By Al Bahmani
“Caroline Picard is the only comic I know, who would curse you out one moment and have a beer with you the next.” – Gary Hood Writer, Comedian
Bring up Caroline Picard’s name to any comic in Houston, Texas and you get reactions that range from “God bless that woman” to a wall of obscenities too dirty to type. I arrived at the Cajun Queen’s castle, a modest apartment a hop skip and jump away from the Galveston seawall. Hanging on her walls are awards and a framed full sized poster of her favorite movie ‘The Big Chill’. She crashes on her throne, a blue recliner that Archie Bunker would make his home if he was a Cajun Woman that lived in Galveston. Supreme court justice John Roberts became the swing vote in the most recent Supreme Court decision regarding The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. ObamaCare.
Picard: We are about to get real busy as comedians, looks like people are going to need to laugh. Look I’m all for affordable healthcare, but if I choose not to have it, please don’t penalize me or tax me…. I’ve been reading all the comments on Facebook, can’t we all act like adults here?! What ever dudes, lets just wait and see what happens. This ain’t our first rodeo. At least it’s not mine.
What was the comedy scene in Houston then? How many clubs did we have? What were they?
Oh God, it was awesome! We had, what seven clubs. Laff Stop, Laff Spot, ‘Spellbinders’, two of them, I might add. We had one on Westheimer. And one in the village on Chelsea. We had The Hip Hop Comedy Stop. We had The Comedy Showcase. And then when Hip Hop left, we had Just Joking. I didn’t get to go on Comedy Club on Dowling, it was there. And of course we had Tom Webb’s room Comedy in Da Hood at Tymes Square on West Fuqua. And if you weren’t on a stage every night, then something was wrong. But it was stage time within a club. It wasn’t satellite open mics. These were all in clubs. You could go up at the ‘Apollo Night’ on Thursday and work out at Hip Hop. For God’s sake, I saw Beyonce when she was with Destiny’s Child. When she was seven years old. That’s the people that were there. And I saw Billy D. That’s where I met all my friends like Billy D. Washington, Terry Gross, All Freeman, Dave Lawson, Craig Bush and D. Walter Bell. I think I saw D. Walter, when he was funny one night. It was this thing that happened.
What was your first open mic?
The Laff Stop, August 6th, 1990 was the first time I went up. The first night I made the decision to do it was July of 1990. I remember seeing (Jimmy) Pineapple go up. (Andy) Huggins was there. So was Rob Mungle. And I sat there and watched and went, “I will never be as funny. There is no way”. And I went home. I didn’t go back until August.
Before I left, I asked “What do I need to do to get on stage?” Well you need to write 3 minutes worth of material. So I’m thinking I can do that. The Hell! What’s 3 minutes? Yeah, well. In August, I found out what 3 minutes was. It’s a lifetime.
The first week in August when I first went up, it was ugly. I went right after work, which meant I was in heels and a dress. And let me tell you something, I was sweating through those panty hose. It was god-awful. But something bit me. And I just kept going back and going back.
That’s when I met John Dukes Donovan, Leslie Ames. We all had our own group of open micers we hung out with. Back in those days you went there on Monday night. If Jimmy (Pineapple) came off the road, or Andy (Huggins) or Riley Barber or one of the pros came in, your spot was gone. You know, they’d come in. They were given anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. And was come back next week, we’ll put you up again. It wasn’t, you know. Pros came in. We all knew who the pros were. We made it our business. And then after that, who else was there back then? God, there was a lot of people that have come and gone in the business. But the mainstays are still there, Rob (Mungle), Jimmy (Pineapple), Andy (Huggins). Riley (Barber) is in LA now. And then it just kept going.
I was in the back in the main room, and Brenda Pontiff and Laura Green told me about Danny’s club, The Comedy Showcase. And they said, “This is different, this is a developmental club. You are in front of a real audience.” That time, back then Danny (Martinez) was running Wednesday through Sunday. So, I went and sat there, that was it man. I got to get on this thing. I sat there for like weeks.
Danny Martinez, I remember I meeting him at the Laff Stop, was headlining. I grabbed my headshot and my resume, not even a whole page long and went, “Mr. Martinez, I’d love to work your room sir, and here’s my info” and I just left. And about 3 weeks later, it was Sunday August 19th and this was ’93 and I’ll never forget it. I was barbecuing in the yard, the phone rang. And it was Blanca (Gutierrez). “Caroline, this is Blanca and we would like for you to come next Sunday and do 5 minutes.” Dude, you would of thought they’d call me to the Oscars and Emcee the damn thing. I could not wait. I went there and did my five minutes. And Danny pulled me to the side And he said, “You need to slow down and stop saying the word shit so much.” And that was it.
