By Al Bahmani
Animated, physical and downright hilarious, Since he first started to pick up the mic, John Gard was Houston comedy scene fixture. Winner of Houston’s Funniest Person in 2009, John recently made the move to Los Angeles. I met with John before his show at the Houston Improv. We talked about his humble beginnings, his experience in theater, prank calls, along with life’s twists and turns.
When did you start doing standup?
It was 2003. I was 17. I always wanted to be a comedian. I was always a silly ass. I would work with this guy, Eddie Rodriguez every day as an apprentice electrician, and we would always crack each other up. Eddie had done open mics and he was always talking about how we should check out the open mics together. We went to The Laff Stop’s open mic and I saw Sam Demaris, Bob Biggerstaff, Rob Mungle, Greg Warren, Danny Rios, Mike MacRae, and Ben Mowbray—who was still doing it back then. These were the guys who would be there every week, and they were just killing. I came back the next week and actually went up. Then I went up every week after that.
You’ve always been animated on stage, did you have a high school theater background?
I was in Hastings High School’s theater program. But I got kicked out of a lot of plays. I got kicked out the “Odd Couple” where I was casted to play Felix Unger. [We both crack up laughing] Now I’m better off playing Oscar. I have a newfound respect for theater and I would like to do more theater.
Back then I just wanted to do whatever I wanted to do. I was ad-libbing and screwing things up for everyone else. On opening night, I would change up the lines to confuse the other actors. Then they would lose their footing and it would result in awkward silence. I would create a moment where I could play the hero, step in and save the show. I did that twice. And then I was kicked out of “The Birds”.
Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”?
No, Neil Simon’s “The Birds”. If it was Hitchcock’s “The Birds” I would’ve taken that more seriously.
One time I made a prank call from the school phone. I had called the administration building from the theater teacher’s phone and I was talking like this [John slips into a Boston accent] the whole time. I just dialed out. I didn’t know I was talking to the superintendent of the school.
[John starts slips back into a Boston Accent]
’I want to talk to who’s in charge! Who is in charge? Somebody, one of your God damn teachers have called my daughters a B! She came home crying and said you called my daughter a B! She told her she was stupid and she ought to drop out of school!’
I was screaming at that guy.
’Heads are gonna roll! I am going to come down there and heads are going to roll! You hear me? This is a lawsuit!’
And he let me go on for like eight minutes. And then he says, “We will take care of this.” I hang up with the guy thinking I got off Scott free. And then he shows up with the school’s officers to take me in. They suspended me and I got kicked out of the play.
They basically stopped giving me roles after that.
So what was it like going to high school and doing standup at that same time?
It was like living a double life. It’s high school. You have the handsome guy who plays sports really well—chicks are into that guy. And everyone’s like, “That guy’s cool!” Meanwhile, I’m this long haired kid and I’m going into this place where none of these guys would ever dream of going. I was sneaking into bars and smoking and drinking with all these comics. Once they found that out, it all changed.
How did it change?
A friend of mine drove me to the Laff Stop one night—and then he told everyone. As soon as everybody in your real world finds out that you do stand up, they are like, “Do a set! Tell me a joke!” What am I going to do? Talk into a hairbrush? I hate that! Or they’d say,”Stand up and talk to us like you were on stage! Pretend for us!” I’m like, “Why don’t you let me be normal? I’m a silly guy. Something funny is going to happen.”
So what other jobs have you worked? Any other random skills?
I am a certified welder. I can do wiring. I can lay any type of flooring. I’m also really fast with carpeting—I can do an entire house in a full day. In fact, I can build a house from the ground up if I wanted to.
How did you get so good at so many useful skills?
I’ve always fixed everything because we were so poor growing up. My parents divorced when I was ten and then we lost our house. Me, my younger brothers, and my mom had to live out of a car for about a year. We were sleeping in the car, going from shelter to shelter.
Because of this, I missed a year and a half of school. I basically skipped fourth AND fifth grade. But we were reading all the time. I learned how to read very young. When I came back to school, I was still kinda smarter than the kids around me. And my Mom was like, “He’s fine. Just put him in the sixth grade.” But they had to give me an aptitude test. I scored a 95%. My mom was like, “Well maybe more kids should hang around in cars, reading all the time!”
You also write?
Yes. I’m working on a few novels at the moment.
Where and how often do you perform out in Los Angeles?
These past few months I’ve been performing every weekend. There are three different clubs that I’ve cemented a pretty good position with over these last couple of months. There’s the legendary Pasadena Icehouse—they’ve been bad ass and have been sending me a lot of work! There’s the Comedy Union up in Culver City—Guy Torry is getting involved with that place. Him and this guy Ens got involved together. And man, it reminds me of the ‘Carlos Wallace H-Town Comedy All-Stars’ shows we are doing in town. Then there’s the Hollywood Improv. Everyone there is nice and great! I can pretty much get a set whenever I want. I just try not to abuse that.
What made you realize that you were ready to go to L.A.?
I really can’t put my finger on one catalyst. It was a group of things that came together. Being unsure in my relationship at the time. I didn’t really like my day job that much either.
I love doing standup and I’ve made friends with guys like Guy Torry, Pablo Francisco, and other friends with clout in LA; friends who could help me when I arrived in LA. That’s when I moved out. I also had a job offer out there, too.
I just put it out there into the universe that I wanted to move out to LA. Then I got a job offer out there. Then I took the $3500 I had saved up, drove out with all I could fit in my car and got a little apartment in downtown LA. Once I moved down there I started getting more work and stage time.
What are the people like out there?
It’s almost like the guys who act like they are going to help you—it seems like they are waiting for you to do something for yourself. People like to see someone who is driven. With the attitude of, “I don’t care, I’m going to do it.”
I put it out there, that even if you guys are not gonna help me, I am in your neighborhood right now. And someone will see me and you know what I will do. I’m just confident that it’s just going to all work out.
What are some things that you’ve experienced in L.A. that you didn’t experience in Houston?
Now I’m working in LA and I have all of these tour dates set up. I have to deal with frequent flyer miles; that’s a weird and random thing. Taxes are new thing I have to deal with now as comic. I have to file now like I’m a business. I have to keep and organize my receipts.
Look at this shirt. This is the beauty of being a comedian
[John pulls out and shows me a brand-new shirt he bought]
It’s one of my favorite shirts now. I’ve worn it on stage about five times. I wrote this shirt off. That’s the beauty of being a comic. I wrote off other clothes—but within reason. There are limitations. You can’t spend twenty grand on clothes and write it off at my level. That is ridiculous.
So do you still do sketch comedy?
Actually, I’m writing a pilot script for something that is being pitched in my absence. A guy I’ve been writing with, Kenin Beattie, is pitching it. Kenin, Mark Hurtado and Chase DuRousseau and I are writing something together. It got us laughing. That is all I can say about that. Other than that there are a few people we are excited about showing it to. I really haven’t made any attempt on acting. I’ve just been focusing on standup. For me it’s like a game of chess. I need to plan things out before I do things. Every situation needs to be handled with a certain finesse.
Obviously, I have screwed up many times in the past. I have ruined several situations and relationships. You just have to get better as you go on. I’m 27 and I feel I have a strong handle of where I want to go and what I want to do with my life. I feel I have a game plan now. I never really had one before that—I just kinda drifted.
Real quick, how much is gas out there?
It’s not bad. It’s about $3.88 a gallon. Supreme out there’s about over four dollars. Luckily I have a Kia Rio that has ten gallons and lasts a long time!
Interviewed & Written by: Al Bahmani
Edited by: Magee Miller