Artists plan their new release schedules months, sometimes years, ahead of time, without any way of knowing if their chosen date will coincide with, say, a global pandemic or nationwide civil unrest. A few weeks ago, Houston comedian Bryson Brown released his first comedy album, Side Bettin’, and, despite the turbulence of our current times, his work couldn’t have landed in a better moment. And through the help of attention from social media, it landed at the #1 spot on the iTunes Comedy Chart soon after its release.
The Austin native has spent the last seven years ascending through the ranks of the Houston comedy scene, cultivating a reputation as a prolific joke writer and touring with acts, including Bruce Bruce and Ali Siddiq. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Side Bettin’ deals with challenging topics of today, like gentrification, financial struggles, and police brutality, while delivering the experience of an old-school party album with a live and unedited feel that is particularly enjoyable in a moment when in-person shows aren’t exactly easy to come by.
“I told them I wanted to hear glasses clinking in the back,” Brown says of the album’s vibe. “I wanted it to sound like a comedy club.” And while getting home safe after an encounter with the police, may not sound like a traditional formula for levity, Bryson finds a way to make audiences roar, no matter the stakes.
We caught up with Bryson to learn more about his comedic background, his favorite standup comics, and the topical issues that worked their way into Side Bettin’.
Your voice seems ideal for this era where comedy is both confessional and social commentary-oriented at once. Do you feel any nervousness or hesitation when you go from inoffensive to really contentious material?
I feel it; I’m always like “Oh shit,” (Laughs) especially with material where the punchline is written but the conversation leading up to it isn’t. I’m conscious of the fact that my style is different, but I don’t know if it’s the tone or the energy or whatever. Maybe it’s that I can take something serious and then some everyday shit and mix it up in the set.
What helped you find your way in comedy early on?
A lot of it was my background. I came from basketball first, so I came from competition; when people didn’t really talk to me at first when I showed up, I was okay with that. In comedy it’s a lot of the unseen obstacles that were more difficult, not even like clubs not calling you back, but just feeling like you don't belong for many years. Being in Houston helped. Because it’s so diverse, it teaches you how to talk to everyone, but it also has these pockets where you can sharpen your skill in your own crowd.
Some say standup is just about being funny, other people say it’s more important to be memorable. Is one of those more significant to you, or is it a spectrum?
I’m a little bit in the middle, I don’t want to be too Chris Rock or Chappelle-ish because when people see Dave they know they're gonna learn some stuff it’s not just about jokes. I don’t want to be too that because I want the average motherf*cker to come through and pick up some stuff. That’s why Earthquake is my favorite comic—he’s smart as f*ck, he’s political, and was in the service, so he can give you that perspective, but he can also go and hit you with that silly, everyday situation material, so you’re getting the best of both.
You have some material on Side Bettin’ that addresses police brutality in a very poignant, yet hilarious way.
You know I recorded that in December? I was talking about it then, and that joke—I’ve probably been doing for about six months before I even recorded it. So, I was talking about it then and it’s so magnified now. But I’ve got to talk about it. I wouldn’t be a good comic—a good Black comic—if I was just silly and didn’t address it. Hell no, we’ve got to talk about what’s going on, like motherf*ckers’ really scared to get in their car and go wherever. Like you really gotta talk to your family like you’re in an NFL huddle—“I’m going to the store. Break!” I’m going to jump in the water with my act; we’re all gonna get wet on this shit a little bit, but then I’ll come out and hit you with something that makes it all OK.
Side Bettin’ is available now on streaming platforms and iTunes.