Edited by: Magee Miller
Throughout my interviews with Houston Comics who’ve been around for more than ten years, one comic’s name pops up a lot, Matt Kirsch. With a list of jokes and industry credits as big as the state of Texas, to say Matt is a Houston comic’s comic barely scratches the surface. From his Humble beginnings in the late 1990’s to present day, Matt has crossed paths with all levels of the entertainment industry. Currently Matt is in charge of Comic Relief 2.0. Matt took a moment from his busy schedule to catch up with us.
How did you end up in the Houston Comedy Scene?
I went to Humble High School and I hated it. I knew I wanted to get out. I was a funny guy. I never was the class clown in school. I was the guy who made fun of the class clown. When the class clown was being a complete ass, I was that guy sitting over there saying “What a jerk off!”
It was my last day of high school. My senior English teacher, Mrs. Centanni, was walking up and down the rows telling people what they were going to do for a living. She’d walk up to one guy and say, “You’re going to be a fireman!” “You’re going to be a nurse!”, she tells another girl. When she came up to me she said. “Stand up comic!” I remember a light bulb going off in my head, “Holy shit balls, that’s exactly what I need to be!”
When I got to community college I couldn’t concentrate. Instead I watched every standup show on TV I could find. I figured out where all the local open mics were and how to get out there. “I’m going to do it.”, I told myself. So I wrote out an act and drove to The Laff Stop open mic. It was 1995 when I signed up for Open Mic. And I didn’t go up.
It was a one o’clock in the morning time slot, part of me chickened out and the other part of me was tired. The next day was the open mic at Don Learned‘s Laff Spot comedy club. I geared up and went on stage.
How did you do?
I can quite honestly say, I was pretty damn awesome and I had a very good first set! I did so well that Don Learned the owner said, “Hey I’m looking for opening acts! How long have you been doing this?” “This is my first time.” I remember driving home from Laff Spot comedy club in my crappy Chevy driving home saying to myself, “All right! I’m going to be a star! Move over Richard Pryor!” After that, every night for six months straight, I ate crap on stage!
How did that feel?
Comics talk about their first set being bad. I would rather have a first set being bad than a first set being good anytime. For six months straight all my hopes and dreams were crushed on a nightly basis.
When did you start calling yourself a comic?
I never called myself a comedian until I got paid for it. The second I got that $25.00 check from Dick Williams for eating it on stage for 15 minutes at Boogie’s Back Nine, I didn’t care, from that moment on, “I’m a standup comic.” I owe Dick Williams. He gave me my first check in comedy. I never cashed that check. I saved it. I started getting better and evolving in Houston and I started getting road gigs and becoming a full time feature act.
I never went to college. My college was every bar from Los Angeles to Maine. I was a young kid on the road getting paid doing standup comedy. It wasn’t much money but I didn’t care. I really grew in that Houston scene and learned everything from those guys there.
By 1998 -1999, I had started to feature for Joe Rogan on the road. Rogan saw me at the Laff Stop at a shitty open mic. It was an awful time slot at one-thirty in the morning. Rogan had done two shows and stayed over. I was working on new stuff. I just didn’t act like I was working on stuff. Joe Rogan was, “Holy shit, you’re really funny! I want to take you out on the road.” Next thing, I was doing all these gigs with Rogan. It gave me the experience to play in front of big crowds. I had a great time.
What’s your opinion on the current Houston Comedy Scene?
Houston is in a great place. I’m so very thankful for Houston and that comedy scene. I learned how to be funny from that city. If you look at the Houston comedy scene or just like the city as a whole there has always been a cycle of booms and busts.
Back in the 1980’s with Bill Hicks and the Outlaws there was a boom of comedy. There were really good comedians, in a really good time, with really good stage time. They all were personalities that pushed themselves to be better comedians. That was the boom and then it busted when the Comedy Workshop Annex closed. Comics started to migrate to something else and The Laff Stop started coming up.
There was a rift between the time of the Outlaws to the time of the ramp up of the Laff Stop. I think I hit the stage at the right point when Mark Babbitt was in the Laff Stop. Back then, he was hanging out, booking, cultivating and innovating young talent to get better and better. I got lucky. At the same time, I did not limit myself to just one room. I was going out to Danny Martinez‘s Comedy Showcase every week end. When I wasn’t there, I was at Don Learned’s Laff Spot or doing time at one of Dick Williams’ many one-nighters.