And then with Danny’s you had the regulars list and you wanted to be on that list. That meant you could get stage time any damn time you wanted to if you were a regular. And when I made that list, you thought Comedy Central had called. You had Jimmy(Pineapple) and Andy (Huggins). And Laura Green, Brenda Pontiff, Chuck Montgomery was on that list. I mean anyone that was a Houston comic, Billy D. Washington. Anyone that ever worked Danny’s room. And I would go between Laff Stop and Hip Hop, Just Joking and Spellbinders. And Danny’s I was at least 6 nights a week, watching headliners, learning stage technique, watching mic control, learning to move the mic stand away from me in front. Just deciding how I was going to be on stage. Y’know. What was I going to be comfortable dressed in. One of the main reasons I wear boots on stage, is because I have a bad back, so for me to be on stage for an hour in high heels, my back was killing me. I chose to go with the boots. I chose to go with the red boots because they remember them.
What year did you start calling yourself a comedian?
I didn’t start calling myself a comic actually until 1995. I was emceeing at Danny’s room, The Comedy Showcase, and then I’d go the comedy room in Oklahoma City. Comedy, I can’t remember, it was Shirley Bynum’s room. And I’d emceed her room. It wasn’t until Zone, when it was Comedy Zone, hired me a feature. That was when I started to call myself a comedian.
Because back then, I had quit my day job and was doing comedy defensive driving. I did that for five years. It was an independent. I don’t even remember their names. But they paid the less money. And back then, people were making hands over fists in defensive driving. Some of the teachers were making 300 to 400 hundred dollars a day.
But these guys paid only hundred bucks. I got with them because I didn’t want to be spoiled to making that money. Because I saw a lot of the comics getting comfort able. “Why should I go out on the road when I can be making 400 dollars staying here in Houston?” Because it’s not going to last, and it didn’t. I did that for 4 years, (back when it was an 8 hour class). I did that so long, I didn’t use the manual any more. I knew it by memory. It helped me so much. It helped me to know I could do clean comedy. It helped me to get over a massive stage fright. When you are doing it for 20 people that don’t want to be there. You did it without having a stage. I saw one comic one-night panic. He no longer does it. I can’t remember this guy’s name, but he was a good act. We did a thing at Laff Stop and we had cameras there. And when we hit the lights, back then those cameras there are like nothing those cameras you guys have today. They had these massive lights and you could see the people and it freaked him out and he never went back on stage again. It freaked him out so bad that he never got back on stage again. So it helps you. It helped me quite a bit. It was also the type of job where I could leave and go on the road for 8 weeks and still have a job. Back in those years Zone had for 3 years running. I worked for the Comedy Zone. I had 28 weeks worth of work. I was starving to death but I had 28 weeks worth of work. This was before merchandise sales. No one was selling merch back then. You did what you had to do.
Between Then and Now, what has changed with Houston’s Comedy Scene?
(Sighs) God, it’s sad. There’s no camaraderie. It’s backbiting. I see so many of these young ones that it’s like “I’m a comic”. You wake up one morning and say, “I’m a comic!” They won’t listen. And those of us who are veterans, and I am speaking for myself personally. I would go to some open mics, but at least know who I am. Make an effort to find out who your pros are. I am finding that a lot of them not even listening, because we haven’t made it aren’t listening. “You didn’t make it, then why listen to you?” But I have made it. I make my living doing stand up. Okay. You see what I have here. I have awards saying that I have ‘Just For Laughs’ on the wall. The Grammy Nomination for ‘Live at the Laff Stop’. That was one of the last cds that was done at The Laff Stop and put up for a Grammy Nomination. Y’know and juvenile. I see a lot of juvenile.
One of the things that bugs me is, I belong to Connected Comedians, it’s group that’s on Facebook. A lot of the veterans and the young ones talking back and forth. “How do we do this?” “How do we make our open mic better?” There’s this one group in DC that’s starting a Comedy Connection kinda like an exchange program for comics. If you’re a Houston Comic and you want to try out a DC club, well they take 3 comics from Houston find them places to stay and set them up in either open mics or showcases. They are working doing this. Where in Houston you don’t even see that?
