Audio by Valerie Lopez, Words by Lara Smith
Last year, Matt Bearden agreed to an interview with Comedy Wham, but it took our tenacious Valerie Lopez that long to make it happen. You see, despite talking five mornings a week on the Dudley and Bob with Matt Morning Show (he’s the “with Matt”), Bearden is not a fan of talking about himself. Getting him to take a compliment is next to impossible. If you were to refer to him as the steward of the Austin comedy scene, he would probably call himself the janitor. Unfortunately for Bearden, the facts speak for themselves, and he has had a successful and diverse comedy career that has spanned over two decades.
Moving around frequently as a child, Matt Bearden attended 14 different schools, between Houston, Brownsville, and Lafayette. The weariness of moving, he speculates, is what inspired him to put down roots in Austin, a town that would soon become synonymous with his story. Bearden recalls telling his grandparents, at age five, that he wanted to become a comedian, though he doesn’t look back at it as a hard-wired trajectory from that moment. It wasn’t until 1990, when a college buddy challenged him to try stand up, that Bearden did his first open mic. Unprepared and bombing terribly, Bearden wouldn’t do stand up again for another seven years. Getting into improv some years later (to meet a girl), he would watch comedians at The Velveeta Room after an improv show. After two years of watching and learning, Bearden got the itch to give stand up another try.
In 1997, Bearden was cast as Quinton in Austin Stories, an MTV Slacker-esque show with a cult-like following. (You may be able to find some eps on YouTube, or grab the DVDs.) Due to uncontrollable circumstances of ever-fickle Hollywood, the show saw a meteoric rise and fall that year and would not be renewed. The experience seemed to serve as a tutorial in the industry and in the difference between the Austin and Los Angeles scenes. Bearden would go on to do road work, festivals, Comedy Central, win Funniest Person In Austin (2002), and book and manage comedy clubs, including The Velveeta Room. He also created the showcase, Punch!, that would become the quintessential template for a successful Austin comedy show. Running for several years at Cap City Comedy Club, the show ended, but after much begging and complaining from fans, it returned after a two-year hiatus.
Bearden recommends that comedians do work that is “comedy adjacent,” and eight years ago, while filling out his first ever resume, he got the call to join The Dudley & Bob Morning Show. Talk about comedy adjacent…the morning show has been supporting the local comedy scene for over twenty-five years. After several years of being third chair on the longest running morning show, they added his name, making it official.
Now, those are the facts, but what Bearden brings to comedy, the Austin scene, and our interview, is the perspective of experience and years of work. Matt Bearden, humble as ever, speaks as if he’s had it easy, crediting others with working much harder. This from a man who spent many summers working on oil rigs. Because there really aren’t coaches in comedy, Bearden often feels comics should help each other learn and grow. He does just that, still scouting open mics and offering young comics opportunities at experience and exposure. You can tell he loves not just the comics, but the scene itself, stating, “If I wanna take credit for anything it’s maybe trying to create opportunities. I don’t write anybody’s jokes, I don’t perform their jokes for them…I guess I can try to sometimes do good things for a scene, but it’s the scene doing it.” He has the ability to evaluate a set constructively, orchestrate an amazing and balanced showcase, and analyze the local comedy scene, as well. I have to hope if Matt Bearden was reading this, he’s stopped by now, because he would bristle at this next part. If you want to see proof of the impact that Bearden has had on the Austin comedy scene, go to any open mic in town and look for a comic carrying a small “Punch!” notebook with their set notes filling the pages. You will see at least one, I guarantee.