When last you read direct mention of Milwaukee comic Josh Ballew on Milwaukee Record, he was boldly joining us for “The Longest Brunch” at Ashley’s Que. Yet beyond that ill-fated feast, Ballew’s name can invariably be found somewhere on the lineup of virtually every comedy showcase happening in town (and on many show bills through the state and in Chicago), often with some variation of the noun “host” placed somewhere in the vicinity. Not only is Ballew quick to snatch up the oft-unenviable task of manning the mic at shows, he’s also the host of Art Bar’s open mic every Thursday night, and a co-host of Levity Radio on Riverwest Radio every Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Before Ballew takes the stage at Club Garibaldi tonight in a seemingly rare non-hosting capacity, we asked him why he relishes the role, why he can never stop writing new material, and about getting fellow comedians drunk during his “Having A Few” Web series. No mimosas were consumed during this interview.
Milwaukee Record: It seems Friday will actually be one of the rare shows you’re not hosting. is there a reason behind your willingness to host a lot? A lot of people seem to see it as a duty or an annoyance.
Josh Ballew: Yeah, well, it is a job for sure, but you get more stage time, which is always good. I think it’s a challenge to go from zero to 10, getting the audience to realize the show is starting. That’s a challenge. I feel like if you can get good at that, it just helps you overall, whether it’s a lull during a set or if a joke falls flat, you build up a tolerance for warming people up or getting people back on your side, even.
MR: And you probably have rotate in a lot of new material the more that you do it. When you’re hosting at Art Bar, I’m sure you don’t want to be repeating all the same material. Is that a means of forcing you to write more regularly?
JB: Yeah. With the Art Bar open mic, I feel there are things I can’t say for the next two months because I’ve already said it at that mic. It’s good. It keeps material fresh and it’s motivating me to keep writing.
MR: How long have you been hosting that mic?
JB: I want to say about a year. It’s hard to say, but I took it over when Laura Beitz left, and I think she’s been gone about a year. It’s been great. I mean, Art Bar is a really tough room. It’s not built for comedy shows at all. There’s no dividing the rooms. People can’t not know that a comedy thing is happening. People can’t ignore you, but that also means when you’re performing you can’t ignore people playing pool or the dog that just came in with a flashlight around its neck. It’s kind of distracting, but I think that makes you a better comic because you have to workaround or with all that stuff.
MR: Speaking of you being a host, you’re also one third of the Levity Radio hosting arsenal. You inherited that gig, too, right?
JB: That just kind of happened because people were having kids and people were moving. I think I had just shown up enough where people probably thought I either had a ton of free time or I was just really dedicated. I’m glad it’s happened. I’ve met a ton of cool people through that show. We don’t have a set structure. I mean, we’ll have reoccurring segments that we’ll do, but we’ll talk about anything. A lot of it is around the idea of comedy and talking about experiences in comedy, good or bad. Sometimes we get into some really weird, off the wall stuff.
MR: So you have Levity every Tuesdays, Art Bar open mic every Thursday, and working all over the state otherwise. Is the regiment of knowing you have to be doing comedy things certain days of the week made stand-up sort of a job for you?
JB: The worst paying job ever! But yeah, it totally has, but in a really good way. It’s so easy for me to get really lazy about stuff, even though it’s something that I’m passionate about. If I feel obligated to host and book that month of guests, I can’t get lazy about it. I need exterior pressure. if there wasn’t anything, I probably wouldn’t do as much.
MR: On top of all this stuff you’re writing as well. I feel like you and maybe Chris Schmidt bring out more new material on a show-by-show basis than anyone I’ve seen. Why is that? Is there a fear that you’ll atrophy.
JB: Kind of. Not to say that I don’t go through lulls where I feel like I can’t write anything. But if you stop, then you get stagnant, and you don’t feel enthusiastic about the jokes you’re telling. Having to do five [new] minutes every week is the most exciting thing because you don’t know how the jokes are going to go. They could go great and you keep them or they cool go poorly and you’ll never say it again. Either way, you have something to motivate you.
MR: I also need to ask you about the “Having A Few” Web series. I’ve really enjoyed them so far. How did the idea come up?
JB: We love to drink, as most people in Milwaukee do. When a bunch of comedians are hanging out, you’re going to be riffing a joking with each other, so we’ve basically streamlined that process. We’re taking, like, 30-second bits out of an hour’s worth of footage of our best friends being really drunk and either saying things they’ve written or riffing off of stuff we’ve been talking about that night. We’re trying to encapsulate that 2 a.m. feeling where you’ve had a good time and things maybe appear funnier than they are in real life. It’s just funny to watch from the outside. Based on the response I’ve got from people, they enjoy to watch. We’ve got a couple comedians lined up and you will eventually see one of KC Michelson and myself.
Josh Ballew will appear as part of tonight’s Incendiary Stage II benefit show at Club Garibaldi along with fellow comedians Liz Ziner, Lisan Wood, Christopher Schmidt, host KC Michelson, and musical guests Scrimshaw, Behind The Weekend, Seven Costanza, and Wood Chickens. The show begins at 8 p.m. and costs $5 (all of which will be donated to Planned Parenthood Of Wisconsin)