by Ryan Meehan
It all began in church at the age of five…one Sunday the preacher called all the kids at the Southern Baptist church to the front to ask some questions. When the preacher asked a small tow-headed boy what he thought hell would be like, he calmly replied, “Preacher, hell will be hotter than the Wal-Mart parking lot on the Fourth of July, barefoot.” The church erupted with laughter, the little boy was hooked on the sound and a comic was born. Fast forward 25 years and Tim Gaither has been a comedian for 14 years, 12 professionally, working in 35 states so far and Korea for the U.S troops. In January 2009, Tim made the move to Hollywood. Since the move he has been seen on the Bob and Tom show, won the honor of “Best of Festival” at the Detroit International Comedy festival, become a paid regular at the historic Comedy and Magic Club, Comedy Store, Improv, and Laugh Factory in Hollywood and Long Beach. Tim is also a regular headliner at the Tropicana Laugh Factory in Vegas, where he filmed his first hour special in March of 2013. Tim Gaither has no specific audience, he is hilarious to all ages and ethnicities and he is a heckler’s nightmare. Great material, quick wit, and a wide range of original characters and stories, all spun together with Midwestern charm make his show a must see. More comfortable on a stage than in his own living room, he makes audience feel like he is in theirs. If Tim comes to your city don’t miss the opportunity to check out his show, you will not be disappointed. It is only a matter of time before Tim Gaither is a household name, in the meantime he will be touring the country, enjoying the journey, and doing what he was born to do. We are delighted to have Tim as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: Where are you originally from; and how did you get into doing stand-up comedy? How big of a culture shock was Southern California to you when you first arrived; and what was the deciding factor that finally convinced you to make the move?
TG: I was born in Camden, Arkansas and lived in the metropolis of Hampton as a child. I mainly grew up in Kansas where I lived until 5 and a half years ago when I made the move to LA. I decided to become a standup comic because I was getting close to becoming a teacher, and the closer I got the more awful it sounded to me – It was really starting to stress me out. A friend invited me over and we listened to a Bill Hicks CD. After listening I walked home and thought to myself, “That was the funniest guy I had ever heard”, and at the time I had never heard of him. Which to me meant “I can make a living doing stand up regardless of whether or not I ever get famous”. There was a club in my hometown, and I figured they were all over the nation (clubs) and that I would figure it out. I planned on focusing the first two years on learning how to do it rather than worrying about making any money. I figured I would have a degree and if I hated it or clearly sucked, I would know pretty quickly and could always get a job doing something as long as I had that piece of paper saying I was trainable. I laid out my entire career path that night, after four years of having no real idea what I wanted to do after graduation. The next day I told my counselor my plan, she thought I was crazy but told me I could have a social science degree in a semester and suggested I read “Zen and the Art of standup comedy” by Jay Sankey. Which I did, and always suggest to anyone wanting to do stand up. It should be required reading in my opinion: Very short, easy to read, and very insightful as to what to expect.
I didn’t try stand up until I had graduated, as crazy as it may sound I just knew I could do it and didn’t want to try it, suck and re think my whole plan. So I changed my major, graduated, started doing open mics, and waiting tables, and at exactly the two year mark the restaurant I worked at closed down. By this point I was making a few hundred bucks a week, hosting and featuring some places and doing one nighters so I decided to try comedy Full Time. It has been over 13 years since I have made a living doing anything else, and as hard as it can be at times I don’t see how I could ever do anything else for a living. To loosely quote Richard Pryor, “when you are up there and you are killing, nothing beats it, not drugs, not even pussy.”
As far as culture shock LA did take a little getting used to – the people aren’t overall as nice as the Midwest, though after a time you do meet a lot of good souls. It is way more expensive, and the traffic is something I don’t think I will ever fully get used to. Another hard thing to get used to was all the unpaid shows and awful stand ups who thought since they lived in LA they were somehow better than you, especially those who looked down on “road comics”. You know who you are and you don’t know what the F you are talking about. After 4 years I finally started to make decent money in and around LA due in large part to regular spots at The Laugh Factory and Comedy and Magic Club and now I do mainly all paid shows, but it certainly didn’t happen overnight.
Finally, I made the difficult decision to move because I was tired of seeing people on TV that I considered myself to be every bit as good as. I wanted to become a full time headliner and a draw and I decided I could become bitter and bitch about those things, or I could move to where I was told they make those things happen. I don’t regret it but I don’t think with today’s technology that it is as important/necessary as it used to be. Wherever you live, you just have to keep trying to become better on stage, put in the work and accept that you are going to be lied to A LOT. As well as the fact that you are going to be looking for work on an almost daily basis and have a new, different kind of headache with every level you get to.