I understand the problem, it’s because we don’t have a club anymore. We still have Danny’s room. That’s only Friday and Saturday. If the comics would pay attention and supported it better, he would probably throw in a Thursday Open Mic. But he has to see that commitment. That’s the one thing about Danny, he has to see commitment. I am not saying that when I am headlining, everyone has to come see my show. But what fascinates me is that when I go and I see another headliner there. They come in do a guest spot, and leave. Are you that good? Are you that good, that you cannot watch someone who does this? Have you learned everything? And I think that’s the difference. Like I said, a lot of back biting, a lot of cliques. A lot of high school going on. And I think that’s what angers me is that. And of course I’m a lot older than these guys. I’m their grandmother’s age. But they are all adults. If you want to do this, you got to put more effort into this. We had to earn it. You have to earn the title comic . At least that was the way I was brought up into it. And you had to earn the title headliner. You had to earn that. I was a feature act for 5 almost 7 years before I jumped to headliner status. And then and only then you become a closer. You’re not really headliner.
What’s the difference between a headliner and a closer?
What’s the difference between an open micer and an emcee?
A good emcee knows what to do. A good Emcee knows that they set the tone of the show. An open micer, he’s just there hanging out with his buddies.
What’s the difference between a good feature and a good emcee? And what is the difference between a good feature and a good headliner?
To quote Danny Martinez, “A good emcee has 30 minutes and a good feature has 45 minutes and good headliner has an hour and a half.”
What is the difference between a genuine comic and a hack?
A genuine comic to me is someone who speaks from their life. And that’s a good question. Because I’ve heard so many people say, “So they talk about Walmart, so it’s hack!” No it’s not hack, that’s my life! For me a hack somebody who is kind of like a thief. You’re doing somebody else. I’ve heard, “You can’t do airport jokes, airplane jokes, because everybody does them. Not everyone rides in an airplane. And when I do, I like to talk about it. To me that’s the difference. You got to talk about your life. Now if you try to talk about someone else’s life, you’re a hack. That’s the way I look at it.
If someone gets on stage and talks about Walmart, so what? They go to Walmart. Someone talks about going to The Dollar Tree, they go to The Dollar Tree. You can’t worry about being a hack, it stunts your material writing. There’s funny shit that happens at Walmart. So you got to write about it. Not everyone lives in New York. Not everyone goes where New Yorkers go to. Not everyone eats bagels. Some people eat biscuits. That’s a hard question really.
For me, when I see somebody up there that I know is copying Mitch Hedberg and his cadence. Or Bill Hicks and his cadence. Or Sam Kinison, Lewis CK, you see a lot of that.
Or any other comic. That’s a hack. They’re doing somebody else. It’s almost like being a cover comic. Like a cover band, you’re doing somebody else, their cadence, and their rhythm, that’s a hack. That what I consider to be a hack.
But if you’re out there, even if you are doing bad material. As long as it’s you, you eventually grow into it. That’s how I feel about it.
Slim Bloodworth once said, “You’re not somebody in the Houston Comedy community unless you’ve been cursed out by the Cajun Queen at least once.” Any comments?
Oh my god dog, there’s so many stories. It’s amazing. I think Matt Kirsch came up to me one night. I think we were at the Laff Stop, “Hey, Dick Williams told me a story about you…” At this Holiday Inn that was on Hwy 6, I was emceeing at the time he said, “You got so mad at these two women that you threw your beer bottle at them!” Okay listen to me, he exaggerated! I would never throw my beer at anyone! I called her a cunt. But I’d never throw my beer at anyone. C’mon Matty! People tend to exaggerate. I’ve chewed ass on a lot of people. You included! I don’t come at it mean. It’s because, if I see you doing something, especially those in comedy that are friends of mine, if I see you making a mistake, if I see you getting really stupid, I’m going to… I’ve chewed Jody (Ferdig) out. Ferdig has chewed my ass out. Niki (Key). Melissa (Nichols). All of them. I’ve pulled Nick Aluotto one night because he got stupid. Yeah, I’ve chewed many asses out but! Like I said with you, “It’s a win-win for me. You’ll either quit or so pissed off at me you’re going to prove me wrong and become a damn good comic.” Bam! I win either way. Either you’re off that stage and you are not wasting time of other comics who want to become good comics. Or you’re going to stay and say, “Queen! You’re full of shit! Look at me! And I’m going smile and grin and say I knew you had it in ya all this time. You were just stupid. A lot of the stories were highly exaggerated.
