Becky Braunstein [Interview]

 

Hello Folks! And welcome back to a Friday edition of Trainwreck’d Society! As we foreshadowed earlier this week, TWS is now based in Alaska! Anchorage for now, but soon be moving out into the burbs of Eagle River. It’s been a long ass week, but we are getting settled in at the new HQ. And speaking of Eagle River….

We have Becky Braunstein with us today! Becky is an absolutely hilarious human being who just so happens to hail from The Eag (I’m calling it that now) and currently resides closer to my own personal hometown in Portland, Oregon. She is absolutely hilarious, and one of the best voices in comedy today. Much like many of our other past guests, I happened to catch Becky on numerous podcasts and decided to give her a listen. And, as it should be obvious because we only have very funny people on this site (comedian wise that is, although there are exceptions), I LOVED her act. She’s poignant, truthful, and most importantly of all, straight up hilarious.

Becky was kind enough to tell us a bit about growing up in The Eag (It’s going to stick, watch it happen), her entrance into the world of comedy, and so much more. Be sure to follow her on the socials, and check out beckybraunstein.com to see what she has coming up. Enjoy!

 

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What inspired you to get into the world of comedy? Was it something you aspired to do since your youth, or did you happen to find yourself in this world one day?

What a question. I want to say, “The usual – I didn’t have any friends as a kid,” but that’s not an answer unless you’re intimately familiar with the most common recipe for a comedian.  I’m funny because of that experience, I guess, and I’m able to express it because of my mom. She’s one of those people who was just always funny. She had a funny way of putting things, and I think her voice comes out of my mouth when I do standup. As far as getting into comedy, the desire to perform was always there, and I’ve been an actor much longer than I’ve done standup comedy. When I was a kid, my goal was to get the hell out of the small town in South Dakota that I lived in, and I accomplished that pretty early on by moving to Eagle River, Alaska at the age of 10, so I suppose it first became a viable career direction after I tried out for a community theater play on a whim, made them laugh a lot at the audition, and got cast in one of the main roles. I was always under the impression you had to be serious and glamorous and skinny and dramatic to be an actress, and was just as surprised as anybody when I found out, like, wow – people find me amusing just the way I am. That feeling you get when you perform and people really like it and they react? That’s really, REALLY addictive. I lived in Alaska, so I just did theater and improv comedy, because that was all we had. There wasn’t a standup scene when I lived there, so it didn’t even occur to me that standup was something I could do. Then I moved to Portland, Oregon because I got diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer and needed better medical care. I wanted to move outside to pursue my career and opportunity and all that too, but the cancer thing really pulled the trigger. I hadn’t performed in several years, and then I got hit in the face with how short life is, and decided to get back onstage. I think I got into standup just because I wanted to perform but I didn’t want to have to coordinate with other people – HA! I’m a lone wolf. I started doing standup in Portland, and I’m glad I did, because it’s an excellent place to get your foundation. Audiences here make you think, and they know when you’re not giving your best.

What was your first paid gig in the world of comedy? And were there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that still impact your work to date?

Hoooo boy, you know my true first actual paid gig in standup technically was a small live show in Portland that was co-headlined by Kristine Levine, who was sort of a Portland comedy legend before she moved out of state, and Jessa Reed, who I think also used to live here – funnily enough, she and I both ended up doing half hour specials in the same TV series (Unprotected Sets). Kristine asked me to host the show, and I was like all business, like preparing and practicing and sweating buckets, and thinking about what to say, and I just had no idea what it was going to be like. I was so uptight and I learned immediately that to be a good host, you had to at least seem like you were just going with the flow. I still remember sitting at the table with Kristine and Jessa, and Kristine was describing me to Jessa, and she said, “You know when you watch somebody when they’re first starting out and you just know they’ve got it.” That was a huge boost of confidence for me, and it took me a few years to be able to relate, but I do know what she meant by that now, I see it in newer comedians and it makes me think of her. And then, before the pandemic, I opened for Tom Segura at two sold-out tour shows in a 3,000+ seat theater, which must be what it felt like to stand in the middle of the Roman colosseum, and the first night I thought back to that show before I went out on stage. 

 

 

So, as many of our readers know, Trainwreck’d Society will soon be relocated its “headquarters” to your former home town of Eagle River, Alaska. I was wondering if you could give us just a brief synopsis of your time growing up in this area? Did you draw any sort of inspiration to join the world of comedy from living in this region?