RM: How often do people mention that you look a lot like country music superstar Keith Urban? Do you think you do look like him; and could there possibly be a side gig as an impersonator in there somewhere for women in their sixties whose vision is slowly going bad? Can you sort of play guitar and sing?
TG: I have heard it a fair amount, I thought people thought that because I had let my hair get pretty long but I recently cut it. Not super short but quite a bit shorter than it was, and just yesterday I overheard a lady at the mall asking her daughter if I was him. So maybe I do, I don’t personally see it, but I don’t think any sane person thinks to themselves, “I look a lot like the star…” I also get Robin Williams (younger version) and Sawyer from “Lost” on occasion, so I guess it depends on the day. If I had to choose who I look most like, it would probably be my great grandpa. I didn’t know him real well, but I’ve seen pictures and I’m pretty sure that is what the future holds for me.
I don’t believe anyone would pay to see me play guitar, unless they hate themselves and want to prove it. Aside from telling jokes and writing to a certain extent, I have no artistic ability. I can’t draw but I wish I could, I think it’s like a damn superpower to be able to do so, and I play no instruments, I’d like to learn to play drums, but doubt I ever will. I’ve heard it’s a bitch, and unless I’m naturally good at something I don’t have a lot of patience, which is why I will probably never learn another language.
RM: What is at the heart of your passion for wrestling? Do you watch the “canned” product as much as you follow men’s college sport? What does doing stand up have in common with wrestling? And how are they nothing alike?
TG: I started wrestling at age 7 and quit after my sophomore year of college. I was an undefeated state champion my senior year of High School, 30-0. Went to college on a scholarship but stopped after my sophomore year because my heart wasn’t really in it anymore, and I was tired of cutting weight. The average person has no idea how tough a sport wrestling is. YouTube, ESPN and flow wrestling.org have really made it fun to be a fan again, when I was a kid if wrestling was on TV, I usually missed it cause I was on the phone calling all my wrestling friends to tell them it was on channel 19 or whatever, and this year you were able to see every round of NCAAS on ESPN. I just love the sport…College wrestlers (especially those division one guys) are so freaking good, and to make an Olympic or world team you have to be an absolute stud. I remember my cousin saying after I won state that I should try out for the Olympics. I was like “Thanks man, but you have no idea how bad those guys would kick my ass”, as it is a completely different level.
I don’t watch “pro” wrestling. I have nothing against it, it’s entertainment for a lot of people, just not my thing. I guess I liked it as a kid, and I will watch it with my aunt in Arkansas cause she really gets into it which is entertaining. And yes, she knows its “all a put on”, as she says. I hope I didn’t just ruin someone’s life with that statement.
There are actually quite a few similarities to standup, before I go on stage I get the same kind of butterflies as I had before a wrestling match, the same insecurities, the same, “why the hell do I put myself through this”? But now, like wrestling was then, I know I am prepared, that I have put in the time and all my knowledge and experience will kick in without really having to think much about it. Wrestling so long was actually preparation for the career I chose: It’s only you up there, no one watching can help you no matter how much they would like to. There are obviously differences…stand up is usually a lot more fun, but if it sucks it takes a lot longer for it to be over than a wrestling match. There are actually a lot more similarities than differences for me – if it goes well you want to talk to people when it’s over, if it doesn’t you don’t want to talk to anyone. I guess it’s different in the sense that if you try hard in wrestling and still lose, if you “put up a good fight” people will respect you, if you use the “I tried hard” defense with an audience who hated you, they are probably still going to hate you and wish they had their money back.
RM: In your own personal opinion, what’s the biggest problem in the world of stand-up comedy today? Do you think it’s something that will be able to either fix itself or be remedied within the next fifteen to twenty-five years?
TG: Do I have to pick one? Because there are a few, and one is over saturation. There are so many “comedians” anymore and no one to tell them not to be. Social media and anyone who has ever done an open mic or anyone who doesn’t (unfortunately) have stage fright will tell anyone who will listen that they are a comic. Well, putting a Band-Aid on my niece’s knee doesn’t give me the right to say I’m a doctor. Comics who do comedy for a living have worked their asses off and endured a tremendous amount of bullshit to have the right to call themselves professional comedians. I heard someone the other day say “You shouldn’t expect to make a nickel for 10 years in stand up”. Well I don’t know about that, it seems to me that if you have been doing it that long and haven’t made any money whatsoever, you may not have what it takes and maybe you should probably stop clogging it up for the rest of us. I do agree that it may take you that long or longer to find your voice, and you should never stop trying to improve, which is part of the addiction. You never completely have stand up mastered, there are just too many variables involved to never have an off night ever. It does happen less and less, especially after you become successful, but it happens (off nights) to EVERYONE.
