JT Habersaat: Positively Punk

 

Photo Credit Carmen Morales
Interviewer Valerie Lopez
Article Richard Goodwin

I love it when we get to talk with creative people who cross mediums, and one of the most interesting combinations is that of comedy and music. Comedy is, in various forms, a release, a catharsis, or a masterful delivery of an unexpected perspective. It’s not inaccurate to say that, for some performers, comedy is the punk rock equivalent of spoken word performance, and JT Habersaat and his Altercation Comedy Tour absolutely embodies it.

For Habersaat, that wasn’t always the case. He dabbled with comedy in college, and developed an early hero worship of the likes of George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, and…Gallagher? That’s a comedy legend we don’t often hear, though we certainly acknowledge his role in the genre, but when Habersaat reminisces about seeing the frizzy haired comic bounce around the stage, smashing various edible contraptions, it all starts to come together.  

 

With Habersaat’s history, which includes running a record label, being a music director at a radio station, delivering his own magazine, and actual punk rock music shows, drawing a connection to the inventive, high energy, Gallagher becomes quite easy. Habersaat is nothing if not a self starter. Tired of the rat race of the music business, he moved to Austin in 2005 with the barest of plans about getting back to the roots of comedy that once captivated him. It spoke to his performance impulse, but with a distinct challenge. “There’s nothing else [like comedy] where it’s just you, standing up there, doing it”, he tells Valerie Lopez. Spurred on by some friends unearthing some of his old sets on CD, he shifted into gear.

“There’s nothing else [like comedy] where it’s just you, standing up there, doing it.” — JT Habersaat

True to form, he didn’t take a traditional route to getting on stage for his first real comedic outings. Habersaat confides that he looked for the most “non traditional” comics in town to approach, including making a connection with Austin names like Matt Bearden and the delightfully dark John Rabon, who would go on to vouch for the newcomer in the scene. Instead of The Velv or Cap City, the only really comedy focused venues at the time, Habersaat went straight to booking his own show at (the now defunct) Headhunters. Around that time, he also befriended comedian Doug Stanhope, who he call his “comedy Yoda”.

While he views stand up as a quintessentially solo performance, he didn’t necessarily want to go it alone. “I always wanted to apply the band approach to comedy, have my own Ramones”, Habersaat says, but admits it didn’t work out that way at first. He knew he wanted build a new career, and that to do it would involve taking some risks outside of his–apparently very spacious–comfort zone. He advises, “I always tell comics, ‘Say yes to everything; worry about the details later’”.

“I always tell comics, ‘Say yes to everything; worry about the details later’”. — JT Habersaat

It’s the attitude that led him to the creation of the popular Altercation Comedy Festival (September 26-29th). Altercation Comedy Festival is a celebration of Habersaat’s self-described “DIY psychopath” philosophy: handmade badges, $12-a-day tickets, and a small venue, to maximize the experience and minimize the pomp. It’s designed to showcase great comedians, to fans of the genre that would appreciate the attention to the intangible details of creating just the right atmosphere to enjoy the form. 

Of course, one project at a time is never enough, so Habersaat also runs the yearly Altercation Punk Rock BBQ, giving exposure to bands from across the country. He has two books under his belt: Altercation Archives, a chronicle of conversations with musicians like Henry Rollins, Mike Patton, and Billy Idol; and the new Killing for a Living. Killing captures tales of delivering comedy across the country, and the tolls and rewards endemic to that life. When the lights come up after a great show and you have to concentrate on getting to the next destination, there’s a harsh reality to face: that traveling comedy is a job, in fact a quite difficult one, that requires a stalwart work ethic. It’s in Habersaat’s core, but he recognizes “sometimes it can be unhealthy”.

“Punk rock to me [now] is being broader; I want to appeal to all walks of life. I want to have people my parents’ age come and be able to laugh at me.” — JT Habersaat

In Habersaat’s podcast every Tuesday, aptly named The Road, he nabs the most interesting people he can find in whatever travel location he’s hanging his hat on a given day. Comics, toy museum curators, snake wranglers, musicians: all are welcome for a freeform story, dialogue, or spinning a new song or two.

So has professional growth and time softened the rock performer’s core? Not exactly, but it’s certainly changed his perspective a bit. As Habersaat describes it, “Punk rock to me [now] is being broader; I want to appeal to all walks of life. I want to have people my parents’ age come and be able to laugh at me.” With a killer lineup of local and national comics at this year’s Altercation Comedy Festival, a new book & album, and even more projects he discusses with Valerie, there’s no doubt he’s working to deliver that appeal, to as many people, across as many mediums, as he can.

Like he said, he’s a psychopath, and we’re lucky to have him.  

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Habersaat has so much going on, it’s hard to list it all, but make plans to get out to:

Grab his new book Killing for a Living, and listen to The Road, released every Tuesday. 

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JT Habersaat

Valerie Lopez

Richard Goodwin

Comedy Wham

 

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