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Wingman Wednesday

Rudy Martinez

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Photo By: Ryan West

Beneath his love for acting and a talent for puppeteering, Rudy Martinez is a storyteller at his core. Whether he is giving life to characters on screen or creating them from scratch with the written word, the California native is most at home when he’s entertaining. The “Jane the Virgin” alumni can currently be seen in Season 2 of “Dear White People,” available now on Netflix.

We recently sat down with Martinez to discuss the ways his “Dear White People” experience differed from previous jobs, how he was able to play up his character’s social awkwardness, and why he’d have no problem expressing love for a kitchen glass.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on a lot of television in the past. Has “Dear White People” been a different experience for you when you compare it to past roles and projects?
Martinez: Yeah, definitely. This was, I want to say, the biggest project I’ve done because my character had a whole story arc and I was featured in several episodes. I really feel like I played a big part on the show. It did change some things for me. I’ve been getting a lot of messages from fans who’ve reached out, especially since the show, because it deals with a lot of various issues – I would say first and foremost race and race tensions in America and also LGBT issues. I’ve been getting a lot of people who’ve been just letting me know what the character and what the show has meant to them and that’s meant a lot to me.

TrunkSpace: The show feels very timely in that messaging as well.
Martinez: Right. I totally agree and I think that Season 2 particularly, a large chunk of the show deals with the sort of… that because of the prevalence of social media these days, there’s these sort of anonymous racist Twitter trolls and Facebook trolls who are being given a bigger platform. Season 2 takes a critical look at that.

TrunkSpace: And what’s nice about Season 2 is that it steps out from the shadow of the film that it is based on and becomes its own entity.
Martinez: That’s right, and I really love seeing the backstory of a lot of the characters and getting more in depth with that. I really love that aspect of the show.

TrunkSpace: Now, your character, Wesley, he’s a bit socially awkward. Were you able to tap into that side of him and use it to make him as likable as he ultimately became?
Martinez: You know, I definitely think that I can be socially awkward sometimes, so I was definitely able to play myself in some instances. I really feel there was a lot of the part that was just so well written and the comedy was well written also, so it was an exercise for me and a little bit of a challenge to really nail that. I put a lot of work into it and ultimately, I was unsure how it would come off on screen. Then, when I watched it I was like, “Oh, thank God that played!” (Laughter) Yeah, the sort of awkwardness helped pump up the comedy a lot.

TrunkSpace: A personality trait like that must help you find the laughs within the performance and not just the dialogue, correct?
Martinez: Yeah, exactly, which is something that I love doing. I’m a theater guy, so I do a lot of physical theater and stuff. I studied clowning in college and things like that and so I was able to make the physical stuff work, too.

TrunkSpace: Your character is also dealing with a new love and discovering another human being, which everyone can relate to. When you’re in a story arc like that, where it’s so reliant on chemistry, how do you personally go about trying to establish that on screen? Is it all about homework beforehand with your co-star?
Martinez: There’s not a lot of interaction, actually, with my co-star before we start rehearsing and shooting. The rehearsals happen on this minutes before the actual shoot, so you don’t really get a lot of time. We did do a chemistry read together and I think that the director, Justin Simien, and the producers wanted to see who had natural chemistry together and I think that’s important, too.

In terms of portraying that sort of attraction, I was joking with friends and I was telling them that I love playing smitten and in love. It’s just my favorite emotion to play. I could pretend to be in love with anything. I could grab a glass from the kitchen and just pretend I’m doing a monologue and improvise a monologue and be in love with anything. It’s just, there’s something about it. I love using that emotion in my arsenal, so I was really just glad to be able to do that.

TrunkSpace: You’ve appeared on a number of great shows over the years, some of which ended their runs prematurely. Is there something nice about being able to be on a show where the entire season is both produced and seen without having to worry about it finding its audience so you can close out your arc?
Martinez: Yeah. That was actually really nice, and not only that, I think that the show has a lot of fans that have come from the original movie and from Season 1. It’s definitely something, doing a show that, first of all, you don’t know if it’s going to get picked up. There’s that whole thing. The nerves are in high during pilot season. And then it gets picked up, and then, ultimately if you’re on a show and it gets canceled, there’s that big letdown. For this, coming off of my experience with other shows, I kind of compartmentalized what my experience would be like on “Dear White People” and thought, this could be it, it could be just this chunk of episodes. Then, it comes out and the fans come with it and there’s a lot of support. It’s definitely a great feeling.

Photo By: Ryan West

TrunkSpace: Is that part of a defense mechanism as an actor, having to not look too far into the future with a particular character or project?
Martinez: Definitely. Definitely. I think actors face that every day, whether it’s in an audition where you feel like you really nailed it and then you don’t hear back… it’s always the ones where you think you didn’t really get it or you weren’t that enthusiastic about it and then you hear that you have a call back or you book it and it’s like, “Oh wow!” You, as an actor, you do have to do that a lot. Just going from past experiences, you have to let some things go.

TrunkSpace: How do you personally handle the heartbreak of a show not being picked up or learning that a series has been canceled?
Martinez: Friends, you know? There’s always something to celebrate or commiserate and I think that you give in to it. You let yourself do what you need to do and then you pick up and move on. Then, over time, that process becomes a lot quicker. I think that your first letdown in Hollywood, it can last months, but as it goes along, you grow a thick skin and you learn to move on.

TrunkSpace: You’re also a puppeteer. Which love came first, acting or puppeteering?
Martinez: They’re a little one and the same. Maybe my first performances were when I was a child acting out puppet shows for my family. I was obsessed with “The Muppets” so I would take socks and stuff and make fake Muppets and do little performances for my family, so I think that maybe that was my first love. Underneath that is my love for telling stories and improvising and pretending and just giving voices to characters that aren’t me. In that respect, they are one and the same.

Dear White People” is available now on Netflix.

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Musical Mondaze

Collective Soul

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With hit songs like “Shine,” “Gel,” and “The World I Know,” Collective Soul helped to solidify the identity of the alternative rock scene of the mid to late 1990s, and while the lineup has experienced its share of changes throughout the years, the band’s signature sound has remained intact. With the Rock & Roll Express Tour set to kick off in early July alongside 3 Doors Down and Soul Asylum, the multi-platinum hit makers are excited to once again look out at amphitheaters filled with people singing along with them, this time until the final dog days of summer.

We recently sat down with drummer Johnny Rabb to discuss the preparation he goes through in order to get ready for life on the road, how the band is friends both on and off the stage, and why rumors of a possible double album on the horizon may hold some truth.

TrunkSpace: After all these years of gigging and touring the world, do you still get excited about hitting the road?
Rabb: Yeah, absolutely. We all have families, but some of us have kids, so that part is a juggle, but I have a very understanding family and kids myself, so I still absolutely love it. It’s what I wanted to do since I was probably in the third grade, so for me it’s pretty exciting.