And the best comics are usually the ones who know this. I asked Bill Burr (easily in almost anyone’s opinion one of the top three best comedians working today) when he found his voice and he said, “I still feel like I am finding it” which is partly why he is so awesome – he is always working to get better. People who put on Facebook,
“I Just killed it at the chuckle hut.” probably suck. Another problem is all the free comedy. Very few people can do standup, yet it is in many ways the most disrespected art form and all this free shit makes it worse all the time. To quote my friend and great comedian Jason Dixon, “If you are good at it, you make it look easy, so everyone thinks they can do it”, when in truth it is probably more rare to be a pro standup comic than it is to be a pro athlete.
Also, Youtube is a great tool, but it can also be a problem because people can make videos that go viral and sometimes the video is funny, but the problem comes when that person becomes a draw at a comedy club because of that video even though they aren’t a real stand up. Then people pay 30 bucks to see this person and the only redeeming part of the show is the feature act who has been honing his or her craft for 5-10 years in every conceivable environment, then people leave disappointed and in the future think “Well, why should I pay 15 dollars to see this week’s unknown headliner when I paid twice that to see XYZ who was on so and so TV show, or some guy who had a billion YouTube hits blowing bubbles out his ass and they sucked”? The answer to that is the unknown comic has probably earned the right to become a headliner by becoming really good at what they do, whether they have been on a sitcom or not. And in no way do I mean all people who get, or are on sitcoms can’t be great comics, Billy Gardell is one of the best stand ups I have ever seen, but he didn’t get sitcom fame until he had been busting his ass on the road for over 20 years becoming an awesome standup comic. Unfortunately for every Billy Gardell, there are 10 (at least) actors who get a role on a successful sitcom and when it is over they sell tickets as a headlining comedian and people walk out pissed because they often suck at stand up. In the long run selling tickets to make money in the short term to see people who aren’t that good at stand up, hurts comedy as a whole, but people are short sighted and frankly you can’t blame them for wanting to make money. Also there will never be a shortage of people who are mesmerized by someone because they have been on TV in their living room, so these “comics” will always sell tickets. TV makes people stupid.
Another problem with YouTube goes back to something I said earlier – it gives people who couldn’t do stand up to literally save there lives a way to sit in their computer and comment about who sucks and why. It is absolutely ridiculous some of the things I hear people say when criticizing stand ups. Anyway that is enough of that, It bothers me as I sit here and write this, all of the things I could go on for days about that are wrong with stand up. All any of us can do is the best we can do with what we have, and as they say you can’t fight City Hall. At the end of the day trying is often a waste of time, there is a lot I wish would change or that we could go back to, but it probably won’t happen. I’m not sure if it can be fixed, and you would go crazy trying. There are no unions, no real rules, and too many people that either don’t understand or don’t care to. I don’t know if it will work itself out and although I have ideas about how to change some things, I would literally have time for nothing else if I tried. I really do love stand up, though anyone who just read this question may doubt that. It is just extremely frustrating and unfair sometimes, but such is life. I’d like to close this question out on a positive note by saying I do believe that with all of the problems in Standup today, the cream always rises. People are smart enough to realize when someone has the goods for real, it’s just that these days they have to wade through so much crap before they get to see it. That was kind of positive right? Oh well, I tried.
RM: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with Tim Gaither in 2004, what would you say to that comedian and why? And in the present, do you ever think in terms of the future as far as “how will this affect my life a decade from now?” when it comes to certain career choices?
TG: Well If I could go back to 2004 and have a talk with myself, I would already be 5 years in, 3 for a living, so telling myself to quit would be futile. (I wouldn’t listen anyway) I would probably say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Never think any one thing is going to make or break you, and be careful who you listen to. So many people are completely full of it in this business, and no one will ever care about you or your career as much as you do. Not out of malice, it’s just human nature. I’d tell myself that you are never going to please everyone – There will always be people who don’t like what you do, if you make 90 people out of a hundred laugh, don’t focus on that 10 who didn’t. It will drive you crazy if you let it. I would also tell myself to steer clear of certain people you will meet along the way because they will waste a lot of your time, but come to think of it the best way to learn is the hard way. Nothing is ever going to be given to you, and if it is, you won’t appreciate it. And I’d say quit boozing now – don’t wait another 5 years, but chances are I wouldn’t have listened to that either. Oh and don’t forget to have fun, this is supposed to be fun, not just a job.
And as far as the future…I try to live day to day as best I can, as cliché as it may sound, the best way to take care of the future is by making good choices today and doing the best you can for today. Bill Hicks said “there is no future, there is only this moment” and that made sense to me. Sometimes I think too much about how certain decisions may affect me, but when you get down to it all you can do is what you think is right for now. Work hard, treat people right and things have a way of working out for the best, even when it is hard to see how that could ever be the case. We often make things way harder than they need to be. I know I have on many, many occasions.
