JT Habersaat: Positively Punk

July 29, 2018


Valerie Lopez


Richard Goodwin


I love it when we get to talk with cre­ative peo­ple who cross medi­ums, and one of the most inter­est­ing com­bi­na­tions is that of com­e­dy and music. Com­e­dy is, in var­i­ous forms, a release, a cathar­sis, or a mas­ter­ful deliv­ery of an unex­pect­ed per­spec­tive. It’s not inac­cu­rate to say that, for some per­form­ers, com­e­dy is the punk rock equiv­a­lent of spo­ken word per­for­mance, and JT Haber­saat and his Alter­ca­tion Com­e­dy Tour absolute­ly embod­ies it. 

For Haber­saat, that wasn’t always the case. He dab­bled with com­e­dy in col­lege, and devel­oped an ear­ly hero wor­ship of the likes of George Car­lin, Eddie Mur­phy, and…Gallagher? That’s a com­e­dy leg­end we don’t often hear, though we cer­tain­ly acknowl­edge his role in the genre, but when Haber­saat rem­i­nisces about see­ing the frizzy haired com­ic bounce around the stage, smash­ing var­i­ous edi­ble con­trap­tions, it all starts to come together. 

With Habersaat’s his­to­ry, which includes run­ning a record label, being a music direc­tor at a radio sta­tion, deliv­er­ing his own mag­a­zine, and actu­al punk rock music shows, draw­ing a con­nec­tion to the inven­tive, high ener­gy, Gal­lagher becomes quite easy. Haber­saat is noth­ing if not a self starter. Tired of the rat race of the music busi­ness, he moved to Austin in 2005 with the barest of plans about get­ting back to the roots of com­e­dy that once cap­ti­vat­ed him. It spoke to his per­for­mance impulse, but with a dis­tinct chal­lenge. There’s noth­ing else [like com­e­dy] where it’s just you, stand­ing up there, doing it”, he tells Valerie Lopez. Spurred on by some friends unearthing some of his old sets on CD, he shift­ed into gear. 

There’s noth­ing else [like com­e­dy] where it’s just you, stand­ing up there, doing it.”JT Haber­saat

True to form, he didn’t take a tra­di­tion­al route to get­ting on stage for his first real comedic out­ings. Haber­saat con­fides that he looked for the most non tra­di­tion­al” comics in town to approach, includ­ing mak­ing a con­nec­tion with Austin names like Matt Bear­den and the delight­ful­ly dark John Rabon, who would go on to vouch for the new­com­er in the scene. Instead of The Velv or Cap City, the only real­ly com­e­dy focused venues at the time, Haber­saat went straight to book­ing his own show at (the now defunct) Head­hunters. Around that time, he also befriend­ed come­di­an Doug Stan­hope, who he call his com­e­dy Yoda”. 

While he views stand up as a quin­tes­sen­tial­ly solo per­for­mance, he didn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly want to go it alone. I always want­ed to apply the band approach to com­e­dy, have my own Ramones”, Haber­saat says, but admits it didn’t work out that way at first. He knew he want­ed build a new career, and that to do it would involve tak­ing some risks out­side of his – appar­ent­ly very spa­cious – com­fort zone. He advis­es, I always tell comics, Say yes to every­thing; wor­ry about the details later’”.

I always tell comics, Say yes to every­thing; wor­ry about the details lat­er’”. JT Haber­saat

It’s the atti­tude that led him to the cre­ation of the pop­u­lar Alter­ca­tion Com­e­dy Fes­ti­val (Sep­tem­ber 26 – 29th). Alter­ca­tion Com­e­dy Fes­ti­val is a cel­e­bra­tion of Habersaat’s self-described DIY psy­chopath” phi­los­o­phy: hand­made badges, $12-a-day tick­ets, and a small venue, to max­i­mize the expe­ri­ence and min­i­mize the pomp. It’s designed to show­case great come­di­ans, to fans of the genre that would appre­ci­ate the atten­tion to the intan­gi­ble details of cre­at­ing just the right atmos­phere to enjoy the form. 

Of course, one project at a time is nev­er enough, so Haber­saat also runs the year­ly Alter­ca­tion Punk Rock BBQ, giv­ing expo­sure to bands from across the coun­try. He has two books under his belt: Alter­ca­tion Archives, a chron­i­cle of con­ver­sa­tions with musi­cians like Hen­ry Rollins, Mike Pat­ton, and Bil­ly Idol; and the new Killing for a Liv­ing. Killing cap­tures tales of deliv­er­ing com­e­dy across the coun­try, and the tolls and rewards endem­ic to that life. When the lights come up after a great show and you have to con­cen­trate on get­ting to the next des­ti­na­tion, there’s a harsh real­i­ty to face: that trav­el­ing com­e­dy is a job, in fact a quite dif­fi­cult one, that requires a stal­wart work eth­ic. It’s in Habersaat’s core, but he rec­og­nizes some­times it can be unhealthy”.

Punk rock to me [now] is being broad­er; I want to appeal to all walks of life. I want to have peo­ple my par­ents’ age come and be able to laugh at me.”JT Haber­saat

In Habersaat’s pod­cast every Tues­day, apt­ly named The Road, he nabs the most inter­est­ing peo­ple he can find in what­ev­er trav­el loca­tion he’s hang­ing his hat on a giv­en day. Comics, toy muse­um cura­tors, snake wran­glers, musi­cians: all are wel­come for a freeform sto­ry, dia­logue, or spin­ning a new song or two. 

So has pro­fes­sion­al growth and time soft­ened the rock performer’s core? Not exact­ly, but it’s cer­tain­ly changed his per­spec­tive a bit. As Haber­saat describes it, Punk rock to me [now] is being broad­er; I want to appeal to all walks of life. I want to have peo­ple my par­ents’ age come and be able to laugh at me.” With a killer line­up of local and nation­al comics at this year’s Alter­ca­tion Com­e­dy Fes­ti­val, a new book & album, and even more projects he dis­cuss­es with Valerie, there’s no doubt he’s work­ing to deliv­er that appeal, to as many peo­ple, across as many medi­ums, as he can. 

Like he said, he’s a psy­chopath, and we’re lucky to have him. 


Haber­saat has so much going on, it’s hard to list it all, but make plans to get out to:

Grab his new book Killing for a Liv­ing, and lis­ten to The Road, released every Tuesday. 

JT Habersaat