Arts Issue - Comic conversations with Rob Haze, Paige Bowman, and Jake Head

ATL comics talk birthday sex, ‘Comedy College,’ and Prince

Since the late 2000s, Atlanta’s comedy scene has grown exponentially. Gone are the days where an ATLien looking for laughs had to relegate his/herself to a cheesy taco joint or a club in the burbs. Now, there’s fantastic comedy every day of the week at venues both traditional (Laughing Skull Lounge, Atlanta Improv, the Punchline) and not-at-all traditional (Star Community Bar, WonderRoot, the Hangar, 529). How did we get here, and what it’s like for those comedians? Creative Loafing sat down with three of Atlanta’s best and busiest comics — Rob Haze, Jake Head, and Paige Bowman — to find out. We plied them with beers and Sprite at Manuel’s Tavern on a recent Thursday night, and asked them to tell us what it’s like making people laugh.

Let’s talk about your first time doing comedy in front of an audience.

Rob Haze: Mine was amazing. It was in Athens.

Jake Head: What do you mean, amazing?

RH: I closed the show. I brought the most people, so I was the last comic that went up. This was the Office Lounge. I did, like, 14 minutes.

JH: bursts out laughing

Paige Bowman: And you had never gone up before?

RH: I had never gone up before. I was 21. I think everything hit, but everyone was there to see me. It was my friends. I was talking about, like, “Birthday Sex” by Jeremih. ...

PB: laughs, starts singing “Birth. Day. Sex.”

RH: — and Twitter.

JH: You’re still talking about Twitter.

RH: Yeah, but back then it was hot. This was ‘09. I had to convince you to get on Twitter, and then joke about it.

PB: Mine was 2011, also in Athens, at a room called OpenTOAD in the Flicker Theatre. It felt good because people laughed. I don’t have the video anymore, thank God, because if I saw it now I’d be mortified. I did well enough that I thought, “Well, maybe you should do that again.”

JH: Mine wasn’t like that at all. I started at an all-arts open mic in Jacksonville ... in 2009. I started as a duo act. It was almost exclusively a poetry open mic.

RH: What happened to the other dude?

JH: He joined the Air Force.

JH: There was zero chemistry in our duo. We were both terrified, so we were like, “Let’s just do it together.” I would read a joke. He would do a joke. No banter!

PB: It was like worst Weekend Update of all time.

RH: The worst joke-off ever.

JH: He was visibly shaking, and I thought, “Well, at least I’m not doing that.” That’s why I think I kept doing it.

What is the process like, getting stage time in different rooms around town?

JH: Every room has a different policy, and Star Bar’s the only interesting one. You have to call Thursday at five o’clock for the upcoming Monday’s show.

PB: I called on the way here.

JH: Most shows, you just e-mail the guy.

PB: Sometimes, you have to wait longer than others. If they like you and you’re doing well, they respond faster. And the people who complain and say, “Oh, I can’t get on this show” — maybe that’s happening. Maybe. But mostly it’s just persistence. Some people give up after six weeks of calling Star Bar. That’s nothing. I’ve gone three months without being on the bill at Star Bar.

RH: Yo, don’t give away the secrets. “Just keep e-mailing! Never show up!”

PB: Actually, if you call more than once and he doesn’t put you on, you should quit comedy.

RH: There are spots Uptown Comedy Corner, the Cascade Club, 255 Tapas Lounge, and Throwbacks Sports Bar and Grille that are “show up and go up.” They’ve never seen you or heard of you, but if you go on time, they’ll put you on stage. Those places aren’t easy, but they exist.

JH: You learn a lesson from them.

We don’t have any comedy stars in Atlanta. People get good, then leave. Is it understood that everyone’s going to leave?

RH: There are some people who are not gonna leave.

PB: Some people say they’re not gonna leave for now, but in a year or two. ...

JH: If you’re not leaving, why are you doing it?

RH: What do you mean, why are they doing it? Because they love to do it!

JH: I have always thought of Atlanta comedy as Comedy College. If you stay here you’re a fuckin’ townie, and I don’t know why you do it.

RH: But you’re not from here! You came here with that in your mind. You came here for Comedy College. That doesn’t mean some people don’t love it here.

But can that perception change? Can there be something that’s built up here, or is it simply a middle ground?

RH: Atlanta needs a Prince. When Prince started blowing up, they were like, “All right, assemble some groups in L.A.” And he was like, “No, I’m going to put together some groups in Minneapolis.” If Atlanta had someone who got to that level and said, “All right, industry, it’s cheaper to film here. I’ll show you who the people are. Just take this and run with it.” You gotta be a 16-year-old prodigy that takes his shirt off and screams in heels. That’s the only way. I would do it, but I’m too old! I saw that Prince documentary when I was 20, and it was too late.

PB: Atlanta’s a great place to do comedy; there’s a lot here. My wanting to move at some point is less about not liking Atlanta and more about the opportunities here for what I would ultimately like to do. If those came here I wouldn’t leave, because I love it here. I love my neighborhood. I get that, when you’re at that point — which I’m not —when you can get any weekend you want at the Skull Laughing Skull Lounge and you get on at Star Bar whenever you need to, and you’re featuring at the Improv for someone, I get that maybe you feel like you’ve maxed out and it’s a good time to move. But if they started writing shows in Atlanta, if writers’ rooms were here, and not just Turner —

RH: — and they do write shows here, but they don’t hire those people out of Atlanta —

PB: — if that became a thing that happened, I probably wouldn’t want to leave. It’s awesome here.