It is fair to say, Rhea Butcher is putting a number of things to bed. After co-hosting the wildly successful stand-up podcast Put Your Hands Together for over six years, the show signed off from UCB’s LA stages for the last time… in August. Just last year, Butcher’s critically beloved Take My Wife made the unexpected jump from the shuttered NBC streaming service SeeSo to being a direct to Apple original.
Now what lays before the 37-year-old Ohio-native is what came before – stand-up and the open road. “Last time [I was in Houston] was right after the hurricane,” the comic reminds helpfully. “We donated all the profits, actually. We paid everybody who needed to get paid, which did not include us actually, but we paid everyone who came to work. Then the rest of those profits went to the hurricane.”
Despite not having recorded an hour since a self-titled debut album in 2016, Butcher is not racing toward to a second hour. “You know, that album came out, then the TV show came out, then the second season of the show came out, then the tour happened and so it has been interesting ride as far as putting out an album, and putting out a following album. Right now, I would say I could put another album out if I wanted to. But there’s so much… and it's great! People are putting out a lot of comedy whether it's via an album or a special or whatever, but I want to take the time. All those years have been filled with things. The time to develop an hour of material has only really been there until now, for me. So I’m really just enjoying putting it together.”
More so than ever, Butcher reasons, it is wise to be careful about where to focus energy. “Figuring out what I want to talk about because there’s so much obviously going on in the world,” the frequent Conan guest says. “There always is. We have so much access to what’s going on, that I think over the last year or so, my approach to what I’m talking about has shifted in a lot of ways. It’s still personal, because that’s how I see the world. But I also don’t just want to bring bad stuff to people’s attention at an hour stand-up show, you know? I just don’t see that as my job in that hour. I don’t think we need to ignore it either, like it's not there unless I bring it there. It’s an interesting time to be a comedian. My job is to help people forget for an hour.”
At the notion of the night being categorized under "escapism," the podcaster hems and haws. “These words are printed, right, so nobody is going to hear the way I’m saying it?”
“Which is why doing stand up for an hour is such a privilege, because you can hear and see my face when I’m talking about stuff. That’s what missing in modern society – that is what can be detrimental. Everything is to blame, for sure, but for me the biggest issue is we don’t look each other in the eye. We go online and we look at human beings as flat two-dimensional objects. Yes, we had that with phones for a long time – but maybe that was the beginning of it. At least sitting down and writing a letter, somebody had to stop their day, sit down and read that letter. That’s sort of what we’re seeing.”
But touring the country with an act in flux, Butcher seems to be harkening back on why they wanted to tell jokes in the first place: those warm fuzzy feelings of being welcomed into those homes away from home where everybody knows your name, Cheers style. “Houston is not a small city, but I was recently in Fort Worth and a city that size… we used to make fun of them, in that Portlandia style of ‘Put a bird on it.’ But to me that’s where we’re taking back what community can be. You know, small businesses, that’s what’s missing to me – human connection. For 60 minutes I want to do that. Remember, you’re sitting in audience who may not agree on every single thing but we agree that we’re all here and we’re gonna have a good time. I don’t want to make anybody in that audience feel like they shouldn’t be there. My approach is: how can I best literally entertain people for 60 minutes, where they feel good and can walk out and talk to the people they came with. Or maybe new people! And spread a little joy and happiness and love.”
On the two season run of Take My Wife, Butchers repeated mantra appears to be one of immense gratitude. “I was the star, the creator and showrunner. On the first season, I actually worked with a lot of the crew – the director, the DP, who did set design and they have all gone on to make Pen15. So getting to watch them make that show and see all the success they had has been such a tremendous experience. It has been so wonderful to see that, to be part of that Hollywood. Because its so easy to get into that blah-blah whatever, but I’m so happy to see that they’re next thing is THIS. So great! Great to see friends succeed.
“My biggest take away was that I had the chance on both seasons to be the boss that I had always wanted to have. I don’t think I nailed it every day. But I had the opportunity to be a human being about running something. And if I ever get a chance to do that again, I’ll do it again! It was a great opportunity to put a story out there that wasn’t seen before, and now it is out there and a lot of people watched it and a lot of people were really affected by it. And now I get to make something else –It was weird how shit went down, but that’s how shit works in this town. Wonderful thing is now I can just make stuff and not worry. This typically has a negative connotation, but, [my expectations] are on the ground. I have none!”
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On the other side of the coin, the decision to end the long-running Earwolf-produced podcast Put Your Hands Together – appears much fresher. “Its weird, you know? It was a whole host of emotions, no pun intended. It was wild. I feel like it was time. But I also did that last one, and was like: I could keep doing this. But it was full, because it was the last one! Six and a half years - it was the first stand-up show podcast. There’s been more, but ours was the first one. A lot of comics got a lot out of that show, myself being one of them. It has reached a lot of people and I knew that, I knew that. I do miss reaching those people. That’s something I didn’t think about until I was done and everyone started telling me that. I’ll do something else, or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll become a farmer – I don’t know! Make as many plans you want, but the universe has its own plans. You just gotta line up the bat as much as you possibly can.”
With a deep bench of A-list headliners (the likes of Pete Holmes, Paul F. Tomkins, and Sasheer Zamata popped by in the just the final month), the show recorded nearly 730 episodes and often featured the funniest
people in Hollywood trying out fresh material for the very first time. “That show was a [safe space] for me and many comics,” says Butcher. “It was small and intimate, and it felt like you were having a conversation which is nice. We had line-ups that didn’t have more than one straight white dude on them. There was a calendar year where we did not have that. The last time there were two white men on it, one of them was gay! It’s not about points and checking off boxes, it's about the fact that we did that –for at least a calendar year. We
did this thing that how many articles were written about? I don’t know how many people noticed, maybe not many. But that’s the point. You do these things and nobody notices, because it’s just as normal as anything else.”
Beyond inclusive, Butcher signals that the regular crowd at PYHT shared a deep love of acceptance. “People would come in and do jokes that were questionable, and the audience didn’t go out and write these long screeds about them or try to get them cancelled. They just didn’t laugh when it wasn’t funny. It was a smart audience. Like nobody was causing fights or cancel culture or anything like that. It was a primarily queer, young audience of people who came to see a show they felt comfortable at and it grew their horizons also. It was just the comics showing up, it was the audience showing up and feeling like probably, they weren’t gonna get made fun of. That is a huge thing!”
Butcher's performance is scheduled for Friday, September 13at 8 p.m. at The Secret Group, 2101 Polk. For information, call 832-898-4688 or visit thesecretgrouphtx.com. $20-25.