The stakes are high and low for Brian Moote

Chad White

The pathway to comedy can be a troubled and harrowing trip. It could take someone years to get noticed. The comedian can start off as a teacher, go back to graduate school, or be a radio host in a decent sized market among other careers.

No matter the medium, Brian Moote is sure to have put his foot in it. The comedian has two or three more degrees than other comics, who have bothered to not even attend college. He’s hosted shows on both coasts, experiencing the rainy weather of Seattle and the chilly or scorching heat of Boston. He doesn’t believe that comedians only “making it” in New York or L.A. The best part about his path to comedy fame is that he’s doing it his own way. Moote recently released an album, Artsy?,  and is currently a co-host on The Bert Show on Q100 in Atlanta. We had a chat last week about standup and working on the radio.

How was the show today?

Moote: It was good. Every morning 5 to 10. Q100. It’s been awesome, man.

How long have you been there?

Moote: I’ve been on Q100 since January 5th. So I took over for Jeff Dollar when he moved over to Star 94.1. I moved out from Los Angeles January 2nd.

What were you doing in L.A? Were you doing just standup and radio stuff?

Moote: I was doing standup and radio. And auditioning for acting stuff. I had a news talk show in Seattle that I would tape in L.A. and air in Seattle on a radio station. Before that, I’d been in L.A. off and on and also in Seattle hosting my morning show for a while.

When did you host that ESPN 710 AM show?

Moote: I was on that station…I started last June and that went all the way up until I took this job. SP I was doing weekends.

So you were just moving up in the radio world after a couple months.

Moote: Yeah. I started in radio three years ago and I was just randomly on the road in Seattle. I auditioned on a morning show and ended up booking it. It was called Jackie, Marco and Moote. It was on a top 40 station. We had that show for about a year. And then the station changed to [alternative} and they didn’t want to have a morning show. So then I moved over and started doing news talk radio and then a little bit of sports on ESPN. And did that from June until I took this job. So it’s been three years on the radio so far.

How is radio different from podcasting and stuff? I’ve talked to a couple of radio people. I’ve talked to podcast people. You’re like the second person that ever crosses over.

Moote: The difference between podcasting and radio is that, for radio, you just have to be a lot more organized. You can never mail it in really. There’s a lot more money in advertising wrapped up in it. You have to [follow] way more of a schedule. And more reliable. I think with podcasting, you can just get lazy and skip whenever you want to and a lot of them just become interviews with the new guest. It’s just a conversation, a chat, between two people. My biggest device for people that have a podcast is have a point to it. A theme, a point, structure, segments so that – the idea if you have a podcast that you could end up on Sirius or other stations like that – just have somewhere to go with it. I feel that some people do podcasts and there’s no way to monetize it. There’s no way to grow and do anything different. The other thing to is that podcasting, when it was exclusive to the internet, podcast people [were] one thing. But now, radio stations are podcasting every show they do generally. Because of the money in that space, radio stations are getting into it, which makes it difficult for a podcast person to build their own following.

How do you differentiate your radio interviews from a show like, if you ever were on, WTF [with Marc Maron]? How would you structure those radio interviews?

Moote: You’re not going to have as much time, first of all. So a WTF interview you’ve got an hour. You can start slow; start at the beginning. You don’t even have to have an objective. You don’t even have to have anything you want to get out of it. Just talking to the person. Generally, with a radio interview, you’ve got maybe twelve minutes. Fifteen if you’re on a long form news talk station. But it has to be interesting the whole time. You have somebody who can punch the dial immediately if it’s boring. And you also can’t just start off with “Hello, how are you today?” It’s less of a conversation and more of you trying to get something out of that person to make it more entertaining. Also, that person who is on the radio is also trying to get something out themselves.

So people just generally don’t go on the radio for fun. It’s usually to pitch something or promote something. There’s more objectives in a radio interview because it’s also happening in real time versus, in podcasting, you could interview ten people in a day and then release them over time. And then you can edit them down. The stakes are lower in a podcast interview. And if someone listens to your show on a podcast, they’ve already gone through the effort of downloading the whole thing and listening on their iTunes or phone or whatever. The process is more [demanding]. They’re probably more committed. For radio stations, it’s so easy for someone to change the dial if it’s boring at all. You have to be cognitive of being entertaining, and no one has an attention span anymore especially with the free entertainment that comes out of your car stereo.

That’s a really well put and thought out answer. It really does make sense. Going along with that same note, it’s like if you don’t have a good standup bit, then people lose interest immediately. Especially if they can see the punchline coming or if they don’t know where you’re going.

Moote: Right. Exactly. It just meanders too long. And the difference is, even in using comedy as an example, podcasting is the equivalent of you selling out a club with your own fans. And radio is the equivalent of you showing up to headline it and it’s half full and they don’t know who you are and you need to entertain them the whole time. Does that make sense? So, if Marc Maron sells out a show, Marc Maron cannot get a laugh for six or seven minutes if he doesn’t want to and just tell a story that’s entertaining and people – because they’re a fan of him – they’re going to listen. But I headline clubs on the road. If it’s the first time I’ve ever been in that market, I can’t tell my longest story that has interesting points but not a lot of payoff because you only have a couple of minutes before people are looking in their phone.

