Dear readers, each month I work moderately hard to bring you the hottest takes on all things Western North Carolina from my favorite Asheville funny folks. But now that the Western Carolina well of talent has seemingly run dry, I’ve turned to out-of-towners to hear what they have to say about our area.
April Fools! (About the dried-up well part, at least.) There are still plenty of untapped Western North Carolina funny folks dying to grace the pages of “Best Medicine.” (Or so I assume.) However, I did want to mix in some new fools this April, if only to keep things spicy. So, I called up a few out-of-town comics to find out what non-Western Carolinians think of our fair city: Are we too crunchy? Not crunchy enough?
One of our contributors this month, Katie Hughes, actually grew up in Flat Rock and cut her teeth in the Asheville comedy scene before moving to Atlanta, where she has performed for several years. She’s spent the past few months temporarily back home as she prepares for a move to Los Angeles, giving her plenty of time to get reacclimated with her Appalachian roots (for better or for worse).
Our other two contributors, David Bakker and Alexis Ramirez, hail from Greenville, S.C. David and Alexis are regulars in the Asheville comedy scene, often escaping the grips of their home community to venture up the mountain to our kombucha-soaked city — listening to each other’s respective podcasts on the drive, I imagine.
Bost: This month Xpress is all about sustainability. While I know my editor is craving comedic takes on paper straws and electric vehicles, for most comics, sustainability refers to how to survive on drink tickets, exposure and a quarter-tank of gas for two weeks. Out-of-towners, how does one sustain any kind of lifestyle on a comedian’s “salary”? And do you think Asheville lives up to its crunchy reputation of hugging trees and criminalizing plastic?
Katie Hughes: If you want to be a touring comedian, I highly recommend getting a Prius. It cuts down on the cost of gas when I’m on the road by myself. And if I’m traveling with friends, they’d rather take their car. It’s a real win-win situation.
It feels like the folks I know in Asheville lead lifestyles that are committed to consuming less, but it’s hard to tell if that’s a personal choice for the greater good or due to a financial hardship. Either way, it’s nice to be around people who shower as infrequently as I do.
David Bakker: Sustainability isn’t a word I think about a lot. I don’t even know how to recycle. (I’m sorry, Asheville.) In fact, sustainability is the opposite of how I live. I get obsessed with things and overdo them. Performing stand-up is one of those things. Cook Out drive-thru at 2 a.m. is one of those things. Norm MacDonald YouTube rabbit holes are one of those things. Sleep and grocery shopping are not.
Comedy doesn’t feel sustainable, but fortunately, I love it. That’s why I haven’t imploded yet. If I had to survive on a comedian’s salary, I’d be dead. Thankfully, I’m employed at a good corporate day job, so I’m doing “fine” (though I’m not so sure about my soul).
I love Asheville’s crunchy reputation, and I’m sure it lives up to its sustainability mantras. But as someone who may have killed a lot of sea turtles, I’m not the best person to ask.
Alexis Ramirez: I pride myself in not needing much to be happy, probably because I’ve never had that much. It’s not hard to sustain a life driven by nicotine and self-hatred. I mostly rely on favors from guys that can’t really decide if they like being around me (cough, David, cough). My car literally burns oil (sorry Earth), so just by riding with someone else, I feel like I’m doing sustainability like Asheville’s crunchiest granola type.
Bost: The secret to financial savings is to take full advantage of free open-mic pizza. (Note: I said financial savings, nothing of your digestive system.) This really cuts down on grocery store excursions, though Ingles’ subs are another cost-saving solution. (I refuse, however, to continue referencing Ingles in this column until they respond to my multiple requests to become a brand ambassador.) For the over-30 comedian like myself, remember that choosing a Ninja Turtle diet requires a steady supply of Lactaid … so be sure to include that when balancing your budget.
Bost: Speaking of reputations, if you were hired to lure tourists to the city of Asheville, what would you say? Despite our, at times, contentious relationship with out-of-towners, tourism drives a lot of our area’s economy. Since you all have had the tourist experience here yourselves, how would you sell WNC to potential visitors?
Hughes: I would lure tourists with legal marijuana. So … I guess I’d legalize marijuana, open some dispensaries and watch as Asheville raked in that sweet, sweet weed tourism money and tax dollars. Then we could fix the roads. OMG, did I just announce my campaign for mayor?
My day job is in advertising, but I don’t think I could do a better job of selling WNC to the rest of the world than whoever’s currently in charge of that now. The sprawl is here and unstoppable. (Is that too bleak? I’m gonna go eat at Culver’s to feel better, brb.)
