Rob Morris - Architect of His Realm

May 2, 2021

Photo Credit

Nathan Clingan

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Valerie Lopez

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I’m in the mid­dle of a Game of Thrones rewatch, so I have a lot of Lan­nis­ter and Stark and Tar­garyen on the brain these days. When seek­ing inspi­ra­tion for the arti­cle about Rob Mor­ris, I quick­ly land­ed on Tyri­on Lannister. 

Among the many sit­u­a­tions that Tyri­on got him­self out of, one stands out to me. Tyri­on comes to the House of Tul­ly under the cap­ture of the Stark fam­i­ly. Tyri­on comes with many great cre­den­tials (he is a Lan­nis­ter, after all, with their hold on the throne and promise to always pay their debts), and he is brought to tri­al. In a move of bril­liance, Tyri­on asks for a tri­al by com­bat (a move every­one expects will result in the lit­tle man fly­ing” through the moon door). Lo and behold, Tyri­on seeks a vol­un­teer to fight Lysa Arryn’s des­ig­nat­ed knight and Bronn steps for­ward and ulti­mate­ly, emerges vic­to­ri­ous, secur­ing Tyri­on’s vic­to­ry. Tyri­on’s uncon­ven­tion­al strat­e­gy pays off. And in a final cap­stone to the scene, Tyri­on toss­es a bag of gold to the guard who held him in the sky cells pri­or to the tri­al by com­bat. Hon­or­ing his word, emerg­ing not only vic­to­ri­ous but with a loy­al advo­cate in Bronn, and leav­ing behind many in shock that an incred­i­bly bold move would succeed.

If you don’t see the par­al­lel between this scene and Rob Mor­ris, then you may not have been pay­ing atten­tion to what Mor­ris has been doing since return­ing to his home­town of Austin in the Fall of 2019. Armed with impres­sive cre­den­tials (but sans the bags of gold) such as pro­duc­tion staff of Danc­ing with the Stars, Botched, and Big Broth­ers, Mor­ris returns to Austin with a wild and bold idea for the Austin com­e­dy scene: a pay-to-play open mic venue. If you’ve been a part of the Austin com­e­dy scene for years, then you know, the recep­tion to Mor­ris’ idea might not be kind (and indeed was­n’t). Per­haps not as bru­tal as a threat to make Mor­ris fly through a moon door, but it was a dif­fi­cult time nonetheless.

But let’s start with the pre­quel to Mor­ris’ return to Austin. Lan­guage, per­for­mance, and specif­i­cal­ly the­ater, were a part of Mor­ris’ life since he was a teenag­er. With vary­ing lev­els of suc­cess, he might say, but enough that he want­ed to pur­sue a degree in the arts. He set­tled on the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na School of Arts (UNC­SA). His love of lan­guage is sub­tly appar­ent if you lis­ten care­ful­ly to his word choice or his abil­i­ty to set the scene for a sto­ry he tells. It is not that he is try­ing to impress with his vocab­u­lary, but rather he is using vocab­u­lary to punch up a story.

His admi­ra­tion and con­sump­tion of com­e­dy began at an ear­ly age — he admired so many of the clas­sic names of com­e­dy, Rock, Car­lin, Oswalt, but if he heard a new name, he’d seek out their albums to soak in the words and the lan­guage being con­veyed through com­e­dy. He was try­ing to seek out a big­ger les­son from study­ing comics and albums, too. It was­n’t even like I’m try­ing to be a come­di­an. It was like, I’m try­ing to be a per­son. I’m just try­ing to become a human,” Mor­ris says, recall­ing a time that hear­ing David Cross speak about the Bush admin­is­tra­tion changed his own polit­i­cal worldview.

It wasn't even like I'm trying to be a comedian. It was like, I'm trying to be a person. I'm just trying to become a human.
Rob Morris

An inter­est­ing lev­el of self-aware­ness emerges dur­ing his con­ver­sa­tion with me. Most notably that I have this thing about start­ing projects and con­tin­u­ing projects. Long term is not me,” which is refresh­ing to hear some­one admit. Most peo­ple are not will­ing to admit they can’t stay with projects long term, but Mor­ris turns that to mean he likes short, impact­ful projects, which is part of why he real­ly thrived in Los Ange­les and New York work­ing for major tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions because every­thing was based on a sea­son. A very quick, intense sea­son where you give it your all, then move on to anoth­er new show or new sea­son to repeat the cycle, but under a brand new” guise.

One such new project was try­ing his hand at standup com­e­dy. Despite his many years as a com­e­dy fan, it was­n’t until a speak­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty at funer­al ser­vice (we will encour­age you to lis­ten to the pod­cast to hear this one, it’s a clas­sic) that he real­ized all those years of lis­ten­ing to lan­guage, per­form­ing, and pro­vid­ing enter­tain­ment to an audi­ence could come togeth­er in the form of standup. He wait­ed 10 years and final­ly decid­ed to tack­le the LA standup com­e­dy grind. He set aggres­sive goals for him­self, but he was at a cross­roads and per­haps real­ized standup was anoth­er project. Three years into being active in com­e­dy, he set a goal of per­form­ing every night for a month to see how he felt about con­tin­u­ing the project” after that; at the end of the month, he decid­ed nope, don’t like it.” And with that, Rob Mor­ris real­ized he did­n’t want to make standup his per­ma­nent full-time job. Hob­by, yes, but not the fre­net­ic pace of mul­ti­ple shows per night every night of the week, in the hopes you could be one of the lucky ones that lands a Net­flix special.