TrunkSpace: This tour will last about three months and includes nearly 40 dates. How do you prepare mentally and physically, because that’s a long time to be away from home and regular routines?
Rabb: It is a drain on the body, but something happens before the show and I’ve felt it happen. You can be extremely exhausted mid-tour, beginning of tour, end of tour – anytime during the tour – and something magic happens where, I don’t know what it is – adrenaline from the crowd’s energy, the amphitheater vibe – where you get this adrenaline rush for real. You’re like, “Okay, show is starting…” Then you tell yourself, “Whoa, we’re in this thing, and this is amazing, and it’s working.” That’s real.

As far as preparation, I’m not going to lie, I need to exercise. I know Ed (Roland) runs and does a good job taking care of himself. I’m not saying the other guys don’t, I just know that myself, I do the age old thing of getting a trainer for a little bit, then all of the sudden the tour happens, and I’m lounging around. (Laughter) But a little bit more to the story, I just try to bring a jump rope out, I’ll try to jog when I can. I’ll try to do some of the stuff I can do on the road to keep in shape. Then the drums, I’m not going to say they help my belly, but they definitely help cardio and stuff like that.

TrunkSpace: One hand must scratch the other one’s back in that regard. Drums help you stay in shape, but you have to be in shape to play drums. The physical stress alone of all of that playing must take its toll?
Rabb: It can get a little difficult. The funny part that people sort of forget is that the beginning of the tour, your body goes, “Okay man, you haven’t done this for a little bit…” Or even if we played a lot of shows this year, no matter what, I’ll get a couple of blisters again, with my skin and stuff going, “Hey man, you’re really not giving us a chance to recover here.” Then that’ll turn into a callus, and I think you know what I mean from there. It’s sort of right back in it again.

TrunkSpace: There must be those days where, perhaps a shoulder isn’t feeling right or you’re sore all over, and you just have to muddle through it and finish the set.
Rabb: A hundred percent. Each of us have had some sort of thing where it almost feels like a… it’s probably not a pinched nerve, but a thing in your back where you’re just like, “Oh, I can’t get up,” or whatever. We’ve had that several occasions where it’s just that something that is stressing the body and overuse will happen. I give the guys total credit, because we’re always super cordial to each other if somebody is not feeling well. In the time I’ve been here, everyone just rises to the occasion. We try our best in that time that we’re on stage to make the best performance for the crowd, and for each other. We try to do the best we can.

TrunkSpace: And you can go out on the road for three months together, and then come home and go your separate ways for a bit and refuel the tank.
Rabb: I think a lot of people make that joke about, “Oh, I can’t wait to get off tour and get away from these guys.” That could be true for body rest. One thing that’s awesome about this band is we get along great. All of us are buddies. Even when the show is over, we don’t just go off into some room and ignore each other. We go out, hang out and have dinner. On days off we do stuff. So I agree with you, yes, rest wise, we all are excited. We’re excited for the tour, and then basically it’s a reward at the end of the tour of, “Hey, good job you guys, let’s do a few shows for the rest of the year,” or whatever we have planned, then just regroup, like going into the studio or something that helps us get a little bit more energy and get back to it. But I’ve never been on a tour with these guys where at the end of it there’s any sort of negative, “Oh, get this thing over with,” vibe. Quite the opposite.

TrunkSpace: Which is great because you hear stories all of the time about people who can do the professional thing and make it work, but secretly can’t stand to be in the same room with each other.
Rabb: I don’t really want to name names, but we’ve seen that out on things we’ve done where when they hit the stage it’s cool, and when they’re not, it’s not. Even sometimes I’ve seen situations out in Nashville where it’s not cool even on stage. It’s like, “Whoa!” So I’m happy to report that all we do is pretty much make a lot of jokes. (Laughter)

Photo By: Joseph Guay

TrunkSpace: You joined Collective Soul in 2012. How has your life changed the most since coming on board with the band?
Rabb: It’s changed the most in these sense of, even though I’ve always done music and had the same passion as these guys have had, and even followed them when I was doing my career in Nashville and loved the band, it’s changed in the sense of… I don’t want to say comfort, because I never want to get too comfortable and pretend that I don’t respect my position, but at the same time, almost settled, which I love, because I have a wonderful wife and two daughters. We live in Indianapolis, and it’s been an amazing experience because we can live in Indianapolis or anywhere. It’s also just the schedule – getting used to the schedules. It’s nothing different, because I used to tour before, but it’s one focus. I feel part of a group, as opposed to just hired on as, “You’re the drummer for bing bing…” and put the name in there, country artist or artist. This feels like a long-term plan, and I feel part of a team. So in that sense, and the growth, and getting to know the guys better every year, that’s where it’s changed stuff. I can’t predict the future, but if you said, “What would you want to do?”, that’s what I would want to do, is raise a family where I’m doing it, and work with Collective Soul.

TrunkSpace: There must be something nice too about coming into a band that already has an established audience and knowing that when you go out on tour, there’s going to be fans out there, not only in the audience, but singing along with everything that you guys are doing? There’s got to be a sense of, “I don’t have to go to the club and play to two people and build our way up, because here it is.”
Rabb: Oh, there is! I’ll tell you what, that’s a great analogy. Two things. One, I’m super proud that I have done that whole due paying. Not necessarily, “I paid my dues to be in Collective Soul.” I don’t mean that. I mean, I’m proud to be able to tell you that I’ve done the 12-passenger, 15-passenger van tours. I’ve done the things that I think all drummers and musicians do – the kinds of rites of passage – should do, whether it’s trying to get signed with my band in Nashville, or playing with a country artist and realizing that you are the hired gun.

When I play the songs every night, I’m like, “Man, this is awesome. Look at Ed up there, Will (Turpin), Dean (Roland), Jesse (Triplett). This is great. We’re doing it. This is killer.” I’m excited. It could be in the spur of the moment of a show where I’m concentrating and I go, “Wow, this is that hit song. I love this song. This is great.”

But then there’s a little bit of, and I can’t change time, but a little bit of envy of the past. You can’t change the past, and you don’t want to mess with time and the how-everything-is-meant to be vibe, but sometime I do wish like, “Man, what if I would’ve been in this from the beginning?” But at the same time, I have such respect for Shane (Evans) and all the other drummers – Ryan (Hoyle) and Cheney (Brannon) – so I’m doing this like, “This is where it is now, and this is what was supposed to happen.”

TrunkSpace: There was some stuff floating around online that the band is working on a new album, and that it might be a double album. Is there any truth to that?
Rabb: I always want to not speak out of school or whatever, but there has definitely been rumors that there’s enough to do a double album, and that’s exciting. I’m not keeping any secrets. I’m more just being careful with who knows when it will really be released. But I’m sure there’s plans – talks in 2019 for new music. I will tell you, I know for a fact that it’s definitely true that we’ve got tons of songs that Ed has written. We’ve all gotten together as a band and recorded them over the last year and a half, even in New Jersey. We just went to The Barber Shop Studios for about 10 to 12 days. We had an easy flow in the recording process and we did knockout nine tunes. It’s all sounding really new, fresh, and still has that Collective Soul, undeniable sound.

