the hardest thing about riding a unicycle down a crowded city sidewalk is not getting enough attention as a child.
Jeff Albertson: firstname.lastname@example.org