Evan Rabalais Kills on Stage

September 20, 2019

Photo Credit

Natalie Guillot

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Richard Goodwin

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This week’s guest arrives at a par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant time, for a hand­ful of rea­sons. Evan Rabal­ais hails from Louisiana, a state struck with almost unimag­in­able tragedy from Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na. Today, Texas and Lou­siana are both in the midst of what looks to be anoth­er dif­fi­cult weath­er cycle; as I’m writ­ing this, friends and fam­i­ly on the Texas/​Louisiana bor­der are fac­ing bouts of flood­ing, loss of prop­er­ty, and lives put at risk. 

It may seem an odd way to start off cov­er­ing a com­e­dy pod­cast, but Lou­siana – and Rabal­ais’ roots there – are an intrin­sic part of his char­ac­ter and his standup. (Check out his Fun­ni­est Per­son in Austin 2019 set on Louisiana.) Talk­ing to Valerie Lopez, right off the bat he shares mem­o­ries of his fam­i­ly, includ­ing his late father’s sense of humor and sup­port of Rabal­ais’ com­e­dy aspirations. 

The thread of com­e­dy actu­al­ly extend­ed through­out (and beyond) the fam­i­ly; I’m still not the fun­ny one’, in a very fun­ny group of peo­ple,” Rabal­ais hap­pi­ly exclaims about his broth­ers and close friends. While he con­cedes his dad no doubt wished he had a bet­ter pay­ing job”, it was the pater­nal emo­tion­al and finan­cial sup­port that enabled Rabal­ais to do things like even­tu­al­ly run­ning the suc­cess­ful month­ly show Lis­ten­ing Par­ty in Baton Rouge. 

Of course, man­ag­ing your own show doesn’t hap­pen out of the gate. Rabal­ais spent plen­ty of time net­work­ing and doing both open mics and short-form improv to build his skills. In the scene in Louisiana, that meant bounc­ing between Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and even saw him hit­ting Austin to appear in show­cas­es like Sure Thing.

Mak­ing con­nec­tions, and both invit­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in new and old friends’ projects ensured con­tin­ued growth. The emo­tion­al attach­ment to his com­mu­ni­ty also sur­faced in projects like a com­e­dy show to sup­port vic­tims of the flood­ing in Baton Rouge. It was the only way I [knew] how to give back to the city,” he says, and implored peo­ple to please come out and learn to laugh again.” 

Even as he became sure in his foot­ing, by 2018 it was becom­ing appar­ent that Rabal­ais had hit a bit of a plateau in his home city. Baton Rouge wasn’t a big scene”, and he need­ed some­thing more com­pet­i­tive and more welcoming…a city that doesn’t imme­di­ate­ly push you away for being new.” It’s our ben­e­fit that Rabal­ais and his girl­friend decid­ed that Austin was that city. Almost imme­di­ate­ly, Rabal­ais start­ed try­ing to put togeth­er shows, with – as he admits – vary­ing degrees of suc­cess. One show from that ear­ly batch, Crit­i­cal Hit!, is actu­al­ly mak­ing its come­back soon at Spi­der­house Ball­room, with a unique con­cept: 3 comics play­ing Dun­geons and Dragons. 

Today you can also see and hear Rabal­ais in Austin projects like the pod­cast Star­ring Ryan Gosling with Derek Kop­swa, and appear­ing on show­cas­es Joke of Paint­ing and You Look Like. He and Kop­swa start­ed Star­ring after decid­ing that some of the hot air need­ed to be tak­en out of the cur­rent cul­ture of out­rage when a clas­sic” movie gets remade or reboot­ed. The twist, as the name implies, is that what­ev­er movie they dis­cuss has Ryan Gosling in a fea­ture role. The duo hope to bring it to a live audi­ence in some form as well. 

When you do catch Rabal­ais on stage, it’s quite pos­si­ble he’ll tell a sto­ry or two about tragedy or loss­es in his life, all of which are root­ed in real­i­ty. He’s expe­ri­enced more than his fair share of grief, with the loss of a broth­er in 2003, anoth­er broth­er injured in Afghanistan, and a stretch where Rabal­ais says he was attend­ing an aver­age of a funer­al a year”. He even got the news about his mother’s death while wait­ing to go on stage at an open mic. (He didn’t go up after all; instead hud­dling with friends to, of course, delve into dark humor about the event to find emo­tion­al cathar­sis.) So it’s safe to say there’s a deep well to draw from, and he feels that draw­ing from those times in his life is not only ther­a­peu­tic for him, but can also help form a ben­e­fi­cial bond with the audi­ence as well. 

When a crowd is on board with [a dark joke]…I can say any­thing, because we all agree this is a stress relief of a joke,” he says, and it cements the fact that nothing’s too heavy to not joke about.” Rabal­ais even gave the eulo­gies at both his moth­er and father’s funer­als, and gives a wink­ing heads up” to comics that it’s easy to kill at funer­als.” It’s a fit­ting nod to a favorite quote of his father, Ron­nie’s: noth­ing’s too good, or too, too bad, for too long.” 

When a crowd is on board with [a dark joke]…I can say any­thing, because we all agree this is a stress relief of a joke.” Evan Rabal­ais

To hear Rabal­ais tell these trag­ic sto­ries is about as far from a dark expe­ri­ence as you can imag­ine. It’s abun­dant­ly clear that he’s found a place where he has the self-real­iza­tion to be able to joke about painful events, but in a way that brings him relief, and empow­ers him to bring that per­spec­tive to the stage. I’m talk­ing about it on stage because I want you to laugh,” he says, wav­ing away that it’s any kind of invi­ta­tion for sym­pa­thy or sorrow. 

I’m talk­ing about it on stage because I want you to laugh.” Evan Rabal­ais

Be sure to lis­ten to the full inter­view to hear even more about Rabal­ais’ way of approach­ing try­ing life events, and the sto­ry of how he came to grace the stages of Austin. Then get out and see him at upcom­ing events like Alter­ca­tion Fes­ti­val and the upcom­ing Crit­i­cal Hit!. He has a lot to say and bring to the scene, and, in a cliché that I’m sure Rabal­ais would appre­ci­ate, his loss is our gain. — Here are some upcom­ing chances to get out and see Evan Rabalais: 

  • 921 — Good Set at 4th Tap Brewery
  • 925 — Alter­ca­tion Fest at Kick­butt Coffee
  • 926 — Show­down on West 6th at Par­lor & Yard
  • 927 — Crit­i­cal Hit! at Spi­der­house Ballroom
  • 107 — Shit’s Gold­en at Spi­der­house Ballroom
  • Lis­ten to his week­ly pod­cast Star­ring Ryan Gosling
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