AT THE HOUSTON IMPROV, more than 20 acts and two hosts take the stage for Open Mic Night every Tuesday. With ample seating and plenty of food and libations, audiences sit back and watch comedians use their five minutes to try to get laughs from 50 starring strangers.
Chase DuRousseau, a self-professed Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doppelganger (if “The Rock” never worked out, chuckled DuRousseau) has been performing comedy for 9 years. He dimmed the lights to set “the mood” and devoted half his time to his love for red wine. He then took to the audience and asked them where they are from and who was in charge of Canada.
“I guess to me, Canada just seemed like they would have a Queen because they’re so chill,” DuRousseau said.
DuRousseau realized his love for stand-up comedy after dabbling in short films. As he spent more and more time in comedy, his sets became less about structured jokes and more about the audience experience. He strives to connect with all types of crowds, but his main challenge is telling the audience what’s really been going on in his life. Moving back to Houston from Los Angeles to help take care of his two sick parents, and the recent death of his father, DuRousseau found how rewarding it was to make people laugh during such a difficult time. He wants to share these experiences with the audience and “get real” on stage.
“It’s easy to be honest…and have it on display. We’re all space cowboys locked in that bar from Star Wars, it’s just my turn to talk when I have the mic,” DuRousseau said.
Another comic that joined the stage was Bryson Brown. Coming to Houston Improv for three years, Brown actually got his start as an actor in Austin. He stumbled into stand up at an Austin comedy club on a whim, and has been doing it ever since.
“Houston is a great training ground to get really good in comedy because there’s a lot of diverse audiences, especially at the Improv. You never really know—it’s not going to be one set of people there and you have to learn how to talk to everybody at one time,” Brown said.
Getting more confident in his sets, Brown mainly focuses his material on his everyday experiences, with inspiration coming from his family, such as his mother deciding to quit smoking after finding out that the second-hand smoke can harm her beloved dog. He finds these stories more relatable to a broader audience.
For the second half of Open Mic Night, first-time host Roxxy Haze came on stage, dubbing Jason Derulo as the Costco-brand Chris Brown. Even though the joke came so naturally in her set, Haze actually thought of the joke last year.
“I never could find the right way to use it until an incident happened at the [Houston Rodeo] this year with my brother. It’s almost like a puzzle and you just have to find the right pieces that go together,” Haze said.
Originally starting off on YouTube, Haze decided to try stand up for the first time at Little J’s Bar in 2013 after being urged by her father, brother and many YouTube subscribers. But adjusting from the camera to live performances has been no easy task.
“On YouTube, I’m sort of hiding behind a camera. On the stage, it’s just me baring everything and praying for a laugh,” Haze said.
With her channel mainly focusing on impromptu rants and sketches, Haze intensely studies the art of writing and crafting jokes for her stand-up performances. Haze read over 50 books on comedy alone, while filling up multiple notebooks and 15 typed pages worth of jokes, and going back and editing these jokes, spending weeks on just one. And she hasn’t even used a quarter of them yet.
“Andy Huggins, who is one of the best comedians in Houston, told me a long time ago to never throw away a joke because you may end up using it,” Haze said.
A veteran to the game, Andy Huggins, 66, joined the stage and spoke about his need for a “gramp stamp” and how he’s finally old enough to give advice to random strangers at the bus stop. Huggins even passed down some sound advice for audience members approaching their golden years: “Don’t listen [to people], you’ll have less sh*t to remember.”
The second to last act of the night was Cat Wright, a single woman in her late twenties who has a fairly close relationship to her local Taco Cabana (she knows where the remote is), and an interesting tactic to picking up men. As she stuck up her arms and growled like a T-Rex in heat at potential suitors, she also spoke of the perils of switching from night-shift to day-shift as a pediatric nurse.
“I get inspired by how absolutely ridiculous everyday life can be,” Wright said.
Wright decided to get into comedy when she felt she had nothing left to lose. In a foreign country she lost her boyfriend, her job and her stability, and this gave her the confidence to look failure in the face. A year later, she is still performing stand-up, growing more and more confident with each performance.
Wright said that the Houston Improv community has helped her a lot with her craft, especially Assistant Manager Joe Cummings.
“Joe has done a lot to bolster young comics in our comedic community. He’s very supportive…polite, approachable and gives you stage time for one simple reason: you show up and get laughs,” Wright said .
The Open Mic Night has been consistently going on at Houston Improv for about 8 months now, and continues to grow. As hip-hop artist ILoveMakonnen says, “Got the club going up on a Tuesday.” The Houston Improv Comedy Club, that is.
Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. Free. Houston Improv Comedy Theater & Restaurant, 7620 Katy Freeway. 713-333-8800. improvhouston.com
Originally published in Houstoniamag.com on July 11, 2016.