Stand Up & Deliver: Finally Getting A Krispy Kreme
Slade Ham, Photo: Mike Toman
The Houston comedy scene has always been one full of characters, heroes, and villains. The heroes and villains are who they are depending who you talk to, and the characters are pretty much anyone who abuses themselves enough to get to the level of touring comic. One Houston comic, Slade Ham gets all three names placed on him, depending on who you ask. What no one will say about him, is that he doesn’t bust his tail. The guy tours the world, he has a successful podcast with fellow Houston comics Rob Mungle, Sam Demaris, and John Wessling under The Whiskey Brothers, and he’s always a big draw wherever he performs. FPH took the time to sit down with the comic to chat with him on his past, present, and future.
FPH: You’re originally from Beaumont, right? How did growing up there shape you as a comic?
SLADE HAM: It has given me a great point of comparison, for one thing. There are so many things you can’t see until you get out of a small town. Not that 100,000 people is small, but the mentality is. There is such a lack of understanding or empathy for what goes on in the rest of the world – politically, religiously, sexually, etc – in a small community. You live in a bit of a bubble, but you’re convinced your way of life is absolutely right. It’s strange to recognize that I was exactly the same at one point. Once I started traveling though, and ultimately when I moved, my views started to change drastically.
So comedically it’s allowed me to talk from both perspectives. I’m not just pointing fingers; I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be excited for an entire week just because “we’re finally getting a Krispy Kreme, y’all!” I’ve flown out of “the gate” at the airport. That’s a lot of America, and I can relate. Not to paint small town with a prison brush, but someone that’s never been arrested isn’t exactly qualified to tell people about the perils of being locked up.
FPH: You do about 200 shows a year all over the world, as well as performing for the troops. Is there a place that you won’t visit again and is there a city or crowd you prefer over anywhere else?
SLADE HAM: Toronto probably has my favorite audiences in the world. They’re smart and diverse, but they also maintain that Canadian politeness. I also really dig expat owned spots around the world. Lisbon, Phnom Penh, Seoul, etc. You’re still playing for English speaking crowd, but they aren’t necessarily as in touch with current American pop culture or references, and you have to be a little smarter with your set selection. I find I have to write local and invest more in storytelling, which I love.
As for places I won’t return to, Yemen and most one nighters in Arkansas top that list. I wasn’t even performing in Yemen, but I spent a terrifying half a day in Sana’a, and I say that as someone who is not a skittish traveler. I was bitten by a feral cat in a club in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and while I do recognize the comedy in being bitten by the only thing in that state with a full set of teeth, a rabies test is not exactly how you want to start your weekend. I’ve had shot glasses flung at me and had a cowboy with Down Syndrome almost rush the stage in Arkansas as well. I’m in no rush to go back.
FPH: Being a part of The Whiskey Brothers, you guys just taped a comedy special in front of two sold out crowds at Houston’s Warehouse Live. Are there plans for who will debut the special and do you see a Whiskey Brothers tour ever happening in the future?
SLADE HAM: While I can’t speak on details, the final cut is stunning and it’s on all the right desks in Hollywood. The ideal outlet is Netflix, but we haven’t ruled out Comedy Central, Showtime, or a handful of other networks yet. Jack Daniels is talking to us about an initial mini-tour too. I’d love to be out on the road with my buddies again – I think all four of us would say that – and it’s almost 100% likely that that’s going to happen. We’re just playing the waiting game.
FPH: You seem like the guy who wants to help up and coming comics learn from your lessons in the business. You owned a comedy club, you put out an album at an early age, and both are things I’ve read that you regret. Can you elaborate on why both can be detrimental to a comic’s career?
SLADE HAM: Actually, owning a comedy club was incredibly formative for me. It gave me stage time and built relationships with comics and agents that still benefit me a decade later. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of running a business though. Payroll taxes take precedent over joke writing. It’s easy to stop being an artist. There’s just so much trivial stuff to take care of.
“Jessica forgot to clock out last Saturday and now it says she worked 123 hours last week. Can you fix that? Are we ought of Jameson? Of course we are, but it’s Sunday and we can’t get anymore until tomorrow. The amp burned out, can you fix that too? There’s a guy doing coke in the bathroom. Someone just threw up on the bar.” And all you want to do is borrow your bartender’s lemon knife and try to remember if it’s down the river or across the road when you start slitting.
Still, I think those five years made it possible for me to go full time comedian when we closed.
The album was a different story. I think I had been doing comedy for 13 months? It was premature and arrogant. And awful. Really, really awful. I pressed a thousand copies. I still have three of them and Dimebag Darrell had one. I’ve spent ten years trying to buy back the remaining 996. If anyone has one, I’ll trade you all kinds of cool swag for it.
FPH: I know you’re pals with Brad (Scarface of Geto Boys), and he once said about the Houston rap scene, “I pay serious attention to new artists. I pay attention to dope artists. My definition of “really special” is somebody that don’t sound like nobody else. I’m looking at it through tunnel vision, I don’t think Houston even has a hip hop scene.” Do you think you can echo that sentiment with the Houston comedy scene, that your definition of “good” is far apart from everyone else’s?
SLADE HAM: I totally consider Brad one of my best friends. He and I do share that outlook, I suppose. This will sound pessimistic, but as large as the comedy community in Houston is, it’s a very shallow scene. I think there are maybe fifteen really solid headliners in this city, another seventy open mikers, and zero middle class. In a lot of senses, it’s not even the new comics’ fault. They are teaching themselves. Guys like Andy Huggins are very entrenched in the mics, and he is incredible about helping young comics, but for the most part it is a structureless scene.