Which con­ve­nient­ly brings us to a brand new project Mor­ris want­ed to tack­le. Fam­i­ly in Austin need­ed him back home, and he need­ed a source of income. Much like he had absorbed years of lis­ten­ing to com­e­dy grow­ing up, he had absorbed the notion that some­thing inter­est­ing (and suc­cess­ful) exist­ed in LA that did­n’t exist in Austin — the pay-to-play open mic mod­el. If you’ve ever looked at the Com­e­dy Bureau’s com­e­dy cal­en­dar for LA, you would know that the amount of shows and open mics is over­whelm­ing. Add to that traf­fic, then sure, pay­ing $5 for a guar­an­teed oppor­tu­ni­ty to do a 5 minute set – and only hav­ing to com­mit to an hour-long show – can be a godsend.

Mor­ris knew what the Austin com­e­dy scene had to offer and he knew he had a viable idea, and this is where, you real­ly need to lis­ten to the pod­cast, because he talks about being exco­ri­at­ed for bring­ing his idea to Austin in Decem­ber of 2019. His idea was attacked and he was per­son­al­ly attacked. All on top of deal­ing with a dif­fi­cult fam­i­ly health sit­u­a­tion which he did­n’t want to broad­cast. you don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly want to say, I’ve got this real­ly trou­bling per­son­al thing hap­pen­ing. Please take sym­pa­thy on me and embrace my busi­ness mod­el,” Mor­ris states.

But Mor­ris did­n’t give up. He con­tin­ued to think cre­ative­ly and he earned some very loy­al sup­port­ers of the pay-to-play open mic mod­el in those ear­ly days, some of whom have remained loy­al to this day. Since then, he rebrand­ed the name of the room to the ROMO ROOM (a nod to his father), and eased up on the pay-to-play mod­el by encour­ag­ing dona­tions and adding the option to pur­chase a record­ing of the set you per­form for $10.

There are two ways you can 'build the tallest building in town'. You can either spend all your time and energy focusing on you making your building the tallest, or you can go around and try to tear everyone else’s building down.
Gary Vaynerchuk

Mor­ris and I talk a lot about the inclu­sive ver­sus exclu­sive ele­ments to the Austin com­e­dy scene and how by chal­leng­ing cer­tain estab­lish­ments and estab­lished ways of doing things the result was far more inclu­sion. His mod­el of giv­ing comics a chance to per­form every sin­gle night of the week if they want­ed was how he knew he could encour­age a stronger com­e­dy scene. He ref­er­ences a quote by entre­pre­neur Gary Vayn­er­chuk that says There are two ways you can build the tallest build­ing in town’. You can either spend all your time and ener­gy focus­ing on you mak­ing your build­ing the tallest, or you can go around and try to tear every­one else’s build­ing down.” And Mor­ris knew in those ear­li­est days back in Austin, he want­ed to build the tallest build­ing, he was­n’t inter­est­ed in tear­ing any­one else’s down. He want­ed more stage time for more peo­ple. exclaim­ing it’s bet­ter when there’s more abun­dance, you know, high tides raise all ships. I’m like a fuck­ing cliché. But it’s true.”

It's better when there's more abundance, you know, high tides raise all ships. I'm like a fucking cliche. But it's true."
Rob Morris

For years, Mor­ris has been a fan of Dov David­off. A hard­core fan with capital‑H. He got a poster of a David­off album dur­ing his time at Via­com in 2013. When he opened the ROMO ROOM (now it’s in new home at The Brass Tap in the Domain) in the fall of 2020, he lined the walls of the room with posters of many comics, includ­ing David­of­f’s. It was a heart­felt moment when David­off head­lined the ROMO ROOM and signed the poster along the wall. The admi­ra­tion came through, but also the sense of vin­di­ca­tion that through all the chal­lenges of open­ing his orig­i­nal venue to hav­ing his poster signed by a head­lin­ing com­ic at the ROMO ROOM, his per­sis­tence paid off. And among his clos­ing com­ments, he shares I don’t even need the tallest build­ing. Can we just have a build­ing? Can we just par­tic­i­pate?” And he’s got­ten the notice of some very high-pro­file Aus­tinites. In fact, a recent high-pro­file trans­plant from LA, Joe Rogan, men­tioned the ROMO ROOM as part of a con­ver­sa­tion about the Austin com­e­dy scene. A moment that Mor­ris is still stunned by, but is quick to add the work of Bran­don Lewin of Big Laugh Com­e­dy and Mar­ty Clarke at The Creek and the Cave as among the oth­er builders of build­ings” in the com­e­dy scene.

What’s next? Mor­ris says I like to bake. I like to make it what it is. And I’m much more of like, build the ship and let it set sail.” With a thriv­ing the ROMO ROOM, a recent engage­ment, and a plate brim­ming, there are plen­ty of projects to choose from. And a strong pen­chant for bak­ing cakes and build­ing build­ings. Just don’t ask him to fly through any more tri­als by com­bat. Metaphor­i­cal­ly, of course.

Rob can be seen:

  • At the ROMO ROOM Com­e­dy Club 


Fol­low Rob Mor­ris and the ROMO ROOM Com­e­dy Club

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Rob Morris