Wow, what can you say about Eagle River, really? It’s still a very small town, and it used to just kind of be a Blockbuster, a Carrs (what the rest of the world would call Safeway), a 7-11, and a whole bunch of mountains. I lived in the mountains part. Then we got a WalMart, where I had my first ever job, as a people greeter. Yes my whole job was to say hi to people and give out carts, and get cussed out when the alarm went off and I was supposed to ask to see their receipt. They offered me 25 cents an hour more to be a cashier, and I refused because I didn’t want responsibility. My store manager once told me that Sam Walton was “smiling down on me.” Living on a mountain is very conducive to comedy, because you grow up with a perspective that is fundamentally unique, and you have to learn to amuse yourself. We got one trick or treater in the 17 years we lived there. He got the whole bag of candy. I think he’s the CEO of a Fortune 500 company now. My brother and I used to ride our bikes down the mountain into town to hang out with our little friends as teenagers, and it’s amazing we didn’t die. I used to burn holes through the bottom of my shoes trying to slow myself down when my brakes melted down. Risking my life for Blockbuster and 7-11. I never had a Blockbuster card, which I’m proud of. I saw what happened to other people who had one. They always ended up having to rent the movies for the group and then got stuck with the late fees. No effing way. Weird shit happens to you in Alaska, and you get desensitized to it. I had a bear come to my front door one day, and I was telling somebody about that, just pretty matter of factly, and they were like, holy shit you need to do this on stage. Apparently bears don’t ring doorbells in the lower 48.

And you eventually made your way closer to my own beloved homeland, down to the great city of roses, Portland, Oregon. We have featured many folks who were from, or started out, comedy in the PDX area (Sean Jordan, Amy Miller, Matt Braunger, etc.) but have since moved on, and in some cases, back to Rip City. So, I am always inclined to ask what you love about the comedy scene around there? What sets it apart from the other regions you have worked in?

First of all, I still have no idea why it’s called the Rose City, second of all, all three of the people you mentioned are super cool people who are important to me. Sean grew up in the next town over from me in South Dakota and was probably the first person from that state who was ever nice to me, Amy there’s not even enough space to tell you how much of an impact she’s had on my career, and Matt stopped by to do a set on my show when we were just getting started which was a huge deal – and he’s just a great champion of Portland comedy in general. Portland is a great city for comedy for so many reasons, but my favorite is that audiences here appreciate scrappy, homemade, did-our-best-with-what-we-have type shit, like my show. That kind of environment is so good for creativity because they want you to take chances and do something different, and a lot of the time even if it doesn’t work, as long as you commit it’s still entertaining. Another great thing about Portland comedy and for sure what sets it apart from other scenes is that while of course there’s always some degree of fighting and drama as in any dysfunctional family, we’re unusually supportive of one another. We all know each other’s acts and we’re always the ones laughing the hardest in the back of the room when somebody does something new for the first time. Obviously not every single comedian in Portland is like this, but we do have that reputation. In the TIme Before, I used to do a lot of out of state festivals, and everywhere I went, people would comment on how the Portland comedians are all just in love with each other. They couldn’t believe how much we were in each other’s lives. In New York City, I was telling another comedian backstage at a show that in Portland, we all sit in the house and watch the other comedians at the main club’s weekly open mic, and he laughed for like five minutes when he realized I was serious.

Can you tell us a bit about your show Becky with the Good Jokes? How did this come to be? And can we expect a triumphant return when (if) the world ever gets back to “normal”?

How did Becky with the Good Jokes come to be? WELL. Let me tell you. I was performing at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival (RIP <3) and one of the organizers texted me and said, hey, you get to host your own show. We need a clever name really quick so we can put it in the program, any ideas? And in the space of about ten seconds, I said, how about Becky with the Good Jokes? (In case someone ends up reading this in the year 3021, it was a reference to a very famous line in a song by Beyonce, who was a very famous singer in the 21st century. She might still be, you never know. Beyonce might live forever.) They loved it, printed it, and I thought, hey this is my show, why don’t I turn this into an experience? It was kind of a depressing time in the world, and I wanted it to have some element of happiness, so I made these gift bags for audience members who were willing to get up and share some good news from their life. I was just so excited and we had such a great lineup, and I think my natural excitement just blazed through, and people seemed to really like it. Guy Branum said to me on his way out, “What a delightful little show.” And I thought, holy shit if Guy liked it, we have to do this again. So I started doing it monthly at a really weird venue in Portland called the Funhouse, which is like a creepy clown themed bar and performing space. It felt like a huge gamble because it’s an expensive show to produce – we bought a banner, and confetti – there’s a confetti finale – and we pay all the performers, including a musical guest, then there’s little gift bags for each performer, prize bags for audience good news sharers with my face on them (enjoy some on my instagram) and I do carefully curated preshow playlists, my tech producer runs sound and lights, AND there’s a late night show style video bit at the start of each show. Jesus that is a lot of work, now that I think about it. It’s just myself and my producer, I make all the bags and stuff myself, and then I have a stage manager and a door person, and that’s our scrappy little pirate crew. We sold out the premiere, and that was a relief, and we always used to get a pretty good crowd. I like hosting. I like being able to do whatever, and go with the flow, and interact with the audience. Little running bits that make the show unique. Okay fine, I guess I miss it somewhat. It’s so much work though, you wouldn’t believe it. Will it return post-plague? We’ll see. A million dollar budget and a 50-person crew would be very helpful. Netflix? Hulu? Paramount? Who’s got me here? Tell me that wouldn’t be the cheapest show you ever produced.

