Baron Vaughn Interview / Bridgetown Comedy Festival Featured Performer
If you’re in Portland you best not miss, one, Baron Vaughn, at this year’s Bridgetown Comedy Festival. He’s a renaissance man and triple threat: a trained actor, stand-up comedian/writer, and philosopher/podcast host. Vaughn is a dynamic performer who brilliantly mixes intelligent observational commentary, the absurd, and fun pop cultural references. When you see him live, not only does he leave you in stitches, but you gain an immediate respect for his skill as a comic and his command of his craft and of the stage. You recognize that this guy works hard at what he does.
“Authenticity” is a term which is frequently bandied about in the arts. But that’s a prevalent descriptor for Vaughn as he is what he is –a performer who is true to himself and is in a category and class of his own. I will most likely being dropping much hyperbole throughout this great weekend of comedy in Portland, but in his case…Vaughn is the truth. Baron Vaughn is a must-see and is surely on the cusp of greater things.
We had the privilege of talking with Baron the week before the annual festival. He had thoughtful responses, where he discussed the mechanics of acting and being onstage, being a citizen of the world and society, podcasting catharsis, the definition of blackness, his upcoming BCF shows The New Negroes, and what’s coming up on his hotplate.
Give it a read, it’s good stuff. (we will release the audio in the near future)
Follow him on Twitter
BARON VAUGHN PRESENTS: THE NEW NEGROES – Thursday, May 8th 2014, 10:00 pm – 11:30 pm, Hawthorne Theatre Main
SET LIST: STAND-UP WITHOUT A NET – Thursday, May 8th 2014, 11:00 pm – 12:30 am, Hawthorne Theatre Lounge
THE VERY IMPORTANT SHOW – Friday, May 9th 2014, 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm, Analog Theater
BARON VAUGHN PRESENTS: THE NEW NEGROES – Friday, May 9th 2014, 10:00 pm – 11:30 pm, MailChimp Stage Stage at White Owl Social Club
THE WAHLBERG SOLUTION – Saturday, May 10th 2014, 9:00 pm – 10:30 pm, Sizzle Pie Stage at Eagles Lodge
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! PRESENTS “BLACK MILK” – Saturday, May 10th 2014, 11:59 pm – 1:30 am, MailChimp Stage Stage at White Owl Social Club
ANALOG THEATER EARLY SHOW – Sunday, May 11th 2014, 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm, Analog Theater
TONY TRINH: You have a distinct style. I can’t really think of another comic like you. You blend intelligent observational stuff with the absurd –while being ultra-animated onstage. You’re trained as an actor and have done television, film and have been on Broadway. How has that training and experience help cultivate your performance style as a stand-up?
BARON VAUGHN: I appreciate the compliment, Tony. I trained in theater and acting and it helps me be onstage. That’s first. A lot of stand-up comics don’t think about the whole being onstage aspect of stand-up comedy until it’s the first time they’ve done stand-up comedy. You, of course, have to have jokes, and you have to have bits, etcetera, etcetera. But, being onstage in front of a live audience is a gigantic part of it and I’ve never had a problem with that part. That’s always been the part that’s the easiest to me and I know how to be onstage. The writing, of course, was more important to me because I figured I needed to have a modicum of skill there to sustain myself as a comedian for a really long time. Also, acting –acting is connecting the dots. You are connecting psychological dots of characters given to you and they do this, and then they do this, and then they do this, and it’s your job to connect, logically, the reasons they do those things for the smaller picture and the bigger picture –of the whole play, or movie, or TV show. So you’re always trying to think of what the motivations are behind the character. What the driving forces of them are. And learning how to do that –being taught to do that, is what helps me be a stand-up comic because I’m doing that for myself in my own life. I’m doing to other people I interact with, you know. I have these experiences or have these observations and I’m trying to get at the heart of why people are doing these things or saying these things. Or what they think is going to make happen for them. And that’s basically the same thing.
TRINH: Let’s talk a little about your podcast Deep Shit where you, in fact, talk about deep shit –with friends, colleagues and regulars like Cameron Esposito, Eliza Skinner, and Kyle Kinane. You strike me as someone who is not only self-aware but also aware about the human condition. Have you always been this way or has being in “the industry” made you more enlightened in that sense? By industry, I mean being a professional actor in Los Angeles. It’s a line of work where you bare your soul and personality and the majority of the time will face rejection. To me, not only is it a machine, it seems to be feast or famine.