You can view the Collective Soul tour dates here.

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Wingman Wednesday

Kim Slate

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It’s usually every artist’s wish to be able to stay true to their own artistic vision while still being able to carve out a living. It’s a rare but much sought-after existence in the creative community. Kim Slate is doing just that, not only turning her work into a paycheck but also creating some of the most unique and expressive sculptures you’ll ever see.

We recently sat down to chat with Slate about her work with acclaimed animation studio Laika, her obsession with “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and unicorns with shifty eyes.

TrunkSpace: What drove you to pursue a career in art and animation?
Slate: As a kid I was a huge Disney nerd and loved all things art related. In high school I attended a summer animation program where I learned some basics and got to make my own short film. After that I was totally hooked and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

TrunkSpace: How would you describe your work?
Slate: I like to create scenarios with characters who look like they’re up to no good. Every sculpture or painting is trying to tell a story in one pose. I want the viewer to be able to imagine what’s going to happen next. I like to make art that is just fun and isn’t trying to be too serious.

TrunkSpace: Was there a particular artist or title from your childhood that you remember being drawn to and inspired by?
Slate: I was totally obsessed with “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” That film is the reason I wanted to work at Laika in the first place. I also remember being really drawn to the artwork in the book “Where the Wild Things Are.” In high school I started looking at artists like Aubrey Beardsley, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt.

TrunkSpace: Where do you find your inspiration for your work now?
Slate: I’m inspired by so many local artists here in Portland. There are a couple amazing galleries here that have incredible shows every month. I love getting to meet the artists and ask them about their process. I also have always been drawn to Mexican folk sculptures. I have a few of them on my desk to inspire me while I’m working.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working with Laika Studios on movies like “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Coraline,” “Box Trolls” and “ParaNorman.” All of the movies have been not only critically acclaimed, but they all seem to have found a very passionate fan base. What has your experience been like working with Laika?
Slate: Working at Laika was an incredible experience. I specialized in facial animation for more than 10 years starting with “Coraline” and finishing at the end of last year. It was my first job after art school. It was inspiring to work in the same building with so many amazingly talented people, and I feel lucky and proud to have worked on those films.

TrunkSpace: We love your sculptures immensely and how you imbue the animals with so much personality. Can you tell us a bit about your sculpture work and why you enjoy creating animals?
Slate: My process has evolved over the last eight years or so. I always start with a sketch, sometimes just a scratchy doodle and sometimes a detailed illustration. Then I create a wire armature and use Sculpey to build up the form, and finish it with gouache and acrylic paint. I think the theme of mischievous animals came from an old drawing I did years ago of a unicorn with shifty eyes and lots of little teeth. Since then I’ve really loved creating characters that make people smile. Animals are so appealing to me. They are incredibly expressive and they can be sinister and friendly at the same time.

TrunkSpace: What would you say is the greatest strength as an artist?
Slate: To create work that’s authentically yours whether it’s trendy or not. There is pressure to shift toward what’s getting attention on Instagram but I love it when artists just do their own thing.

TrunkSpace: How has technology changed your process of putting ideas/script to page? Do you use the classic paper/pencil approach at all anymore?
Slate: In my career at Laika, my job was always done digitally, though most of what you see on screen is done by hand. In my own work I almost always use a classical approach… drawing and painting on paper. I do rely heavily on Photoshop for editing and tweaking what I’ve created by hand, but I’ve never made the leap to full digital illustration. I like the fact that there is an “original” painting or drawing when it’s done by hand.

TrunkSpace: What advice would you give another young aspiring artist who is considering a career in the art realm?
Slate: I would encourage an aspiring artist to try a lot of different things to see what he or she likes. It’s easy to get locked into a job and miss out on seeing what else is out there. Right out of school it’s hard to know what you’re going to want 10 years down the road, so I think it’s good to be open to different experiences and not limit the opportunities too early on.

TrunkSpace: What else can fans of your work look forward to in the future?
Slate: I’m excited about continuing to create more sculptures and participating in more art shows coming up later in the year. Currently I’m working on designing a short film that will be completed sometime in the next few months. I’m also really hoping to collaborate with friends to animate my characters in the near future.

Follow Slate on Instagram here and at www.kimslate.com.

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Bar Hopping

The Royal American

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Establishment Name: The Royal American

Website: www.theroyalamerican.com

Physical Address: 970 Morrison Drive Charleston, SC 29403

Hours of Operation: Mon – Sun: 11 am to 2 am
Lunch service just started June 2nd. The kitchen stays open until 1 am every night.

Doors First Opened In: December 2011

Signature Drink: Rum, Bourbon, & Vodka Punches made in-house and served in a 32-ounce stadium souvenir cup. Homemade Cinnamon Whiskey.

TrunkSpace: How would you categorize the establishment? Is it a pub? A local hangout? A honky-tonk? Etc.?
A neighborhood bar, restaurant, and concert venue.

TrunkSpace: Can you describe the décor in three words or less?
Rustic, comfortable, eclectic.

TrunkSpace: What makes the place unique? Why should we drink there?
The history of the building provided an industrial, old school feeling that was softened by current owners with music memorabilia, unique lighting, and cozy booths and tables. Top local, regional and national bands play five to six nights a week, a full menu with more than 30 dishes just launched, and there are great front and back patios to enjoy the Charleston weather and marsh views.

TrunkSpace: Do you serve food, and if so, what should we order our next time in?
The Magic Wings, Philly Cheese Steak, or Pharmacy Burger.

TrunkSpace: Have there been any notable patrons who have come through your doors over the years that we everyday patrons can brag that we’ve inadvertently drank in the presence of?
Bill Murray, Danny McBride, Dave Chappelle, Norman Reedus, Mike Watt.

TrunkSpace: Craziest thing that has ever happened there that people still talk about to this day?
SUSTO playing a parking lot show and bringing 1500 people. The singer used to flip burgers here.

TrunkSpace: And finally, what is a fun fact about the establishment that could further enhance the experience of customers the next time they come through those doors and pull up a stool?
We collect old National Geographic magazines. If you find your birth month and year, you can take the magazine home with you!

