Stetson Banks / Courtesy photo
The stand-up comedy scene in Fayetteville has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. This is, in oddly proportioned part, due to the Sisyphean effort of Stetson Banks, a stand-up comedian who organizes Comedians NWA.
Stetson’s comedy booking in Fayetteville includes regularly scheduled events featuring touring and local comics at Nomads, as well as weekly Saturday shows in Springdale at Black Apple Crossing. Stetson’s comedy, as I’ve witnessed over the last few years, is always evolving. His sets often include new material instead of tested jokes, and are always funny, strange, and enthusiastic.
I asked Stetson some questions and he was kind enough to answer, here goes…
Comedians NWA is a collective of comedians in the Northwest Arkansas area. The organization produces open-mics, regional showcases, and performances from big name national acts. For more information about Comedians NWA, visit ComediansNWA.com.
Taboo Table Talk
Hear Stetson Banks talk about breaking the stereotypes of the South, troupes in comedy and the family bonds created in the Fayetteville comedy scene on episode 107 of the Taboo Table Talk Podcast.
How did you get started in comedy?
I grew up in a very rural part of Oklahoma and was obsessed with watching stand-up on TV, but there simply wasn’t a place to do it growing up there. So I played guitar in some dumb bands in my twenties, but the thought of doing stand-up one day never left my mind. I moved to this area in 2015 at the age of 30 and when I found out there was a comedy scene, I knew it was now or never, so I went to an open-mic to get an idea of what they are like and I was blown away by how many funny comedians there were in NWA. I walked out the door that night and made a promise to myself I’d be on that stage the next Thursday and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Is there a specific joke or comedian that gave you confidence or initiative when you were starting out?
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Kyle Kinane’s “Whiskey Icarus.” I was absolutely blown away, it was so different from anything I’d ever watched. So much comedy at that time was about “men do this, women do that” or stuff based in hacky racial stereotypes, but here was this gravely-voiced guy who talked about things like the passenger next to him on a plane eating loose pancakes from a Foot Locker bag and he found angle after angle to why this was so ridiculous. It should’ve been a 30-second story that would have gotten a little laugh, but he just kept diving deeper into it and it ended up being over 5 minutes and I couldn’t breath by the end of it I was laughing so hard. I became a huge fan of Patton Oswalt around the same time for the same reason and both of them really inspire me to always keep looking for every angle possible no matter what I’m writing about.
How do you describe your comedy to a stranger?
Loud and Sweaty. I’m that friend everyone has who starts telling a story and they get so excited telling it that by the end you have to tell them to calm down. I get very loud and animated, but it’s never out of a place of anger. I’m not a political commentator ranting and raving about what I think is wrong with the world today. I’m much more of a “gets way too excited talking about Arby’s for way too long” sort of comedian.
What’s your favorite venue to perform at in Fayetteville?
I truly love Nomads. It’s one of my favorite bars ever and they have been Comedians NWA’s longest running venue. It’s such a fun place to perform because it’s so intimate and it draws a really cool crowd and we love working with the owners and the staff there. They took a chance on us way back in 2015 and our partnership with them continues to grow.
Who are your favorite local comedians at the moment?
We have over 30 active comedians in NWA right now, so it’s truly impossible to choose, but I will say the Ladies of Comedians NWA have been absolutely crushing. They recently recorded an album called “Tits on Tape” that I had the honor of emceeing and it was such a great show. Elaine Jackson is producing an all-female showcase series called “Ladies Night in Cursive” at Backspace that raises money for Planned Parenthood. Every time there’s an all-female lineup, the shows sell out fast because everyone knows the lineups are going to be stacked and the shows are always a blast.
You’ve been involved in Comedians NWA for a while now – how has the comedy scene in NWA grown in the last few years?
I started in August of 2015 and at that time, there was the weekly open-mic every Thursday night and the Southtown Comedy show once a month at Nomads. With only one showcase a month, that meant 25 comedians where competing over 3 to 4 spots a month, so most local comics only got to do 2-3 local shows a year. So I was very motivated to create more opportunities for myself and all the members in Comedians NWA.
