A superlative example of the classic stand-up entertainer, Tampa's Tony Gaud began cutting his teeth in comedy clubs before telling jokes into a mic became cool again. Gaud, 47, was an actor and band frontman before he found his calling, and those experiences informed a style that has served him well. CL caught up with Gaud between his busy road schedule and writing material for a new show.
So were you out of town this past weekend?
TG: This past weekend, I was hosting over at the Improv. I used to be the regular host, house MC, I don't host that often, but I had an opening and it was nice to be back.
You're going on, what, 20 years now?
Since 1999, so going on 17 years now, yeah. I started in May of 1999. I don't have the exact date, a lot of these guys remember the very first time they stepped on stage.
But do you remember why you stepped on stage?
I was studying acting, doing some stage acting, small, arty things, and I basically ran out of money for acting classes. So I did the next best thing, I went to an open mic, started working on my characters. And I wished I'd found it sooner. It just fit, it felt right. And it just sort of snowballed from there.
How has doing stand-up changed in the years since you started doing it?
I think the biggest change would be because of technology, technology's the biggest change in the world of comedy. The access to material, the access to comics, the access to industry as well. It's changed in that way as far as how to access information, and it's also changed the comedy. It used to be where observational comedy was huge, and you had to go to a club, see this person performing, listen to them talk about what's happened in the last week, the past month.
Now, you turn on your computer, you open your phone, social media has got it covered. So the comic has to say something that's not being said every day, every minute. It's made for smarter comics, and it's also made for a lot of cheap laughs from comics that don't want to work that hard.
But no, the access is the biggest change.
Do you feel like you have to take advantage of all the available options for exposure, from podcasts to videos, etc.?
That is an excellent question. No, I don't, personally. I know that a lot of younger comics come in, and basically it goes with the technology, that goes hand in hand. They're taking advice from articles written by people they don't know that say you have to do this. The thing about the podcasts and all that, that's great if you want to do those things, if that's where you want to reach your audience. If you have a talent for that and apply your talents to that format, that's great. If you're forcing yourself, it's just a waste of time, really. And I think a lot of younger comics aren't really historically savvy. What they're doing is the same thing [that's always been done], just in a different format. They're doing public access — you're just doing it on your computer now, and we used to do it in the studio downtown.
But no, I personally don't feel pressured to do those things. I'm not selling myself as simply one brand that does all these things that are just like everything else. I'm selling myself as an artist — here's my latest work, I hope you enjoy it. It might come out on audio, it might come out on video, it might be a one man show. But the format is based on how I want to reach the audience.
But I know you do improv, you know crowd work, and these other things. Do you think that's a sign of where comedy has evolved in recent years, blurring the lines between disciplines?
A lot of the crowd work stuff — generally, when I'm doing a performance, if I'm doing a straight performance or a feature performance, I go up with the intention of just performing the show. If the crowd reacts positively, I may lead in to some of the material by making a reference or communicating with the crowd. But generally, I don't think you have to do that. I do think a lot of the audience, the access is so different now, the audience can contact you as you're performing — you'll feel your phone vibrate, there's a guy tweeting you while you're onstage. So it's very different.
You as the artist have to define the relationship. OK, this is an artist-fan relationship, or you're open to [interaction] and are basically catering to what they want, as opposed to, they're here because they want what I've got.
Do you see yourself more as an old-school stand-up?
Um, well ... I think my age is starting to show on that score [laughs]. I think some of that is not so much as a comic, but as an old-school performer. Some of those ideas were already implemented by the time I started doing comedy, when I was doing theater or music. When I was fronting a band, it was understood the guy was gonna jump off the stage. But I also think some stuff was already defined for comedy when I started. Over the years the perception is there's always gonna be a heckler, or an outburst, or something's gonna happen. So people tend to respond to what they heard [or assume] about crowds. But I definitely have an old-school mentality.
Do you have a preference of comedy clubs over so-called alternative venues?
My only real criteria is that the audience responds with respect to the act. Generally, you have a lower degee of success for that to happen at a bar show, because it's at a bar. There's a mentality that walked into the door — it's not the people, if the same people go somewhere else, there's a different mentality. I don't have anything against any venue, as long as they're set up to do a show, they've done the work. But my preference would be clubs and smaller theaters, you know? Anything between 150 to 500 to 1000 seats, and I'm comfortable in that zone. Those are my comfort zones, as far as the audience [goes].
How important is touring these days to stand-ups?
I think if you call yourself a stand-up comedian, that you should have some road on you. I think that's essential. You could be a comedic writer, you could do those things in your hometown, you can put out comedic material and content online. But if you haven't toured to some extent, at least regionally, I don't feel like you can call yourself a true stand-up comedian, because you haven't performed in front of enough audiences to say, I know this, I can read people.
If you can reach the same people in your hometown, you've figured them out. It's like making the people at work laugh, you know what the vibe is. But if you can go in front of a room of strangers in California, or up to Canada and back, and make them laugh, then you've connected on a different level. That's a successful stand-up comedian. You have to have some extent of touring. Even if it's just a short time. You gotta go to the Ha-Ha Hole in wherever at least once [laughs]. That's the true nature of what everyone is trying to achieve — can you go from place to place and make these strangers laugh? In your hometown, you all know who's the mayor, the bad roads, the good roads — that's easy. It's when you take your idea to another place, and say, this is what I think, and they laugh — that's when you start to figure it out.