THE LAUGH TRACK // THE RETURN OF STAND-UP COMEDY TO TUSCALOOSA

The laughs in Tuscaloosa have taken a hit in recent months. Beginning in 2013, Stand-Up Tuscaloosa was a collective of Tuscaloosa comedians, comedy writers, and performers formed to bring their art to the people. Unfortunately, Stand-Up Tuscaloosa took a hit around the new year. But thanks to a few good men and women, Stand-Up Tuscaloosa is back.

The program has welcomed several new faces. Justin Pruden, 25, has been a staple in the Tuscaloosa comedy community for years now. We spoke about the funny, the not-so-funny, and the future of laughs town.

Planet Weekly: How did you get into Stand-Up Comedy?

Justin Pruden: I guess I’ve been a pretty avid listener ever since I was a little kid. I spent a lot of night watching Friday Night Stand-Up on Comedy Central. Eventually my mother got XM radio with some comedy stations on it. I heard people like Brian Regan and it all changed from there. It wasn’t until much later in life, however, that I decided to take the stage for the first time.

PW: What was that first time on stage like?

JP: Easily my worst performance to date. My friend, Justin Kelly, heard about a Comedy Open Mic in town and wanted to do a set. I had always wanted to try it so I worked on a 5 minute set the day of the show. When I did my set, the first joke I did got some laughs at the end of the bar, but the rest of my set was met in silence. Although I had been on stage a lot before this night, this was the scariest and went the poorest.

PW: Has your material and subject matter changed since that first show?

JP: Well, at the time of the first show, there was a lot of racial tension on the UA campus due to some incidences at fraternity houses that were made public. So I had a lot of racially charged material. I was a fan of more shocking comedians like Jim Norton. So I was really overstepping my abilities trying to make such shocking material funny. Since then, I would say my comedy isn’t intentionally quite as shocking. I’ve definitely broadened the topics on which I write jokes about. And I’ve really just begun to understand how to “write a joke.” Which seems basic, but is much more difficult than it sounds. So I would say that my material is more well written, delivered with more confidence, and covers a more broad range of subjects, but still touching on controversial subjects like race, politics, and poverty.

PW: What do you think caused that shortcoming?

JP: Name something and it probably had a factor. Haha. I hate to admit that a big problem with my first show is that I was doing race jokes to a room full of black people. Not saying that’s impossible to pull off, but for this first-timer it was. And yes, it’s hard to describe the amount of insecurity and nervousness a person gets the first time they tell a joke that bombs. But sure. Inexperience, nerves, the lack of preparation, my own friends heckling me. It all came into play

PW: Good friends. Who are your comedic heroes and heroines?

JP: Brian Regan is probably the sole person who made me want to do stand-up. And any comedian not calling him a hero of theirs is not a comedian. He’s hard to top. A true professional. George Carlin is the Art Tatum of comedy. A true God. Technically flawless, innovative, clever, and socially biting. I could go on for days about Carlin. Wow. Paul F. Tompkins is a true comedian. He’s great at long-form jokes, short-form, improv, crowd work, you name it. One of the most well-rounded comedians to date. And so so smart. And I mentioned him earlier, but Jim Norton will forever be an idol of mine. I could go on for days about this.

PW: What do you think of the comedy scene in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham?

JP: They have their similarities and differences. In both areas, attendance is a big problem. It’s just difficult to get people to come out consistently. Birmingham is definitely doing better in that respect. Venues like the Stardome seem to consistently have well-attended Open Mics and Showcases. However, other open mics in Birmingham like Comicaze struggle with getting non-comedians to attend, even though the most active Birmingham comedians attend weekly.

In Tuscaloosa, we really have a problem with venues. We’ve had showcases and open mics in different bars and restaurants in town, but most venues don’t believe in comedy and don’t want to give it a chance to grow. It’s like we’re fighting for air sometimes just to get stage time in Tuscaloosa. Most bars would much rather have a cover band or simply not do anything. It’s a really tough wall to break through. However, the Open Mic at Glory Bound  is going great! They have a wonderful owner who is willing to do anything to make the comedy stay in Tuscaloosa. They really stepped to the plate and gave us Tuscaloosa comedians a home. And that show is only getting bigger!  But as good as the open mic is, there are no comedy showcases in Tuscaloosa anymore, which allows us to bring bigger, more popular comedians to town. Birmingham, conversely, has the Iron City venue, which has the financial backing to get bigger names which I believe helps the scene a lot.

PW: If you could change the comedy climate of Tuscaloosa (in terms of promotion, venue space, and attendance) how would you do it?

JP: Well I’d like for the venue to take part of the promotion. It seems they’ve always left it to us to promote ourselves, even though we generally make nothing to put on a show. I’d just like to have a handful of venues that actually like comedy and want to see it do well. Try to make specials that bring in people. Try to promote comedy nights on their social media accounts, etc. I really think if we had more venues like GloryBound, that’s all I’d want to change. The rest of our problems, like attendance, would probably change on their own. But the comedians here seem to be dedicated. We don’t have a lot of “hacks” come through. And the crowds we do get are generally good crowds. So Tuscaloosa definitely has its problems, but we may be seeing some light. But still have a lot of work to do.

PW: When is the next time you’re performing?

JP: I plan on moving to NYC soon. Most likely, I will only be performing at the GloryBound Gyro Co. Open Mic in downtown Tuscaloosa every Wednesday. And these shows will obviously continue after I leave, so please try to support those guys.

PW: Best of luck in NYC. I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear from you. Any advice for people attempting to break into comedy?

JP: Yeah, I hope to show my face around here again soon.  And advice for new comedians: Make sure your intentions are pure. If you’re going into stand-up thinking about making money, getting on TV, becoming famous, then rethink your motivation. Comedy is tough and it takes a long time to get recognized. All I can say is write as much as you can. Refine your writing as much as you can. And any amount of stage time you can get, go for it.

PW: If you could joke about any subject, what would it be?

JP: If I could only pick one subject? This is tough. Social satire will give anyone a career for the rest of their life. Religion always has a strong opinion on both ends. Always a fun and challenging subject to attack. But I think I’d have to pick my own brain. Stream of consciousness and improvisational comedy have shown me that sometimes the most creative things our mind can make up are revealed to us in times of stress. It’s extremely rewarding to pull off a great clutch improv joke. Mostly because you don’t know what you’re about to say most of the time. It’s almost like it’s new to you and it’s new to the crowd. So if I had to joke about something for the rest of my life, I’d turn inside instead of outside and just make fun of myself and my mental processes. If that answer isn’t cheating, I don’t know what is. HAHA.

It was cheating, Justin. Totally cheating.

To enjoy the comedic stylings of Justin Pruden and host of other hilarious talents, visit Glory Bound Gyro Company at 2325 University Blvd. in downtown Tuscaloosa every Wednesday night for Open Mic Night.

 

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