I teamed up with Emerg Entertainment to start a showcase at Black Apple Crossing in Springdale in January of 2017. This past summer, we transitioned that show into a weekly show and Southtown at Nomads into a biweekly show, so the number of local shows we are doing has skyrocketed. In 2018, Comedians NWA produced 139 showcases and open-mics, which is nearly double what we did in 2016. The crowds have grown considerably as well as the word keeps spreading and out-of-town comedians are always blown away by how much fun they have when they come through NWA.
What shows are you currently booking? And what’s coming up for Comedians NWA in 2019?
We are currently going through some changes with our show schedule due to the closing of Stage Eighteen and the opening of a second Nomads location. We are shuffling stuff around and we’re very excited with how things turned out. Starting in April, we will be moving the Thursday night open-mic to the new Nomads Trailside location as soon as it opens. We will also be transitioning the Southtown Comedy Night from a biweekly show into a weekly show every Friday night at Nomads Southtown to go along with out current weekly Saturday night show at Black Apple Crossing, the Ciderday Night Comedy Show.
So Comedians NWA is essentially turning into a “mobile comedy club” having shows every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in different venues. We are also looking into some shows up in the Bentonville and Rogers area. So 2019 is shaping up to be a really busy year for Comedians NWA.
What’s the biggest challenge in booking comedy in Fayetteville?
When I first started booking in early 2017, it was pretty easy. We would have a show at Nomads on a Friday and then Black Apple Crossing the following night. I would book a great out-of-town headliner to come do both shows, book the locals to open the shows and do it all again in a month. But as we’ve started doing more and more shows, it has become a little more than I can handle trying to make sure sound systems are set up, locals are booked, advertisements get out there, etc. So with the reshuffling of shows and our new schedule going forward, I have enlisted fellow Comedians NWA members Taylor Hern and Stef Bright to be co-producers going forward. They are both very motivated and professional with lots of great ideas, so I’m excited to see what they do with the shows.
You’re currently on tour – how’s that going? Any more tour plans for 2019?
I’ve been having a blast on the road this winter. The highlight was spending a couple of weeks in Denver. They have so many great shows every night, it was incredible. I’ve done shows in over 25 cities this fall/winter and it’s helped me grow so much as a comedian, plus it’s always a great opportunity to see some of the best comedians in other parts of the country and book them for shows in NWA.
My current road run I’m on is the last I’ll be doing for awhile. I am going on my normal summer hiatus from doing shows on the road because I still have a day job and it’s very seasonal, so I can’t travel during the summer, but I’ll still be doing plenty of stuff locally and I’m already working on a tour for next fall, so I have that to look forward to.
How can the people reading this get started in participating in Comedians NWA? Any parting words of wisdom for someone looking to do their first open-mic?
The biggest thing I can recommend is to come watch an open-mic and see what it’s all about before trying to do one. You’ll see it’s a very supportive, low-stakes environment that’s great for getting your feet wet. If you see a comedian you really think is funny, go talk them after the show and tell them you are thinking about doing the open-mic soon and they’ll give you all kinds of good advice. I truly believe we have the most family-like, supportive comedy scene that I know of and I’m so glad it’s where I got my start.
As far as the actual performance, be funny early and often. Don’t talk for 3 or 4 minutes to set up one punchline. A general rule of thumb is you should be making the crowd laugh several times a minute. Also, write and rehearse before hand. Some very experienced comedians can go up with just a topic and “write onstage,” finding funny things in the moment. You very well may be that one day if you work really hard and get comfortable performing, but when you are starting, you need to write things out and rehearse. I’ve seen a lot of first-timers who are naturally funny and think they will just get onstage and start “winging it” and funny stuff will just come out. I’ve yet to see it happen. So do some work and as you grow and gain experience, you may be able to do more stuff “off the cuff”, but when you’re doing your first open-mic, put the work in before you get on stage.
We have tons of information about how the open-mic works and the guidelines for performing on our website, ComediansNWA.com.