Comedian Pat Dixon has a lot to be grateful for with regard to Atlanta. After all, this is the city where he honed his craft in local comedy clubs for years before pursuing greener industry pastures in New York City. Though he no longer resides in ATL, his ability to succeed on stage down here hasnt changed. Last weekend he took second place in the inaugural Laughing Skull Comedy Festival. He spoke to us about his earlier years in Atlanta, his current work on the road, and his impressions of the festival.
How long have you been doing comedy?
I started in 96 but I wasnt a full-time comedian until 99.
What were you doing from 1996 to 1999 that finally made you decide to become a professional?
I was washing dishes at my brothers restaurant, just constantly working on my act. You dont necessarily have to wait for that big break to become a pro, you just have to lower your expenses and increase your income until you reach a point where you can actually support yourself from comedy.
Why did you get started in comedy?
Well I moved down to Atlanta in 96 after my first divorce, and comedy was just something to do, something to keep me busy.
So did the stage become almost therapeutic for you? Was the divorce part of the reason you have a not dark, but sardonic presence on stage?
I dont know if it was divorce that caused me to have this personality on stage, or if comedy caused me to have the personality I do now, but probably somewhere in between.
And after all the years you put into building your name in Atlanta, what made you pick up and move to New York? Did you just figure that if you were going to be big in comedy, New York is where you had to be?
Well, I actually got a second divorce around 2004, and was just kind of looking to move. At that time I was already on the road performing for about 40-45 weeks out of the year anyway, so I was kind of homeless for about two years. Not homeless like I was living in the streets, but just that I didnt have any main residence to go to. I would crash on a friends couch for a day or two and then live out of the hotels that the clubs put you up in. Then in the spring of 2006, I just decided to move to New York.
What are your impressions of whats going on with Atlantas comedy scene now, compared to when you started out in 1996?
Oh man, its changed a lot. First of all, everything back then was the Punchline [comedy club]. There were a few smaller rooms and different places that were trying comedy but all big acts that came to town were at the Punchline. Now its so much better and theres so much variety for places to go see good comedy. Marshall [Chiles] has contributed tremendously and opened it up by really being brave and taking a chance with some of his bookings. There seems to be a strong alt-comedy or andie comedy whatever the fuck you want to call it scene that seems to be doing really well.
What were your impressions on the festival last week?
The festival was great, I really cant say enough about the job that they did in putting it together. Ive been to a few festivals like the Montreal and Aspen festivals, and normally the comedians you see that are the guys nobody knows turn out to not be that great, but the quality of comics this time was great. And there seemed to be a perfect mix of enough going on all the time to keep people happy and entertained, but not so much going on that you didnt even know what to do. I think the number of comics 60 was a good number too.
Was winning your main concern at the festival?
The contest aspect of the festival is something we all dread and thrive on, because were all there to have a good time and tell our jokes, but it gives the comics incentive not to fuck around either. Id actually like to mention that I won the casino night for the comedians. Forget 2nd place in the competition, I won like $100 and bragging rights from casino night.
Are five-minute sets an advantage or disadvantage to an experienced comedian like yourself in a competition? Is it better because you know you have a killer five minutes, or is it tough to even choose five minutes from years worth of work?
Its both an advantage and a disadvantage, you know, you give something up for everything you gain. Its always good to have versatility so I try to come up with 10-15 minutes worth of jokes I might tell, and then as I get closer to performing I can get a feel for the crowd and the judges, or see if another comic is telling a joke too similar to one of mine, and from there pick the best five minutes from those 15. The interesting thing about five-minute sets is that they really level the playing field for new comedians competing against veteran, established ones. Guys like Tom Simmons, who I really look up to because hes always writing and coming up with new material, might tell a joke that he wrote on the way to the club, where as new guys might only have a solid five or 10 minutes that theyve just worked to death and perfected. So new guys can compete with the best in the industry for five minutes at a time, and it really gives them a chance to succeed against every other comic.
Speaking of new guys, were there any comedians that you discovered for yourself at the festival that you were impressed by?
Yeah, tons I had never heard of the guy that won, Josh Gondelman. I had never heard of Karl Hess or Seaton Smith either but they did a great job all week.
(Photo by Lauren Grundhoefer)
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