Rob Gagnon: Slow and All Over

April 3, 2019


Valerie Lopez


Richard Goodwin

This week we final­ly get to sit down with one of Austin’s trea­sures, the unof­fi­cial bear­er of the world’s best Rod­ney Dan­ger­field impres­sion”, and hus­band to pre­vi­ous guest Ariel Green­spoon, one Mr. Rob Gagnon. 

Valerie Lopez has been vying to grab some time with him over the years, but – despite describ­ing him­self as slow” and even-paced – Gagnon is about as busy as you can be in this scene. He per­forms as a triple threat, in standup, improv/​sketch, and film, most recent­ly appear­ing in Christi­na Par­rishs com­e­dy Call Me Broth­er. He hosts or co-hosts mul­ti­ple shows, includ­ing the exper­i­men­tal com­e­dy Sand­box; ATX Com­e­dy Hour with Lisa Friedrich; Laugh, Darn It!, the fam­i­ly friend­ly live com­e­dy game show, and its sis­ter show Laugh, Dammit!; and Stoned vs Drunk vs Sober, which Laugh But­ton calls one of the 9 great and unique com­e­dy shows in the nation”.

Gagnon got an ear­li­er start on his com­e­dy expo­sure than, well, just about any­one we’ve inter­viewed to date. Munch­ing on PB&J’s with his father, watch­ing Fer­ris Bueller’s Day Off, isn’t exact­ly the kind of after­noon you expect to hear about as part of a kid’s kinder­garten rou­tine, but it’d be inac­cu­rate to say it didn’t result in set­ting a good direc­tion for a per­for­mance career. A fam­i­ly that catered to humor, either Gagnon’s own shenani­gans and riffs, or gath­ered round the tube for shows like In Liv­ing Col­or and The Simp­sons, served to fur­ther boost the signal. 

In a bit of a like­ly-uncon­scious par­al­lel to Fer­ris, Gagnon turned per­form­ing into a way of get­ting around mun­dane work for his high school senior project by piv­ot­ing his love of stand-up into a com­mu­ni­ty out­reach com­e­dy show. The show involved a bit of per­for­mance art that end­ed up with his arti­fi­cial­ly enlarged” nip­ples on full dis­play, but the mon­ey went to char­i­ty, so…we think every­one wins? It’s not the last time he’d end up with his clothes off on stage, as he recounts to Valerie. 

Which isn’t to say Gagnon is wont to work­ing blue (or in the buff) on the reg­u­lar. In Laugh, Darn It!, which recruits an under 18 con­tes­tant to attempt to keep a straight face dur­ing a com­e­dy set, you see anoth­er bit of him on full dis­play. We’re talk­ing about heart here, peo­ple. Whether it’s a show like Laugh, or tales of enter­tain­ing kids as a camp coun­selor, or giv­ing guid­ance or assist­ing on projects for oth­er come­di­ans, Gagnon con­stant­ly puts his ener­gy to use help­ing the com­mu­ni­ty, com­e­dy or otherwise. 

We’re get­ting ahead of our­selves here. Between what I’ll for­ev­er call The Nip­ple Show” and today, Gagnon had plen­ty of road to trav­el in build­ing his com­e­dy chops in his native Con­necti­cut. After high school, he often found him­self dri­ving to and from red-eye shows to do sets, get­ting back home in time to do spe­cial edu­ca­tion teach­ing at 7 am. In a pleas­ant sur­prise, he took home an award in a com­pe­ti­tion at the local Fun­ny Bone, bol­ster­ing his con­fi­dence in a time when he was still busy find­ing plen­ty about him­self and his tal­ents to crit­i­cize. Even today Gagnon will knock mem­o­ries of past and recent per­for­mances, but you can hear that it’s now become the tone of some­one who has high stan­dards and is con­stant­ly striv­ing to meet them. 

After the deci­sion to move to Austin, Gagnon pulled the gut­sy (by virtue of not know­ing the local scene) move of try­ing his first set at the Cap City open mic. As one of the more well-known shows, the crowd can be both dis­cern­ing and com­plete­ly ran­dom in turns. In oth­er words, even the most sea­soned com­ic can catch a tough night, and Gagnon cer­tain­ly did. Lit­tle did he know that some of the audi­ence at that show, includ­ing Mag­gie Maye, would go on to be some of his best friends, and suc­cess­es in their own right, in his future. 

