|Photo Credit||Billy Duchaney|
Right out of the gate learning about this week’s guest, Ron Lechler, he taught me something in return: that a paper clip will work as a collar stay, “in a pinch!”. Mind you, I don’t have shirts with collar stays, much less wear and maintain them to the point that a substitute is necessary. But that’s not the point, which is that–for 3 seasons of the web series Pro Tips–Lechler had a ton of such nuggets to share.
Of course, this is a comedian we’re talking about, so there are also handfuls of quick tutorials with…let’s say alternative solutions to problems; for example, 15 seconds of Lechler simply standing facing the corner of a room as a guide on how to extend your cell phone battery. Over the arc of the seasons, the advice went from (mostly) straightforward, to a series of disastrous or just plain psychedelic, experiences. (Check out the hour-long video on fixing a broken zipper.)
The meticulously planned long game in the progression of Pro Tips is emblematic of Lechler’s overall comedic progression and goals. Since the Michigan native–and current Austinite–started doing stand-up at the ripe age of 16, he’s been building towards making it his one and only business. Absorbing shows like Premium Blend, and influences like Mitch Hedberg, “I understood that it was a career that people had; it wasn’t something I necessarily aspired to yet.” Now that it’s the main part of his life, his sense of its nature has changed, saying “I don’t think of comedy as a career; it’s who I am.”
“I don’t think of comedy as a career; it’s who I am.”
Lechler is clear that there’s been a series of evolutions along the way. From the early Hedberg-esque persona he tried on, to today, he’s reinvented himself more than once. “About 2 or 3 years ago [after getting his MFA] I threw away all of my material,” he says of one of his turnabouts. The co-host of Austin’s Cider House Rulz showcase found that a sort of meta-perspective, i.e. comedy about comedy, is something that melds with his passion of extracting humor from sophisticated eye-winking and good-natured toying with the audience.
As he relates some of his performance ideas to Valerie Lopez, it’s clear that Lechler puts as much effort into orchestrating the experience as the “material” he’s delivering. “I like when comedy can be about not what I’m saying, but what I’m doing,” he says, describing purposefully flubbing lines, hiding behind the mic stand, and varied, sundry, and weird ways of entering and exiting the stage. It might be a bit cliché to say Lechler is a “comedian’s comedian”; I think I might go so far as to say he’s a “comedian’s comedian’s comedian”…so meta that the comedy is a study of comedy itself.
It’s an experience that gets plenty of attention for Lechler. His antics have earned him being called Denton’s (where he attended school and performed) “Most Thoughtful Jerk”. Putting his major in Radio, Television & Film to use has gotten him accolades from Variety Magazine, who put him in their 110 Students to Watch for his documentary work on comedians and comedy. He’s taught a screenwriting class at his university; been unemployed in Chicago for 8 months; and spent the customary industry time in Los Angeles, where he worked on the Golden Globes, was a PA on a short-lived Nikki Glaser show, Jim Jeffries’s show, and worked–among other things–as a talent coordinator on the amazing @Midnight through its final episode.
Seeking a break from the pace and environment of LA (“I didn’t realize how worn out I’d been”), the sister city of comedy (along with New York), Austin seemed like the perfect choice. Led by an initial opportunity to work on a television series here, Lechler has since fostered or created so many experiences, projects, and friendships here in the past 2 years that he’s not feeling any need to wing back to either of the Coasts. It’s a city–along with Denton–he’s shared at various times with longtime friend and inspiration Martin Urbano. For Lechler, Austin is also a breath of fresh air, where stage time is more accessible, and people are infinitely more genuine in their relationships than back west.
It’s an environment conducive to iteration and, yes, evolution, which we know is near and dear to Lechler. “The most recent thing you’ve done should be the best thing you’ve done,” he says of his goal of constant improvement. With Cider House Rulz, he wanted to create something that wasn’t a traditional stand-up showcase, and instead focused on more of a “comedy variety hour”. It’s yet another shade of his focus on pushing the boundaries of what people think of a comedy experience.
“The most recent thing you’ve done should be the best thing you’ve done.”
While he created and co-runs the show, he readily admits that some of the best moments come from when he lets go and allows the show to develop its own persona. It’s endemic even the way the show is booked, where half the performers are chosen by Lechler and Katherine Hutchins, and the other half are invited by the performers themselves. For a showcase, where audiences can be notoriously fickle, this kind of thing could easily be a kiss of death, but with the guidance and trust the hosts put in their performers, it all works wonderfully. (Of course, you can’t mention Rulz without a nod to Sandbox, the no-vetting, anything-goes, showcase run by amazing comic, and Lechler’s friend, Rob Gagnon. “It’s like training at high altitude for comedy,” Lechler says, and considers them “sister shows” of a sort. )
Lechler has other projects going, and in the works, putting his production skills and eye for planning to good use. On Hot Damn!, co-hosted by Andrew Wagner, performers spin a wheel featuring hot peppers and have to perform while fighting a different kind of heat. He was tapped by Zach Peterson to book a local edition of the Chicago-based show and podcast Arguments and Grievances, which pits comics against each other in a form of comedy debate. He’s also working on a Twitter-based series where comedy takes place in cars in traffic; you can follow it @RoadComicTV to get a head start on the first appearances. As if all that’s not enough, Lechler is also an accomplished digital artist, and you can see his comics and other creations at RonLechler.com.
Austin has given Lechler a “form of clarity” that he’s clearly grateful for, and it shows in what he gives back to the city. “I’m kind of already getting out of comedy anything I could really want,” he says of the community and the people he gets to surround himself with.
For a man who bases so much on resetting himself, he sounds curiously, and graciously, satisfied.
Stay up to date with Ron Lechler at RonLechler.com, follow him on social media, and catch him at these upcoming dates:
- July 17th: Sit Down and Laugh A While at Easy Tiger
- July 19th: Hot Damn! at The Velv
- Cider House Rulz every first and third Friday at Austin Eastciders Collaboratory