Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spite Club, a Vague, Rambling History

I created Spite Club in 2000. I was inspired by my cyberspace buddy, the Reverend Tim McIntire, who had a show in Boston called "Thursday Night Fights". His goal with the show was to "bring mean-spirited comedy back to Cambridge", and he pitted Boston comics against each other in competition and edgy political comedy. I wanted to bring something like that to Austin, so I asked him about the show. He wisely was vague with me (let's not just copy the show) and gave me a few pointers. "Fight Club" had been out for less than a year, so the title of the show was not just awesome, it was timely. Sadly, that was the last time I can recall being timely...

The first few shows were absolute train wrecks. Debate shows with no debate...not enough ideas to keep the show going, and a host with 2 whole years of comedy experience trying to keep it upbeat and spontaneous. Awful. "F". I had to redo the show. I would have scrapped it, but the name "Spite Club" was too good to I had to come up with a fucking idea that worked.

And then, there it was. Howard Beecher had a comedy e-mail list (kids, before social networking, old people communicated on a "mailing list" through our e-mail accounts.), and the threads that had comedians arguing and hurling personal insults were easily the most entertaining. So of course, I thought, let's utilize comedians' bitterness and jealousy for my personal gain. In fact, I think the first successful show was between two comics who were constantly arguing online.

Scott and Stacey vs Andy and Leon, 2/21/02. Show never followed format (brilliantly) and they ended it with a pie fight to the theme of "Benny Hill". Photo by Austin Jernigan.

After a successful few shows, I made a deal with the Velveeta Room. The problem at the time was that when open mic on Thursdays started, hardly anyone was there. Comics would all show up late and then some audience members would trail in. So I proposed doing Spite Club right before, and I would introduce the open mic host immediately after the show...for a percentage of  the door that just came in during my show.

The format of the show changed the first few years. Finally, it turned into 3 rounds of competition:
Insult - like a roast without all of that "I'm just kidding, you're okay" at the end.
Trivia - provided by announcer and color commentator Matt Bearden. Wrong answer was a score of -1 unless you drank a shot, then it was 0.
Freestyle - Each comic had up to 5 minutes to do anything they wanted, but they couldn't do their act. Audience voted for best freestyle.

2 out of 3 rounds wins. Loser pays the winner's bar tab.

The show took on a life of its own. It became a great way to gain exposure as a new comic...a rite of passage. Very interesting freestyle rounds, including a video made about me without me in it:

And the insults were...brutal.

I would put together this show for a couple of months every year just so I could have a little bit of booze money, and the Austin comedy scene thrived in it. I put it together, but the contestants made the show. Even mediocre shows were salvaged by Bearden who kept it (and me) going on the back mic.

I quit doing the show after 9 years because I was tired of it, and I wanted to do something else. BTW, that something else was heroin. Good call.

So, no Spite Club for a bit. I went to San Antonio...and rehab. I had a couple of comedians message me to ask if they could run Spite Club since I wasn't doing it. I told them I'd think about it (which is a nice way of saying "no").

Last year, I was approached again. Jake Flores would be hosting it if I said yes. I then actually had an argument with myself not unlike the one between Ed Norton and Brad Pitt in "Fight Club":

"Fuck that. I started Spite Club. It's mine."
"This does not belong to you. You are not special."
"Good point, voice in my head. Boy, that can't be healthy."

So I said yes...because it belongs to the scene. You guys get to evolve it further...or run it into the fucking ground, whatever. Go for it.

Want to see what the show is like now? Spite Club is tonight, Wednesday, May 8th at Red 7 - 10pm.

Show looks epic. I highly recommend it. If I wasn't working and I still liked getting plowed, I'd be there...early.