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Laugh It Up

Meghan Ross

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Name: Meghan Ross

Socials: Twitter/Facebook/Instagram

Why We’re Laughing: Tapping into past experiences and her firsthand understanding of those moments to find the funny, Ross is throwing open the windows of her mind to air out the place, and in doing so, inviting us to wander around inside.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Ross: Funny-LOOKING. (This is my official resignation from comedy.) I was a comedy nerd growing up, consuming everything from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (I’m the Rhoda) to “Strangers with Candy.” But I wasn’t a confident kid, so I never thought I’d actually perform it. I always tried to be funny though, using humor to cope with being an awkward, hairy Syrian girl among the upper-class Aryan race at my Catholic elementary school.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Ross: I was writing humor pieces and sketches at the end of college, after interning at TV Without Pity (RIP) and continued when I moved to New York and completed the UCB Advanced Studies improv and sketch programs. After several years of improv shows in bar basements, I realized I should focus more on solo work if I want to turn comedy into a career. I started doing stand-up, wrote my first sitcom pilot and screenplay, and pitched more humor essays during my last couple years in New York before moving to Austin to continue it. I host, write, and produce, an all-women late night show called “That Time of the Month” and one of my priorities this year is to expand it beyond the live stage show.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Ross: I’m still discovering my voice after seven years, but it probably took until this year for me to be more comfortable and consistent with my sets, particularly the monologues I write for “That Time of the Month,” which I’d been doing for about three years. Not too bad considering I’m 10 years old if any big shot Hollywood agents are asking.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Ross: I’d consider them different acts. Even after years of trying other forms of comedy, I wasn’t sure what my stand-up voice would be when I started, so I tried to do observational humor mixed in with personal experiences without thinking of the flow or delivery, which are crucial elements to a set. I still balance those two, but I’m more relaxed and try to be conversational versus before when I was robotic and memorizing out of fear of forgetting jokes. (Thanks to local Austin comic Arielle Norman for this much-needed tip from her workshop!)

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Ross: I’m not trying to force every single life experience into a joke, but I do jot down ideas in my iPhone notes app as stuff comes to me during random moments throughout the week. My notes usually read as a transcription of a fever dream by the time I revisit it later to adapt into material.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Ross: More hours of doubt and self-loathing than actual preparation. But I do make sure my former writing partner/co-founder of “That Time of the Month,” Liisa Murray, takes a look at my monologues before the show to make sure it’s not entirely nonsense.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Ross: I’m not married to any of my new jokes (commitment issues) so I usually only give it one more chance before reworking or dropping it completely.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Ross: Of course, and it could honestly be a range of different factors, from your own delivery of the jokes, to how warm the audience is once you get on stage.

I once performed a weird bit at a show in Austin (where I didn’t know anyone yet) that killed and then did that same bit a week later at a show in New York (where I did know a bunch of people) and it bombed. My first guess was because the Austin show was experimental, the host helps manage the audience’s expectations that comedians are trying out stuff they’ve never done before, outside of traditional stand-up. My second guess was the audience in New York hated my stinking guts.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Ross: Definitely, because it makes it easier to play off of their energy and even stray a bit from my set, improvising new lines from what they’re reacting strongest to in the performance. But I’ve learned not to be dependent on the audience for that every time because if the energy isn’t there, it’s still on me to finish my set strong. They’ll notice when I’m nervous or lose confidence in my material.

Photo By: Tess Cagle

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Ross: Last year after my Aunt Dawn, who I was really close with, passed away, I dedicated an episode of “That Time of the Month” to her, including a monologue memorializing her. I was nervous about performing an emotional comedy set, but it ended up being very therapeutic during a tough time.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Ross: I track down a place they like to frequent, such as a coffee shop or public park, stage a meet cute, date them for several years, establish a level of intimacy and unbreakable bond that leads to marriage, get pregnant, move into a refurbished farmhouse upstate to raise our kids, build a life for ourselves over a span of five decades, care for them in their old age, and just as they’re lying on their death bed and we’re sharing our last moment together, I lean over and whisper-scream, “IT’S NOT YOUR FUCKING TURN TO TALK.”

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Ross: I’m excited about diverse voices finally getting the bigger platforms they deserve and I hope the industry continues to recognize them for it. On a separate thought, while it’s gotten a lot easier to put your material out there through different mediums, we’re now watching a lot of those mediums go away, such as with many humor sites shuttering in the past few years. I’m curious to see how comedy scenes adapt to these changes and what the next wave of comedy in the digital age will bring. That last sentence felt like a sound bite from a stammering TV exec at an upfront presentation for pilots adapted from Instagram Stories that will all be canceled by the end of this other sentence.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Ross: Kate Berlant & John Early, Aparna Nancherla, Jo Firestone, Jenny Slate, Ali Wong, Michelle Wolf, Jessica Williams, Chelsea Peretti, Keep It! (Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, Louis Virtel), my dog Dreidel.

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Wingman Wednesday

CJ “Lana” Perry

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Photographer: Diana Ragland/Hair: Robert Steinken/Makeup: Brian Valentine/Wardrobe: Madison Guest

CJ “Lana” Perry is known as The Ravishing Russian in the ring, and while we find it impossible to discredit her ravishingness (yes, totally a made up word!), The Resilient Russian is just as suitable of a name. The WWE Superstar has been focused, hard working, and tireless in her quest to achieve a career in the squared circle, despite her lifelong struggles with learning disabilities. Passion for the craft and an unwillingness to listen to the naysayers has carried her forward however, and now she’s set to appear at Money in the Bank this Sunday on pay-per-view and the WWE Network, going boot to boot with some of the best and brightest in the women’s division ladder match.

We recently sat down with the ravishing AND resilient CJ “Lana” Perry to discuss her training focus for Money in the Bank, how she never lets go of the WWE butterflies, and why, like life, her career is a marathon and not a sprint.

TrunkSpace: You are gearing up for a very exciting weekend by the looks of it!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes, a very exciting weekend. I’m so excited that I don’t know what to do with myself.

TrunkSpace: Is it difficult to stay focused on Money in the Bank, but then also have to juggle everything else that’s going on with work, and life, and just sort of building towards the event?
CJ “Lana” Perry: There’s definitely a lot going on, that’s for sure. We’re filming “Total Divas” right now on top of everything, so it’s pretty much just go, go, go. I think I have 12 hours home today before I leave tomorrow. But my number one priority is Money in the Bank this Sunday, and training for that. I actually fly out to San Diego tomorrow to train with Daniel Bryan because, it’s not like he hasn’t had any ladder matches, right? He keeps on telling me to keep my feet on the ground. I’m like, “I can’t keep my feet on the ground. I have to climb a ladder!”

TrunkSpace: We get nervous just climbing a ladder to put up Christmas lights! Even when you plan for every possible outcome and scenario, there still has to be some nervousness, right? It’s so high!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, it’s nuts. I’m not scared of heights, but I realize ladders… they’re so unstable, so it’s not just the height. It’s just insane to me. This is going to be Naomi’s third ladder match, so I was able to train some with Naomi. We were using basically an 8’ ladder, and they’re going to be 10’ and 12’ is the big one. It’s the 12’ one that you have to go up to actually grab the briefcase! It’s crazy. When we put the ladder in the ring, it’s even more unstable. Obviously they’re going to be trying to pull you down, and who knows what other shenanigans are going to be happening. So I’m just trying to prepare myself as much as possible for this – lifting a lot. It’s really heavy. People don’t realize how heavy these ladders are. That’s why I was training with Naomi. We went to a ring, she had me doing things outside in her backyard, because she’s insane. She’s the crazy cat lady. (Laughter) Then I’m training with Bryan tomorrow and Friday to prepare for this.

I have to get used to the fact that my feet will be coming off the ground.

