Auggie Smith Interview
By Jono Simrin
If you asked Auggie Smith to name his major influences, chances are he’d list the pantheon of ‘80s rock gods before he got to George Carlin or Richard Pryor. On his latest album, Smell the Thunder, he rocks out just as much as he rips on politics. Rooftop got a chance to chat with Auggie about his favorite Idaho bars, his inherent disappointment with Sarah Palin, and what the federal government can learn from strip clubs.
Rooftop: The cover art for your new album, Smell the Thunder, is certainly not your typical stand-up comedy album. How did you come up with the artwork concept?
Auggie Smith: I was a teenager during the ‘80s, which was the worst and best time for music and it was obviously wonderful for glam-rock Ronnie James Dio types at the time. And I used to love the album cover art of that. So that was basically the idea. My whole life, I’ve really wanted one of those concert t-shirts that rock bands have where you have the cover art on the front and on the back all of your tour dates. So I’m hoping next year that I’ll also be able to sell t-shirts with the Smell the Thunder cover on the front and all my tour dates on the back.
RT: In many of your jokes, you gradually speak louder and louder until you’re essentially shouting the punchline. How did you develop that style of delivery?
AS: I spent the first nine years of my career doing mostly crappy gigs. When you go into a bar in Idaho, that’s in a hotel and they don’t turn off the pool tables and you’re the first guy on a cold stage, you get to a point where you just want them to listen to you. I got to a point where I just started doing really stilting ways of speech. I would get really loud and really quiet—basically just to get them to pay attention to me. And as I started doing that, I started to really enjoy the whole yelling and ranting style of it. I’ve really actually relaxed quite a bit. People don’t believe that, but I’ve really kind of slowed down. I take the responsibility of doing the show very, very seriously. The crowd comes out and they get a babysitter. Maybe they go out to eat. By the time they get to the show and have a couple drinks, they’ve invested quite a bit of money to see you that night. And there should be a real immediacy to the comedian’s performance. There should be no slacking off. And sometimes I think that energy builds up inside you. And the only way it can come out is by yelling.
RT: During an appearance on The Bob & Tom Show, you did a bit about seat belt laws and how they exemplify an overbearing federal government. Has Sarah Palin offered to sponsor your upcoming tour?
AS: First of all, when Sarah Palin was first announced as the vice presidential candidate, I was so excited. And then she started talking and I was so disappointed. I wanted there to be substance so badly, but the point of that is any politician that tells you they’re for a smaller government is lying. I don’t want less comedy and strip clubs don’t want less incest. The point is they need these things and politicians need government. If you want smaller government, what about this: hey, don’t run for office. So should people wear seat belts? Hell yeah. Should they be told to do that? Hell no. What control do we have over our own lives if we have to be told to strap ourselves into our own car? God damn. The key to doing any sort of stand-up material is that you have to understand that half your audience, no matter what your view on something is, disagrees with you. The key is to pick out a small facet of it that is either so ridiculous it can be funny or something people haven’t thought of before. What I do is I take my opinion and take it to the furthest possible, most ridiculous point. I think comedy is about making the accessible ridiculous or the ridiculous accessible. So when you take something that seems fairly normal, like the seatbelt law, and then you turn it into the most ridiculous thing possible, then you have something.
RT: Well you certainly have plenty of federal government legislation material to work with today.
AS: You don’t have “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Major League Baseball. We don’t have it in the NFL and we don’t have it in the NBA and we don’t have it in the NHL, but yet nobody’s ever come out in any of these sports. We all know that there are gay soldiers right now, but we only want the cowardly gay soldiers that stay in the closet. We don’t want the ones that are out, because do you know how hard it would be, to be out in the Marines? Holy shit. That has to be the toughest motherfucker in the world to be able to do that. Isn’t that the guy we want? The guy that’s out, not the guy that’s in the closet. It just seems pretty obvious to me, but what do I know.