For those of you who haven't checked out the standup comedy scene here in Utah, why haven't you done so by now? There hasn't been this much talent circulating through the clubs and open mics since this whole thing became self-sustaining. Even the amount of events we have don't compare to what we have today. Truly we're living in one of the best times Utah has ever had for comedy. Today we chat with another local comedian, Alex Velluto, as we discuss his career and thoughts on local standup. (All pictures courtesy of Velluto.
Alex Velluto on Twitter
Gavin: Hey Alex, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a carbon based life form and I’m told I’m comprised of about 70% water. The other 30% likes to do stand-up comedy.
Gavin: What first got you interested in standup comedy, and who were some of your favorite comedians growing up?
Here are the memories from my childhood that influenced my interest in comedy. My first memory ever was when I was around 3-years-old. My little sister had just been born and I remember that my mom was laughing at something my baby sister did. So, I asked her, “Mom, why don’t you laugh at me anymore?” This isn’t what my mom said, but as a 3-year-old kid what I understood was, “Because you’re not funny anymore.” So, the first thought that I had on this earth that I can remember was, “Man, I need to think of some material.” I wasn’t really funny though as a kid. I remember that when I was in elementary school there was this kid that would make fun of me sometimes, and I never had anything to say back to him. One day, we had a substitute teacher and the kid that would make fun of me was being sassy to the teacher. So the substitute hit him with, “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth.” In retrospect, it wasn’t that great of a joke. However, my whole elementary school class burst out in uproarious laughter. And I thought, “Wow! If I could harness the power of comedy, I could make this kid look like an idiot whenever he tries to make fun of me.” I’m still trying to be as funny as that substitute teacher. I was a huge Seinfeld fan as a kid. When I was 15 years old, I spent all of my birthday money to buy a ticket to go see Jerry Seinfeld at Abravanel Hall. I’d never been to any concert before, and I went to go see him by myself. I sat in the sixth row, and he was so amazing! I’d begun writing terrible joke premises in a notebook, and because of that show I decided to try stand-up for real. So, I went to open mics sporadically during high school. Then I stopped doing comedy and went on a mission for my church and went to college. I started showing up at open mics on a regular basis about two years ago.
Gavin: What officially brought on the decision for you to attempt it as a career?
I wouldn’t say I have a career in comedy yet. I have a regular job I do during the day, that allows me to do shows at night when I want to. I really love stand-up though. It’s one of my favorite parts about being alive.
Gavin: How was it for you breaking into the local lineups and getting gigs?
I started hitting up open mics regularly about two years ago. I was really scared to talk to anyone when I started. I feel like once I started making friends with other comedians, people started to kind of notice me. After about a year, Keith Stubbs, the owner of Wiseguys, was nice enough to start letting me do some opening spots on weekends. Other comedians, who I’ve made friends with, have also been nice enough to let me on their shows.
Gavin: When you first started out, what were some of the lessons you learned about performing?
I think one of the most important lessons I learned was to have fun. If the audience can tell that you’re having fun, they also tend to have fun. The closer I can get on stage to what it’s like to be joking around with my friends, the better I seem to do. When the audience can tell that you’re having fun, you’re giving them permission to relax and laugh at your jokes.
Gavin: What's it like for you personally coming up with material and deciding what works and doesn't?
I’ll usually come up with ideas for material when I’m talking to my friends or something that I see will strike me as funny and I’ll write it down in my phone. When it comes to deciding what works and what doesn’t, that’s mostly up to the audience. There have been many, many, many, many times when I thought something was funny, but the audience did not share my same enthusiasm. Whenever I find something funny that the audience also finds funny, that’s when I know the material is a keeper.
Gavin: How is it for you interacting with other local comedians, both as friends and competitors?
First of all, I don’t really see other comedians as competitors. As far as interacting with them goes, It took me a while to realize that other comics aren’t always trying to be funny and I could treat them the same way that I treat anyone else. It was a stupid realization, but comedians are people too. All the comedians I’ve ever really interacted with have been incredibly kind and supportive.
Gavin: What has your experience been like moving up the ranks into both the indie and underground comedy circuits in Utah and performing at that level?