TrunkSpace: We would have to imagine that a ladder match requires a different approach to training because, even just the art of falling… it takes on a new artistic point of view from 12’ up!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, for sure. Definitely a completely different approach. Ladder matches are… the risks, the stakes, are so much higher. They’re so much more intense. We’re so much higher! You could fall 12’ at least, or maybe more, depending if the ladder falls onto the outside and you fall out of the ring. You just have to be really, really prepared. You have to be prepared physically, but also mentally. That’s the reason why the first ever ladder match happened a year ago for women, because the stakes are so high, and it is really intense. That’s the reason why this is the second ever Money in the Bank ladder match at the pay-per-view Money in the Bank, besides the rematch that they had on RAW last year, the following week after the pay-per-view. So it’s just… to be a part of a historic moment like this – and the talent in this match, the women, they’re all such incredible talents – so I’m really, really excited, and grateful to be in the ring with such talented women.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working in this industry for a long time now, traveling the globe doing what you love. It’s a lifestyle that few people ever get to experience. Do you still experience that same excitement about what you do as you did early in your career?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, of course! I get excitement all the time! I mean, I can’t even tell you how I’ll feel goosebumps. When we went to Santiago, Chile, and the fans were just exploding. It was electrifying. The energy there is just… I could feel it through my entire body. Then I went into the audience and had a hoodie on, and I watched the rest of the show once I finished, because it was just such… the energy was just so exciting. I just love what we do so much. I’m so grateful for what we do. I never lose the butterflies.

I love traveling. I love experiencing new things, new cultures, food, sights, and people, so it’s so exciting. I always try and get out in any of the cities that we are in if we have time. I always try and go sightseeing, eat the food, and just experience it because I’m so blessed to be able to do what I love for a living and travel the world. And I have my husband with me, so it’s really, really, really exciting.

Photo courtesy of WWE.

 

TrunkSpace: Yeah, that has to be a part of it that makes it even more unique – getting to experience it all with the person that you love?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes! I’m so grateful for it. We always talk about that, Rusev and I, how grateful we are that we get to travel the world doing what we love with the person that we love.

TrunkSpace: It was just last month that you won your very first singles match. Have things been altered for you at all – your approach to preparation or training – since that career changer?
CJ “Lana” Perry: I would say it’s been very encouraging, but I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been training. I say it’s the slow and the steady that’s going to win the race, and I am the slow, and I am the steady. I might not be the fastest, or the quickest learner, but I am passionate. I work hard. I am resilient and I work hard to persevere. It takes time to become good. It just takes time to be good at anything. I would say I’ve really only been wrestling on a weekly base for the last year – wrestling at live events every week has been only consistently for a year. It takes years to become great.

One thing is just getting in the ring and training. Another thing is that where you get good is having matches every week. Having matches at least several times a week is the way you become good, and so it’s just been the persevering of, “Okay, yeah I lose, but…” I lost a lot. I think my first win before my singles match was on Mixed Match Challenge. It was with Rusev, and I beat Bayley, which was just, I believe, a miracle, because she’s incredible. Incredible, incredible talent and in ring performer.

I had read – and my dad actually sent it to me because he likes to read the internet – he sent me that I had had 60 matches, and that I had lost 60 times on the main roster. This was my first win. It was 61, and it was on his birthday, and he was turning 61. So it was really cool for me.

I think my story is about persevering and working hard, and that reflects my life. I haven’t always been the best at anything, but I continue to work and persevere, and I will win the race.

TrunkSpace: Everybody needs a dad internet filter because the internet can be a scary place! (Laughter)
CJ “Lana” Perry: (Laughter) I know! It really, really is. It can be very, very scary.

Photo courtesy of WWE.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how you’ve been performing in the ring regularly for the last year, but what was that very first moment like when you were standing behind the curtain, waiting for your music to play?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Well, last year was my singles debut at Money in the Bank actually, against Naomi for the title match. I was beyond nervous. I thought I was going to throw up. It was just so much pressure. I wanted to be in the Money in the Bank ladder match. Shane McMahon told me that I hadn’t proven myself yet. Then Naomi wanted to face me because she wanted a match for Money in the Bank, so I really, really, really lucked out that I was able to have my first singles match, and that it was a title match. I got really lucky, but at the same time, it’s like, “Am I ready for a title at Money in the Bank pay-per-view?” (Laughter)

I didn’t deserve that, but those were the cards that were handed to me. So it’s like, “Did I earn that yet?” No, I had one tag match on TV, and that was a year before Wrestlemania. But, life throws you some crazy cards, and you have to play the cards that are given to you. You have to make the most of it. I was so, so nervous. I was just like, “Okay, I know some people might think I do good, but I’m sure half the internet and Twitter trolls are going to eat me up and say I’m the worst wrestler of all time.” It just is what it is. You just have to make the most of it. I was so nervous, but when I walked through that curtain and, I can’t explain it. When I’m standing there, my heart is racing and I’m just trying to calm myself, but once I go through that curtain, it’s just like, “I’m born to do this.” I love it.

TrunkSpace: Like you mentioned, you’re currently filming the latest season of “Total Divas.” How does that fit into your day-to-day life? Is it something that you’re consciously aware of at all times, or does it just kind of exist as a part of your life, going along with you?
CJ “Lana” Perry: I just let it go along with me. I always wanted to do “Total Divas” because I felt like my journey was so unconventional, especially compared to all the other women – all the other WWE superstars. I really, really wanted to show my life, and to show my journey, because my journey to the WWE, and my in-ring journey reflects, really, my life journey. I have had a very, very unconventional life. I’m an American that grew up in Russia. I have Christian missionary parents. I have a lot of learning disabilities, and you’re going to see that in “Total Divas.” I knew I had learning disabilities, but I didn’t realize I had such severe learning disabilities. You’re going to see me deal with that. At one point I wasn’t on TV for 13 weeks and I was just so discouraged. I can get really, really, really discouraged. When you keep on working hard and you keep on trying, you keep on trying to get into storylines, and you just have to wait. It’s a patience game, and it’s about being resilient and persevering. I’m happy that I am able to show these ups and these downs on “Total Divas,” because life is that. If I can share anything with people, to girls and boys and people of all ages, it’s that life is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. My career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and that applies to all areas of life.

TrunkSpace: Sharing the story of your struggles to overcome learning disabilities could help other young people feel not so alone in their own struggles.
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes. That’s what I hope, to really encourage people. Even if you do have learning disabilities, and you do learn differently, that doesn’t mean that it can stop you from achieving your dreams, and achieving the things that you love. I think that when I realized that, when I saw all the disabilities that I have, I was like, “Wow, I went through college?” Holy freaking moly! I should never have. That’s the reason why I feel like I’m able to persevere in WWE, because it’s kind of like, even with the critics, even with people saying I shouldn’t be here or that I’m not the best or not good enough or not strong enough, it’s like, no, I am going to keep on being resilient and I’m going to keep on persevering.

