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Saucetown Interview: Alex Elkin

In between living the family life and preparing his 2019 comedy album, Screaming At Shapes, comedian Alex Elkin caught up with Saucetown to discuss everything from pizza to comedy. As the winner of the San Francisco Comedy Competition and a feature on the Netflix show, Trinkets, Alex Elkin is far from a "local" comedian, even though he is based near Eugene, Oregon.

Saucetown: What’s the best advice you could give to a road comic?

Alex Elkin: A continental breakfast is a continental breakfast whether or not you’re a "guest" of the hotel or have just slept in your car in the parking lot. Feeling tired? Gas prices killing your bottom line? Remember that AAA will tow you and your car up to 100 miles, no questions asked.

Saucetown: What are your best and worst experiences from the road?

Alex Elkin: The best was when a couple told me they drove a 150-mile round trip, out of their way, to come see me at this no-name barbecue joint in the middle of nowhere. They told me they’d seen me a month prior. That night, they’d decided they wanted to get back to normal life after losing their infant daughter to SIDS. They came to my comedy show, and for the first time in the months of their mourning, they laughed and they were people again. They came to see me all that way because I made them feel like they weren’t just people stricken with a loss and life wasn’t so bad for a moment.

Worst one would have to be finding out the booker was a scam artist and after driving XXX miles to the gig, the venue doesn’t even know what I was talking about. Another would be when the hotel/casino has a comedian stay with them every week, yet none of the front desk agents have a clue how to check in the comedian, know nothing about the meal voucher, run the credit card up $50 for incidentals and still manage to make the wrong room key card.

Alex Elkin by Sean Simmans
(illustration by Sean Simmans)

Finally, it would be in January 2008, in Idaho Falls. I’d left a pair of my underwear behind the heating grate in the hotel room. 13 months later, in February 2009, I get re-booked, and in the same room, I found my underwear STILL THERE!

Saucetown: How do you go about establishing yourself as a comedian, without climbing the local social ladders or playing clique games?

Alex Elkin: Stay away from the cliques. They’re only interested in being kings and queens of the open mic. Be nice to them, but don’t get too close, since 99% of them won’t be there in a year, anyway. Go write and go perform. Get that solid thirty. Make sure it works in Boston as well as Topeka. Promote. Be about show business. Sell tickets. Sell drinks. Make the venue money. Tip the wait staff. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Put your blinders on and leave a wake of killer shows behind you.

Personally, I follow three comedians’ careers and feel like they are the culmination of what I want to be:

1. George Carlin—he never went knocking on Hollywood’s door. He created his own following on his own terms, until Hollywood starting knocking on his door.

2. Bill Burr—he’s taken 25+ years to become an "overnight success" and never cow-towed to corporate notes, appealed to feminist social justice warriors or followed the mainstream groupthink.

3. Steve Martin—he said, "Be so good they can’t ignore you."

Saucetown: How important is the merch game?

Alex Elkin: How important is rent and eating? You gotta sell something! We’re in an industry that hasn’t seen a cost-of-living increase since the 1970s. People aren’t buying your merch, they’re buying the experience—the memory. Give them something to hold onto dearly, and at the same time, mark it up 400%.

Saucetown: What are your thoughts on the current climate surrounding comedy, specifically the era of outrage and offense?

Alex Elkin: Frankly, it’s tiresome. I personally don’t have time—nor do I listen to—the incessant bleating of the offended and outraged anymore.

I’ve been doing this since 1994—professionally since 2007; I’ve spent too many years crafting and scraping and struggling and fighting and convincing and getting snookered, to let some schmuck who saw a few minutes of my set tell me I need to change course or watch my P’s and Q’s.

Saucetown: What does your family think of you being a professional comic? Has it impacted your home life?

Alex Elkin: My parents were utterly disappointed. I was a comic before my wife and I married, so that was no surprise to her. I always feel bad for the spouses of those people who decide to become a comic a few years into the marriage. It can be a real killer of relationships. The kids make it more and more difficult to leave on the longer runs, since they’re growing so quickly. But, when I see my wife genuinely happy to be home with the kids, a new pair of shoes on their feet or another season of basketball, baseball or dance lessons paid for with jokes, I can’t help but believe we’re living the dream.

Saucetown: If you could put any twelve toppings on a single pizza, what would they be?

Alex Elkin:
1. Un-sustainably harvested, GMO-laden, chemically processed gluten.
2. Polar bear rib meat.
3. Dodo bird thigh.
4. Smoked Gouda that has spent a minimum of 90 days in orbit.
5. The blood of my enemies.
6. Abe Froman’s homemade sausage.
7. CrumbledManchado de Jabugo.
8. Jessica Simpson’s PedEgg shavings.
9. Carolina Reaper BBQ sauce.
10. Whatever that colorful crap was that Peter threw in Rufio’s face.
11. Del Taco’s grilled chicken taco secret sauce.
12. Pineapple.

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