We talked to comedy writer and performer Vic Shuttee just a few hours before the first preview for his play, Brick Wall, at the University of Houston, where he's a student in the theater department. The play, which Shuttee began writing three years ago for a class, follows three comedians, each at a different stage in his or her career, who are performing at a benefit. The action goes from the stand-up routines to flashbacks of the inspirations for those particular bits. Actors playing the on-stage audience become the other characters in the flashbacks.
"I've been out of the rehearsal room for the last three or four days because they've been doing technical stuff," Shuttee tells us. "I wanted a little bit of a surprise, so I'm seeing it in its completed form for the first time tonight, along with the audience."
Even this close to the show's opening, Shuttee is still making revisions. "When you write a play it changes when the actors say the lines out loud. Every day [I've been] changing bits of the scripts...so we're in rewrite number 50 or so," he says. "There came a point where I said I can't give any more changes to the actors or they won't remember anything. Last week I just started making changes for me, for the future. I'm hoping the play will have legs beyond this one performance so I'm continuing to make changes in the script."
What He Does: "I'm a comedian, a writer, a performer and [radio host]. I do a lot of other things like improvising and producing and other things, but it becomes a long, long list. I try not to sound like a jerk so I don't list them all. It's been hard nailing down what I do, because I don't fit into just the acting program or just the writing program. I enjoy all of it -- performing, writing, directing -- all of it.
Shuttee concedes that as with many other artists, people occasionally question his career choice. "People find out you're a comic and they say awful things, like 'You're not that funny. I'm funnier than you.' It's awful. I usually don't know them that well, so I'll say, 'Yeah, you might be funnier than me, I don't know. It's just that I choose to be funny in front of other people.'"
Why He Likes It: "If I didn't perform, I'd be missing purpose. In high school I played sports and I played music, trying to find a place to fit in but the one thing I really had a passion for was comedy. I didn't think about it as a career, either writing or performing, but once that clicked, it changed everything. I have no other way to channel that energy into a productive enterprise, other than trying to be funny.
"I have always been interested in the history of comedy. I love vaudeville and don't understand why there's no vaudeville today. I studied some of those performers and can see where they became stand-up comics and then stand-up comics became television writers, still telling jokes. I love that, that the history all connects.
"I also admire those who do it well. It's a skill set that's so unique, the ability to turn your depraved thoughts into someone else can relate to and enjoy."
What Inspires Him: "I keep a little notebook on me at all times. If I see a guy getting chewed out by his girlfriend, I think 'If I was that guy, I would say this...' I have hundreds of these little notebooks, full of ideas and lines. Some are for a sketch, some are for a full-length play or a movie.
"It also inspires me to watch someone else grow over their career. Watching a young Jon Stewart, back when he was 25 and seeing how bad it was and how nervous he was, then seeing him and where he is today, it's inspiring to see that kind of progression."
If Not This, Then What: "Right now I'd probably say advertising, because I'm watching Mad Men. I know it's a very romanticized version and real advertising is probably nothing like that, but if it was, I'd like to do that.
"When I was growing up I always romanticized being a hobo or a vagabond. I always wanted to be in an O Brother, Where Art Thou script, going from town to town doing odd jobs and seeing the world. It occurred to me many years later, that's really what a stand-up [comic] is, a vagabond who drifts into town, does a couple of jobs and then moves on. 'Oh, I am like a hobo! I'm just a less dirty one.'"
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If Not Here, Then Where: "Chicago. I think Chicago is a beautiful place, but I would probably live in LA, at least for a while trying to get a writing job and doing stand up. That might be where I'll be in a couple of years."
What's Next: Shuttee has a long on his to-do list. "I'm doing a sketch show with a couple of friends; that will go online. I'm hoping to do a book from all the interviews that I'm doing for [my radio show] Hail, Satire. I can see writing a book called How to Make it as a Comedian When You're Poor and Stupid based on those interviews.
"I'm thinking about applying to grad school. I'm sending Brick Wall to some more contests. In the meantime I'm performing around town and writing."
More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page). Robin Davidson, poet and translator Jessica Wilbanks, essayist and Pushcart Prize winner David DeHoyos, astronaut photographer Sophie Jordan, bestselling book author Jessi Jordan, comic artist, beekeeper and yeti enthusiast Patrick Peters, architect and professor Jamie Kinosian, visual artist Paris F. Jomadiao, mixed-media artist and stop motion animator Shanon Adams, dancer James Glassman, Houstorian historian and artist Lou Vest, photographer Sara Gaston, stage and screen star Rachael Pavlik, a writer mom Ana Villaronga-Roman, Katy Contemporary Arts Museum director Erin Wasmund, actor, singer and dancer Karim Al-Zand, composer Jan Burandt, paper conservator for The Menil Collection Deke Anderson, actor Craig Cohen, hockey fan and host of Houston Matters Mauro Luna, Poe-Inspired photographer Trond Saeverud, Galveston Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Khrystyna Balushka, paper flower child Christina Carfora, visual artist and world traveler Sara Kumar, artistic director for Shunya Theatre Kiki Maroon, burlesque clown Gin Martini, fashion designer Lacey Crawford, painter and sculptor Homer Starkey, novelist Jenn Fox, mixed media Shohei Iwahama, dancer Erica DelGardo, metalsmith Bob Clark, executive director Houston Family Arts Center Kerrelyn Sparks, bestselling romance author Lindsay Halpin, punk rock mad hatter Drake Simpson, actor Shelby Carter, Playboy model turned photographer David Matranga, actor Crystal Belcher, pole dancer Daniel Kramer, photographer Blue 130, pin-up explosion art Nina Godiwalla, author and TED speaker David Wilhem, light painter Tom Abrahams, author and newscaster Browncoat, pin-up pop artist Kris Becker, Nu-Classical composer and pianist Vincent Fink, science fashion Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Senorita Cinema founder Ned Gayle, thrift store painting defacer Sameera Faridi, fashion designer Greg Ruhe, The Human Puppet Sophia L. Torres, founder and co-artistic director of Psophonia Dance Company Maggie Lasher, dance professor and artistic director Jordan Jaffe, founder of Black Lab Theatre Outspoken Bean, performance poet Barry Moore, architect Josh Montoute, mobile gaming specialist Ty Doran, young actor Gwen Zepeda, Houston's first Poet Laureate Joseph Walsh, principal dancer at Houston Ballet Justin Garcia, artist Buck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera Center Patrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer Danielle Burns, art curator Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker Amanda Stevens, scary book author Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger Ana MarÃa Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach Billy D. Washington, comedian Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer Kelly Sears, animator and film maker Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director jhon r. stronks,dance-maker Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer