INTERVIEWS

Brett Erickson: Escape from Peoria.

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brett erickson picBrett Erickson is a comedian and writer based in Los Angeles, CA. A fearless, back-of-the-room comic’s comic, Brett delivers a dynamic, free-form show that’s consistently out front of anything any other comics are doing. It was just this sort of brave, bold, damn the consequences style that led legendary comedian Doug Stanhope to take notice and call Brett, “one of the funniest comics working today.” Their connection has flourished and Brett has become one of Doug’s favorite opening acts over the years. A featured player in the cult-comedy classic, “The Unbookables” the story of a group of comics Stanhope lovingly called, Unbookable due to their seeming disregard for the boring norms of the mainstream comedy crowd. This led to Brett headlining Unbookable shows across the country and the world, culminating in Unbookable shows in Amsterdam and the Lowlands Festival in Holland in 2007 for which he was named one of the best acts in the festival for the comedy division. A great act in his own right, Brett still enjoys his role as one of Stanhope’s cabal inner-circle comics, featuring regularly on his Doug Stanhope podcast and being the only comedian ever Doug has asked to fill-in as host.

Brett Erickson has midwestern sensibilities combined with a demented psychedelic twist. Infamously part of Doug Stanhope’s Unbookables, Erickson is heading up North on a tour with Brendon Walsh. Tickets here

8/8 Devils Canyon Brewing, San Ramon https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3507947

8/9 Blue Lagoon, Santa Cruz https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3508054

 

SUSC: Morning. I don’t know about you, but I wake up each morning by reading the news and getting angry enough to get out of bed. I’m trying to wrap my had around the UK government falling apart days before Trumps visit. The only thing that makes me happy is the Baby Trump Blimp flying over parliament.

Erickson: I know, it’s crazy.

You gotta find the silver lining these days.

That’s true.

I was reading that back in college you wanted to be DJ Johnny Fever from WKRP in Cincinnati.

I was a morning radio DJ for seven years, before I started doing stand-up. But I got fired from my morning radio job for one of the hilarious bits I used to do.

What was the bit?

I used to have this hilarious bit where every Friday morning I would come in at noon. And cue the laughter!! (sings) “It’s the morning radio show. It’s the morning radio show! I came in at noon, because that’s too late!!” Yeah, I wanted to be Dr. Johnny Fever. Stoned and off work at 10am in the morning.

Howard Hessman, great character. Those are different hours than a comedian.

You got that right, my friend.

Did you have a sidekick for the morning radio show?

No. It was all me. I had some other people that floated in and out. It was Peoria, Illinois. It was small, like the 125th market. So the other people on the show were the news guy and people who floated to other shows. They owned four radio stations, so the other people were part of all the morning shows.

I don’t know if things have changed, but when I used to travel through the mid-west in the ‘80s, people in the middle of the country were some of the best, grounded people I’ve ever met.

Of course you felt that. You live in the capital of liberal hippiedom, Santa Cruz, California. Where libtards are making it hard for regular MAGA-types like me to just make it through the day!! No, no, I love it up there, I’ve been there several times for shows.

The last time you were at the Blue Lagoon, with Andy Andrist,  I had a local comic open for you who stood onstage for five minutes and didn’t say anything.  

I remember that. It was as if she had totally mastered the standing up part of stand-up comedy. She had to get a complete handle on the standing up part before she even attempted the comedy. It was very brave. She just stood there for what seemed like five hours.

After the radio gig, did you start doing comedy in the mid-west originally?

Yeah. In fact, after radio, I started just touring around the mid-west. I had a couple of kids. I got divorced from their mother and I had to stay in Peoria until they were grown. I didn’t want to be away from them. I moved out to Los Angeles a couple of years ago when my youngest child had graduated high school and gone off the college. I was like, “My work here is definitely finished. I don’t need to be in Peoria, Illinois for another minute.” When my daughter had packed all her stuff into her little Kia and drove off to college, I got into my car and passed her on the way out of town. I’ve been in LA for about four years.

What did you do for The Man Show?

It was a one-off. Doug Stanhope used to have this legendary party in Death Valley every year. The one year he was hired to be on The Man Show we filmed a bunch of stuff at that party. By the time it aired I was back in Peoria. But I still took it as a credit. It was basically a bunch of footage of a bunch of guys tripping on mushrooms or LSD and running around naked in the desert. It was like the drugged out, slightly gay, way more weird and less equally funny version of the girls jumping on trampolines. I mean you live in Santa Cruz, you’re all druggies. You know how much fun you think you have when you’re tripping and how funny you think everything is. But when you try to edit it later you think, “What the hell were we doing?”

It reminds me of when Ken Kesey took the Merry Pranksters across the country on the bus and filmed 3000 hours of footage and thought he had the greatest movie ever made. But the edit was really only exciting for a small group of weirdos.

The Stanhope crew of which I have been honored and lucky to be a part of for 20 years is very much a Pranksters type of loosely defined organization. And Kesey and that whole crew has definitely been an inspiration to me.