VAUGHN: Yes. I’ve always been very aware about the human condition but that’s not necessarily because I’m in the industry. But it might be the thing that drove me to the industry in the first place. I guess I was a sensitive kid. I was raised by sensitive people. I was raised by my mom and my grandma and they instilled in me a desire to know other people’s opinions. To see things from others’ points of view and to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. So, to not always get entrenched in my own desires and see everyone, in my way, of what I’m trying to do but that everyone is trying to do something and that…we kind of all move around each other. You know, like a good ol’ jambalaya sauce! So being in the industry is the result of me being interested in why people do what they do and that is also true of being a stand-up comedian. As it is of being an actor. Because a stand-up comedian is reporting to the audience –what they see to be true, what they know to be true, about the world and about themselves. While an actor, being a role, is portraying a story. Is portraying the truth from the inside of it as it’s happening. As opposed to, “This thing happened, to me, the other day!” You know what I’m saying? So, that is those sensitivities, those awarenesses. Awarenesses? Sensitivity awarenesses?! (laughs) Are what drove me to be in the industry in the first place.
TRINH: In a recent episode with Matt Kirshen you went on this jag where you rejected Western dogma and this notion of therapy. But I feel as if these philosophical conversations you have with these people, almost function as a type of therapy. Is there some catharsis happening there when you record these podcasts? You’ve been doing this since 2012, what was the initial reasoning for starting the pod series? What’s the most memorable conversation that you have had doing it?
VAUGHN: Of course, the conversations are therapeutic! Therapeutic AND cathartic, at the same time. So, that’s why I like having them and that’s one of the reasons I started the podcast because I wanted to be able to express these ideas. ‘Cause I like talking about concepts, and ideas, and issues, onstage. But I’m very wary of coming off as preachy. So if I feel like I can’t make something funny, quickly, I usually abandon it. I’m impatient with how fast it takes to make something funny. ‘Cause I knew, onstage, I’d just be rambling about all these different concepts and ideas until they started to find some sort of structure. Which is more of a longform approach to stand-up? But, I feel like I don’t have the patience myself to really go for that yet nor do I have the fanbase. Haha, so I don’t have patience with myself nor would the audience have patience with me as I struggle through these things to find where the dick jokes are inside of them. So I started these conversations because I knew that I could be funny about these things and these things I think are interesting and that I care about. And I knew that if I get a bunch of funny people together to talk about these things –funny will happen. I didn’t want to force the funny ’cause there were a lot of, you know, there ARE a lot of podcasts…especially ones I would listen to when I started doing mine that are very joke and bit-based. Where the people are actually writing out script for their podcast, you know. Especially, if you’re talking about, like, the Earwolf podcasts, like Comedy Bang Bang…had very, you know, a very structured podcast. The Apple Sisters wrote scripts, you know. Obviously, Superego. Things like that. Where they really think about these things and write them. And I didn’t want to have to write scripts because I didn’t have the time. So I was, like, if I just have a philosophical conversation with a funny person it will be funny, you know, and also I didn’t want just to specifically interview someone about, “What’s your life about?” I knew that those things would come up because they inform who that person is, and they inform how they think about things, and what they think about. Which is why I let my guest pick the subject, so, that way, we can riff on it. So, yeah, so those those conversations are incredibly therapeutic and I…I like them. And, also, I don’t necessarily think that I reject the notion of therapy, as much as I reject what informs therapy. Therapy in of itself, of course, is great but the ground that modern therapies stands on, the shoulders, the thinkers, and the science that it stands on, to be what we know it to be as therapy –a lot of that I have a lot problem with. So, I’m not necessarily opposed to therapy as I am opposed to the, heheh, the priorities and values that we think therapy is supposed to indoctrinate into our brains. If that makes any sense. If it doesn’t make any sense, when you transcribe it, please make it make sense!
TRINH: This is going to be your fifth year at Bridgetown. We caught you at White Owl Social Club last year. The crowd loved your energy. You dominated. What brings you back to Portland each time? What can we expect from New Negroes, your BCF show with W. Kamau Bell and Reggie Watts? Not a subtle name for a show. I will be in front and center watching you dudes make white Portland hipsters feel uncomfortable!
