Funny Business

Once upon a time Houston was a hot spot for comedy clubs. Now it's anybody's guess on who'll turn out on any given night

Barry is a nationally touring comedian; he's been on Letterman, writes for the New York Times and was a writer for The Sarah Silverman Program on Comedy Central. Barry is doing a one-night gig at Walter's tonight booked by someone who let their friend (a.k.a. "the jackass") start the night off even though he has never been onstage before.

"This is my first time doing this," the kid says over and over, as if the audience should be impressed. They're not, especially Barry, who tells the other openers, Oddo and Tollemache, to take only ten minutes each; they were supposed to do 20 to 30 minutes. Barry is most likely worried they will suck as much as this kid.

How the kid ended up onstage is a good question. A better one might be: Why is a well-known comedian like Barry playing a bar, not a comedy club?

Attendance at the Proletariat's comedy show Mob Rule rises and falls from month to month.
Daniel Kramer
Attendance at the Proletariat's comedy show Mob Rule rises and falls from month to month.
Oddo's return to New York means he'll be parting company with his improv group -- at least for a while.
Daniel Kramer
Oddo's return to New York means he'll be parting company with his improv group -- at least for a while.

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More acts have begun booking themselves into bars and rock clubs. Comedians of Comedy, consisting of national acts such as Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn and Patton Oswalt, toured the country hitting up rock clubs including Houston's now defunct Mary Jane's. Barry and David Cross have chosen to tour bars as well along with other comedians who are carving a path similar to that of punk rock in the '70s. "If punk was a reaction to disco, then the Comedians of Comedy is a reaction to Last Comic Standing," says Oddo.

Locally, comedians have started opening up their own rooms at venues such as Rudyard's and the Proletariat. The Rudyard's Comedy Werkshop mirrors what a weekend show at the Stop or Improv would do, only with all local comedians. Other than the Laff Stop open mikes, comics have little opportunity to get onstage. Brito is rarely given the authority to book whomever he wants, and most say Prelli and Martinez use a rotating cast of favorites. Prelli says this is because he isn't going to put green talent on the stage; however, Oddo would argue his decision is the reason he doesn't have more comedians to choose from.

"It's great to be here. I thank you. Ah, I've been on the road doing comedy for ten years now, so bear with me while I plaster on a fake smile and plough through this shit one more time." -- Bill Hicks

***

In high school, Oddo tried to make people laugh, but there wasn't anything formal about it; it was just what he did. After graduation, he went on to art school in Sarasota, Florida in 1999, but decided he didn't want art as a career.

He tried being an English major at the University of Houston the next year, but that tapered off and ended in 2002. He was 20 when he saw comic Joe Rogan perform at the Laff Stop. "It just clicked in me, like, well, I could do this. "

His dad owns a trucking company -- where Oddo worked year-round -- and his mom teaches art at an elementary school in Alvin, and if they couldn't share his sudden enthusiasm, at least they supported him.

Methodical in his approach, before he ever took the stage, Oddo read two books about stand-up and memorized a George Carlin DVD.

"I put it on my computer and I'd have it running, and then I'd have my word processor open and I typed, line for line, his entire hour set," Oddo says. "I was just interested in the writing aspect of it."

Oddo saw three or four open mike shows at the Laff Stop before ever signing up to perform. He was successful almost immediately, entering Houston's Funniest Person Contest and tying for first place in 2001, his first year of competition.

After that, he was able to choose his time slot in open mikes because he was now considered a "pro." As a newbie, he would usually perform after midnight.

"I'd go outside after I got my time slot -- it'd be about one in the morning -- and I'd go out in my truck and sleep for four hours or write," Oddo says.

Since then he has done well enough to be named Best Comedian in the Press's 2006 Best of HoustonĀ©. He not only started Mob Rule but also The Greatest Thing in the History of the Word, an improv comedy troupe he cofounded while training in New York with Upright Citizens Brigade.

Now his two younger brothers -- Alex, a UT student, and Chris, an on-and-off UH student -- are both members of their brother's improv troupe. Neither does stand-up, though.

Tonight, Oddo is talking to another comedian about the lineup at the Proletariat. It's the first Wednesday in April and the place isn't packed, but it's definitely a better showing than last month's Mob Rule. One heckler is soon quieted, and the night is a success. "I really hope this works out and continues after I leave," Oddo says.

New York is Oddo's next stop because he doesn't want to go out on the road, afraid he'll become embittered.

"When you work in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where you may as well be a TV turned on to Comedy Central and in a bar or some crazy redneck town you never heard of, you may as well have a puppet up there -- I mean, nothing against puppets -- but it doesn't matter, there is no value put in it." In New York, Oddo says, the craft of comedy is respected as an art form.

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