Lando Shepard's Got Something

March 22, 2020

Photo Credit

Lando Shepard

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Richard Goodwin

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Waiting in the wings, either ahead of a set or just enjoying a show, Lando Shepard is surprisingly unassuming. When he walks onstage, sipping from a consistently present cocktail tumbler, there’s no grand transition in his demeanor, no sudden character change. Shepard feels like a friend that came upon your group at a party, always with a coterie of stories delivered casually and with innate confidence.

As a single parent running his own business, Shepard has no shortage of real world experiences for inspiration. One of the rare breed of Austin natives, he’s also in the fairly exclusive club of people named after a Star Wars character. His full, and very real, name is Lando Calrissian Shepard, in a nod from his Star Wars fan mother to Billy Dee Williams’ role in the original (and some might say “only”) trilogy. “Hey, let's name a child after the black guy, which is not cool because he was a traitor,” he jokes, adding “it's kinda hard growing up in the ghetto when you got a snitch’s name.”

In contrast to the gregarious fictional Calrissian, Shepard presents as a bit more reserved, especially as Valerie Lopez starts to dig into questions about his life. “I don’t like talking about myself, [but] a lot of what I talk about on stage is my real life,” he admits. There’s no grand arc of a comedic backstory in his past, he jokes; one evening he just made his way to Mr Tramps to do his first ever set. (While it went very well, the next time he “ate a bowl of dicks”.)

Shepard does divide his run in comedy so far in terms of the early days, and “when I [started] writing”, marking the transition to devoting more time and effort to preparing material. In the continued theme of unique firsts with Shepard, he’s also (our first?) Toastmasters member, a fact that thrilled Valerie to no end (as a member and advocate herself).

When you have a burning desire [to do something], you’ve gotta do it….It’ll eat you up.
Lando Shepard

For those of us who have seen Shepard grow from those early performances and into his current style, it’s not like there’s a noticeable night-and-day difference. His musical baritone and conversational delivery are very much the same, if perhaps a bit more polished. I think it speaks to how, over his 4 years in the scene, what he brings to the stage is still simply an honest sharing of his life and experiences. It’s part of his core philosophy of talking about what he knows about. “I don’t have a Tinder joke, I don’t have an Uber joke,” he says, and feels it wouldn’t be honest to try and patch one together to try to reach the varied age groups in today’s audiences.

Shepard does share freely about some aspects of his personal life that definitely will forge a connection for some, with jokes about his own struggles with dyslexia and potentially autism. As with most of the challenges he discusses, he speaks of them less as roadblocks than benefits. He explains that the traits have borne in his comedy some strategic tools: memorizing his sets, recognizing when the audience’s attention span drifts so he knows when to quickly switch up material. Once he decided to pursue comedy, he simply began adapting and delivering with the toolset he had. “When you have a burning desire [to do something], you’ve gotta do it,“ he advises, difficulties be damned. “It’ll eat you up.”

Being ready to adapt to the audience at a moment’s notice is something Shepard feels is critically important. He sees Austin as a “melting pot”, and the crowds here don’t always represent the kind of reception you’ll get outside the city limits. He structures his material to handle the process of taking the temperament of the room: “Most of my jokes start off as one-liners,” he says, giving him a quick read on whether the content is going to land, and a method to quickly pivot if it doesn’t. When someone consistently pulls this off, without jarring transitions, it makes the whole process seem effortless, belying the experience and work that went into making it look that way.

I want to [be known] as that type of comic that...shows up on time, and is able to deliver.
Lando Shepard

“I still think I suck,” Shepard half-jokingly tells Lopez, when asked about the great year he’s been having. “When I get asked to do something, I [still] go, ‘Wow, me?’!” He lets slip that he’s also been booked for the first time for the Moontower Comedy festival (with the postponement of the festival to September, we expect no change to this great announcement) this year. A lifetime of tackling challenges he was told he’d never be able to manage--being a parent, running a business, going to college--continues to cast a shadow on his perception of his successes.

While he may not emotionally be ready to fully embrace that progress, logically Shepard knows things are trending upward and will keep doing so as long he keeps the heat on his goals. He talks about grander desires, like wanting to book an entire stretch in Atlanta, Georgia, mixed right in with a simpler through-line of building a reputation as a consistent, reliable performer. “I want to [be known] as that type of comic that...shows up on time, and is able to deliver.”

There’s not a drug out there [that compares with the laughter of an audience]...
Lando Shepard

What fuels Shepard’s fires to keep him motivated on this journey? “[The] roar of laughter” from the crowd, he says with a chuckle: “There’s not a drug out there [that compares], and I’ve done a lot!” His focus on getting that--sometimes elusive--reaction, keeps him coming back to the stage, always aiming to make each set better than the last. He remains endlessly fascinated about being “that someone different” in a lot of rooms, and carries that wonder with him into his performances.

The combination of feeling like you’re watching an old friend, yet seeing a completely new side of them under the lights, is a powerful one. For Lando Shepard, his act is almost that he’s not acting at all, and we’re ready to pull up a chair and listen anytime he’s ready to share.

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