Joe Wengert

Austin Comedy 2015: Joe Versus the Tornado


by Mac BlakePhotos by Steve Rogers

Joe Wengert’s show during Austin Sketch Fest, “Stages of Adulthood”, was the funniest show I saw in Austin this year. The Kroll Show writer and performer lovingly brought to life an assembly of characters representing a parade of struggle. My favorite was the constantly about-to-cry CEO of Ross Dress for Less, giving a speech to his assembled store managers that included advice on what to do about packs of feral dogs that roamed the stores. Each character was introduced by the “real” Joe Wengert, played by Holly Prazoff.

The memorable show was made more notable by what was going on outside the cozy confines of the Spider House Ballroom. A massive storm. One of many that weekend which would culminate in Austin’s Memorial Day Flood.

Moments before the show was supposed to start, most of the audience’s phones erupted with National Weather Service alerts. I asked Wengert and Prazoff what they remembered about the night

Holly Prazoff: All the sudden everyone’s iPhone went off because there was a tornado warning. I was like ‘should we cancel the show?’ I remember that Joe went out first and was on stage performing when I was alone backstage. I was really starting to panic. The wind was so loud. Next thing I know I was up. I jumped on the stage and just went with it. Then all the sudden the power went out.

Joe Wengert: I was really impressed with how she improvised and handled the situation.

Holly: It was lucky because I was hosting so I could straight up call it out. I remember saying something like, “well if we all die here tonight we will go out laughing.”

Joe: I addressed the storm when I got out on stage and then just tried to put it out of my mind and barrel through. The most surprising part of the whole thing was how calm the audience remained. They were a great crowd and everyone stayed put.

Holly: I could not believe how much fun the show was. It felt like we were all on this crazy adventure. The power came back very quickly and we had such a fun time doing the show. It was a show to remember.

Holly Prazoff as Joe

The green room is not as insulated as the main show area, so as someone watching the show I had no idea how bad the storm was. I remember leaving the theater later to go to the ASF afterparty and being shocked at how much structural damage had occurred during the show. Trees knocked over, power lines down, most of the Hyde Park neighborhood was without power––a small tornado had touched down in North Austin.

The show, which also featured a killer set from NYC’s Bullshit Women, was so funny it already felt like a comedy miracle––that the show went on relatively unfazed by severe weather, made it seem like an actual one.

Joe: I am advertising future performances of the show as “the show audiences prefer to being outside in a tornado.”

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Mac Blake is an accomplished stand-up, a frequent performer at ColdTowne Theater, and one of the producers of Austin Sketch Fest.

ASF Hot Seat: Joe Wengert

Joe Wengert (Kroll Show, Comedy Central’s The Half Hour, Comedy Bang Bang) presents his one-person show, Stages of Adulthood, at Austin Sketch Fest. After conducting over three hours of research into the adult experience, Joe has expanded upon the work of Erik Erikson and is ready to present new, little known stages of adulthood to world — stages of adulthood like: “Impulsivity” vs. “Thoughtful Decision Making” and “Creativity” vs. “Obsession with Dumb Shit.”
We sat down and spoke with Joe about Austin plans, Kroll Show, and one of his worst gigs ever.

You come from an improv background. Do you get a chance to use any of those skills in your scripted work?

Joe Wengert: Constantly. What you see a group of improvisers doing on stage isn’t all that different from what you would see in a writer’s room full of people pitching jokes and stories. Being able to listen, think on your feet, and build comedic ideas with others are all skills you need on stage and in a writer’s room.

Kroll Show just wrapped. What was the writing process for that show like?

Joe: We would spend the start of every day hanging out and talking about stuff we had seen, things that were bothering us, things we found funny. If something got a big reaction from the room, we’d start thinking if it fit in the world of a specific character. We would also take time focusing on specific characters/shows and pitch to them.

Once we had ideas we liked, our head writer would assign them to writers, sometimes individually, some times in pairs. Nick Kroll and John Levenstein would give notes before rewrites and then everyone would punch up before shooting.

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Which Kroll Show characters would you most want to have their own show?

Joe: I think, like most Kroll Show fans, I am hoping for a ten episode event series about the early life of Inuit Andy.

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

JOE: I think Inside Amy Schumer is the best sketch comedy on right now and it just keeps getting better. I’d been a big fan of The Birthday Boys stage shows since I moved to LA. Their TV show was extremely unique and specific and very well executed. I’m also a big fan of WOMEN comedy and these videos called “How To Make It In USA” from Joe Pera and Connor O’Malley

What makes you laugh the most?