It’s the Cajun way. That’s how it is with me. I’m from the 20th Century. Back in the day you got pissed off at somebody you hashed it out, sat down and had a beer with them. It was all done. You said what you had to say and moved on. I’m going to tell you what I have to say. I don’t do it out of anything more than the love of the art. That’s what it is. I got my ass chewed out by Ron White. Y’know. Everybody gets the tough talk. Everybody does. Frankie Bastille sat me down and may he rest in peace. He was a great comic. He sat me down in Orlando, Florida. I said, “Frankie, How’d you like my show?” He said, “Your material sucks!” He said, “But it’s yours!” And he said, “You own it.” I was a feature act at the time. And he said, “All I can tell you is this, you’re going to be a good comic. You’re going to a harsh comic. I see that about you. All you got to do is keep writing, keep tweaking your material and smile. You have a beautiful smile, let them know it’s a joke.” And I stayed with that all my career. That was 15 years ago. And it works. I can say some of the harshest things on stage and then I just smile. And boom, it’s a joke, calm the fuck down. And you know, we’ve all been chewed out by our mentors. We all have. That’s just part of life. And you either learn you take what you can use. And the rest you can just let it go. But to sit there and think, the land of pixies and unicorns where I see some people living in. I’ve gotten to the point now Al that I’m almost so terrified to put anything or say anything because of the thin skin I see. It’s like, “Oh my god! She’s mean! She’s a bitch. Well.. I’m not your momma! I’m someone who does this for a living. I would like to continue to do this for a living. So I take what I do very seriously. Y’know that’s who I am.
Top 5 Favorite comics growing up?
Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Joan Rivers, some one you never heard of Totie Fields, and as I got older Sam Kinison.
Top Current Houston Comics
Billy D. Washington, Danny Martinez, Olivia Arrington, Carolyn Agnew. Slim Bloodworth is starting to kick ass massively right now. And Rob Mungle. Another one of my favorite Houston comics right now is Sam Demaris. Sam is just massive.
Top 5 Current Louisiana Comics
Me, John Morgan rank number one. Mark Ryan, he’s more Texas. Born in Texas lives in New Orleans. Bill Dykes, Tee Ray Tommy Bergeron, Jody Barillo out of New Orleans.
Saturday morning up at 4 in the morning, Carolyn Agnew and I are up to do a gig in Columbus Georgia to do a gig. We got an 8 o’clock show so we got to be there at 4 in the afternoon. Then we jump over to Fort Walton Beach on the Sunday night. Come back Monday. Drop off the rent car and we get up Tuesday morning and leave for the valley for 3 shows there.
You can hit me up on FB or check out my website:
Just keep working at it. Find an end result. Don’t rush it. Your show’s going change every 5 years. Because you are going to change every 5 years. What you write at 21 you won’t be writing at 26, you won’t be writing at 31. You’re going to change with the time. My show has just caught up up with me. 15 years ago people were saying, “You need to be more tolerant. You’re kinda harsh.” Now, I am getting standing ovations for saying the same shit I was saying 15 years ago. I just brought it all back. Now it’s easier. I do look like everybody’s grandmother. I am their grand mother’s age. Now I am showing you what grandma and grandpa really did. You know that church social you thought they were at? We called it Woodstock. Just work at it. And support each other for God’s sake!
These young ones, y’all need to support each other. I think Rudyards is a great place for open mic. I think Kevin Farren is good for getting that. We’ve both worked that stage. And it’s got a comedy club feel, and it’s got the neighborhood that knows what the Laff Stop was. And if put up good comics, the audience will come. If they see change. That’s the one thing about Laff Stop’s open mic, you never knew who was going to walk in. I walked in on a Monday night and fricking Dave Attel was on there on the stage. Or Tom Rhodes or Mitch Hedberg was on the stage. I remember one open mic when the Republican National convention was here in town. I walk in and I see this little lady standing next to me. I didn’t recognize her. And I looked again, “Holy Fuck! It’s Paula Poundstone.” She was here reporting for Jay Leno on the Republican convention. And she came up and did open mic. I went into the back room one night and Ellen Degeneres is in the back room talking. Of course I am older than a lot of these people. But in terms of comedy I was a baby. I was a fetus compared to them. These were giants. Degeneres already had made her mark with Comedy Central and was headlining already. Yeah, it was a fine time. And for the fact I was in the first Whiskey Brothers show.
