Brendan Gay - Resolutely Focused on Standup

April 2, 2021

Photo Credit

Ashley NiCole'

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Valerie Lopez


In the course of one's life, it's rare you get lucky enough to meet people like Brendan Gay: people who are so singularly focused on their mission that nothing, and we mean nothing, can distract them from their mission. A bit like watching a dedicated competitor on Wipeout, or American Ninja, who resolutely takes every punch, jab, or stumble in the mud, in their quest for the finish line. Except in this case, Gay is not seeking a finish line, he is simply focused on his career as a standup comic.

Growing up in Eden Prairie Minnesota, Gay thought he knew what he wanted: to be wealthy. He felt like an outsider in his own community because he saw others with wealth disparate than his own. He set about on his course to find the best paying job based on his college degree, landing a seemingly promising position as a medical equipment sales representative.

Despite the potential upsides (in terms of the chase of the American dollar) Gay quickly grew weary of the role, and learned a first valuable lesson: "imagine you get something that you want so bad, and you're unhappy". Fortunately, all those hours on the road afforded him the chance to listen to countless hours of podcasts, all by household names in the comedy world - Burr, Maron, Rogan. It was then he realized "I was chasing something that I thought I wanted, which was money. And once you get something you chase, you say you always want to do, you start thinking okay, what do I actually like?". Armed with that bit of insight, and the freedom of knowing what he did not want, he changed course.

I was chasing something that I thought I wanted, which was money. And once you get something you chase, you say you always want to do, you start thinking okay, what do I actually like?
Brendan Gay

The new course took him to Chicago, a city that many (including yours truly, admittedly) didn't realize was a standup comedy powerhouse. For Gay, it was a treasure trove of standup comedy opportunities and, despite the big city vibe, friendly and welcoming fellow standup comics.

He dabbled in improv classes at Second City, but his calling was clear: standup was it. In a true testament to the mantra that ignorance is bliss, at the 15 month mark of his standup career, Gay set out on something not often attempted so early on: a "52 cities in 52 weeks" tour.

The tour brought with it many a valuable lesson that year. Everything from logistical planning, to the importance of building a fan-base (a lesson he learned in hindsight), to the importance of car maintenance. He was tested several times during that 52-week period, but none more than when his car broke down on the way to his appearance, and his on-stage performance suffered from the stress. Resiliency to move on despite setbacks comes up in the conversation several times and Gay offers "When I talk about that resiliency in the past? Dude, you had to keep going. I had no other option."

After the grueling year of lessons (and commitment to standup) what do you tackle next? A move to the biggest of big cities, naturally. Living in New York City cemented several things for Gay, including that "in order to get better, in order to get stronger, you've got to take some pain." But through that initial pain, Gay accumulated several impressive credentials, including Finalist on TruTV's Comedy Breakout Initiative, Finalist in Make Me Laugh USA Competition, and Semi-finalist in NBC's Standup Diversity Showcase in 2017. While they opened doors for him, he admits that the impact of such credentials dissipates over time. He appreciates that it makes it easier to get booked, but he doesn't let it distract from his mission of performing standup.

During his time in New York, he doubled-down on his commitment to standup. As he observed friends and peers dedicate their lives to building packets, writing pilots and competing for coveted writing jobs, he realized that for him none of that motivated him like performing standup did.

There was a lot of freedom in that realization, which was to Austin's benefit when Covid shutdown hit across the country. Imagine being in New York City and not being able to do the one thing, the one singular thing against all the other things you had set out to do. Gay pondered a change of locale, and ruled out a number of other cities until the proverbial dart landed on the proverbial inner bullseye (yes, I googled it, I thought it was just the "middle circle thingy") that was Austin, Texas.

We were fortunate to land Gay's fresh face and obvious talent to our city's ranks. He took full advantage of the plentiful stage time (compared to the fully shuttered NYC stage time offerings) and began landing headlining gigs not only across Austin, but across the state. Gay & I spent a few moments talking about a recent local news story about the "rise of comedy" in Austin as the city emerged from Covid lockdown. (Which we find an incredibly poor representation of how comedy--including Austin--was before Covid, almost suggesting it didn't exist at all.)

While I was focused on the poor research represented by the news story, Gay wanted to focus on the positives of the Austin comedy scene. Of those that jumped on the opportunity to perform on stage or create stage time starting with the fall of 2020, Gay said "when everything else is slow, and someone else is pushing forward, they're gonna move a lot faster".

It's certainly true that those who took advantage of the ample stage time have more room to grow, but those that have been biding their time and playing it safe during Covid are hungry to return to stages; that means the Austin comedy scene is about to be hit by the return of the well-established comics of the Austin comedy scene, whose talents built the Austin comedy scene. Gay's hope for the scene is that "hopefully we can create a culture in this scene, you know, the people that are in it, where it's like, let's all win. Yeah, let's all be better. Let's all get time. Let's all lift this up." We couldn't agree more.

Hopefully we can create a culture in this scene, you know, the people that are in it, where it's like, let's all win. Yeah, let's all be better. Let's all get time. Let's all lift this up.
Brendan Gay

What's on the horizon for Gay? Well, if you've been reading and listening along to the podcast, you know the short answer: standup. But he's also got some exciting news on the horizon for his podcast Send It, which will be moving to Andrew Schultz' production company based in NYC. And he's racking up more and more headlining spots over the next few months.

Perhaps most exciting on the horizon is the release of his as-yet-untitled debut album. A labor of love he's been working on for years. The release is imminent but not set in stone; he's in the process of putting the finishing touches on the 30 minute album. You can almost hear a tinge of sadness as Gay reveals that--like many others who release albums--the release will mean the retirement of the jokes that have seen him through times both good and the bad of his standup comedy career. But if we've learned anything from our talk, it's that the determination to find those new jokes are just another sign of his resiliency. And that's all that matters for Brendan Gay.

Brendan can be seen and heard:

  • Send It pocast
  • The Creek and the Cave - Headlining April 15, 7pm and 9pm
  • The Riot Standup - Headlining April 16, 7:3pm, Rudyards, Houston, TX
  • Roughcut Comedy - Co-host of weekly showcase on Tuesdays 8:00pm, Baker Street Pub
  • Debut Album release - stay tuned!!

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Brendan Gay