When you’re on the road, are you able to switch gears immediately from radio host to standup comedian? Or are those kind of synonymous?

Moote: Oh yeah. For me, it’s really similar. Who I am on the radio is similar to who I am in standup. My job is to be a third voice, a different opinion, and also to find humor in things. Maybe introduce a different element to what’s happening on the show. For me, it’s not really different. The only difference is that, in radio, you get credit for being funny like you would in an improv show because people don’t expect you to be funny. The stakes are way lower. When people go to a comedy show, they expect you to be funny. When people listen to the radio, they just hope you’re entertaining. And if you’re really funny, then that’s just an extra added bonus. I’ll do things on the radio. I’ll write bits or I’ll come up with an idea for something that’s moderately funny, and the feedback that we get is “That’s hysterical.” Even to myself, I’d say “I don’t know if that’s hysterical.” But you just didn’t expect it to be funny anyway, so you were surprised.

Did you know that you were funny when you started doing standup in 2005 as a teacher?

Moote: I started doing standup as a way beside working with kids. The kids I work with are so difficult – I work with a lot of behavior disorder kids – that I needed something else to do every day. You get out of college and you feel board. And then you get into the working world and you feel board. And you’re looking at men’s leagues to join. Then you’re like “Oh my God. This is awful. No one told me I was going to be bored all the time.” Your friends move away. So I was just new. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. I didn’t even tell stories about working with kids until I was about three years in and I’d already quit teaching kids and had moved on to doing standup almost full time. I just found that those things were just funny to me because of how bad I sucked at teaching.

[laughs]

Moote: I think when you have a bad job you can’t stand and you realize that you made, I don’t want to say a mistake by going to college, but you definitely thought it was going to be more valuable and there were going to be people lining up to give you jobs and they weren’t. It made me appreciate going to open mics. It was something to do besides just going back to my apartment, alone, and sit there starring at a Law & Order episode.

How did you go from teacher to graduate school and doing a masters in social work to radio host and standup comedian?

Moote: They’re all kind of similar in a linear way of one to the next. I went from teaching to substitute teaching when I got good enough at standup to do crumby road rooms all over the northwest. I would sub whenever I had to; Mondays, Tuesdays and hopefully I’d be in some Podunk town Thursday through Saturday. For graduate school, I didn’t really know how to make a standup comedy career [in Seattle]. You move to either L.A. or New York. I didn’t trust that stuff. I still hadn’t given up on the idea of being a social worker or something else but just loving comedy. I wanted to go to the east coast, found Boston college, loved the comedy scene in Boston. I graduated from Boston College with my MFW but, pretty quickly in my graduate degree, I changed all of my emphasis to policy work and fund raising because I think I knew there’s no way I was going into clinical social work at that point.

I was going to be a comedian. I moved to L.A. doing standup and auditioning. Booked a couple of things here and there. Building my road resume. Then, from doing podcasts and from getting better and being on radio when I’m on the road – sitting in on shows – I kind of got an itch for radio. I always loved it. When I had the opportunity to audition for a show, I jumped on it. I went to Satellite and ended up booking that show. It’s kind of a Hail Mary shot at getting as morning show. They ended up liking me so much, they put my name in the show, which is huge. Seattle’s a big market – it’s market 13 so it’s pretty big. Not as big as Atlanta or Dallas or any other the markets we’re in on The Bert Show but… I kind of caught a Hail Mary on that and realized radio is something I loved doing. It’s something I’ll always love doing with standup. They complement each other really well. I just decided I was going to keep a foot in that area no matter what, even when my show got cancel in Seattle. For mornings, when I moved over to doing sports and news talk, it wasn’t a lot of money but I was still doing everything I could to be on air up there while I was looking for something else. So it gradually transitioned into learning how to be comfortable, learning how to be on air, how to host a show. There’s a huge difference for hosting a show, like Bert does with hosting and leading the show, then what I do.

Exactly.

Moote: Because my job is to just be entertaining. Bert’s job is to keep it going in the right direction. It’s almost like sometimes my job is to try to derail it and his job is to bring it back to center.

When did you realize that you were comfortable on stage?

Moote: Pretty much immediately. I’ve never been very afraid of not doing well on stage. Even the first time I went up, I don’t remember if I did well or not. I just kind of went up and started talking. I’ve never didn’t feel comfortable on stage. I always enjoyed it. Which is weird because I always hated public speaking but I think trying to tell stories and make people laugh with jokes that I found were funny was something I enjoyed doing. I don’t remember being [nervous]. Maybe the nervous before a basketball game, if you’re into sports, where you’re antsy nervous. Not “I’m scared of the crowd” kind of thing.

