Stand Up And Deliver: Houston’s New Crop of Comedians
By David H
Of all the things I would hear about Houston when I lived in any other city, “that’s a great place for comedy” wasn’t one of them. It’s a shame that Houston plays such an important role in the history of current stand-up comedy, and no one shares that. So, back in November, when I wrote about alternative comedy in Houston, the cast of characters I happened upon didn’t really get much of an introduction. There’s an old comedy saying, that the best comedians are just funny when they aren’t on stage, and the first comedian I could think of that embodies that is Brian Zeolla. You may know Zeolla from when he was the doorman at Fitzgerald’s, with the stature of a typical door guy, one conversation with the Chicago native proves otherwise. His brand of comedy is that of a storyteller, like a short form version of Marc Maron, but less whiny and all true. Recently, I sat down for a Q & A with the comedian, and interestingly enough, also the close and personal friend to musician Kevine Devine.
FPH: So, you aren’t from here. Where are you from?
BZ: Chicago, but I’ve lived in Houston for 15 years
FPH: How long have you been doing stand-up?
BZ: Two years now.
FPH: Why comedy?
BZ: It’s a calling, that is a sickness really. I grew up wanting to be director, or a writer, but I’m too lazy to do so. Honestly, it’s just easier to talk on stage. Music, filmmaking, writing a book: Those are all things that I really wanted to do, but they aren’t fast enough. Comedy is immediate.
FPH: Recently, I read an interview with longtime SNL writer Jim Downey, who described how committed to a bit Norm Macdonald was, sticking to it no matter how bad the outcome. How committed are you to a bit?
BZ: I’m hypersensitive to reality. I approach it to not tell a lie. If it’s not honest, I can’t sell it. So, in my stand-up, I stick to reality. That, I can commit to, so I draw from real life experiences to keep it as conversational and as real as possible. That’s the only way it works for me.
FPH: How long will you hang on to a joke before discarding it from your set?
BZ: I toss the small jokes, just things that I’ve forgotten. I don’t write, so if the jokes stay in my head, then they’re worth keeping and they stay in my act. If a joke works at an open mic for instance, I’ll keep working with it to form it into my act. I have a bit that was one of the first jokes I wrote. If it’s good it stays in my head and I just do it. Once they aren’t worth doing, they sort of fall out of my mind and they usually don’t come back. For me, I start with a conversation then grow that and figure out where the jokes are, and write the jokes out of the conversation. That’s what I do at the open mics, I work it out in my head, and 2 weeks later, I’m doing them at a show.
FPH: Favorite Comedian?
BZ: Past: Bill Cosby like from the “Himself” album era. Current: Paul F Tompkins, Brendon Small
FPH: How do you measure a successful comedy career?
BZ: Stand-up, writing animated shows, doing radio. I know that radio doesn’t really seem to exist anymore, but music is such a big part of my life and I’d really like to mix it with comedy. I really like the adult swim 15-minute shows where there’s that short time slot where you’re getting the joke across quickly. That’s what I want, really. To create a show like “Home Movies,” or “Mr. Show” where everything clicks with perfect chemistry. My endgame is that way with stand-up as well. To be like Paul F. Tompkins and perform for real hardcore fans, not like Dane Cook at Madison Square Garden.
FPH: Do you have any Beef with the comedy scene here in Houston?
BZ: Proactivity is a problem, across the board in many things here. I grew up very DIY, with punk and zines, and 300 albums pressed. I believed in those things, ‘cause it made me feel like I was part of something. Houston, doesn’t have what I’m used to growing up with. There’s no Ian Mackaye of comedy here. Like, I created a show, because there needed to be a show. I think the fact that there’s some magic in places like NYC is from that DIY ethic and we can do that here too. Let’s just create stuff. We can complain all we want, but we should create as well.
FPH: Who has been the best comedy teacher for you?
BZ: Bob Biggerstaff and Andy Huggins as well as opening for Neil Brennan. That was my first feature set, opening for someone I admire and who I think is hilarious. And it’s the biggest crowd I’ve performed in front of.
I think Brian’s best jokes are the confused and mundane ones. You can catch Brian at most of the open mics like Rudyard’s on Mondays, occasionally Tuesdays at Warehouse Live, and Wednesdays at Han’s Bier Haus. On March 3, you can see him at Rudyard’s for his Level Up show, which always has a great feature and a great headlining performer. He’s definitely someone to see before he blows up outside of Houston, as a rising star in the world of comedy.