"I recently had the pleasure of hiring Esteban to perform at my sorority's 'Mom's Day' brunch. Before the performance, Esteban was easy to get in touch with, very versatile and compliant with my strict schedule, and was flexible even minutes before the performance. The act itself was amazing. He performed in front of hundreds of people, and he still held the upmost composure. Not one person was left without a smile on their face after Esteban's performance. My own mother raved about him for hours afterwards! Esteban Gast gives a good name to the comedy industry as this is most obviously his passion and expertise." Jessie Parks, Programming Chair for Chi Omega Sorority- University of Illinois
Q&A with Esteban Gast
Paul Wood chats with Esteban Gast, 23, of Champaign, IL, University of Illinois grad embarking on a career as a comedian on the college circuit. He also teaches at the UI.
Tell me a funny joke.
Ah, I don't like these questions. I usually tell rambling stories mixed with lots of crowd work on stage. But here's some of my latest tweets. "Why do little kids always want to dig a hole to China? Don't they understand how tense the political atmosphere is right now?" "If you give a man a dougie, he will only dougie once, but if you teach a man a dougie, he will dougie for a lifetime." "I wonder if country music would end if someone paved their dirt roads. I refuse to believe they forgot to pave that much of the country."
Has your material been affected by having a Colombian mom and living in Puerto Rico?
I think it's always best to write what you know, and to look for an angle that makes you unique. Being Colombian, talking about my family and growing up Puerto Rico is a really fun way to be unique, find some humor in my life and also help the audience understand my point of view. My mom insists that any money I make should be split with her since I joke about her so often. So I've started doing less stuff about my family, purely for financial reasons.
Why are the '90s so funny?
The '90s are hilarious. Any outfit Will Smith wore in the "Fresh Prince" is funnier and sillier than any of my jokes. I hope to be the personification of a neon green and blue track jacket outfit.
You won the Stand Up Comedy competition at the University of Illinois, repeatedly. Do you have special material for a college crowd?
Right now, since I'm 23, most of the stuff I write is inherently for a college crowd just because I write stuff that I'm experiencing and I think is funny. So, I actually do the opposite. I write special material for non-college crowds. I think to myself, "I really can't do 10 minutes on Disney movies" when I'm performing for an older crowd.
How is it working out on college comedy tours?
It's great! I'm really lucky to be represented by this great agency in Nashville, and they've really been pushing me to get out there and write as much as I can and bring a fresh perspective to comedy. They're also really willing to work with me. I'm working with them to develop an improv group that I'm in to also get booked, and an educational series (I teach a few classes at the university, so we figured I could bring some of that to schools too). It's great to have someone there pushing you to think about what you can bring to an audience. We're hoping to be booked at a good amount of colleges in the fall! Check out the agency and my profile at houseofwally.com.
Also, I'm hosting this really great night of different types of art (spoken word, music, short films) at Soma Lounge every second Sunday, it's called "Exposed" and we're making it a video podcast as well! That's something that I've been helping put together for a while, showcasing all the talent in the area!
You interned for former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorsen. What was that like?
Oh it was awesome! My master's is in political science, so politics is definitely a love of mine. I also love "The West Wing," so anything where I feel like I'm in the show is worth it. I was just walking down the halls and yelling "Donna!" to no one in particular. At the same time, every time I work these great jobs I realize how much I should try to pursue comedy. I worked in rural Panama for nine months in what I was sure was my "dream job", and I truly loved it, but late at night I would think about comedy and writing and performing. So I think all these work experiences validate the fact that I should just go for it.
How long have you been doing comedy?
My senior year in high school I won a competition, but only did it once a year or so for a few years. I would say the last two years (and even more the last year) I've gotten more serious about it.
Who are your favorite comedians?
So many! I would say John Mulaney, Pete Holmes and TJ Miller. Right now I'm really loving the show "Comedy Bang Bang" too and think Scott Aukerman is a genius.
What's your favorite joke by any comedian?
Any one of John Mulaney's stories are brilliant. I want to study the way he tells jokes. It's an art form.
What's your favorite that you wrote yourself?
Oh gosh. I don't know. There's some concepts I like: about being scared to have a haunted child, or feeling really old while looking really young. But I really hope that what I'm writing now and what I will write in the future is much better. One of the first jokes I wrote was about picture day, and that's still one of my favorite bits.
What do you think of the local comedy scene?
It truly is the best. I can't say that enough. The headline of this article should be "local comedy scene is the best." I travel around occasionally for comedy, and I'm continually blown away by how many good shows and good comics we have here. Most weeks there are three really, really good shows a week! What Jesse and Justin Tuttle have done with CU Comedy is awesome. I started performing at the shows at Memphis a few years ago, and I was the only student and the crowds were good but small. Now, the Memphis shows have become a showcase, packed house, there is this huge supply of talent. The regulars in the area are all featuring different places and we all support each other and drive together to shows or just let people know about opportunities. It's because of the local comedy scene that I felt comfortable staying and working here for a few years after graduating and knowing that I could still pursue comedy at a high level.
Could you see yourself being a professional at this?
I sure hope so! At the same time, I know the road is long. I mean really long. So that's like asking a little kid if he wants to work at NASA when he's sitting playing with paper airplanes. I'm hoping I can go to lots of colleges in the fall with the agency, I've been traveling more and have a few different projects planned. But right now, I'm a little kid playing with paper airplanes dreaming of going to the moon. Actually, that should be your headline.
What are you excited about right now?
I get excited when I can juxtapose all my passions together. So I have this script and am shooting this web series called "How to do good in two minutes." I'm also finishing writing this comedy mixtape called "Reading is Sexy" singing these sexy slow R&B songs about things that should be sexy but aren't, like saving for retirement and top-two primary systems. Also, I'm getting married in August. So, in terms of what I'm excited about in life is the whole marriage thing. She's fantastic so I'm excited.
What is your latest project?
This summer I want to film some video, make some silly music and travel as much as I can to do comedy.
How often do you perform?
It depends on the week, but during the summer usually three times a week. Maybe more if I have shows on the weekend. During the school year, when I was performing improv and sketch and had a public-access TV show I was doing comedy five or six times a week. It was awesome! You would think my work or school would be affected, but comedy truly makes me feel rejuvenated and happy so those weeks were great.
Do you write your own material? Tell us about that experience.
I usually carry around a notebook and scribble down random thoughts. It looks a bit crazy at times, but that's OK. I either look like a private detective or a reporter, both of which are acceptable professions. Then I sit down with these concepts and talk them out or just mind map things. I also feel pretty comfortable trying stuff out on stage at an open mic, so I'll go up and see if I go in a different direction. I usually build in a good amount of time in my sets to improvise.
Do you feel a special connection with the audience?
Yeah! I hope at the end of each show the audience and I understand each other in some sort of way. The worst shows are when you get off and you say, "I don't know what the audience wanted, and I don't think they know me." It's great when you really connect with an audience, it makes it special for the performer and the audience.
What's your favorite clothing item for performance?
Since I teach, I usually am dressed business casual so I am usually fairly well dressed. It's good, I don't mind. I promised my parents I would get a real job, so dressing up makes me feel like comedy could be it.