TrunkSpace: Well, we think you should let your husband keep Rusev Day, and much like how we celebrate our birthday, you should adopt Lana Week!
CJ “Lana” Perry: (Laughter) I like that! Though I take a whole month for my birthday, so we can do Lana Week and Lana Month! (Laughter)

Money In The Bank airs Sunday on pay-per-view and on the WWE Network.

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Wingman Wednesday

Jennifer Bartels

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The new Paramount Network series “American Woman” may be marketed as a comedy, but there are plenty of dramatic moments throughout the course of the first season, which proved an exciting change of pace for star Jennifer Bartels. Although trained in theater and the Meisner technique (an approach to acting developed by Sanford Meisner that places emphasis on instinctive response), the North Carolina native became a familiar voice within the comedy scene, studying and performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater before being cast in a reboot of “In Living Color” and serving as writer, performer and executive producer of truTV’s sketch comedy series “Friends of the People.”

With “American Woman,” a period piece that also stars Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari, Bartels is getting to flex dormant muscles, and relishing in the fact that her character Diana travels so far from her starting point in the pilot to where she ends up in the season finale.

We recently sat down with Bartels to discuss the need for actors to create, how she’s settling her hustler nerves so that she can enjoy the “American Woman” ride, and why she’s eager to shape opportunities for other actors in the future.

TrunkSpace: It must be quite a whirlwind for you these last couple of weeks?
Bartels: Yeah, it’s been amazing. As an actor that started out in theater and doing comedy in New York, to have this show and all the fun and buzz behind it, it’s been really awesome – really great.

TrunkSpace: What is the experience like when you’re doing a project of this size and scope, from that moment when you first slip into the character to when it premieres? Is the wait excruciating… to get to share it with the world?
Bartels: Yeah. It was a wonderful experience. The thing is, from the conception of this show to now, it’s been, I believe, almost five years. So even when I booked the pilot and then from what that pilot was, and what Diana and these characters were, to where they are now when you see the final product… it was a really rich experience. But it’s also timely, everything we’re discussing now. It’s really nice because it’s been a work-in-the-making for years. And we wrapped in July, so it’s been really nice to finally see it take off and get promoted and have really great viewership.

TrunkSpace: When working in this business, especially before something is formally released, is it important for you to temper expectation knowing that so much of it is out of your control?
Bartels: Yeah, I feel like that’s been my personal journey creatively, which is why to me, it’s so important to be creating your own projects because at least you have control. There are a lot of actors who are actors, but I think in this climate, with social media and just with where we are, it’s great to be writing and creating and producing your own thing because it’s such a crap shoot. There’s so many elements outside of your control. From me going on an audition, to having a series go on to air 12 episodes, to a billboard on Sunset… it’s wonderful, but it’s a rarity. And then to see who’s going to like it? It’s a lot of holding your breath and a lot of ups and downs. It never goes away.

TrunkSpace: There must be something creatively satisfying knowing that you have those 12 episodes to build an audience with and not having to wait week-to-week to see if you’ll be moving forward with a storyline or particular arc?
Bartels: Yeah, that’s what is exciting right now, and I think as an actor sometimes we’re hard on ourselves and we’re always like, “What else? What are we doing?” We’re hustlers, but I think giving yourself a moment to sit in the satisfaction that it’s a solid female-driven show that, each week, will air, and that these characters really develop in a really surprising way, especially Diana, my character, from where you see her in the pilot to where she goes… it’s very wonderful and layered, so it’s exciting. Yeah, I have to check myself and go, “Jen, calm down, take a deep breath.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: At what point can you let your guard down and just sort of say, “Okay, this is it. This is going to be my life for the next four or five years?”
Bartels: I think it’s always a struggle, if I’m being brutally honest. I think at this point everyone should be in therapy out here because it is a matter of what is enough and feeling that what you’re doing is enough creatively and professionally, because again, there’s so many cooks in the kitchen on any given project. So I’m trying to really celebrate and not let… sometimes you just have those voices in your head that… great, that’s going to make me sound totally insane… but you have those naysayers in your own head that try to get in your own way, and so it’s nice to remind yourself that if you hang with good family or friends, like, “Hey, you really accomplished something pretty rad.” So that’s what I’m trying to do.

TrunkSpace: In the current TV landscape where there is so much great television being produced, just finding an audience is a big accomplishment.
Bartels: Yeah, there really is so much competition because there’s so many avenues to watch programming, and solid programming, and so I think that’s what’s been really gratifying is, the fans, viewers. New fans, fans who love Kyle (Richards), fans who love John Wells, or Alicia and Mena… and then the ’70s. There’s just a lot of elements that different people can be drawn in by with this show, and so it’s really cool to see the first week, Twitter light up, and a lot of, especially women, but I think what’s been wonderful too is men and older folks too who really are taken back to the ’70s with this type of show… it’s been a nice array of viewership, so it is very cool.

TrunkSpace: For you personally, as a performer, was one of the draws in working on “American Woman” the fact that it was a little bit drama and a little bit comedy, and having the ability to sort of play with all of the emotions of a character?
Bartels: Yeah, I think that that’s always wonderful. I studied theater and Meisner technique in North Carolina and then I came to New York and I started doing comedy, and I think it’s a really nice thing when you have a project that allows you to flex different muscles. People are like, “So it’s a comedy?” And I’m like, “Well, it’s more of a dramedy.” There really is a lot of honest, serious social and personal issues and I think the comedy that you’re looking for when you’re like, “Oh, where’s that one liner?”, it’s more… there are funny, honest things, and to me, comedy is honesty. When you’re honest, that’s when it’s truth in comedy. So I feel like that’s what we play with, and that is finding the honesty and the comedy in real life situations and how they’ve changed to how they haven’t, then and now.

TrunkSpace: With traditional TV comedies, sitcoms, you don’t see a lot of growth and story arcs for characters, but that’s not the case with this show. You’re seeing them go through life and adjusting based on what they experience.
Bartels: Yeah, which I really actually enjoy, and like you said, it was a really nice thing to see as this story progressed and the writers were writing for us, that these characters did take very juicy steps in directions that we maybe didn’t foresee when we did the pilot. Because when you do the pilot, you think, “Oh, it’s a pilot…” You hope it gets picked up, and now I’m Episode 7 in and I’m like, “What am I about to do?” And it’s so rewarding and surprising and I think the viewers will like it as well.

TrunkSpace: You spoke about the chance to get to flex your acting muscles. Where do you feel you got to stretch the most by being a part of “American Woman?”
Bartels: I think it’s more on the serious side. I think a lot of my work in the past, my commercial work, has been… I had a sketch show and I booked “In Living Color,” so I was coming in hot with comedy. So to be given the trust with the writers and the producers to be seen as… not a serious actor, but I had more of a dramatic side to me… I think it was great and it came out in the writing as the show progressed. In Episode 3 there’s this pool scene where Diana kind of goes off the deep end, literally, and it allowed me to have some fun as I did this wonderful, rich monologue on a roof after partying a little too hard, and you start to see this different side of Diana. This not-so-buttoned-up side. And that reveals itself in like five different ways in the whole season, different ways that she starts to loosen those buttons. I think there was a lot that I was challenged with that I had never done before on-screen that was fun and wild and sexy and sad, and I’m really excited and proud of Diana. And it was so cool that people trusted me when they started seeing what I can do, and wrote more for me, so it was wonderful.