I don’t know if I can classify myself as an “indie comedian.” First of all, I have no idea what that means. “Indie comedian” sounds like my comedy is supposed to somehow resemble the music of Modest Mouse or whatever. Also, I get the feeling I’m not considered an “indie comic” by other comedians. One time, I showed up at a less “mainstream” open mic and one of the other performers jokingly said, “Won’t they burn your Wiseguys card if they find out you’re here?” Which I thought was silly. In general, I think it’s silly to classify yourself as a certain “genre” of a comedian. I just try and be a comedian. I really like performing at Wiseguys, and I also like performing other places. I just try and perform wherever I can as often as I can. I think that in order to get good at comedy you need to do as many different kinds of shows as possible. I’ve performed in a lot of weird places. I’ve done shows in bars, diners, steak houses, hotel conference rooms, and a whole bunch of other places and I’ve enjoyed all of them. Doing all kinds of different rooms makes you better.
Gavin: With all the talent coming out of SLC these days, how challenging is it for you to keep up with them and creating material that people will want to keep seeing?
I’m really impressed with all of the talent coming out of SLC. There’s a question coming up in this email interview where I’ll be asked to list some of my favorites, and there are seriously so so many that I’m huge fans of. However, when I’m creating material, I don’t look at it like I’m trying to keep up with them. I don’t think it’s wise to worry about how well someone else is doing compared to how well you’re doing. I’ve learned that that’s a complete waste of energy. Whenever, you compare how well you’re doing to how well others are doing, it only leads to resentment and jealousy, which don’t necessarily make you a better comic. I just try and be the funniest that I can be, and just hope that things will fall into place because of that.
Gavin: What's your take on our standup scene and the work coming out of it?
I really enjoy performing in Utah. So many people have been so generous in giving me stage time that has helped me get better. I don’t know if by “the work coming out of it” you mean TV deals and exposure and things of that nature. I’ve heard the term “farm system” to describe cities like L.A. and New York, where if you do well, you can get that kind of work. I don’t think there’s a Utah “farm system” yet. But there’s A LOT of talent here.
Gavin: Aside from yourself, who are some of your favorites you like to check out around town?
Oh man! There’s so many! I’m a big fan of Andy Gold, Christian Pieper, Jackson Banks and Abi Harrison. I’m constantly surprised that they’re not super famous yet. I’m really good friends with Jordan Makin who I think is super funny. He was nice enough to let me become a co-host on his podcast called the Happy Valley Podcast
. I also really like Josh Gret and Amerah Ames. I see those two as perhaps being a little less recognized than most and I think they’re really funny. Also, if you’re a Utah comedian that is reading this interview and I haven’t mentioned you on this list, we both know that I think you’re funnier than all of these people. *wink wink*
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the clubs that provide comedians a forum to perform, and the work they do to help bring in audiences?
There are a lot of places around town that are great to perform at. But, as far as actual clubs dedicated to just comedy, there’s really only one in Utah and that’s Wiseguys. Wiseguys is a really great place to perform comedy. Keith Stubbs, who also is a very funny comedian himself, really knows how to set up a venue that is conducive to comedy. He’s been really successful at establishing clubs where touring comedians know that they’ll get good audiences, and where audiences know that they’ll get good comedy. Keith has also been extremely nice to me in giving me stage time, giving advice, and helping me develop as a comic. I can be pretty clueless, and Keith has been nice enough to help me along in my ignorance.
Gavin: What's your opinion of national stand-up comedians coming through town and what that does for the local scene?
I think it’s great! This is going to sound super pretentious, but I really love stand-up as an art form. Whenever a comic comes to town that is so good at comedy that they’ve somehow managed to do it professionally, it ingratiates the “art form” of comedy to the audiences that show up to those shows and builds their trust in stand-up. If those people trust that stand-up can be funny, I think that they’re more likely to show up to other shows where locals are performing. As local comedians, we have a responsibility to put on good shows and not betray that trust. Okay, I’m getting off of my soap box now to accept my award for using the word “ingratiates” in a sentence.
Gavin: What would you say the impact of events like the SLC Comedy Fest and the Comedy Carnivale have had on local performers?
Sorry, I’ve got to plead ignorance on this one. I don’t know much about it and I haven’t performed at it yet so I don’t know.
Gavin: What advice do you have for people looking to getting into standup comedy?
I feel like I’ve given so much unsolicited advice in this article already that the people reading this are probably tired of getting advice. Have fun, work hard, write a lot, perform as much as you can, and be funny.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
I’m headlining for the first time at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo on May 8 at 8 p.m. I’m really, really excited to be doing that so please come if you can. I’ll also be performing at the Ziegfield Theater in Ogden on May 14. I try and plug any other shows I’m on my Twitter page
. Also, as I’ve mentioned, I’m a co-host on the Happy Valley Podcast
. And I hope to finish the second episode “Fave’s Faves,” an animated web series where Derrick Favors of the Utah Jazz hosts a talk show about his favorite things.