by Ryan Meehan
A native New Yorker currently calling Austin, Texas home, JT Habersaat has headlined and curated the Altercation Punk Comedy Tour since its inception in 2008. Since then, JT has acted as direct support for comedic powerhouses such as Doug Stanhope, Brian Posehn, Andy Dick, Kyle Kinane, Joe Sib, Jeanine Garofalo and many more, and remains one of a handful of comics ever invited to share the stage with Black Flag’s Henry Rollins. Habersaat is also a consistent performer alongside many of Stanhope’s Unbookables crew, including Kristine Levine, Andy Andrist, Henry Phillips and Norm Wilkerson. In addition, JT remains a requested support act for many bands, recently performing with such notable peers as Teenage Bottlerocket, Sloppy Seconds, The Murder Junkies, Krum Bums, The Adolescents, Lower Class Brats, Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry, M.O.D., Riverboat Gamblers, Dead To Me, Off With Their Heads and D.C. hardcore legends Scream. JT has performed at just about every major festival, including Fun Fun Fun Fest, Hell Yes! Comedy Fest New Orleans, Akumal Comedy Festival Mexico and The Fest Gainesville. He is also one of six comics ever invited to perform on the nation-spanning Vans Warped Tour. JT has appeared on Comedy Central’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade as well as acted opposite Ron Jeremy in Troma Films’ Toxic Avenger 4: Citizen Toxie. JT is currently signed to Grammy-winning label Stand Up! Records. His debut album Hostile Corporate Takeover was released in 2013 to much critical acclaim, boasting tri-colored vinyl and cover art courtesy of legendary Black Flag / Sonic Youth artist Raymond Pettibon. Habersaat released his first book The Altercation Archives in May 2012, and also contributed a chapter to Chuck Ragan’s (Hot Water Music) new literary collection The Road Most Traveled. JT’s first authored stage play ‘Starting From Scratch’ was performed at the 2013 Short Short Fringe Festival. Most recently, JT appeared in the zombie apocalypse short 17 Minutes in Texas (winner of the ‘Best Comedy Short’ at the 2014 Houston Comedy Film Festival), co-headlined the ‘Inflammable Material’ comedy showcase at the 2014 Punk Rock Bowling Fest Las Vegas, and was tapped to headline Doug Stanhope’s ‘2014 Super Bowl Comedy Kickoff’ in Bisbee, Arizona. He loves bourbon, and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: First off, how was the NIN / Soundgarden/ Dillinger Escape Plan show? What was the most surprising thing you noticed about each of those bands’ performances?
JTH: I don’t go to many of those giant shows, but I have to say all of the bands kicked serious ass. I was very impressed with Dillinger and how they brought their ‘show’ to a stage that big, much less in the goddamn daylight. But they went apeshit. Soundgarden acted like they have been in a deep freeze for 20 years. Last time I saw them was when they opened for Guns-n-Roses on the ‘Use Your Illusion’ tour at Madison Square Garden, and they look exactly the same and sounded even better. NIN had an ambient, minimalist stage show that reminded me of Kraftwerk. Trent’s voice was perfect. Seriously solid show. Most surprising was that they all connected despite the huge space.
RM: Back in the day, it was extremely rare to hear of a band in the punk or hardcore genre bringing along a comedian to open up for them…Why do you think that is the case? Would you say that it is more due to comedy being more conducive to punk and hardcore, or those genres being more conducive to the art of stand-up?
JTH: I think it is still rare honestly. I’ve done tours with bands…people like Riverboat Gamblers and Off With Their Heads…and it has worked well, but I think I fit that niche better than most comics. I come from that world. Most comics I know are terrified to open for a large band, and I get that. You really have to be in control of the situation and your material or it can go bad fast. Bobcat Goldthwait talked to me about opening for Nirvana, and how much people hated him…and he was in ‘Police Academy’! So I’m not 100% sure either is more conducive than the other. It can work, but it’s a challenge, even now. People, even though they may be a fan of both comedy and music, are usually in one mode or the other. Either “Let’s rock!” or “I’m here to laugh!”, usually not both.
