Having Said That: Hitting the Books and Cracking Jokes
Having Said That: Hitting the Books and Cracking Jokes by Matt Alvarez
Central Texas may be known for their musical performances; Austin has already trademarked the saying Live Music Capital of the World. But there’s a certain sub-culture growing within the community: Stand-up comedians.
My guest today is a new media grad student. She has been doing stand-up since 2010 and started her own podcast, Do Good Work. She has even participated in Moontower Comedy Festival where she says she bought Maria Bamford a drink. She’s no other than Katie Pengra.
Pengra took a little time out of her day to sit down with me to share her experiences over a cup of coffee.
Pengra graduated from Arizona State, a school known for the partying experience. But instead of joining the crowd, Pengra focused on Speech and Debate, but she always had the itch for acting.
“My plan was to always graduate with my undergrad and go to Los Angeles, and start my new life. And I got there and . . . can I cuss on this? Alright, it was bleeping awful.”
– Katie Pengra
Pengra said it wasn’t long before she packed up and left LA. After first moving back in with her parents in Maryland she ventured out with a few friends and moved to Austin.
Then one night while working as a fed-up barista associate, she canned one ex-boyfriend, grabbed Ralph, her roommate, got out and tried something new.
“After breaking up with some loser dude I had been dating, and I was like ‘you know what, Ralph? You need to get off the couch because we’re going to an open mic tonight.’ And we did, and we’ve been doing it ever since. That’s kind of what happened,” Pengra says.
Since then Pengra has been performing in different comedy clubs throughout the Central Texas area. With a vast majority of comics being male, Pengra feels the power of a woman’s voice in comedy is of equally funny value.
“I think women in comedy do great, honestly. I think that statistics are not on our side in the way that there are way more men that get into comedy.”
– Katie Pengra
“So therefore, people are like well there are no women in comedy, and that’s not true. There are less of us, and the dudes are usually way more visible. I usually think they have less qualms with…I don’t know getting up on stage and necessarily not being that funny, but they’re more willing to go up there and look stupid. But I think in the Austin scene the girls who do it are really, really strong, because we work really, really hard. I’ll be on three shows in a week, and in each of those shows I’ll probably be the only girl, maybe one other one and I don’t want people to leave that show and be like, ‘see girls aren’t funny, you saw that one girl in that show.’ So, it’s kind of my personal goal, and I want people to leave this show and be like, ‘that chick was really funny. My ultimate goal is to say that comic was funny.”
Leave the sexism out of it.
“Yeah,” Pengra says. “…it’s funny because I have had people come up to me and be like, ‘you know, I never thought girls were actually funny, but you were actually funny.’ And I kind of want to be like, how many female comics have you actually watched? Besides Joan Rivers, or that may not be your cup of tea, so go see other female comics before you say they’re not funny.”
With Pengra’s experiences, she feels Austin is slowly changing. Put aside downtown developments or music festivalgoers extending their weekend stay. Pengra feels Austin is becoming a central hub for growing comedians.
“I think Austin is leading to be a really big, a really big comedy town. And I really want it to become the New York or the LA of the middle of the country.”
– Katie Pengra
“Because, honestly, going to New York or LA is great and for some people it’ll become a catalyst for your career. But I mean you’re also there with a million other people who want the same thing, and Austin—I think—is a really good place to harbor your creativity and to help grow you as a comic. Because we are starting to have so many festivals here more people are coming to us. But it’s really important for the community to embrace it and start going to live stand-up shows, and really like kind of fold it with ‘live music capital of the world.” It would be great live music and comedy of the world, but we just need people to come out. Support it, watch it.”
Now, having said that, what are your plans for the future?
“I don’t know,” Pengra says. “I mean I love stand up but, honestly, saying you want to do standup as a career is kind of…it’s kind of not a real option these days. I mean in the 80s it was but now comics don’t really get paid that much. I worked with Josh Blue at Capcity last month and he’s like a major headliner, but he tours 48-50 weeks a year, and that’s working like five days a week—I mean that’s insane. Seriously, being in a different city every single week, that’s a really hard way to live—if you can even get to that point where you can get that much work. So, I love standup and I think I’m going to keep on doing it, but I think I’m going to start looking for that other avenue comedy can be lucrative in. I love writing; I would love to write for TV, I’ve started my own podcast called Do Good Work in interviewing people about their crappy jobs. So, I don’t know, I’m trying out different outlets because I have to, it’s kind of a thing with comics and entertainment people; you have to be doing something constantly. And I don’t want to focus all my energy on stand up if it’s not going to able to really give me everything I need from it. I like to have lots of avenues.”
Do you think the times have changed? If you want to get noticed do you have to do different things?
“Yup,” Pengra says. “I think most comics in New York or LA will tell you that. Just being a stand-up comic you either need to have a killer Twitter account, or you need to have a cool podcast, you need to be on TV, you know . . .”
You need to have a YouTube account.
“Right, you need to have side projects, because there’s so much, there’s so much media out there and everyone is so overwhelmed constantly,” Pengra says.
“You need to start presenting yourself in multiple ways in order to get yourself noticed, and not that many people go to see live performances anymore. Why would you, when you can stay at home and watch Netflix.”
– Katie Pengra
Do you think as a comic outreaching into different media outlets you will have enough material, or work harder for more material?
“Yeah, but I think that’s okay,” Pengra says. “I think I’m a pretty good comic. I don’t think I’m a fantastic comic, but I think I’m really funny and creative so maybe if I did get a TV writing gig I would find that is really what I’m the jam at. So, I think it’s kind of good to structure your creativity and your boundaries to kind of find your strengths. So, it’s more work, but I think that’s okay.”
The hilarious Katie Pengra may be unsure of her not-so-distant future, but her graduate skills and wittiness will take her into a happy, and hopefully funny, career.
Having said that, this was produced for Other Side Drive, and I’m Matt Alvarez . . .