Who were the first Whiskey Brothers?
Bill Miller, Rob Mungle and me. That was a great show. I’m sorry I hadn’t gotten that show on tape. I miss Bill. He was a great damn comic. Never knew what he was going to do, but he was a great comic. I miss having Ben Mowbray, Brian Hurzie. I am glad to see Craig Bischoff is coming back. Always thought Bischoff and Danny Rios should of jumped ship 10 years ago and moved to London. Because I think they’d be famous by now. Those two had had the darkest humor. And Eric Dieckman could always have me laughing at the darkest shit. Sean Rouse, of course Sean was always there. A lot of good comics came out of that room. I can remember Sean right there struggling to write his material, with his hands so messed up with that big bulb he had on his pen. And Tommy Drake. We had such a group of people back then. But it wasn’t back biting. We were all friends. We didn’t need Facebook to chew each others asses out. When we chewed someone out, we would chew them out and went in the back room and had a beer. That’s how it was. Nobody was juvenile enough to bitch each other out on a social network. Because we had to face each other on a Monday night or a Wednesday. Joanie Coyote. All those people. You know how it was then, it was massive. I miss Dick. Oh my god I miss Dick. I miss Dick Williams. He didn’t believe in open mics. You got paid. Dick made sure you got paid at least 50 bucks. Jim Patterson, I miss Jim, like crazy. And that’s another thing, yeah a lot of these young comics that are coming up (together). You realize what you are as a comedian. Y’know, we spend time making people laugh. But it’s when we lose one of us, that’s one of the hardest things to take. And I’ve lost so many friends in this business. Michael Reed. Jim Patterson. I didn’t know Ron Shock that well. But I knew what his friends were going through. When you start losing people, it’s hard. I mean, Corey Bailey. Corey Bailey hit us all hard. I remember going to his funeral. And everybody we knew everyone was there. Al Roadz. I talked to Al two weeks before he died and he was so excited because he was doing Houston’s Funniest. And he said, “Are you going to stay and watch my set?” And I said, “Yeah, of Course.” And then two weeks later Carolyn Agnew called me, “You aren’t going to believe what happened.” That’s when she told me that Al had died. That’s the hard part about being a comic. When the laughter stops for a minute. Then all of a sudden you have to be all grown up. That’s the part that sucks. But it’s the greatest job in the world. Not all of us are destined to be famous. It’s how you look at fame. I have some great fans on Facebook. I people waiting for me to come back. I’m not on the level of Ron White or Kathleen Madigan. Kathleen Madigan was another one that was always in Houston. I did some drinking with her and Scott Kennedy and Becky Pedigo. I remember the first night. I was sitting with Tracy Brown, Becky and Kathleen Madigan in the back of the Laff Stop. The first time I saw Bill Miller on stage, and he destroyed that room. And he was like “This is my first time on stage.” The hell it is! Who are lying to? Arkansas Boy! Come on with white shirt and your khaki pants. Wow Ralphie May, I knew Ralphie when he was 18!
That’s another thing too. I know you like your female comics and I know you like Dusti Rhodes. She’s a friend of yours. She needs to do some research. Okay, that is almost a slap in the face those of us who have been doing this twenty and fifteen years. There’s me, Slim Bloodworth, Olivia Arrington, Kristin Lindner, Jennifer Jermany, Keisha Hunt, Nia DeBose and Carolyn Agnew. We are all out here and willing to talk with them. And understand something, you’re in film, you’re in comedy. You starve, you don’t have 75 inch flat screen tv set. There are things you give up. And I did. And I never regret it. It made me the comic I am today. But this is a job. It’s a good one. And it’s not rock star. In the beginning it’s fun. Yeah, in the beginning it’s a great time.
Doing a show in Laughton, Georgia at a Holiday Inn. Right after that show for 15 minutes off that stage you’re very important. They are going to come and buy the cds. They are going to say, “I have family in Louisana. You remind me of somebody.” You have 15 to 20 minutes. After that they go back to their tables and you go back to the hotel room by yourself. Change clothes, grab a beer, eat supper and go to bed because you got to get up and drive again tomorrow. And go do it all over again.
Interviewed & Written by: Al Bahmani
Editor : Steven Padilla
Twitter : @stevenpadilla78