RM: What was your first reaction when you saw your picture on the cover of the Austin Chronicle? Do you feel that it’s a pretty accurate representation of the product you put forth in your comedy shows?
JTH: I honestly had no clue it was going to be the cover. I knew the photos were rad, and that Tim the writer spent some serious time with me. I was pretty shocked and humbled. The Chronicle is a big part of Austin history. I’ve put the work in, but it still feels pretty incredible to be given that nod by them as a cultural resource. The photo is more just a visual I thought would be funny and striking while paying a bit of homage to the ‘punk comedy thing’. I for sure don’t use a rubber chicken in my act or wear a costume, hahaha.
RM: What advice would you give to a stand-up comedian faced with the task of performing at a rock n’ roll show for the first time? Specifically, what would you say would be the best way to prevent a crowd like that from turning on a comic?
JTH: Be sure you are a good fit stylistically. If you are a mellow comic, maybe a hardcore show is not for you. If you are a storyteller….which I often am….be careful not to get trapped in a long-winded tale you can’t bail out of if you start losing them. Do NOT do crowd work. Have a set prepared, do your material, be confident and have something to say. Meander and give the room dead air and you are shark food.
RM: Why did you decide to write “The Altercation Archives”? What was the most important thing you learned about yourself while writing that book? If you had to grade yourself on how you typically respond to confrontation, would you give yourself favorable marks?
JTH: I had published ‘Altercation Magazine’ for over a decade, and was coming to the end of the line with it in terms of my interest and desire to support it further financially. Ten years felt like enough. But we still had some rad interviews that had never been published, and I thought it would make a cool book. It took me about a year to write it, and I think the final product turned out pretty good. We just went to our second pressing, so you can get it again on Amazon and as a digital Kindle edition too.
In regards to confrontation, it really depends. I like to think I’m a pretty open-minded person, so if someone disagrees with me I don’t jump right to defensive position. I have also put myself in a pretty good spot where if someone is being an asshole I can just say ‘see ya’ and leave the situation. I used to work in bars and would have to suffer drunk ‘customers’ and their bullshit. Not anymore. Bye, have a nice life, you are someone else’s problem. With hecklers and things like that, I thankfully don’t get many. When I do I usually try to embarrass them quick and steamroll over them. I’m on stage with something to say, not to get into a debate or engage some idiot that wants to argue. Fortunately, most of the people I’ve interviewed or toured with have been rad, so my confrontation with people is usually minimal. And if someone fucks me on a deal with a show, I just let other comics know and don’t work with them again. Move on. Lesson Learned.
RM: How did you go about developing the material that would later become “Starting from Scratch”? Did you ever think “Holy shit, am I writing a play?” while you were doing it, or did it feel very natural to you?
JTH: That was a cool challenge. I was asked to submit a stage play for that, and I used to write a lot of fiction back in college. So it was for sure a weird head space to get into…very alien writing dialogue etc. But I was stoked on the final draft and people seemed to dig it. I would for sure try that again down the road if the opportunity presented itself. The whole performance is on YouTube somewhere I believe.
RM: What’s the most unusual thing that has happened to you on stage? Looking back on that moment, is there anything that you would have done differently?
JTH: Hmmm. When I opened for Henry Rollins we both got heckled by the same maniac fan. That was weird. I think he was off his meds. We both yelled at him and after the show Henry laced into him pretty good when we were hanging by the tour bus and the dude showed up looking to get an autograph. When I opened for Jeanine Garofalo the first opener got hit with a beer someone threw at him. When I went onstage I immediately kicked a plastic cup of water that was on the stage at the person who threw the beer and told them to cut the shit. They did, but I’m not 100% sure that was the right introductory move.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JTH: I’m headed out on a HUGE tour starting October 6th. About 7,000 miles over two months straight. Junior Stopka is going to be doing a bunch with me, and then I’m doing Fun Fun Fun Fest with Jello Biafra and Hell Yes Fest in New Orleans. I also just started www.theroadpodcast.com so the rest of 2014 is going to be insanely busy. I’m aiming for a new album next year hopefully. See ya on the road!
Official Website: http://www.jtcomedy.com/
JT on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jt.habersaat
JT on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/jtstandup
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