It’s still surreal for Dusti Rhodes to be the one answering the questions, instead of asking them.
The English teacher and comedian, who you can catch hosting open mics at Rudyard’s every Monday, the Houston Moth StorySLAM, and stand-up comedy game show the Wheelhouse, started doing stand-up about six years ago, when, after reporting on Houston’s comedy scene for the Houston Press, she decided to try it herself.
“When I was a journalist, I'd do interviews and I'd find the thing I really liked about an interview, and that's what I would focus on,” she says, “and then occasionally, but not often, you would put something in the story and people would be like, ‘Oh, I didn't know that's what you were going to focus on.’"
“Whenever I get off the phone I think, ‘I wonder what they're going to focus on.’”
So, Dusti: Here’s what we’re focusing on ahead of your October 12 set at The Secret Group.
What was it like covering comedy for the Houston Press?
For a while I just wrote about comedy, and then I met a lot of local comedians, and I would hang out with them, but it wasn't until much, much later on, after I left the Press and started teaching and not writing as much, that one day I just got up on stage and started doing it.
I feel like it's almost like I went to college or school for comedy, because I got access to all these really amazing comedians. When I would interview them I would ask them a lot about their craft and how and why they did the things the way they did. I really think that that's why the first time I got on stage, I was already really well-informed. I already sort of knew I'm not going to do this, because this is a mistake that comedians make.
What's a mistake that you knew to avoid?
Especially because I felt so self-aware as a woman, I don't really want to go up there and just, like, tell jokes that look like I'm just trying to shock the audience instead of actually make them laugh. So one of the first rules I had for myself was, 'You need to do comedy for at least a year, year and a half before you start making any jokes about sex,' because I didn't want the punchline to be 'I have sex,' or 'I have a vagina.' I wanted the punchline to be something real and true, and not just something that people were laughing because I said a curse word, or I mentioned that I had sex and that was shocking because I was a woman.
Now that you teach, do you crack jokes to your students?
I think that my students would probably say that they think I'm funny—I don't know, I'm not trying to work out jokes in front of my students. Naturally I have a tendency to present things in a way where I can't not do it, but that's just kind of who I am. That's one thing that helps me build a relationship with them. I want to be serious, but I don't have to be boring. But it's not something I think about. I don't write in my lesson plans "...and then I'm going to say this!"
That would be pretty funny if you did, though.
It's funny, too, that sometimes I'll make a joke—not on purpose, but I'll say something offhandedly to one class—and then when the next class comes in, I'll make that joke again, and they'll just fall flat. Which is kind of funny, because the way that teaching and stand-up are sort of the same is that I do the same lesson three times a day for three different classes, and it's almost like I'm doing the same set three different times. I feel like the classes that I teach at the end of the day get a better lesson sometimes almost than the first, because I've done this trial run, and I know what works and what doesn't work.
You’ve been in the Houston comedy scene for six years now. How has it evolved over the years?
I remember when I wrote a story about the Houston comedy scene when I worked for the Press, and it was kind of at a time when we had strong comedians, but there wasn't a lot of comedy shows, there weren't a lot of open mics, and those shows and open mics that did happen were pretty much dead. There were two places for comedy in Houston where you could get like a good crowd, and those were the comedy clubs. Now I think about it, there's a good open mic room open here every night of the week; now you have the Secret Group.
I've been running Rudyard's [open mic] now for five years, and that's a testament to how many comedians are coming out and trying stand-up and making the scene so much better than what it was, audience-wise.
This is your second live taping—how are you feeling about it?
I feel good! It's only going to be 30 to 40 minutes, and that makes me nervous because what jokes do you include in there? I know that I have way more than 40 minutes, so now I have to choose which of those [jokes] I want to have recorded.
What’s your process like for writing jokes?
I don't write a lot of my jokes down, which some people would say that's insane. I'll think of a joke, and I'll work it out in my head, or work it out out loud, like, in the shower, or while I'm driving to work. If I sit down to write usually that doesn't happen for me.
I'll have a stretch that feels like forever where I feel like I'm not doing any new material and then one day I'll just think of something.
Sometimes I'll write something new, and then a couple days later I'll think of something else, and some days I'll think of something new, and then it'll be like a month or two or even three months later, and I'll think 'I'm not funny anymore,' and then one day I'll think 'Oh my god, I just thought of something else.' It's kind of an odd process.
I know you’re a huge Astros fan, and we have to ask: How do you feel about the Astros being in the playoffs again?
I love our team. The fact that we get to do it again, the fact that it's with basically almost the same team—every aspect of the Astros, from the front office to just the guys who are on the field, I think it's just such a wonderful and lovable team. I don't know them, but they seem like they're good, fun people as well. It's going to be great.
Dusti Rhodes and Andrew Youngblood: Live Taping, on Friday, October 12, at 6:30 p.m. $5. The Secret Group, 2101 Polk St.