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:

  • 9/21 - Good Set at 4th Tap Brewery
  • 9/25 - Altercation Fest at Kickbutt Coffee
  • 9/26 - Showdown on West 6th at Parlor & Yard
  • 9/27 - Critical Hit! at Spiderhouse Ballroom
  • 10/7 - Shit’s Golden at Spiderhouse Ballroom
  • Listen to his weekly podcast Starring Ryan Gosling
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