Brendan Gay - Resolutely Focused on Standup

April 2, 2021

Photo Credit

Ashley NiCole'

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Valerie Lopez

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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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