Best Medicine: Local comedians reimagine the Asheville Tourists’ mascot and name

BATTER UP: Friday, April 5 is the Asheville Tourists' opening day. In this month's "Best Medicine," co-host Cayla Clark, top left, speaks with fellow local comedians about the team and if there's a more appropriate name for the ball club. Also pictured, clockwise from top right, Allison Shelnut, James Harrod and Justin Blackburn. Photo of Clark by Donnie Rex; all other images courtesy of the comedians

Spring is somehow here, and with it comes post-primary disillusionment and highly anticipated warmer weather. As we collectively shake off our seasonal depression, and the light (read: will to live) returns to our eyes, we ask ourselves pressing questions such as “Which hike should I take my dog on first?”

Speaking of dogs, this month I have invited slam poet, comedian and life coach Justin Blackburn to weigh in on several important topics, along with Comedian Couple of the Year for two consecutive years, Allison Shelnut and James Harrod. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing all three comedians perform around town, and while Allison is undeniably the funniest, the boys are pretty good, too.

It’s almost Pretty Good Friday! Pretty Good Friday is a nonreligious holiday during which people commit to having a mediocre day that teeters right on the edge of pleasantness. I like to joke with my friends at the office, “Every day is Pretty Good Friday when you observe the weekend!” It’s a little joke we have; they always laugh. (I should note, I work from home.) But in all seriousness, Easter is almost upon us, which means pricey brunches and plastic egg hunts. I’m not much of a “He is Risen” gal myself, but I do partake in my own sort of celebration. Rather than multicolored, chocolate-filled trash, however, I hunt for DADBOD tags. So far I’ve found 870 hidden around town. What are your favorite hidden gems in Asheville? 

Justin: I like to try and find the ghost of the woman at Biltmore Estate who spontaneously combusted. If you don’t know the story (which may or may not be true — read: definitely not true), George Vanderbilt was lacking in a certain area, so he built the biggest house in the world to impress his mistress, Ida Bertha. Upon seeing the house in all of its splendor and excess, she spontaneously combusted. It’s fun to try to find her ghost. I don’t know the science behind it, but if you spontaneously combust, are you able to have a ghost?

Cayla: Have you tried asking her?

Justin: I have, but she hasn’t responded. She seems a little standoffish. I’ve also tried channeling George to see about building a house for me so I could spontaneously combust, but I didn’t get a response from him either. You win some, you combust some.

Cayla: Or you don’t. Another one of my favorite things to find hidden around Asheville are born and bred locals. They are extremely rare nowadays. Finding a true Ashevillian feels like finding a prized morel while mushroom hunting. (Or at least that’s what I imagine, as mushroom hunting is a level of integration I have yet to achieve.)

When I do find a local, I like to first ask them why they hate me, even though I already know the answer. Then I like to tell them that my partner was born and raised in Etowah, a small town 45 minutes outside of Asheville. Sometimes this distracts from the fact that I personally hail from the second-most despised state in the country (California, second only to Florida). Unfortunately, this tactic rarely works. If I could change one thing about myself, it would be my license plate.

James: My favorite thing hidden around Asheville is people who remember seeing me perform at a comedy show but don’t remember anything about the experience, can’t remember if they had a good time or they actually confuse me with fellow local comedian Ryan Gordon.

Allison: Not interested in ghosts or James’ past. I like hunting in local thrift stores and antique malls for anything that survived the ’90s. I find a good number of practically free Beanie Babies in the bins (while carefully avoiding the Machine Gun Kelly-looking vintage reseller youths whom I am terrified by).

Cayla: Along with not being an Easter gal, I am possibly even less of a baseball gal. That being said, Friday, April 5, is the Asheville Tourists’ opening day. I think that means they walk out onto that little diamond and try to hit that white ball with those sticks for a couple hours while everyone screams and drinks beer. Fun! I’ve personally never understood the mascot. Why are we repped by something we loathe? (Just kidding, this town runs on tourism and we all know it.) If you could rename the Asheville Tourists, what name would you give them, and why?

Justin: I was the one who came up with the name Asheville Tourists 100 or so years ago, and yes, I apologized then and yes, I regret it still to this day. I’d like to formally change the name of our minor league team to the Asheville Landlords.

Cayla: Can you imagine? Going to a baseball game in Asheville would become unaffordable so fast. I actually think the Landlords is a brilliant name. But I might go more in the direction of the Asheville Woo-Woo Gurus. The team uniform would be open linen shirts with wire-wrapped necklaces, striped festival pants and Chacos. All of the players would hug one another before and after the game for an uncomfortable amount of time. (The old Asheville “long hug” — you know the one.) The mascot would be Silly Cybin, a Ziploc bag full of magic mushrooms. He would run around the field picking flowers and handing them to people in the bleachers, yelling things like, “One love” and “Don’t Bogart that joint, man.” I don’t think the Woo-Woo Gurus would ever score points, but I also don’t think they would care. Could be a fun vibe.