In Houston everyone would push you from John Wessling, Caroline Picard, Tommy Drake, Andy Huggins, Jimmy Pineapple. Everyone pushed each other and there was this camaraderie during my golden years. The whole scene’s a family. There’s family drama and stuff that happens. The one thing I have to say still holds true, it’s a god damn family. I love that family and everyone in that family.
I have so much respect for the Houston Comedy Scene, I have a feeling that it’s in that period where it’s going to explode again and you have to figure out how that explosion happens. All it’s waiting is for that explosion. I think you’re in a good place. As long as those comics can get onstage, develop and evolve, that’s all you need.
A heyday is coming. You’ve just got to look out for it. There’s always going to be that lull before that heyday. I’m humble, thankful and want to inspire people and pay it forward.
So what’s your process?
I’m a very focused person when it comes doing something that I really want to do. It’s not an ADD type of focus. It’s something that I love and I just want to get better at. My whole goal in life is try to be the best person I can possibly be. I know I’m not a perfect person, I know my own weaknesses. I’m always evolving, trying to be a better person. Standup comedy is one of those things I really gravitated towards. I love writing jokes. I love being onstage, finding a joke and whittling it down. I love the entire workshop tinkering type of mentality.
When did you move to Los Angeles? And how has LA been to you?
New Year’s Day 2002 was when I did it. With $1200 dollars to my name, I packed my truck up and moved to Los Angeles. Los Angeles is everything that you hear it is. It’s really hard and it’s really competitive. For the first year I was bummed out and that LA depression hits you. Here in LA it’s cut throat and there’s a lot of crap you have to get through. You have to disengage from that. It’s really hard if stand up comedy is your one focus.
When I got to LA, I felt like I had to really make a shift. The challenge is to get better. You have to stay on the road or you could stay in LA, take it on the chin, find a job and figure it out that way.
What did it do?
I felt I moved to LA for a reason and at the time standup was the only reason. Then I started to get these little joke writing jobs.
What type of joke writing jobs?
Every morning I would wake up at five thirty in the morning and write for news services. Every radio station goes to a service for disc jockeys. I was paid $25.00 a joke. Some days I would get ten jokes in and some days only one joke. T. Sean Shannon was working at SNL at the time. He got me in as a freelance joke writer for Weekend Update.
Other than writing jobs, what else did you find yourself doing?
I fell in with a guy named Josh Harris, who the documentary “We live in Public” is about. Josh was the god father of LIVE streaming way before Twitch TV or Ustream . Josh developed this platform where you can produce a LIVE show anywhere. And that’s what I did. I produced a daily show from my desk called “Hilarious!” I was so inspired by the capabilities of live streaming, that I did some crazy stuff WAAAAY before anyone else was doing them. Like…. I got my wisdom teeth pulled out live on one of those shows. I asked my dentist if I could stream from his office. He was totally into it. I set up two cameras. A cam and a B cam… and my wife switch back and forth then fielded questions in the chat room. There were 6,000 people watching me get my wisdom teeth pulled out. There were people freaking out and some wanting more blood.
Before that, I took every production job I could think of. I was Rob Lowe’s assistant for a year on a show called Dr. Vegas. I was Dennis Miller‘s writer’s assistant for CNBC show. I was too eager. I was so excited I got a writer’s assistant job on a Dennis Miller show. I was like “Alright!” and they were like, “You’re not working out, we’re letting you go”.
That’s when I realized I needed to learn how to produce. I needed to learn how to write; how to structure a show. I needed to learn these skills. I didn’t know how to direct. I didn’t know how to edit. I needed learn this. Luckily I learned some of these skills already from Larry Czach. Larry is one of my mentors. I owe everything I am today to two people. I owe Charlie Shannon on comedy side and Larry Czach on the comedy production side.
What other LA adventures have you found yourself involved in?
I got a writing job on the Weekly World News. I was an editor for them for a year and a half. I would pitch ten ideas and they would pick 5. I’d wake up thinking, “What stupid absurd shit could I write?” And they were “I want 600 words on that one.”