Joe:  After you do comedy for a while you start to watch it and appreciate it, but you don’t laugh a lot.

The last time I got into an uncontrollable laughing fit, I was seeing a friend’s short film as part of a two hour program in LA. Right in the middle they showed this crude animation of flags. Like, it would be the flag of Italy and then that would break into three little blobs of color and they would fly around the screen and then morph into a different flag and then that flag would turn into, I don’t know, lightning bolts or some shit. The soundtrack was this fuzzed out electric guitar that was probably definitely being played by the same guy who drew the flags. And this thing went on FOREVER. Just flag after flag after flag. I mean, they hit EVERY flag. It felt like it was forty five minutes long. Or an hour and a half? Time started to lose all meaning. And I started imagining the weirdo burn-out working on this thing forever. “Can’t come out tonight, man! Gotta animate more flags, man!”

So I guess I’m really into “too long animation of flags” right now.

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

Joe:  I had to do AN HOUR at this banquet for a bizarre group of trade schools in Long Island. This was about a year after I moved to LA so I flew back across the country, and then took a never-ending series of trains and buses to some remote part of Long Island.

This coalition of trade schools was a weird grab-bag. It included everything from beauty schools to actuarial schools.

I did NOT have an hour of material at this point. And they specifically asked me to write material about the schools, which I did in character. I was Pauly Shore’s brother who was somehow involved in the accreditation of trade schools… It made zero sense. And then I tried to transition from this terrible half baked Pauly Shore character into my own stand up. It was a nightmare.

And these poor people just wanted to eat dinner, so everything fell on deaf ears. It was so much work and effort for basically nothing in return.

Do you have any fun “best show” stories?

Joe:  Nope!

What are you looking forward to while visiting Austin?

Joe: An unhealthy amount of BBQ

Share with us your tips for a job interview.

Joe: Just be yourself, unless you are a nightmare person that people wouldn’t want to spend all day with - then I would switch it up.

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

Joe:  “This comedian has the secret to reducing unwanted belly fat.”

What’s on the horizon for Joe Wengert?”

Joe: I am going to be writing for the next season of New Girl and I’m really hoping that we do some episodes where Jess gets into animating flags. Also, I’ve cracked the secret the reducing unwanted belly fat but I can’t talk about that yet.

Joe Wengert performs Saturday, May 23rd, 8:30pm at Spider House Ballroom with Bullshit Women. TICKETS HERE.

Important Announcement from Austin Sketch Fest

Bad news first. Due to circumstances beyond our control, Good Neighbor has dropped out of Austin Sketch Fest. We are disappointed that they will not be able to join us this year.
Good news: that left us with a couple of open headliner spots to fill with acts that we are very excited about. We are pleased to announce that Brent Weinbach and Joe Wengert will be performing at this year’s Austin Sketch Fest.

Brent Weinbach is a winner and recipient of the Andy Kaufman Award, which is given out once a year to recognize innovation in stand-up comedy. He is also responsible for various internet video sensations such as Gangster Party Line and Ultimate Drumming Technique, as well as the cult web series, Pound House. Brent has appeared on Conan, Comedy Central, HBO, IFC, ABC, and Adult Swim, and also toured with the Comedians of Comedy.

Brent will be performing his one-person show “Appealing to the Mainstream”, Friday. May 22nd, 8:30pm at the Spider House Ballroom. Austin’s own Vanessa Gonzalez will open.

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Joe Wengert worked as a writer and producer on Comedy Central’s critically acclaimed Kroll Show. He has also written for Comedy Bang Bang (IFC) and Playing House (USA). As a stand-up, Joe was named one of the New Faces at the 2012 Montreal Just For Laughs festival. In 2014, Joe was featured on his own episode of Comedy Central’s The Half Hour.

Joe’s television acting credits include Modern Family, Key & Peele, How To Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life), Newsreaders, and Review. He has also appeared in character on multiple episodes of the Comedy Bang Bang podcast.

Joe will be performing his one-person show “Stages of Adulthood” Saturday May 23rd, 8:30pm at the Spider House Ballroom. UCBNY sketch group Bullshit Women will open.

We are thrilled to have Brent and Joe joining us in Austin next month. Go here to view the full schedule and purchase individual show tickets.