Tony Henchcliffe hits the road for a Monster Comedy tour
There's no better embodiment of cold-blooded snark than Tony Henchcliffe. The acerbic writer and performer began his career at the Hollywood's Comedy Store in 2007. Back then, live comedic performance was at a low point and Henchcliffe took the opportunity to hone his craft in nearly empty rooms.
As he perfected his stage persona, he began a successful gig writing for Comedy Central's Roasts. He currently hosts live podcasts including the popular "Kill Tony" series and is in development on a movie with Snoop Dogg. His first comedy special, the stylistically unique One Shot premiered early last year on Netflix.
This month Henchcliffe is on the road headlining national music venues with his newest material as he preps the content for his next special. Before he headed out on tour, he spoke with INsite from his office in Los Angeles.
You're playing rock clubs and theaters on this tour, but the last time I saw you was at Lakewood Amphitheater on the main stage at the Oddball Festival with Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari. Is it hard to do stand-up in a big-shed outdoor music venue when it's not even dark yet?
That was fun. I think the hardest part for a show like that is the pacing. It's not the outdoors part, it's the audio. Those amphitheaters are made for music more than spoken word, so sometimes you're hearing an echo of yourself while you're already talking about something else.
But the audience reaction was great. People seem to pay more attention to the subtle nuances of comics these days.
Yeah, well part of the big comedy boom that's happening is it's really helping a lot of shows and a lot of comics. I'm just excited to be part of it. Thank God I'm not part of the decades of comics that just had to make five clean minutes to be on the Tonight Show. I don't want any part of that. I don't think I even have five clean minutes!
You mentioned the comedy boom. In many ways, comics are becoming the new rockstars.
I don't know, I'm friends with some rockstars and I would trade with them in a heartbeat! But it is a great time to be a comedian because there are so many outlets. You can make things now and put it out on the internet and because everyone's sense of humor is so different, there's a little something for everybody.
There are more stand-up specials than ever, but do you think it will ever reach a saturation point?
Me and my friends talk about that sometimes. I'm not exactly sure it's even possible. Either things are good or they're bad. I think people like me are always gonna be looking out for what's next, what hasn't been made yet. I have some ideas for some things in the future that I think are part of the evolution. And now globally, more people are getting into comedy so I don't know if there'll ever be a glut. When I was in Australia, I sold out 10 shows in a row in four different cities and they all knew me for my Netflix special and podcasting. They don't even have Comedy Central there. The Netflix algorithm for each different country is something American comedians definitely aren't used to. So I think it can go on forever. As long as comedians try to stay creative, there'll always be a place for us.
Current events are always good for comedy and there's plenty of fodder for material at the moment.
And that's exactly what we get to talk about. Just yesterday, we all found out that O.J. is gonna be free in October. To some people that's terrible news. But for me, I'm excited. I want to hire him to come to my house and answer the door when the trick-or-treaters come. People need an escape for this stuff and as long as the news keeps making people feel scared and causing hysteria, it actually helps the artists on the other end. The stuff just never ends, so it just keeps writing itself over and over and over again.
Social and political commentary seem particularly perfect for your style.
I always like to take an as weird as possible entry point. Things that other people aren't talking about. Like with Trump, comedians want people to like them, so they're taking an anti-Trump stance. I don't say whether I'm for or against him, but I take a different angle. I like villains and it think it kinda rubs off on my stand-up. I'm not up there to get people to like me off of my likeability. I'm there for them to like me because of my material.
That makes a big difference in your appeal.
Yeah, exactly. A lot of comedians lean on the fact that they're chubby or have glasses or a beard. I'm stuck out there with my chiseled, bony face that looks like an angry skeleton. I have to get people to like me the hard way.
And you started at the Comedy Store, which is a really tough place for any new comic.
That's true but I wouldn't change a thing. I got hired to work there and I got to see it empty many nights. There were nights we had to wait for six people to come in so we could start the show. And now it's doing great, with hundreds of happy people every night, many nights are sold out and just monster comics, one after the other. It's making everybody more creative and pushing us all. But I was there when there were more comedians on the line-up than audience members. But now it's at the top of its game and I'm at the top of my game. I look back ten years ago and I remember that emptiness in both of us - and the potential - so it's cool to get to grow along with it and be a part of this boom.
You still do the Kill Tony podcast from there, right?
Yeah every Monday at 8 p.m. [PST] in the main room. It's on Ustream [www.ustream.tv/Deathsquad] so people can see and hear it anywhere.
Your Netflix show from last year was just added to iTunes. Will this tour lead up to a new special?
Yep, I was ready to rock and then Monster Energy came up with this tour for a whole month. So I decided to delay taping of the special and I'll use the tour to get in fighting shape and make it even tighter and stronger, so I'm taking the new hour and 15 and hittin' the road with it. This will be my first time playing a rock venue in Atlanta. Normally I do the Laughing Skull and that club is unbelievable. I'll make my way back there again soon.
You're bringing another monster of comedy along with you, Jeremiah Watkins.
Yeah, he's done Comedy Central's Roast Battle and he has his own hit show Stand Up On The Spot. He's a cast member on Kill Tony so the people who know me from the podcast definitely know him as well. He's just a cold-blooded assassin. I'm really excited for people to see him doing stand-up. I think we're really going to push each other on this tour and it's going to be an exciting growth period for us.
He's really exploded online in just the last few months.
He's a freak! I don't know what Will Ferrell or Jim Carey were like, right before the rest of the world found out about them, but he's a guy who can go into absolutely any situation and handle it. He really is a monster and he has Monster Energy. See? There, I complimented him and my sponsor at the same time.
You're known for some pretty cutting-edge material on your shows and on the Comedy Central roasts. How did your roasting style develop?
I grew up using it as a defense mechanism, growing up sorta small in Youngstown, Ohio. I'd make fun of people to make them laugh and to like me or to make people not want to start a fight with me. Like with the Comedy Store sitting empty back in the day, I've seen the popularity of roasting grow over the years, mainly due to the great roastmaster Jeffrey Ross and all the crazy stuff happening in the world. So I think roasting has become more socially acceptable now. The Mayweather/McGregor match has basically turned into a roast battle. It's sort of everywhere now, so it's out there in the zeitgeist and the Roast Battle has never been bigger. As long as they keep booking exciting people, the Comedy Central roasts should remain one of the real Super Bowls of comedy, if not the Super Bowl of comedy.
There's a fine line between roasting with skill and just being mean.
Yeah, I'm gonna make those people laugh. It's what I do; it's sort of like having a good surgeon or something. When I go hard on everybody else and they're laughing, they should know they're gonna get it just the same when it's their turn.
The Monster Energy Outbreak tour starring Tony Henchcliffe with special guest Jeremiah Watkins arrives August 16 at Eddies Attic. Showtime is 7:30. For tickets, visit www.tonyhinchcliffe.com.