“People always ask me how I quit smoking cigarettes cold turkey. Vicodin. Every time I wanted a cigarette, I instead had a Vicodin. Then every time I wanted a Vicodin, I had a Vicodin. I like Vicodin.” It’s jokes like that that helped Austin based comic Danny Palumbo win the title of 2015’s “The Funniest Person in Austin.” Sure, comedy competitions are subjective, but still, that’s a pretty fucking cool badge to wear in a city with a big, diverse scene like Austin. Palumbo grew up about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, the city that gave him his start and toughened him up enough to make the move to a larger market. Now he’s an established player in his scene and has made a name for himself with both his stand-up and satirical skewering of posh restaurant culture on the websites abbrevsrestaurant.com and lilbuco.com. I talked to Palumbo about food, folks and fun.
Isaac Kozell: You were named “The Funniest Person in Austin” this year. What does that title mean to you?
Danny Palumbo: I’m sure this will sound disingenuous but the title is kind of annoying. I don’t like people introducing me as, “The Funniest Person in Austin.” It’s awesome to be in company with people that have won it before, though. Brendon Walsh, Chris Fairbanks, Andy Ritchie, Martha Kelly – there are so many great comics that won it, so if I’m technically included with them that feels cool.
IK: I saw an interview where you said that before you started stand-up you wanted to be a screenwriter.
DP: I did want to be a screenwriter when I was younger. I knew I wanted to get involved in comedy and I just had no idea how to even get started so I figured, “I better start writing.” I wrote a movie script that was awful, but then I wrote some spec scripts for TV shows like It’s Always Sunny, Flight of The Conchords – shows that really sparked my enthusiasm to get started in comedy to begin with.
IK: Did you ever have any success in that arena?
DP: The script I wrote for It’s Always Sunny placed in some no-name screenwriting competition. Like, I got 3rd out of 100 entries and I remember thinking that was the encouragement I needed to get started in comedy. I thought, “Oh, I can write funny, so maybe I could also perform.” Comedy wasn’t a thing in my hometown. If I was even remotely around it growing up I think I probably would have started much sooner.
IK: Can you provide some backstory on how you got into comedy?
DP: I just loved comedy in high school. I grew up watching those early Comedy Central Half Hours – Todd Barry, Dave Attell, Stella. I watched Conan every night when I got off work as a dishwasher/line cook. I watched Leslie Nielsen movies religiously. I’m the only person I know that loves Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Then in my early 20s it was like, “Alright, enough is enough. How do I get involved?” Stand-up comedy was the most accessible way to get started, you know? I mean, you know. Anybody can just go do an open mic. I knew Pittsburgh had a scene and I was like, “OK, I’ll start with this.” Now it’s a thing I can’t stop doing.
IK: What are some of your comedy career highlights so far?
DP: Winning the contest was really cool. Almost like a dream. Somebody calls your name and people start cheering like crazy. I remember a friend of mine just screaming, “FUCK YEAH.” Everybody’s looking at you. It felt like a dream. That being said, it’s completely deceiving and comedy isn’t about what was essentially accepting an award. It was actually awesome for about two minutes then got super uncomfortable almost immediately.
DP: I had a panic attack on stage about a year and a half before winning the contest. It was in front of some NBC execs. I developed a panic disorder for a while. I mean, just stage fright constantly, running out of breath. I had panic attacks daily. It was scary. It took a full year to get over.
IK: You moved from Pittsburgh to Austin. Was that a comedy move or were there other motivators?
DP: Purely a comedy move. I didn’t know anybody before moving to Austin. I just knew it was a great comedy town and I wanted to go grow as a comic. Pittsburgh is not a good place to grow comedically. Pittsburgh is where you go to get gut punched. It always brings me back down to earth. There are times I hate performing there, then others, it’s amazing. I’m shooting like 20% on sets there. I have the ability to completely bomb in Pittsburgh and it’s frustrating because I want to work on getting tough crowds into my set.
IK: Who are some lesser known comics that impress/inspire you?
DP: I just saw Moses Storm in L.A. and was like, holy shit. I think he was a New Face this year, but I watched his set and was blown away. Guy is great. I’m constantly impressed by Austin comics, too: Mac Blake, Aaron Brooks, Abby Rosenquist, Martin Urbano. All of these people push me to be better and in different ways, too. Austin is talented, man.
IK: Tell me about the shows you run in Austin.
DP: Bounce House is the 2nd and 4th Monday of the month at SpiderHouse Ballroom. It is the most fun thing I do. My buddy Aaron Brooks and I host it. I love it because we don’t do jokes up top and that is a different muscle to work out. We’re a duo. Last Monday we did nothing but talk about pop tarts for ten minutes. We used to have a plan, now we just kinda go up there and find bits together on stage. We also write video sketches to promote the show, so I’m really getting a lot out of it. Live at Coldtowne is a weekly Friday showcase. It was my favorite show when I started in Austin, and it’s fun to keep that tradition going. Small little theater. Ten comics doing short sets. I don’t host as much as I’d like to, but it’s actually fun to book. I like to give new people stage time on it and see who’s progressing. Go see comedy at Coldtowne. It inspired me instantly.
IK: You work in a restaurant, right?
DP: I work at Quality Seafood. I mostly bartend, now. Once in awhile they rope me into shucking oysters or working on the food truck. It’s weird. I have a skill in the kitchen and I’m always telling them, “Guys, I don’t want to do this anymore.”
IK: Would you consider yourself a foodie or do you dislike that label?
DP: I’m a foodie. God damnit. I am. Here’s the thing, I think I’m so above it all, but then recently I was talking about Veal Milanese and I started a sentence with, “Well, traditionally…” and immediately hated myself. My girlfriend calls me out for it. I can be really annoying. It’s also one of those things I just can’t hide my excitement about. I used to think it was cool how much I loved food and cooking, but now I’m starting to think I’m an asshole like everyone else. I’m going to go back into the foodie closet, soon.
IK: What gave you the idea for Abrrev’s and Lil Buco?
DP: Those websites were never aimed at foodies, really. They were aimed at chefs. Chefs doing pretentious work. Don’t ever make a deconstructed anything. It’s trite. It’s rooted in fun, though. The hardest I ever laugh is when my brother and I physically go to a kitchen and make this stuff. It’s so senseless.
IK: Do you have any food-related career goals?
DP: No real career goals to speak of. If people keep wanting me to do websites and stuff, I definitely will. I’ve shied away almost completely from writing food related jokes, now. I do love learning about food and cooking, though. Just reading, working on knife skills, trying new things. Those are my only real goals because I take such an interest in it.
IK: What’s your death row meal?
DP: Does seafood count? If so, Linguine and Clams. Not with red sauce, like the clam juice, white wine, garlic butter sauce. One of the first family meals I had in an a restaurant.
Follow Danny on Twitter @Palumbros