Stand Up & Deliver: Loose Is The Only Way I Know
Photo: Steven Padilla
In celebration of the one-year anniversary of the Beta Bracket Comedy Competition, it only made sense to catch up with the guy who won the inaugural year, Houston’s Bob Morrissey. Anyone who’s seen Bob on stage knows that he’s loose. That’s not a bad thing, as comedy is all about finding your voice. One of Houston’s only openly gay comics, Morrissey’s seven-year relationship with Houston comic Greg Deal is one that we should all revel in. Free Press Houston had the chance to sit down with him and discuss life after winning a comedy competition.
FPH: You aren’t from here, you’re from Chicago, right? Where in Chicago are you from?
BM: I’m from outside of Chicago, Park Ridge, Illinois. It’s a northwest suburb of the city; it’s where Hillary Clinton is from. I was the youngest of seven kids.
FPH: You’ve had a varying array of jobs prior to stand up, right?
BM: Yeah. I was in the Army. I enlisted in June 2001. When 9/11 happened, I was in basic training. The way that works is you’re not really allowed to have contact with the outside world. You can make a five-minute phone call to a close relative once a week, but no watching the news or anything. So when they told us about it, we thought the drill sergeants were using it as a training tactic and it was fake. I did one six-month tour of duty in Iraq in 2003, and I was out by October of the same year. After the Army, I caught up with a friend I knew who got kicked out of the military, and he got me a job driving a cab in Pasadena. I did that for five years, and then I worked at Half Price Books for a while, then at Black Hole. Now I help kids with SAT prep.
FPH: Why Comedy?
BM: I had wanted to be a comedian my whole life, but I was too scared to go up and actually do it. I took a stand-up class at Zanies in Chicago and then did one open mic after, but that was it. Then I did the Houston Laugh Stop open mic in an Army uniform once, but since I didn’t reference the uniform in my set; no one got it so I quit. Then in 2012 me and Greg (Deal) went up on the same night after we had gone to the Moontower Comedy Festival, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
FPH: Roger Ebert once said, “No good movie is long enough, and no bad movie is short enough.” How do you decide what’s too long and what needs more in a bit?
BM: When I first started, I’d do these long-winded stories where the punchline didn’t come for two minutes. When you have two minutes with no laughter while you’re onstage, it’s tough. For me, I think constantly writing on Twitter has helped me self-edit my stuff. By constantly going up and trying new stuff, I’ve tried to find what works and tie it to other things that work-so it feels more seamless. At least that’s my goal.
FPH: Who are your favorite comics past and present?
BM: Past, Richard Lewis for sure. Presently, Chris Trew from New Orleans because he seems so effortless on stage, and Doug Benson for the same reason.
FPH: You’re openly gay, and you reference that in your act. Have you received any flack or praise from anyone in the Houston LGBT community?
BM: I’m probably not on their radar. I like subverting people’s expectations of what someone thinks a gay person should look like, act like, and what they would talk about. Most of my comedy comes out of our relationship. We constantly try new material out on each other. People don’t care if I’m gay or not, no matter what part of town I’m in; they just want to laugh. But, that being said, I’m trying to start steering away from jokes about graphic gay sex. I do think it’s important for some audience members, because they may not actually know a gay person prior to seeing me.
FPH: I spoke to you last year in the middle of the Beta Bracket Competition, and you said that winning was important because you “wanted the respect from your fellow comics.” Did you get that respect you were hoping for after you won the competition?
BM: I assumed it would all happen. People get their feelings hurt by caring what others think about them. At the time, I don’t know; maybe I was feeling needy. But now having a job I’m not ashamed about in my 30s, I feel different. I’m pretty sure that no matter what, the attitude of “other people don’t think I’m good enough,” will always plague me.
FPH: You told me that you had expected your life to change after you won Beta, with better shows and what not; yet that didn’t happen. What advice would you give to anyone who wins any comedy contest in the future?
BM: I expected it or at least, I hoped for it to happen immediately. It’s since happened to get better, but advice? It was rough after winning. I didn’t trust people at first. So if I had to give advice, I’d say that you should keep doing what you do and know that the struggle has just begun. For me, winning so early in all of this, it gives me hope that the struggle is all worth it.
FPH: You seem to have a very loose style to how you perform. I heard Stephen Malkmus of Pavement fame tell Marc Maron that loose is the only way he knows. Do you feel you echo that sentiment?
BM: I think that what I strive hardest for is a connection with the audience. So to not be a robot who’s saying the same things the same way no matter where the audience is-I try to keep it loose. I attempt to loosely identify what works in the joke to make it more relatable no matter where I am.
FPH: What’s your idea of a successful career in comedy?
BM: Making a living at it. If that doesn’t happen, going up four or five times a week and earning the respect from my peers. If I can enjoy doing it 10 years into doing it, then it’s a success.
While Bob hits a mic four or five times a week, you can catch his loose style when he hosts the monthly series, “Triple Header“, over at Beta Theater. Each month, Beta and Bob host a different trio of comics who go up and do three 20-minute sets. It takes place this month on the 11th, with Warren Wright, Nia De-Bose, and Ty Mahany. There’s a 7:00 and a 10:00 show, and a “pay what you can” cover. The Beta Bracket for 2014 will resume on July 18th at Phoenicia MKT Bar.