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 72020

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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