This Sunday, Feb. 12, Austin’s own Stag Comedy will premiere their latest show — titled “Ghostly Do-Gooders” — on the Alamo Ritz stage. A blend of pitch-perfect sketch and video clips, every Stag show follows a loose theme, giving the audience a tiny taste of what to expect (though, with a group whose repertoire includes a sketch about Elie Wiesel competing on a Subway-sponsored game show, you never really know what to expect).
“Ghosts are a thread, also cops and criminals,” says Mac Blake, who hosts Coldtowne Theater’s Thursday Night Social Club (as well as The Hustle Show, with co-Stag David Jara, and KOOP’s Mascot Wedding, with several friends). “But the title of the show has nothing to do with either. ‘Ghostly Do-Gooders’ is actually a joke from one of the sketches. I’ll let people find out the context on their own.”
Stag Comedy is Blake, Jara, Joe Parsons, Dave Youmans, Andrew Rosas and Ximena Estrada, a group of friends who also happen to be insanely talented writers and actors with an uncannily similar sense of intelligent, slightly absurd humor.
It’s good that they’re friends first; preparing for each stage show tends to take about five months, two to write and three to shoot and rehearse. Plus, Stag often appears at other theaters around town, sometimes traveling for festival gigs and mini-tours.
"I have to say, there are a few sketches coming up in this show that are probably some of my favorite things we’ve ever done."
“We took some time off after our last big Drafthouse show, in July, so that we could go back to liking each other again,” says Jara, “so after about six weeks away from each other we got back together and started writing. And, I have to say, there are a few sketches coming up in this show that are probably some of my favorite things we’ve ever done.”
There’s no better time or place for Stag to find an appreciative audience; in the past few years, Austin’s been undergoing somewhat of a comedy renaissance, with out-of-towners rushing to join the city’s growing stand up scene (one that’s increasingly on the radar of national performers, promoters and critics) and festivals like Moontower and SXSW launching curated celebrations of comedy on par with more established events.
“I think comedy in general is exploding in this city, which I could not be more thrilled about, but sketch is definitely bringing up the rear when you compare it to stand up and improv,” Jara says.
“I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that you can literally do stand up and improv anywhere at a moment’s notice, whereas with sketch you have to worry about writing and rehearsing and costumes and props, and it’s a lot to consider. But I hope that when people come see our shows they leave thinking, ‘Dammit, that looked like fun. I want in on that fun thing.’ And that’s where the real money is, right? What’s that? It’s not? Aw, man.”
“Sketch is in some ways harder and easier than stand-up,” counters Blake. “It’s harder because you can’t bail on a sketch. If a joke isn’t working in stand-up you can send it another way or kind of make fun of it. In sketch, if a piece isn’t working you can’t stop in the middle of ‘Gassy Doctor Goes to a Funeral’ and be like, yeah, this is a dumb sketch. Why is he eating all those eggs at a funeral? Although you probably should have known that was going to be dumb. Shame on you.
Sketch is easier though because you have a team around you, so you can feed off that support and energy. That being said, Austin has some really solid sketch groups, but it’d be great to build the scene and build the audience.”
"I hope that when people come see our shows they leave thinking, ‘Dammit, that looked like fun. I want in on that fun thing.’ And that’s where the real money is, right? What’s that? It’s not? Aw, man."
Austin Sketch Fest, which is teaming up with Stag to present a showcase at the Alamo over Memorial Day weekend, is a step in the direction towards a stronger local sketch scene. “We’ve done it the last two years and it’s been a blast,” says Blake.
What else is Stag working on? They’re hoping to get more of their videos — which are seamlessly integrated into their stage show, but sometimes hard to find online — out to a wider audience.
“Right now our videos are made to be part of our live show, they’re not really made for the web,” Blake explains. “I think there’s definitely a difference. We’ve been talking about trying to get our content out there more once this show is wrapped. We love doing shows so much. It’s like Tom Sizemore in Heat; the action is the juice.”
“The videos we do are important because they serve as an extension of Stag that can reach outside of Austin,” adds Rosas.
While the allure of exposure is strong, Stag’s got a soft spot for the stage, with members doing double duty in the stand up, improv and variety communities; it’s unlikely they’ll ever give up live shows in pursuit of YouTube views.
“Man, there is no greater feeling than ‘crossing the finish line’ at the end of our shows,” says Jara. “Hopefully the audience picks up on that, too, and has a good time with it.”
Stag Comedy’s “Ghostly Do-Gooders” goes up on Sunday, Feb. 12 and Sunday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Alamo Ritz.