RM: When it comes to writing, what’s the most unusual place that you have ever had a stroke of comedic genius? Have you lost bits that you know would have been great because you simply weren’t in a position to write them down? How has technology changed that for you, and what type of note-taking app do you have on your phone?
TG: I usually think of things on long drives, and often forget them before I get to my show. I have lost hours of material because I didn’t write it down, or was too lazy to write out the entire thing, or just took it for granted that I would say it perfectly when I had to. My best friend Justin Leon and I have said things in conversation that are funnier than anything we have ever said on stage, sometimes when you are funny naturally you take it for granted. I used to think of a lot of stuff when I was smoking weed, but (and I don’t mean to be funny here) I usually forgot it. Or I would smoke and sit down with the intention of writing ,but after 15 minutes I was drawing smiley faces and my name in block letters. Weed is great for getting started, but not that great for finishing what you started. I remember my friend Chris Porter making me laugh by telling me he would write something, peter out and simply write at the end of it or out to the side-MAKE FUNNY – it made me laugh because I do the same thing. Sometimes I think of things that are funny right before I fall asleep, and then it’s a decision about whether or not I want to get up and write it down. I usually fall asleep. Coming up with good solid material is not easy. I know we could all write more, but the average person doesn’t have any idea how different stand up funny is to bullshitting with your friends funny. So it’s kind of annoying to hear “civilians” say “this guy needs to write more jokes”. I always wanna say, “You need to write 2 minutes that would work on stage in every conceivable environment, see how difficult it is and then judge what that comic “needs” to do”.
Sometimes I write notes on my phone, but mainly its notebooks, bar napkins etc. I have tons with mostly half assed ideas, notebooks I never throw away because I’m convinced one of these days I will go through them. Sometimes I come across an old joke and reuse it, but usually I realize pretty quickly I quit doing it for a reason. I realize I didn’t really answer this question at all, but it’s too late to turn back now and you aren’t paying me for this Ryan. LOL – I feel like a huge dork every time I write LOL, BTW.
RM: What are the most important elements that make up a great comedy crowd? Are there certain tendencies that the really good audiences tend to all have in common?
TG: This may sound like a no brainer of an answer, but the best crowds are crowds that laugh when they find something funny. Hearing those laughs is positive feedback, it gives us the confidence needed to perform to the best of our abilities. It gives us a comfort level that brings out our best, like being around friends you are most comfortable with. If crowds had any idea how much better we are when they are good, they would ALWAYS be good. I’ve heard comics say it is never the audiences fault, and I couldn’t disagree more. Sometimes it is completely their fault. Gallagher said to me one night back stage in Vegas, “I always say the crowd gets exactly the show they deserve” which may have been the single most accurate thing I have heard anyone say about this art form. Crowds that know we are on stage to get laughs, who are relaxed and who don’t take anything too seriously, and crowds that don’t groan – I hate groaners. So if you come to my show and you groan, just know that I hate you. A comfortable crowd is important, being in a crowd at a stand up show has a certain level of intimidation to it – audience members want you to do well, it’s uncomfortable to watch some poor bastard eat it. That is where it is on us as performers to make the audience feel comfortable, by being funny but also by being able to pretend we don’t want to kill ourselves when it isn’t going how we want it to. I have had many shows I didn’t like where afterwards I am told by someone, “I couldn’t tell you weren’t enjoying yourself.”If it didn’t show that I wanted to kill myself and everyone in the room on certain nights, that is in itself, a victory.
Also, crowds that aren’t too drunk. I often hear MCs for example say, “Drink up! The more you drink, the funnier this is gonna be!” Well that’s bullshit, drunks don’t listen properly, they heckle, they talk loud, they are rude, you get the point.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
TG: I am working on a prank call album and I am putting renewed effort into my YouTube web series, a series of hidden camera pranks called “Inappropriate”. It’s a lot of fun, I do a lot of different characters and basically film myself being a jackass and making people uncomfortable. Please check out “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy” (my Favorite.)
I’m working on a new hour special, you can find my current one that we filmed last year in Vegas by going to Youtube.com/timgaither there will be a few short clips and if you want to see all of it, at the end of said clips there will be a link to see the whole hour.
Russell Peters was nice enough to come out and do a short set in front of me which is also on the special. He also introduced me, and I am pretty proud of it. So have a look, I’m probably headlining a comedy club near you so check out my website. Thanks for listening! – TG
Official Website: http://www.timgaithercomedy.com/
Tim on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tim-Gaither/202169116545472
Tim on Twitter: https://twitter.com/gaithertim
Tim on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/timgaither
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