I’ve approached comedy the same way I’ve approached everything which is if you fail, it’s hilarious. If something flops, I tell people at the open mic all the time if they ask me for onions I’d say “What’s thing that can happen right now? You won’t do well on a comedy show. Don’t act like it didn’t happen. If something bombs, reference it; talk about it. Explore why it sucks and people will laugh then.” There’s no point. You’re up there to perform. I think people rush to thinking that “Okay, I’m on stage. I’m comfortable. So it’s not me, it’s the crowd. Or it’s the joke.” It could be a collaboration of all those things. Just enjoy the time on stage. If something you said is ridiculous and unrelatable, then just explore why and why it is. I’ve never been afraid of eating it only because I think it’s funny. Which is kind of a masochistic way of looking at stuff but I think it’s funny to reference that things just took a dump right in front of you.

That’s the best way to look at things in life. For Artsy?, when did you work out the material? What was it like dividing up the best jokes from the worst jokes and saying “This is the thing I’m going to put on my first album?”

Moote: I did an album before that. It’s called early retirement and that was the joke that I toured with for the first four years of my standup career. They were a little bit predicated on laughs, not that this one’s not, but just the stuff you do when you’re new to comedy. I just made it on my own, dressed it up and did a thousand release. I didn’t want to have it on the internet. I feel, with Artsy?, -- it’s Artsy with a question mark because I feel it’s ridiculous to call standup art and not laugh—I came up with the name and concept right after I recorded the album. I was trying to think up a name for it. Comics put in the most ridiculous effort in coming up with a catchphrase to name their album or something so clever, people ask “Why is it named that?”

I was on stage in Salt Lake City Utah’s Wiseguys Comedy Club trying to think up a name. I was in the middle of my set and there was a bachelorette passed out on the table in the front row, head in her arms. And I was riffing on her for being the drunkest person in the room. All of the sudden, in the middle of me saying something, her arm shot up in the air and she double flipped me off with her head still buried on the table. Her entire forehead on the table. It made me laugh, that this is something I’m getting paid to do, is just rip on this drunk bachelorette. Afterwards, I just started making fun of comics and standups being art and that it’s just a silly art. In my mind, Van Gogh and I are both artists. Different mediums. Artsy? Is all the basic stuff, once I started headlining clubs, it’s the stuff I refined over the two, two and a half years of headlining clubs across the country. And being comfortable with having a story line. Not that there’s a story line that you follow every second. But there’s an overarching theme where you follow my life through different concepts. I don’t just jump around. It’s linear. It’s not like I’m all over the place. I wanted to have an album that feels like you’re listening to me talk onstage in front of people with a bunch of jokes and stories. I taped it in Tacoma about a year and a half ago and, because my life has been so crazy with radio, I haven’t gotten around to releasing it; I wanted to wait. Things are kind of settled down for me to actually put some effort into it. And to thinking about the release and pushing it. And I did it clean, too, because I wanted people to be able to play it on the radio or market it more. Which is hard because I’m not necessarily a clean comic all the time. I can be. But trying not to say “shit” or “asshole” is difficult.

It’s smart that you wanted to work clean. It’s smart that you wanted to put a nice, linear story line in it because, even though you say comedy isn’t an art, you still respect it highly. And you still think that it is something that is a good, viable option for you to a). make money and b). to get your weird, funny thoughts out there. You have a track called “Mr. Butt Nugget vs Nickleback.” No one’s going to get mad about that stuff.

Moote: Right. And those all come from stories that happened to me. I think the funny thing about naming it Artsy? with a question mark is that I thought to myself that I was thinking way too hard about what I was going to name this thing. It’s just standup. It’s just being funny. If you take it too serious, you’re doing yourself a disservice and putting effort in the wrong place. I usually think of myself as someone who can have fun on stage in front of everybody. I don’t mind hecklers unless they’re dicks. Usually, hecklers get so wrapped up in their moment and they want to chime in with their own opinions about whatever you talked about. I wanted to make it a fun “everyone enjoys what’s going on” kind of thing.

Along with your comedy, I see that you’re doing some Special Olympics stuff. On Twitter, you said that if you buy the album online, then you donate half to the Special Olympics. How did you get started with them?

Moote: I’m raising money for them for The Bert Show on Q100. I’m repelling down a building. I think it’s such a luxury to sell an album of standup comedy. I think it’s fun. I used to work in special education. I thought, for me, it’s almost a give back thing. I developed a lot of my comedic personality from being honest and being able to laugh at awful situations I had working in special education and learning to have a sense of humor about awful things. A lot of times, I don’t talk about it on stage because it comes off being disrespectful to people with disabilities. But being able to laugh in the moment [is great]. I felt like it was fitting to help raise money for something I’m doing anyway with the Special Olympics. And also to tip the cap to all the kids that I’ve worked with that have helped me to hone the personality off stage which helped me be comfortable on stage.

 

Follow Brain Moote on Twitter, Facebook, listen to The Bert Show, and buy Artsy?.