|Photo Credit||Jinni J|
This week’s interview opens with Valerie Lopez threatening to throw down with anyone who disagrees with her; namely, on the fact that Sam Castillo is one of the nicest comics in the scene. I’ll leave that juxtaposition of violence and kindness with you to marinate a bit, but I can tell you that from the first moments of hearing Castillo tell his story, you’ll be inclined to agree.
For 2 years ending this March, Castillo has hosted the open mic at Love Goat, which Valerie calls the “best worst open mic in town”, with previous Comedy Wham guest Andrew Wagner. After March, the reigns are being handed over to Eric Scholl and Casey Stewart. Every Saturday at 9:00PM, Love Goat welcomes a mix from seasoned stand-up vets to first-timers, often from the UT campus, given the proximity. Regardless of your time in the scene, Castillo and Wagner don’t pull any punches when interacting with the performers. “We’re all about being as unsupportive as possible…kicking you while you’re down,” Castillo boisterously jokes.
In reality, the show is all about giving people the chance to get stage time to try their hand or practice their craft, no matter the skill level. That same openness is clear in Castillo’s attitude; tossing out comic’s names as he and Valerie try and track down a fact about a previous guest, it’s obvious he knows and cares about many of our local comedy friends.
It’s not surprising to find this deep interest in the topic and people of comedy, given Castillo’s love of the genre early on. Raised in Dallas, TX, his dad provided a steady stream of content through hours upon hours of VHS tapes of the Merry Melodies cartoons, Johnny Carson monologues, and A Prairie Home Companion. David Letterman was a forbidden fruit, apparently a bit too edgy for young Castillo to be allowed to watch; you can tell he still found a way, as he excitedly recounts some of his favorite Letterman skits, like Will It Float?, also a personal favorite of mine.
As a teen, Castillo found his way into more than one form of performing, including painting and singing in the school choir; he speaks fondly of both, but admits circumstances weren’t exactly ripe for either to blossom. Comedy wasn’t out of the picture, as Castillo took in Comedy Central premieres from the likes of Patton Oswalt and Daniel Tosh. He even tried to get on an open mic, but didn’t make it, and the quest fell to the background for the time being.
When he entered UT, becoming a Theatre major was his plan, but ultimately he pivoted to that most liberal of arts degrees: Geographic Information Systems (with a certificate in Business, for good measure).
It never ceases to amaze us the varied paths people take on their way to the stage, but indeed to the stage Castillo went. While still in college, he started hitting open mics, beginning with Coldtowne Theater. “I think I went to the bathroom 20 times before [getting on stage]; there was not a single ounce of fluid in my body, I was so nervous,” he says. After that, he began committing to trying to perform every night, not wanting to “half-ass” it.
“I think I went to the bathroom 20 times before [getting on stage]; there was not a single ounce of fluid in my body, I was so nervous.”
Sam Castillo on his first Coldtowne open mic
Sometimes that meant the last slot of the night, basically performing to the cleaning staff, as Castillo tried to find his “persona”. He tells Valerie about trying impressions, attempting the verbal gymnastics of idols like Oswalt, and trying out razor-edged one-liners in the style of Anthony Jeselnik. None of the “gimmicks” were a good fit for him, as a club manager somewhat tactfully let him know; in his quest to put a spin on material so it would seem new and unique, he lost the thread of simply talking about things he knew and enjoyed.
It’s a journey Castilo is still navigating, finding the balance between borrowing from the styles and material he loves, while applying his own viewpoint to it. One key lesson he’s trying to tackle is writing in a more universal style, saying: “Write a joke that anyone [would] understand, even if they don’t find it funny.” There’s still a bit of emulation in his process; while neither Valerie nor I picked up on it, Castillo notes he’s in a phase of trying to learn from the best of the late Brody Stevens. (Stevens passed away shortly after recording this episode.) I think it’s important to note here the reverence with which Castillo talks about this methodology; though he may claim to be “ripping off” this or that big comedy name, it’s clear that the undercurrent is about him trying on different hats as a means to ultimately find his own unique voice.
Although what sounds like frustration seems to seep into Castillo’s description of his struggles discovering and learning, he makes it clear he’s upbeat about the entire enterprise. “Most [comedy] is good; some of it is great. I want to write just one great joke; I think that’s reasonable,” he says, which may sound cynical to some. To me, it speaks to a bit of the perfectionism that is inherent in most that intend to make comedy their full-time profession: if you don’t deliver consistently, and have a few of those shining moments to amaze people in the mix, people aren’t going to remember you. (And definitely not pay to see you again.) “You shouldn’t aim to kill…you should prove to yourself that you went for it,” Castillo advises inexperienced comics; “Go to the clubs, watch every…act you can. Try to learn from your time on stage, and their time on stage.”
“You shouldn’t aim to kill…you should prove to yourself that you went for it.”
At the end of the day, Castillo, with his ups and downs, is all about the ethic and practice of his work, saying: “I’m not trying to be the best overnight…I’m just trying to have fun, and enjoy my life, because I found this thing I loved.” In his view, whatever your profession may ultimately be, comedian or janitor, you should put the time and effort in to do it the absolute best you can. He raves about the quality of Austin’s clubs and performers, noting that we have people in the scene that could sell out venues 10x the sizes they often perform at.
It’s a scene Castillo is proud to be a part of, and shows no signs of quitting; with a goal of matching–or beating–the amount of time he spends on stage each month, it’s clear he’s in for the long run. He shares volumes of additional experiences and advice with Valerie about how he makes that happen, and how others can build their plans. May is his “comedy birthday”, and–ever the vigilant watcher– he will judge himself on whether he’s funnier this year than the last.
We think he’s in for a happy birthday.
See more of Sam Castillo at these upcoming shows:
- March 17: SXTX at Cherrywood Coffeehouse @ 7pm
- April 5: Sure Thing at Fallout Theater @ 9:30PM