VAUGHN: The name of the show itself, “makes Portland hipsters feel uncomfortable,” unless, of course, they know their literature and their history. And they know that the New Negro is the name of a publication that is thought to have started the Harlem Renaissance. So I’m being hyperbolic with that name but I also like that it, kind of, makes people uncomfortable ’cause it makes people think about what those words mean. What IS the negro? What IS black? What IS comedy? What IS black comedy? Right? So, that’s one of the reason I wanted to do this thing because I saw the variety of comedians of color and then, of course, focused a little extra on the blackness, the black people…and saw that we’re also different. That, if we all had one show together it would have so much range and so many layers in life experience inside of it. Plus, these young comics that are coming in…excite me. They excite me. I’m excited to see them. They inspire me and I wanted to create a better relationship for…create a better relationship between those comics and the older generation. Not that we’re the oldest generation of black comedy but, you know, I feel like I had a little bit of a disconnect from the generation of comedians that came before me. Especially black comedians, especially, because I didn’t go about my comedy in the way that I was expected to go about it. I didn’t start in urban rooms and didn’t transition…didn’t cross over into “white rooms”. I just went where people liked my sense of humor. I never pursued a specific scene. I just got booked by a scene who liked what it was that I was talking about. Which happened to be a little bit more of an indie-alt kind of a scene. And I wanted to show these new comics that that’s fine. You know, there is no ONE way. There is no ONE voice. There is no ONE definition of blackness. Therefore, there cannot be one definition of black comedy and people like Kamau Bell and Reggie Watts are perfect examples of that. They couldn’t be more different from each other and they couldn’t be more different than I am, from them. And all of what they’re doing, you know, whether you’re Kamau and you’re making, you know, amazing observations into politics and society and…as the most “press thing” you could say about Kamau is “He, you know, he goes after sacred cows!” Like, the man is talking about his experience as a black man in America! Which, inherently, is political. Where as Reggie Watts is MAKING FUN OF THE VERY IDEA OF TALKING. (laughs) The very idea of communication is fodder to Reggie. And me? Who knows what the hell it is I’m doing. AMIRITE?! Also, I keep coming back to Portland each time because it’s so damn great. Because the audiences are eager and they’re hungry and they’re interested in expansive comedy. They’re not interested in more of the same, more of the same, more of the same. They like to be challenged and they like to be shown something that they wouldn’t have thought could be comedy. And that’s what I like about Portland.
TRINH: You seem to have been hitting the pavement pretty hard. I feel like you’re going to make a big leap in the near future here. You’re a cream-of-the-crop sort of artist and the cream always rises. We were right about Kevin Durant, I think we are right about Baron Vaughn making a name for himself. Especially, with the time you have put in so far. What do you have brewing on the horizon that you can talk about? It has been awhile since Raised by Cable (BUY) dropped, which is a dope set! Another special in the works for you?
VAUGHN: I have been talking to some people about possibly doing a special. Actually, I was hoping everything would be in place for me to do a special in Portland. I wanted to do a special at Bridgetown. Things didn’t work out in that way, so, it’s not happening yet. If it’s ever gonna happen. You know, there’s all sorts of paperwork that needs to be signed, bureaucracy, and distribution deals. And, so, the people that I was talking to ended up having to kind of put everything on hold and I’m not exactly sure what’s gonna happen because I don’t really wanna wait but I like who it is that I’m waiting on. So, whether I’d rather put something out into the world and be, like, “This is me again!” I want it to be quality and the people I was talking to are capable of that quality. So, I’m kind of, right now, stuck between, “Do I just wanna put something out there and do it myself and get it done with somebody else?” Or, “Do I want to wait on the people I really wanted to work with?” And THAT’s what I feel like I’m going to do –is wait for the people I really, really want to work with. So, we’ll see what happens. I have a whole lot of new material and stuff I’m gonna be workshopping at Bridgetown. And I appreciate you saying that, heheh, “I will rise at some point,” because my bank account DISAGREES WITH YOU. But we’ll see what happens.
TRINH: We appreciate your time, Baron. Looking forward to your BCF shows!
VAUGHN: No prob, Trinh-idad. See you at the fest!