Bakker: If I were hired to lure tourists to Asheville, I would start with the kava. I tried it for the first time a few weeks ago, and it was terrible. It made my tongue feel like it was growing hair, and I was sure I had broken my sobriety. But the smiling face of the bartender who handed it to me would make a good postcard.
Bost: It seems I should skip this question entirely, but when have I ever shied away from sharing my unwarranted opinions with the masses? As an Asheville local and lifelong North Carolinian, I will harken back to my perspectives of the city as a mere tourist, prior to becoming Western Carolina’s favorite print media comic.
I’ve been visiting WNC since my youth, though I was always jealous of the affluent kids that jet off to Myrtle Beach for the holidays. While a student at Appalachian State, I’d often make the journey to the big city of Asheville to take in what felt like “Big Boone.” That’s how I viewed Asheville before moving here; the bigger, wealthier, sister city to Boone — with more crystals and fewer college kids.
Turns out I was half right. In Asheville, there is certainly no shortage of crystals or college kids, often found together! Prospective residents beware: Prior to moving to Asheville I had no interest in astrology or crystals, but now, nearly seven years later, I have yet to write one column without mentioning something like the fact that we are currently in Mercury retrograde.
Bost: WNC has a thriving comedy scene. Once described by only me as “the Chicago of the Appalachians,*” it’s to be expected that others would flock to Asheville, eager to drink from the well of talent, creativity and wiener humor. With live comedy happening nearly every night of the week, no wonder funny folks frequently make the trip up the mountain to join our humble comedy scene (some more willingly than others). I want to know: How does Asheville comedy stack up against your hometown comedy scenes? Better? Worse? Or is it a real, apples-to-cat-food situation? What draws you to Asheville comedy? Or better yet, what keeps you away?
*I have never been to Chicago
Hughes: I love doing comedy in Asheville. Audiences are there for the weird, which works for me since I’m a li’l comedy freak. The Odd and Asheville Music Hall are just as good as open mics in Atlanta, if not better than many. But if we’re going to compare the Asheville and Atlanta comedy scenes, there are fewer mics and paid shows here, which makes it hard to get good as quickly or make money for your time and talent.
If we’re talking about comedy scene sustainability, I think having more comics starting their own paid shows would benefit the Asheville comedians as well as those in the surrounding areas. Having out-of-town comedians travel to Asheville to do a great show and get paid will only serve to benefit the Asheville comedians when it comes to networking and touring for themselves.
Bakker: I love Asheville and its comedy scene. As a straight, white, evangelically raised male from Michigan, I don’t really fit the mold, but that hasn’t stopped everyone from being very nice to me. (Christian Lee even lent me a yo-yo.) My comedy home is Greenville, S.C., and the senior comics in Asheville always make fun of it to hurt our feelings.
As much as I hate to admit it, Asheville is a cut above. The average comic is better, the average show is better, the joke writing is interesting, and they have free pizza. Where else can you hear Larry Griffin rant about plastic cup shavings and meet a cute girl your mom would hate — and all in one night?
So, Asheville is better than Greenville. I said it. But as long as you’ll tolerate us, we’ll keep coming up the mountain. Bless our hearts.
Ramirez: I’ve only lived in Greenville for two years. My first impression of the comedy scene there was awesome because everyone’s always excited when a woman starts doing comedy. I think both comedy communities have their strengths and weaknesses. But deep down, everywhere is the same. The things that make places great or bad are how the people there are living their lives. I try to add to both communities by doing my best to be in the moment and enjoy where I’m at, whether it’s The Odd or Coffee Underground.
This may seem like a PC answer because it is. I love comedy and all the interesting people and places it’s helped me discover. I will say I’m a sucker for thrift; and right now, Greenville has the upper hand. (Unless Morgan can share some Asheville thrift stores that have items under $35.) But who knows which is better? Not me. I’m just happy to be here!
Bost: I’ll be honest, what drew me to Asheville comedy was watching an open mic for the first time in 2018 and thinking, “Hey, I could do that!” Turns out, I was again only half-right in that I could do stand-up, but it was not nearly as easy as it seemed. It took years and years to get even remotely not terrible. And I realized in the process that good comics make it look easy, that’s why every drunk person in the audience thinks they can do it.
But one of the longest walks of a think-they’re-funny person’s life is from the audience to the stage. If I had a nickel for every time a man told me he has “thought about doing stand-up,” I’d finally have a path to homeownership! But to all prospective stand-ups out there, we welcome you! We are a very open comedy scene (though it may take us a while to warm up, we aren’t exactly social butterflies). But be ready to fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail some more, and I’m not sure if you ever really stop failing, tbh. (For all the boomer Medicine Heads out there, “tbh” means “to be honest.” Note: Along with comedy, I also offer lessons in deciphering your grandchildren’s texts — just saying.)