I got to interview Kesey and Ken Babbs a couple of times. So how did you hook up with Stanhope?

I randomly opened for him one time and we hit it off. We stayed in contact and became buddies. He liked the fact that I was going onstage and saying things that he agreed with and thought they were funny. The problem was that he was the only one that thought they were funny. It was shortly after that, that he started up this made-up little group of comedians that he called The Unbookables. It was a group of comedians that said things that clubs like The Funnybones and The Improvs wouldn’t book because they were garbage. They only wanted regurgitated vanillia pablum for their audiences. They would rather see “You could be a redneck is. . .” or a Jeff Dunham puppet be raped. That’s where it all started. Me, Andy Andrist, Sean Rouse who just passed away.

Sorry, man.

Yeah. That was terrible. Sidenote on Sean Rouse. Anybody out there who wants to laugh, go find Sean Rouse material on YouTube. He was the best joke writer I have ever seen. He would tell jokes that you thought you knew where the joke was going and by the end thought, “I wasn’t even close.” Listening you would think, “This is crazy, what is he even talking about. He’s so off the track. Whatever he is talking about, this can’t be the plan.” Then when it’s over you realize it was the plan and it was perfectly executed. I always try to pick comedians apart while they’re talking, it’s the human nature of the game and I could never get it right with Rouse. He was always at least one step ahead. Unfortunately, god hated him.  He had terrible rheumatoid arthritis and he body was eating itself and always in toxic pain. The only silver lining with him dying is that he is not in pain anymore.

Right.

He was one of the original Unbookables. And Brendon Walsh who I am doing shows with was one of the Unbookables and we just always had a blast.

Comedy is so popular right now. It’s a tsunami of mediocrity.

It’s crazy right? Here’s the thing. Anyone can do it. As evidenced by the fact that you had a girl stand-up there and not say anything for five minutes.

I love misfits.

I meant that as a compliment. I love that experimental kind of comedy. What I mean is that if you are going to do stand-up comedy, the only thing that you have to be able to do, is talk. I mean, she hadn’t gotten there yet! Say for instance, not everyone thinks they can be a plumber. Because to be a plumber you have to know how to work on the pipes and have wrenches and understand a lot of things. With stand-up comedy you just have to have the courage to go up and talk into a microphone. For entry level qualification, the bar is set pretty low. If you’re one of those people then you can get up there and do it. The tricky part is actually being good at it. Anyone can learn to talk into a microphone. But saying something unique and original and funny takes time. Eventually we will have a 15 minute Netflix special and then we can take it apart and see what’s what.

Right. I think they have like a billion dollars for original programming. So. You move to LA a little later in life age-wise, then most comedians do. How’s it going?

Let me answer your question with another question. Has anyone in your audience heard of me? The answer is no. So it’s going like crap. I love being in LA. I work at the Comedy Store. I’m there 5 nights week when I’m in town. It’s tough fighting for stage time in that building. Last night Neal Brennan was there, Whitney Cummings was there, David Spade was there. Usually Rogen, Bill Burr and Chappelle drop in. The Comedy Store isn’t looking to add new comedians to that list. So it’s tough to break in. The new guys at the Store get our little 5 minute spots here and there and try to make them become 10 minute spots and make them become 15 minute spots and keep moving up. So it’s tough, but it’s also the greatest thing in the world. Every night I’m surrounded by the absolute world class comedians. And it’s top level. It’s not like you pass at The Comedy Store and get your name on the wall and get added to the list next to Rogen and Burr and it’s on to the next thing. I feel good that I’m on the Yankees, but I’m on the Double A team. But at least I’m on the Yankees.

I talked to Spade a few weeks ago and I was surprised how vulnerable he was and open to self-questioning. I love that comics can be in their third decade of performing and still searching for whatever it is their searching for.

David Spade is very funny and very talented. It doesn’t surprise me that questions himself. There are many comics, present company included who constantly fight that feeling that we’re a fraud. “I’m not really funny. Everyone is going to find out. They’re going to laugh at me.” It’s the fear that’s always nagging. Guys like Jeff Dunham, they don’t have that. And that’s why they suck. They’re terrible because they don’t self-reflect. Great comedy comes from the constant questioning of your work. It’s also why so many comics have depression. It’s all part of the same big ball of crap that we are. Stand-up comics don’t suffer from depression anymore than non-comics do. But stand-up comics probe it. They get in there and they analyze it. David Spade questions himself, even though he’s really really successful, I think that’s a good thing. It keeps him true and faithful to the overall art. Jeff Dunham believes his own headlines. But we’re all bluffing our way through it.

Do you have any projects people should check out?

Bretterickson.com to get tickets for the shows. The other thing that is happening is the Comedy Store where I spend most of my time is doing live podcasts and FB streaming. We’re putting comics on Twitch and playing video games on Twitch. People should also check out my fake website that Onion style parody. It’s like Breittbart, but it’s called Brettbart. There’s a great backlog of stories if you want to go down that rabbit hole. I’m proud of it. If you are at work and bored and want to read some stupid fake news.

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Interviews
07/10/2018

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