Brandon Lewin Finds the Flavor

May 29, 2021

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Brandon Lewin

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Valerie Lopez

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Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility
Garry Trudeau

In the media world, context matters. I could say the sky is red and you, without context, could say I've gone mad. But if I add the flourish that I am reporting from the planet Mars, then you have the contextual understanding of why I made that claim. And setting aside the absurdity of me being on the planet Mars (is Miss Purry with me?? where do I find coffee??), if I do not share that detail with you, then word of my absurd thinking will spread like wildfire.

And so I choose to open this article with a commentary about context, because many local Austin comics will be reading this or listening to the podcast solely with an interest in how--if at all--the controversy over Tony Hinchcliffe's use of a racial slur was revealed through the release of an edited video clip released by Dallas comic Peng Dang. The short answer is "yes", we do discuss the controversy, along with another where our guest Brandon Lewin found himself at the center of: when a local news channel released a news story about the Austin comedy scene, and played only a small clip of his 5-minute-long interview. A short clip that many in the long-thriving Austin comedy scene took to mean Lewin felt there was no comedy "scene" prior to COVID, but was not at all Lewin's message had the full interview been aired. .

So, with that out of the way, let's meet our guest: CEO of Big Laugh Comedy, Brandon Lewin.

A marketing and Sales expert by trade, Lewin loved comedy growing up. He dabbled in performance when he relocated to Austin from Chicago, but let's talk about what it was like growing up in Chicago for Lewin. Work ethic was instilled upon him from a young age: At age 13, Lewin spent the summer working in downtown, commuting alone from the suburbs of Chicago with only a pager as a communication lifeline. Unless you've spent time in Chicago, it is hard to imagine just how daunting and challenging this is to do as a 13 year-old.

I love love learning. But what I don't like is people telling me what to do.
Brandon Lewin

If you love learning, but you don't love being told what to do, the traditional school and college route aren't likely to lead to a happy life. And so it was for Lewin, fueled by a hard work ethic and an incredibly strong Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EIQ), who fell naturally into sales. And let's dispel the notion of the obnoxious car salesman; sometimes the journey begins with pitching snow-shoveling services to an elderly neighbor. One of Lewin's early tales of learning the art of selling, it's followed by a memory of working in the concert ticket resale market. He realized that he loved "that feeling of helping someone else out to get to a point of being, you know, happy and joyful. That brought me happiness." Eventually, sales pivoted to marketing and a plethora of skills learned along the way - from website building to video (or content creation as the kids say) to relentless promotion. The themes for what it takes to be a successful comedy producer are starting to take form, but it would take a move to Austin before that could truly take shape.

Having also made the decision to flee the brutal winters and concrete jungles of Chicago for nicer climates available to us in Austin, I can relate to the sentiment--expressed by Lewin's daughter--that finally prompted him to leave his roots of 32 years: "I don't want to go back to snow. I want to wear sandals all the time".

It wasn't easy. It was relocating without the certainty of job security. All with a wife and 2 kids. Of that time, Lewin admits "When you truly take yourself out of the comfort zone and you get uncomfortable. It is fucking hard and can be very, very hard." We can predict that the work ethic that has been instilled in him will soon take hold and help him find his footing in Austin.

In 2019, Lewin took to producing live shows. The ticket sales were doing great and his ambition kicked into gear to start booking larger names, but he couldn't get traction with agents who represented the big names he wanted to bring in. The big goal for 2020 was to go all-in on comedy production, and things started coming together when he booked a big name for a 300 seat venue. On March 7, 2020.

We all know what happened in March of 2020. Despite the world abruptly transforming, because he had committed to producing comedy full-time, Lewin launched an online video channel which had a handful of successes. In fact, the show In the Meme Time had been launched as a live show by his production company in early 2020, and became a hallmark show on the video network during the summer.

A handful of other shows were tried, some successful, others not. Lewin kept a level head accepting that--as with most networks--not everything would "hit". The art of success is nimbly adapting to support what works and revise or drop what doesn't.

In the early Fall of 2020, a market appeared to open up for live performance in Austin. Lewin was ready to jump back to live show production. And Big Laugh Comedy was born as a live comedy production company.

I grew up with the mentality of like, every no leads to a yes. Gets me closer to a yes. So as much as people were telling me No, I knew that. I was just getting closer to my goal.
Brandon Lewin

What follows next is the age old supply and demand equation at work.

Lewin observed the demand for live comedy, as well as the supply of comics willing to follow COVID safety protocols. He made a great connection with the manager and owner of Vulcan Gas Company, who wanted to keep their doors open but couldn't operate as an EDM venue while also observing social distance requirements.

The literal doors opened at Vulcan Gas Company and Big Laugh Company, and, by the 4th show, a sellout crowd had been achieved. And the names that Lewin was able to bring to downtown Austin were the names he had been reaching for before the COVID shutdown. So in many ways, Lewin admits that hearing the 'No" fueled him, explaining: "I grew up with the mentality of like, every No leads to a Yes. Gets me closer to a yes. So as much as people were telling me No, I knew that. I was just getting closer to my goal."

For someone who no longer performs comedy, this is much like the comic's life - there are a lot of rejections and no's that can serve as fuel to do what it takes to improve until you get the yes'es. So, for whatever you think of Lewin and Big Laugh Comedy, we can all connect with that philosophy and way of thinking. And didn't lose any of the sparkle in his eye about getting to book some big names in the comedy world. And as a producer, that's important. It's important to keep that sparkle because inevitably, controversy will strike.

A few months ago, the controversy indeed struck in the form of an edited clip of Lewin in a local news article about the Austin comedy scene, and another of one of his mainstay headliners, Tony Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe made a racial slur on stage--directed at Dallas comic Peng Dang--during a performance at Vulcan Gas Company at a Big Laugh Comedy show.

Dang released an edited clip which unleashed a firestorm of controversy, some of which was directed at Lewin for not taking a stronger stand. It is at this point, that I ask people to listen to the interview, not as a plug for the podcast, but for something that is important to me. I do not want to risk misinterpreting Lewin's words describing his responses to these two instances, but would rather have people listen to his words and the feelings behind those words and make up their minds for themselves. Maybe it's a cop-out, but it is the only option that will allow you, and not me or Comedy Wham, to interpret Lewin and decide how you want to feel. We spent a fair amount of time on the controversies, which is why the episode is a bit longer than usual, but we think you'll find it a worthwhile investment of time. And as Lewin closed out our discussion, he noted "there's a flavor for everybody" when it comes to comedy. Find your flavor.

And no matter the flavor of comedy that you choose, know that Lewin has invested a lot of time in learning the art of salesmanship, the art of producing comedy shows, and the art of navigating a controversial field and keeping a thick skin about it all.

Brandon can be seen at:

  • Big Laugh Comedy live shows at Vulcan Gas Company


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