ASF Hot Seat: Bryan Gutmann and Brendan K. O'Grady!

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Bryan Gutmann’s brand of laid back absurdism has been a force in the Austin stand up scene for close to a decade. He’s appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and at the Moontower Comedy Festival, not to mention at the prestigious New Faces showcase during the 2011 installment of the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal.
Bryan is teaming up with the (relatively speaking) new kids on the block, Sure Thing Records to record his debut album during Austin Sketch Fest. Duncan Carson and Brendan K. O’Grady co-host the hit weekly Sure Thing live show at Austin Java. Last year, they released their first album as a record label.

We digitally sat down with Bryan Gutmann and Sure Thing’s Brendan K. O’Grady to talk some shop.

What made you decide to go with Sure Thing?

Bryan Gutmann: I was originally going to sign with RCA. Steve (Lillywhite) and I were really excited about some different ideas we had for the record. But, after a few conversations, it turned out that this was going to cost me a couple million dollars to pull off. Also, I don’t think that guy was Steve Lillywhite.

I’ve thought about recording an album for a while now. I have actually made a couple half-baked attempts at cobbling one together myself before, but it never played out the way I wanted. When Brendon and Duncan told me about their label and the ideas they had for it, it just made sense.

Stand-up! At a Sketch Festival! That’s insane, right?

Brendan K. O’Grady: It sure is. We’re all about pushing the limits of your fragile illusion of sanity with humorous mind-bombs. That’s why we booked Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, The Faceless God and Stalker Among the Stars as Bryan’s opener. Oh, and I think Eric Krug might do some time as well.

What kind of prep work are you doing to prepare for the recording?

Bryan: As many rap battles as possible.

Brendan, your record label Sure Thing is releasing albums from a ton of local talent — including festival producer Mac Blake. Is this nepotism?

Brendan:  In the case of Mac, I’d have to say “yes.” But that’s ONLY because we’re also sleeping together.

This stupid town is lousy with comedy – stand up, sketch, improv and probably something else weird that people are into. Gimme a unified field theory of what makes something funny.

Bryan: I’m really not sure that I know. Even just focusing on the stand-up comics in town, they’re all so different from each other. I guess the one thing they all have, that also makes them great, is that they’re trying to be themselves. The comics I love watching are really trying to bring what they think is funny to the stage. You do walk away getting some sort of idea about who they are.

Brendan: Kenneth Burke wrote that humans seek for vocabularies that are reflections, selections, and ultimately deflections of reality. I think that “funny” is what happens when our deflections of reality manage to provide the clearest reflections of the human experience. And anything with Melissa McCarthy is funny.

Duncan Carson and Brendan K. O'Grady from Sure Thing Records

Why keep it local, with the focus on home-grown talent? Why not just pick up and move to LA? Why Austin?

Brendan: The simple answer to a very complicated question is: Because AUSTIN, man! We just love it here, and we truly believe that the ceiling for talent here is as high as anywhere else in the country. We founded SURE THING RECORDS because we know that there are so many great comics in Austin who truly deserve to have their comedy find a larger audience.

We know that so many people still think comedy must not be very good if it’s not in New York or Los Angeles, and that’s just crazy. As the industry continues to change in the era of new media, the models for how comedians can go about pursuing their goals are changing too. We’re here to help great comics do the things that they want to do, to help create a bigger platform for Austin comedy, and ultimately to support other great independent comedy scenes all over the country.

Who are your influences? Who are some of your favorite sketch comedy acts performing today?

Bryan: It’s definitely changed over the years. When I started really taking in as much comedy as I could it was Jim Gaffigan, Mitch Hedberg, Dave Attell. Those guys are all obviously still legends, but you just start discovering what seems to be an endless list of great comedians. Maria Bamford, Todd Glass, Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron. A current big influence for me is Paul F. Tompkins. Few people can make me laugh like that guy can, and it’s really inspiring to see someone who can be funny in so many different ways.

Brendan: New Orleans is actually home to several of my favorites right now: “Rude.” is the brainchild of Colleen Allerton and Lauren LaBorde, and they’re always doing really funny, insightful stuff. Stupid Time Machine is like a NOLA sketch super-group. And I don’t think anybody works harder than the guys behind “Massive Fraud”, Andrew Polk and Joe Cardosi, who blend sketch and stand-up in a series of extremely popular shows. They’re absolutely killing it right now.

What makes you laugh the most?

Bryan: Mitch Hedberg was the first comedian I ever saw live, and I’m not sure that I’ve laughed harder at something since then. The night is now just a blurred memory of me almost falling out of my chair. Also, episode #338 of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast is the most recent thing to have me pounding the table with laughter. That’s something I’m really grateful for – comedy podcasts.

What’s the best thing about the comedy scene in your city?

Bryan: It’s a really supportive town. Everyone is just so on board with the idea of being original and creative and always moving forward. Comics in Austin are genuinely excited to see the new person go on stage and be really, really funny.

Brendan: By far the best part of being a comedian in Austin is how wonderful our audiences are. We have such a great number of locals who actively seek out live comedy, consistently attend shows, are enthusiastic about a wide variety of kind of comedy styles, and spread positive word of mouth about the scene. As comedians, we’re incredibly spoiled here compared to most other cities.

Do you have any fun “worst show” or “worst audience member” stories?

Bryan: They’re all so fun I wouldn’t even know which worst moment to pick. But it probably happened in San Antonio.

Do you have any fun “best show” stories?

Bryan: Taping a set for “Live at Gotham” (an old show on Comedy Central) was a really great experience. It was just a combination of doing stand-up in New York City, for television, on a comedy channel that I grew up watching. All things that I was also doing for the first time. And the set even went well. It was just an all around really memorable time. So as far as “best show” stories, it was probably that or the show I did in a pizza parlor last week.

Share with us your tips for a job interview.

Bryan: Don’t show your teeth, it’s a sign of aggression.

Brendan: Confidence, baby. It’s one thing to project strength, but I suggest taking the extra step of breaking down, or “negging”, your interviewer. Try something like, “That’s nice tie. It would really look good on somebody with better bone structure.” And when that doesn’t work, grovel.

We need to increase the visibility of this article. Any suggestions for a click-bait headline?

Bryan: The Top 8 Shoes You Didn’t Know Were Racist. (even we can’t believe number 6!)

Brendan: Just change all of the proper nouns to “Hannibal Buress.” You’ll be fine.

Bryan Gutmann records his debut album for Sure Thing Records at Austin Sketch Fest on Sunday, May 24th at 7pm at the Spider House Ballroom. TICKETS HERE