TrunkSpace: As a creative person who also works as a writer and producer, is a long-term journey with a character on-screen – going four, five, or even six years with a character – something that appeals to you?
Bartels: Well, I feel like there’s the idea of getting work to get work, or having as much as possible and seeing what sticks on a wall, but creatively for me, I prefer if it’s something fulfilling. And if Diana’s story or whomever I’m working with, playing whatever character, has a rich, fun road to walk down, I would definitely have allegiance to playing that role, truth be told. And I also think there is a lot of intense work. You shoot for three months nonstop and then you do have time allocated to creating other roles or projects. A big thing I want to do is continue to pitch and produce projects that I’m on the backend of – that I’m behind the scenes with – just to give more females and more underrepresented people roles because I feel like that still needs to happen. I feel like we branch out, but we still kind of use the same few people. There are just so many talented people I know that need that opportunity, that was in a way given to me, and so I think if I could help create and give back, that’s kind of what I want to do. But I think they can both go together. I can still be on the journey with Diana, or whomever else, and keep creating on the side.

Catch Jennifer Bartels’ journey with Diana in “American Woman” every Thursday on Paramount Network.

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Musical Mondaze

Sam Evian

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Photo By: Josh Goleman

Sam Owens puts every bit of himself into his songs, opening up his head in a way that enables the listener to swim around in the New York-based songwriter’s brain, backstroking to thought-proving lyrics while bobbing up and down to infectious grooves that stream from his viscous creativity. His latest work, “You, Forever,” falls under the name Sam Evian and features band members Brian Betancourt (bass), Austin Vaughn (drums), Adam Brisbin (guitar), and Hannah Cohen (backing vocals). The album is available now on Saddle Creek. (See our review here.)

We recently sat down with Owens to discuss spontaneous recording sessions, why he sometimes Jekyll and Hydes himself, and the feeling he gets when listening to a favorite record that he’d love to pass on through his own music.

TrunkSpace: Your latest album “You, Forever” dropped June 1st on Saddle Creek. What emotions do you juggle with as you gear up to release new material to the world and is it ever difficult to let go and allow the universe to take over?
Owens: Releasing music in 2018 is kind of an unhealthy process. I don’t have a problem letting go, but it’s tough not to compare myself to others. The internet is a strange place for anything, and it’s kind of the opposite of heart and soul, which is what I put into my music. Anyway, I feel lucky to be able to do this dance.

TrunkSpace: Did you feel any creative pressure with this album knowing it was a direct follow-up to your debut? Is there a sense of having to deliver on expectations now that may not have existed when you went into the studio for “Premium?”
Owens: Not necessarily. “Premium” was a relatively quiet release. It kind of has its own life out there. I love hearing from people who stumble into it. I knew I wanted to try for a different sound with LP2, and I wanted to keep it honest. Beyond that, the pressure was low.

TrunkSpace: “You, Forever” has a great feel/vibe to it as a whole that really ties everything together and makes it feel like a cohesive collection of tracks. How much creative thought was put into looking beyond just the songs themselves and into producing a sort of, for lack of a better word, classic record?
Owens: Thanks! Well, I spent a ton of time preparing for the recording on the technical side. I pieced together a van full of gear to truck upstate. I even made my own mic cables. I got to the house a day early and spent a long time getting it all ready… cleaning the tape machine, setting up the patch bay, hanging blankets on the walls. By the time the band got there, I had turned this little house in the woods into a fully-functional analog studio. On the music side of things, I held off from teaching the band any tunes until they arrived upstate. I think it made for a spontaneous atmosphere, where we banished insecurities in favor of instinct and first thought/best thought mentality.

TrunkSpace: While all music you create is no doubt personal to you, this album feels like it goes places emotionally that “Premium” didn’t. Is that a safe assessment and if so, does “You, Forever” feel like you’ve put more of yourself out there than with your previous work?
Owens: Well, definitely. For me, “Premium” has its moments. Tunes like “Cactus” and “Big Car” are special to me, but are more situational and remind me of a super particular place and time. Maybe the songs on “Premium” were more like small exercises, whereas the new record digs deeper.

TrunkSpace: Did the writing process itself change for you on this one? Did the time between “Premium” and kicking off the creative for “You, Forever” inspire you to take a different approach in how you pull things from your head?
Owens: “Premium” was definitely more off the cuff. The lyrics and music came together pretty quickly. This time around I spent a lot of time demo’ing by myself. I held off from recording vocals though, because I didn’t want to commit to lyrics without really working through them. I tend to stick with ideas once I commit them to tape. I was working on final lyrics well into the process, up until the week before I mixed the record.

TrunkSpace: You’re also a producer. Do you tend to wear the two hats simultaneously – songwriter/musician and producer – and do they ever butt heads? Is what musician Sam wants not necessarily always what producer Sam wants?
Owens: Sometimes I Jekyll and Hyde myself. Producer Sam usually says, “This vocal isn’t good enough. Do it again.” Musician Sam doesn’t always want to do that. Other times the two roles seem to merge. Writing/recording become one in the same.

Owens with Hannah Cohen. Photo By: Josh Goleman

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with “You, Forever” and why?
Owens: I’m not sure… I love how it all came together. It was a ton of work but it felt fun the whole time. I’m proud of my bandmates for their work. They really threw themselves into the process and trusted me/themselves/each other.

TrunkSpace: Over the course of your songwriting career, have you written songs that you weren’t particularly happy with at the outset, only to end up learning to appreciate them more later down the road?
Owens: Sure… unfortunately I usually trash those songs. There were a couple songs that we recorded for “You, Forever” that I decided I couldn’t deal with. They made it all the way up to the final mix stage and I canned ‘em. Maybe I’ll come back around…

TrunkSpace: What does music give you as a participant that you are unable to achieve as a listener? What is the draw for you to be constantly creating?
Owens: I think I’m always chasing the experiences I have as a listener. My favorite records give me chills and make me weep. It’s rare and fleeting but when it happens it gives me such a positive feeling for life on earth. I’d love to be able to pass on that feeling.

TrunkSpace: What is the single greatest music-related moment of your career thus far and why?
Owens: Moving to New York City. It was the best thing I could have done for myself and my career. If you are out there in a small town somewhere, know this: it gets better.

You, Forever” is available now on Saddle Creek.

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Sit and Spin

Sam Evian’s You, Forever

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Artist: Sam Evian

Album: “You, Forever”

Label: Saddle Creek

Reason We’re Cranking It: With endless grooves that mingle in your mind like the crackling of static electricity, the album is aptly titled because the tracks stay with you, seemingly, forever.