At the same time, I was doing a little production work and I learned how television worked. After WWN, I got my first job as a producer for G4, the video game network. It was a show called Filter. I love video games. It was the first time I got to exercise my comedy and video game muscles at the same time.
I went in there and I worked it. What I didn’t know, I learned. Every morning I learned how it worked. I started becoming a better producer. I was putting stuff together. I got good at coming up with the concept, building it up, getting the actors, writing the sketch, directing the sketch, putting in all the music and editing it.
After G4 in 2007, John Wessling and I intersected again. I got hired as a supervising producer for a company called Go TV. It was a mobile phone content provider. It was Sprint’s Mobile phone original content provider. They had these channels where you could watch tv on your phone. This was when the technology was not that good yet still it was okay. There was a hip hop channel, a news channel, weather channel, business channel and a comedy channel. I was the supervising producer of the comedy channel. We would produce a Weekend Update Daily News Show everyday and edit it. We wrote jokes that would beat Leno and Letterman every night. It was that good.
Wessling was an awesome writer and producer…and still is. In fact, his kung fu is very strong. It was great Monday through Friday and Go TV had all the facilities over there, green screen, lights, editing and we had unfettered access. In the middle of 2007, the Go Tv gig ended. It was a time when the cell phones hadn’t caught up yet and no one was able to really see the content. So we were making all these good shows and the audience wasn’t there yet.
I got to do a full Comedy Central Pilot called “Jonah’s Arcade”. It was with Comedian Jonah Ray and combined comedy and video games. We spent 3 months on the pilot. ’Jonah’s Arcade’ was fantastic and figuring how to work with these guys was amazing. This production was a job interview. They want this as much as you do. Sometimes it just stops. There are a lot of great ideas and it just stops.
There is this mentality they’re going to lose. This is my baby and they’re going to screw around with it and become too protective. It’s a little bit true. Remember the moment they say, “Hey, we’re going to do this, the production” it becomes everyone’s toy to play with. When a show gets cancelled you leverage that. Okay, it got cancelled but I’m here. I’m ready to work and act. It’s interesting. The one thing I do know now.
What advice do you have for other comics?
Once I let go and got into the machine that is Hollywood, I enjoyed it. The good thing about this is that you do find good people. I have a really good core group of friends I work with and I trust. They want the same thing and they’re here. Unfortunately, you have to dig through so much different shit to find them.
I had a conversation with a comedian the other day who asked, “Why aren’t the networks coming to me?” You’re working 50 weeks a year, there are 5 comedy clubs around the nation that love you, concentrate there. Build that audience and make those guys your super producers. Spread that word out. You’re doing stand up in front of 250 people, that’s 250 carriers. If you can get 10 of those people to go to FB and go OMG that guy was funny. I’m going to follow that guy on twitter.
Being a standup is one tool. A very deadly blade, but it doesn’t hurt to have a knife in your boot…and a gun in your underwear. You need to develop other tools. The days of being a solo comic are over. You need to be a director, a producer, an editor. You have to build a brand around yourself. If you do your homework, all you have to do is figure out the outlets, the factory and where is this product going. Those are the two main questions. You know you have the factory and figure out distribution and figure who’s looking for it.
Are there any local tv networks looking for stuff to do? You don’t have to move to LA anymore to do the thing you want to do. I do feel eventually you’ll have to be in LA for some time. However, you can develop everything you need where you’re at, in Houston!
Shoot it, put it together and do stand up. There are eight hours in a day before you do stand up, in that time you should be producing something. Curate and motivate your audience, start developing online and YouTube audiences. Focus on it and make it happen. Everyone should be shooting and producing content.
I feel like I’m always trying to find my voice. You’ve got to go up and keep finding your voice. It’s a fight! I get knocked down all the time. I lose all the time. Be okay with failing. I fail all the time. Shake it off. You got to get up, put your mouth piece in and get back in the ring.
Give us a quick update on what you are doing now?
Well for the past year I worked in the belly of the YouTube beast. Running and creatively ep’ing Youtube star FreddieW‘s alt channels on youtube. Recently, I was hired as the Executive Producer in charge of the rebooting Comic Relief. I’m a HUGE fan of Comic Relief, obviously, and it’s a dream come true. More details to come fo’ sho. HILARIOUS!