Wan­ton serendip­i­ty is a theme that con­tin­ues in Gagnon’s life, stum­bling inten­tion­al­ly or by hap­pen­stance into oppor­tu­ni­ties and per­for­mances that he nev­er expect­ed. It’s that thought­less igno­rance that lets you do won­der­ful things, and ter­ri­ble things, and great things,” he says of his plan­ning, or per­haps lack there­of. Rid­ing the elec­tric high of yer­ba mate in his inter­view with Valerie, he con­firms that peo­ple often think he’s from an improv back­ground: A lot of peo­ple think that…because I’m so bizarre, and do so many impres­sions and exper­i­men­tal bits,” he notes. Con­trary to how it may sound so far, Gagnon does like a bit of con­trol, even if it seems ran­dom at times, and found that the improv life just didn’t suit him as well as standup. I don’t have to check in with any­body, I can screw it up myself,” he jokes. 

I don’t have to check in with any­body, I can screw it up myself.” Rob Gagnon

This unique mix­ture of con­trol and entropy comes through in the assort­ment of shows in which Gagnon’s involved. Laugh and Stoned vs Drunk vs Sober, which pits three pairs of come­di­ans in var­i­ous states of ine­bri­a­tion against each oth­er, high­light his show­man­ship and play­ful­ly com­pet­i­tive streak. Stoned is one of the best shows I’ve seen; I like the unex­pect­ed, and few things are less pre­dictable than when the per­form­ers them­selves some­times aren’t quite sure what’s hap­pen­ing. It’s a risky propo­si­tion, but some of that Gagnon con­trol ensures that it comes off smooth­ly (and safe­ly), and if it’s not your cup of er, tea, his show­case ATX Com­e­dy Hour high­lights local and tour­ing come­di­ans in a more tra­di­tion­al setting. 

As if these aren’t enough, Gagnon also has a rich his­to­ry of past shows and con­cepts whose spir­its live on in Sand­box, which has ele­ments of Austin eccen­tric­i­ty, game shows, and live music, and the audi­ence even gets a unique snack at each per­for­mance. In per­haps a nod to his own play­ful self-fla­gel­la­tion, Gagnon opens every Sand­box show with We’re gonna see some fail­ure!”, encour­ag­ing the audi­ence to clap and get ready to enjoy the screw-ups right along with the successes. 

In addi­tion to his film work in Call Me Broth­er, Gagnon worked with Com­e­dy Wham friend, and com­e­dy video­g­ra­ph­er extra­or­di­naire, Dustin Svehlak, to pro­duce The Dang Moon! with fel­low Sand­box alum Rob Lech­ler. He’s even work­ing on an art instal­la­tion; it’s an auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal pas­sion project that, he read­i­ly admits, no one asked me to do,” and was born after (once again, ran­dom­ly) find­ing a stick and an intense pas­sion to whit­tle it. There’s also a mar­ble involved, far more inten­sive­ly than I can pos­si­bly do jus­tice to explain­ing here. I can’t make this stuff up, but I’m damned glad Gagnon can. 

Through­out the inter­view, it’s clear that Gagnon is hard­er on him­self than any of the per­form­ers he shep­herds to and from the stage, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s unwar­rant­ed. But if it’s the kind of intro­spec­tion and dri­ve that keeps him churn­ing out the inven­tive and suc­cess­ful shows and projects that have become his sig­na­ture, well, it’s hard to argue with suc­cess. What­ev­er comes his way, he keeps a hum­ble per­spec­tive on his goals: to be a good per­son in the process, and give oth­er peo­ple oppor­tu­ni­ties, and not leave too big of a neg­a­tive footprint.”

[My goals are] to be a good person…and give oth­er peo­ple oppor­tu­ni­ties, and not leave too big of a neg­a­tive foot­print.” Rob Gagnon

Check out Valerie’s full inter­view with Rob Gagnon for even more about his his­to­ry, cur­rent and future projects, and how to paint with­out a paintbrush.

There’s a lot, so remem­ber to take it slow.

See more of Rob Gagnon at these upcom­ing events:

Rob Gagnon