James: People who know me know that my main toxic trait is that I’m a HUGE fan of everything sports related. As a sports fan, I think that Asheville should just be glad we are named the Tourists and not something overtly racist like some other teams. I mean sure, some tourists in this town are definitely racist, but that’s beside the point.

Allison: As a person hoping to receive a security deposit back (and it’s not looking too good), I cannot emotionally tolerate a landlord joke right now. (Thank you for understanding.) Now that James has officially come out as a sports fan in print, I am happy that he and I will be able to move forward in our relationship and lives with less shame and more authenticity. I think the baseball team should be named the Doodles and have a live mascot on the field. This way, the bored significant others of sports fans will have a cute dog to look at while they pretend to enjoy the game.

Well, rumor has it that you two, Allison and James, are packing up and moving onto bigger and better things in Denver. Of course, you aren’t the only members of the comedy community to high-tail it out of here. Last year, we lost a great in Best Medicine’s original host Morgan Marie, though she isn’t too far east of here. Meanwhile, Mario Trevizo bounced to Baltimore earlier this month. Allison and James, what are you seeking in the Denver comedy scene that’s lacking here, and how will the local scene shift once you bounce?

James: For me personally, I have loved being a part of the comedy scene and learned so much from many of the talented people I’ve worked with in Asheville. I’ll never forget the Disclaimer comics putting me on my first show or getting to perform with Cody Hughes on his special taping. Also, the Asheville comedy scene is how I met Allison — so yeah, I’m a big fan. What it boiled down to for me was I wanted to move to a city that has a copious amounts of recreational drug use and people who enjoy jam bands. Denver has that and Asheville just doesn’t. Buncha narcs over here!

Allison: I’m honestly pretty worried about stumbling into another scene and what I’ll have to hear at open mics in Denver, but it’ll be worth it for access to big city perks like getting a calzone delivered at 2 a.m.

Justin: The local scene will be devastated with the loss of Allison and James and will not recover. However, if the hilarious Cayla Clark started doing stand-up, that would be a step in the right direction.

Cayla: Fortunately for you, Justin, and unfortunately for the city at large, I have my first stand-up gig on Saturday, April 20. Ticket holders will have the unique opportunity to watch me crash, burn and sob until I barf, live onstage. As is the case everywhere, the comedy scene is dominated by men. I know we’ll all be sad to see Allison leave, as she’s a truly funny lady and human being. Fortunately, we won’t lose the Open Mic Comedy Freakshow at The Odd, currently facilitated by James, because James will be naming a successor soon.

James: I will truly miss everyone deeply, especially those who sign up at The Odd open mic under strange stage names such as “Jimmy 5,000” and “Drumstick.”

Cayla: What would have to happen to the scene in order for everyone to stay?

James: I really don’t think the scene needs to change at all. It really depends on what you want to get out of comedy. Asheville is a great place to start doing comedy and to perform in front of people. The comics here are funnier than in other small towns and the opportunities are there for the taking. Unless you’re a prop comic, of course; then there is no future here. Or anywhere.

Cayla: What’s a prop comic?

James: A prop comic is someone with items that they use onstage for laughs, such as a giant hairbrush, a watermelon or a mullet. Also known as a comedian with a disposable income. Now that I think about it, they can be pretty funny. (OK, I’m saying this just in case Steve Martin reads this article.)

Allison: I agree there are a lot of things to love about the Asheville comedy scene. I’ve heard many a traveling comics comment on how lucky we are to have access to attentive crowds. They’re also impressed by the amount of stage time we get here. So many local comics are extremely supportive and kind. I know I wouldn’t have wanted to start comedy anywhere else. Everything I want to change about comedy is attached to larger social issues like casual sexism and gendered violence sprinkled throughout the material of nearly every new dude open mic comic I’ve ever met. We have a lower tolerance for that stuff than other cities. So most of these comics stop saying the most harmful sh*t pretty quickly, though some stick with it. But I’ve started a public service program covering transportation to Austin, Texas; so I’m sure several will continue the mass exodus by taking advantage of Rogan Roamers. (That’s what I’m calling my service.)

Justin: It would be cool if someone opened up a comedy club here.

Cayla: Yes, a comedy club would fill a big need, for sure. But I also think Asheville’s comedy scene has a ceiling, which is probably the case in most smallish cities — or maybe in every city outside of a select few such as New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. There’s only so much success you can have without traveling or moving.

Justin: Yeah, that’s true. And since most comedians have set jokes they perform over and over in the local scene, a lot of the audience hears the same jokes more than once. I get self-conscious about it at times. I host a funny monthly show at Sovereign Kava, and some months I stick to crowd work because I feel like the audience has heard my one good joke over and over. I do think the internet is a great tool for comedians who are living in Asheville and looking to get booked in other places. I have some friends who have had videos go viral on Instagram or TikTok, which helps them get the word out.

Cayla: That being said, there is an immense amount of local talent here; definitely more than in any other comparably sized city I’ve lived in. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Asheville feels like a small, E. coli-laden pond packed full of big, funny fish.


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