 

 

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

WOW, do you ask everybody this? Oh man, this is heavy. What does the future hold? Here’s a different answer than if you’d asked me in January 2020. I’ll try to be a serious person and answer a comedy/acting/entertainment industry relevant answer and not say a smartass thing like “haha probably just a shit ton of cold pizza and insomnia.” I’m really happy to be doing more acting, and I hope that’s what I’m going to continue to do. I wish I could tell you to tune in to my new tv series or whatever, (cross your fingers; write your senator) BUT this year I am on a couple of shows for a scene or two where you’ll be like, “Oh, I know her. Fun.” Which is kind of incredible in and of itself for a covid year, and I’m really grateful to have been able to work, thanks to the Portland film crews taking covid safety protocols so seriously. Which – attention industry people – is ANOTHER EXCELLENT REASON TO FILM YOUR TV SERIES OR MOVIE IN PORTLAND, not to mention the tax credits and incentives. What can you tune in and watch right now for free? I have a youtube channel on which I’ve been posting short comedy history story videos with funny animations and stuff, which take SO much time and work (I’m noticing a pattern here) but are really fun and I’m very proud of them. I think it’s fair to put them in the ‘zero dollar budget but still entertaining enough that this should have a million more views than it does’ category. If you knew how much work they are, you’d be even less modest than that. It’s all happening, at youtube.com/BeckyBraunstein. 

If you were greenlit & received an unlimited budget to create the biopic (series, film, etc.) of any figure from the days of comedy past, who would you choose? 

Oh, NOW I get my unlimited budget. I actually do have an idea like this that I’ve been kicking around for a while now, and it’s someone I would love to play in the film, but that’s all I want to say, because I might just get my shit together and actually do it. So who’s my second place if that one falls through? This is the hardest question to really answer though, because I’m pathologically indecisive when it comes to my projects. It took me four years before I started my own live comedy show, which is unusual. I think most comedians attempt that in year 1 or 2. I got some really good advice from Seth Rogen a couple days ago, who, when I asked him if it’s worth putting energy into whatever idea you have at the time even if you’re not all about it, or if you should wait until you have the perfect idea, told me, “I firmly believe you have to LOVE your idea or you’ll burn out on it.” I didn’t want to hear it, but I think he’s right. I kind of wanted someone to just tell me, you have to just hit the gas on whatever ideas you have or you’ll wait forever hemming and hawing over which one is the perfect one, and you’ll never find it. But deep down I know that if I’m not obsessed, it won’t survive the week. So back to the biopic, okay, idea 1 gets rejected, and they’re like, Becky what else you got? Hm. I kind of like the idea of a gritty realist behind the curtains film about Harold Lloyd, who was a very famous comedic silent film star that kind of changed the state of comedy in film because he had a much more subtle, realistic acting style than the other actors at that time. He made a bunch of comedy films and did his own stunts, including hanging from a clock tower – you just have to see it. He got part of his hand blown off in a PR stunt involving dynamite (yikes) and kept right on going with a prosthetic hand, and you would never know it unless you look really close. He definitely wasn’t a perfect dude, but he was sure as hell interesting. Let’s read Jack Huston, Paul Rust, and David Krumholtz for Harold. We’ll film it in grayscale. We’ll film it silent! But it will be all the real life stuff that was going on. I would totally watch that.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I was just working on a really stupid, ridiculous animation for my next comedy history video, and it made me laugh hysterically, so I hope that means people will enjoy it. I mean if you don’t find your own stuff funny, how could anyone else?

 

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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