I see a lot of guys playing the “shock” card, just working filthy and with no real depth. And then there are guys doing the most basic stuff, just played out premises or meme-like bits, or flagrantly predictable punchlines. “And I was homeschooled!” Bad dum tss. It’s sad to watch. In 2015, there are still comedians reminiscing about “when we used to blow in Nintendo games! Remember that?” It’s just lazy. But audiences are dumb and it works, so they keep doing it. And there’s no one there to take them to task on it.
Sean Rouse used to be one of those guys when I was coming up that every comic came out of the back room at the Stop to watch on Mondays. Rob Mungle is still like that for me. Tommy Drake with his notebook full of new thoughts every single week. All of them with such unique spins on a topic, even when you think there couldn’t possibly be another angle. That’s great comedy to me, and I do see it in glimpses from a few guys. There are a thousand ways to get an audience to laugh, but not all of them are good. “But it works!” is an excuse I hear way too often. The upside is that it does make it that much easier for a really fresh voice to stand out.
FPH: You get a lot of crap for not bringing up some of the younger Houston comics, but I know that you recently vouched for Barry Laminack and it changed his career for the better. Are there other Houston comics that you’ve propped up?
SLADE HAM: Laminack is a good comic. I make it a rule to not put my name on the line for anyone anymore, honestly. I did for him, and I still do occasionally, but they’re the exceptions for sure. I think I’ve referenced Owen Dunn, Bryson Brown, and Matthew Broussard in the past (though Broussard would be more in a position to reference ME in places now, I’m afraid). I do keep an eye on a lot of guys though. Ashton Womack and Zahid Dewji are probably my two favorite guys in the scene at the moment, and I’ve mentioned both of them to clubs recently.
FPH: Who are your favorite comics from the past and favorites presently?
SLADE HAM: The Holy Trinity will always be Pryor, Carlin, and Cosby (and a thousand more ruffies will never devalue “Himself” to me). Currently it’s hard to have a conversation about modern comedy without mentioning obvious names like Bill Burr and Brian Regan. Doug Stanhope and Dave Attell both belong at the top of that list too. Doug is one of the smartest people I know in the real world. It can be frustrating to watch him work sometimes, in a “I will never be that good no matter what I do” way. Also, Christopher Titus when it comes to storytelling, and Tom Simmons as a joke writer. I’ve sort of quit watching a lot of current stuff though, just because I don’t want the bleed.
FPH: Who was in your comedy class when you got started?
SLADE HAM: I really don’t know who started with me. I was a Beaumont transplant driving into Houston three or four times a week for mics. So many of the comics I now consider being in my class all had several years on me at that point, and there were several, like Sam Demaris, who started a year or so after me. Mo Amer (currently on tour with Chappelle) might have been in my class. I’d love to know who else started in 2000 actually.
FPH: For anyone who thinks that this is a career path that they want to do, I know you’ve said in the past “don’t do it” when asked about becoming a comic. But, I also know how much work you put in just to carve your own path. Will you let everyone in on the typical day in the life as touring comic Slade Ham?
SLADE HAM: It’s work. A lot of work, and most people don’t actually want to do it. There is such a perception that stand up comedy is just a job you do on stage. The stage is the formality. The work is in the writing, the booking, the presentation, and all the peripheral things that you have to do to maintain an audience. I wake up most mornings around 9:00 or 10:00, make a big carafe of coffee, and pop the laptop open.
I have a booking company that puts together a lot of military shows. I have The Whiskey Brothers podcast once a week. I am shopping publishers for my book. I am constantly reaching out to new venues and clubs, tracking down bookers, tweaking my press kit, and juggling dates. I’m highly also interactive on Facebook and Instagram, making sure people know what I’m up to and where I’ll be next.
And then there is the actual writing process. It’s a job, but I’ve learned to just sort of detach and do the work. I have a whiteboard that stays full. I would be lost without it. More than anything, I know that if I don’t do all those things, I can’t pay my rent. So I do them all, every day.
FPH: People would look at you as a successful comedian, but I’ve found that any person with any amount of success is never satisfied. What’s your definition of a successful comedy career?
SLADE HAM: I believe in successful lives, not careers. Success is having a life that is completely yours. I don’t believe in 9-5, 40 hour weeks. There are so many ways to make a living being creative. Stand up happens to be my favorite medium and I happen to be fairly decent at it. It’s about adding quality skill sets to your arsenal so that you aren’t at some single company’s mercy when it comes to your paycheck. For the most part I do what I want. I say what I want. I answer to me. There is no HR department in my apartment, and there’s a lot of power in that.
We used to be hunter/gatherers. We would forage in one place until that place stopped sustaining us, and then we’d move on. If you had a solid skill set - if you were a fast runner and could make tools and throw a spear well – you would never go hungry. I try to still live that way. I believe in breaking free of complacency and finding new hunting grounds while slower, dumber people get eaten, whether by sabertooth tigers or by a corporate system. It’s all the same, really. They’re just different types of death.
Being adaptable and crafting material that allows you to say yes or no to any paycheck you choose seems pretty successful to me. All the rest is relative. A year’s worth of comedy clubs, or all theaters, or movie roles, or your own sitcom… those are just things. It’s hard to consider any one of them a single benchmark for success because a driven person is always going to want more.
There’s a lot to be said about a guy who still props up comics he believes in while still trying to write, promote, and book his own gigs. While Slade stays adaptable, you can catch him this week at the Joke Joint Comedy Showcase, when he headlines three shows. The sets are Wednesday November 25th, Friday November 27th, and Saturday November 28th. You can also catch him December 20th at Improv for The Whiskey Brothers Christmas Ball.