What The Album Tells Us About Him: Some songwriters just get it. They have figured out the purpose of music, which is to take the listener out of their own existence and transport them to a place where every care is swept away and the world suddenly understands everything that they do. Whether Sam Owens (the brainchild behind Sam Evian) is aware of his own musical enlightenment or not doesn’t matter, because that mindfulness, conscious or not, is present in every song that he touches, and because of that, we win.

Track Stuck On Repeat: “Where Did You Go?” is every single beautiful day spent cruising around with the windows down – no particular destination in mind – all rolled into one song. It’s pop magic.

Coming To A City Near You: Sam Evian tour dates can be found here.

And that means…

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Laugh It Up

John Poveromo

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Name: John Poveromo

Socials: Twitter/Facebook/Instagram

Why We’re Laughing: Superb writing combined with the kind of relaxed presence behind the microphone that puts an audience at ease, Poveromo delivers on a brand of funny that builds within the set, transforming external laughter into internal contemplation that lasts well after you leave the club.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a funnykid, even at an early age?
Poveromo: The short answer is, yes. (Laughter) The slightly longer answer is, I grew up around funny people, who all had different kinds of funny. My dad was sort of ‘life of the party’ funny, while my mom and her side of the family were very clever funny. My great aunt and uncle were from Brooklyn and no one could tell a story better than they could. They knew exactly where to inject humor into a story, and could tell it the same way every time. So in a lot of ways I grew up trying to emulate all of them. I remember laughing a lot, and thinking it was something I should bring back to the classroom, much to my teachers’ chagrin.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Poveromo: I decided to do it after my first semester of college was over. I had never wanted to go to college in the first place, but that’s what you did. Doing anything else seemed like it was a one way ticket to pumping gas for the rest of my life. At least that’s what my math teachers lead me to believe. I wound up giving stand-up a shot and was hooked right away. I dropped out of college, got a full time job at a bank (as you do), and did stand-up after work and on the weekends on any stage that would have me. My thought process was, I could spend four years at a place that was designed to hammer square pegs into round holes, or I could have 10 years as a comedian under my belt by the time I’m 30 and do something I love for the rest of my life.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Poveromo: I think it changes over time just like everything else. I think I had a voice in my 20s and now it’s evolving more so as I’m in the beginning of my 30s. For me it was more of a struggle of chipping away at everything that wasn’t authentically me on stage as I was off. Not to say I’m on all the time, but if you meet me off stage I’m the same guy.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Poveromo: The act is always evolving, but when I started I definitely would go on stage and wing it a lot. I had some ideas of where I wanted to go and what punchlines I wanted to hit, but I liked putting myself on the spot. I felt it was more important to be fast on my feet than it was to rehearse the same five minutes, club to club. As of right now my act is about justifying my own existence.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Poveromo: I have that little notes app on my iPhone always primed and ready to go. I’ve got joke ideas and notes stored in there from 2011. Actually, I just recently sat down with a friend of mine who has a knack for organizing and he put everything into this crazy excel spreadsheet catalog thing for me. It’s really incredible. I’m not an organized person so this helped a lot.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before its ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Poveromo: Wait, wait hold up… there’s supposed to be work involved? Hoo-boy, am I in trouble.

Usually I’ll have an idea for a joke, find out where I can squeeze it into the act and see where it takes me on stage. I’m constantly trying new stuff, if I don’t I get really bored up there.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesnt seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Poveromo: Every comic has a joke they love that’s never worked on stage. Or works like once every three months. I think jokes can be reworked all the time and there’s some that have taken me years to perfect. At this point I know what will and won’t work on stage, but if I had to give it a time limit before you toss a joke, I’d say three times with three different audiences. If it’s still not getting the response you need, you gotta sideline it for the time being.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Poveromo: Yup. Did it the other night actually. It was a showcase show and I was closing it out. The audience was only there to see their friend and they were tired by the time I got up. The set was the same jokes that killed opening for Gilbert Gottfried a couple weekends before but I was getting nothing from the audience. There’s one joke in particular that I was thinking of posting on my Instagram as an example of how a joke can crush one night and get crickets the next.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Poveromo: Absolutely. The audience is a far bigger part of the show than they think sometimes. I had a weekend of shows mother’s day weekend, which is notoriously slow. The first night there were only 12 people in the audience but they were 12 people who really loved comedy and came for a good show and we had an absolute blast together. The next night we had about 40 people who you would have thought were taken hostage and forced to watch the show. Those are the nights when it feels like work.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Poveromo: Hands down, opening up for Jimmy Fallon when I was still a baby comic. It was my first time opening for a national headliner. He was on tour prepping to take over “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and he had come back to his home club, Bananas in Poughkeepsie, NY. We did five sold out shows together and he couldn’t have been nicer, or funnier. I met his family and they praised my set, which was amazing because I really got a sense that they understood what it’s like for the new guy coming up since Jimmy was so young when he started. Something like that will keep you going for a while.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Poveromo: I don’t get a ton of hecklers. Not the hecklers you see comics “battling” it out with on YouTube. I perform all over the country and honestly it doesn’t happen that often. I do engage with the crowd a lot though and when that happens they tend to get overly drunk and chatty but I just handle them in a very playful way. It’s fun watching them dig their own graves.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Poveromo: Stand-up comedy is more important now than it’s ever been. We need comedians who are willing to push limits, cross lines, and take us to places that make us uncomfortable and laugh at the same time. We’re in Trump’s America right now, and in that America it really does seem like comics are the only ones able to cut through all the bullshit and get to what’s really going on in the world. He seems to have forced both sides of the isle into their corners to the point where liberals can no longer tell the difference between jokes and statements, while conservatives have cornered the market on the victim game. It’s kind of a weird time for comedy, though I’m staying optimistic. There’s that whole Samantha Bee thing going on right now and she’s brilliant and funny, but I really wish she hadn’t apologized for the joke about Ivanka. She apologized and called it inappropriate. Comedians are supposed to be inappropriate. Racist? No. Inappropriate? Yes. In her case, it’s her job to be inappropriate while making a point. If there’s people who can’t comprehend that, fuck’em. You know? There’s a reason why entertainers, especially comedians, don’t work at the Gap. If we wanted to let the cul-de-sac culture dictate what we do and say the rest of our lives, that’s where we’d be.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Poveromo: I could list a bunch of famous comics who I and everyone else I know admire here, but they get enough press. I’ve got a lot of close friends in comedy and because we’re always working the clubs and the road we don’t get to see each other a lot, but when we do it’s a blast. Just recently I got to hang out with one of my closest friends and big brothers in comedy, Joe Starr, who came to watch me at Governor’s and wound up doing two guest sets – showing us all how the fuck it’s done. Another close friend of mine, Carole Montgomery, is in Los Angeles right now touring her stand-up show, “Women Of A Certain Age,” which is incredibly funny so if you get the chance, go see it! I just got to meet and work with Taylor Tomlinson for the first time who is fucking hysterical. Then there’s my friends Joanne Filan, Ryan Metzger, Vinnie Nardiello, Ty Raney, Jess Alaimo – who are all great comics from Jersey.

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