Friday, April 8, 2016

Backstage with Rick Garrett


First in a series of interviews

In this modern, electronic age, it’s easier than ever to not only become connected, but stay connected with people from all over the world. I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation with some people I’ve met through my travels or via the digital world who are entertainers. I use the term entertainers to encompass not only musicians, but comedians, authors and others who entertain us for a living. 

Being a foodie, albeit a finicky foodie, I also want to do the same thing with a chef or two. Of course, these will have to be a "live" interview, at the table, sampling their creations.

Some of these people I’ve actually met, while others are those I’ve only conversed with via e-mail or the internet. To a person, though, the one constant that I’ve found to be pleasantly surprising is just how down to earth they are. One hears the term “professional comedian” or “award winning author” and sees only the profession and not the person. Yes, of course we know these are living, breathing people, but we tend to lose sight of this basic fact. They have house payments to make, children to support and other obligations just like we do. I have yet to interact with any of these people in anything less than a warm and friendly manner. I don’t know why I was so surprised by this, but I was.

Here, then, is my effort to further humanize some of these entertainers and show just how much of a “real person” they are. I’m glad I made the effort to reach out to them and I’m proud to call some of them friend.

Unless noted otherwise, these conversations took place via e-mail, phone calls, in person or a combination thereof. I’m formatting this more as a conversation than an interview, mainly because I like the flow of a conversation much better than a strict question and answer format. In the case of e-mail exchanges, I have left the answers unedited, and they appear just like I received them.

My first “interviewee” is Rick Garrett. Ironically, Rick is one of those I’ve only met online, and have yet to meet in real life. Part of that is a geographical restraint and part is the nature of how we “met.”



Rick (who I’ll tag as “RG”) is both a comedian and musician. I actually met him in a very indirect way through a shared hobby: geocaching. Our conversation took place primarily through e-mail, with a pleasant phone conversation to clarify a few questions I had.

PN: Do you recall how we first met?
  
RG: I’m pretty certain we first met on MySpace!  We’ve never met in person.  I’d like to see that changed in the future. :-)

PN: I believe it was through MySpace. I think it was via Duane (“Odyssey Posse”) from Geocaching. I agree that we definitely need to meet in person! You and Holly should make a caching/Ingress road trip down here. Then again, Cindy and I could make a road trip up there…
So, please describe your current gig.
 
RG: I’m a comedian/musician.  I started out doing music, and then decided to give stand up comedy a shot, and now spend a lot of my time doing that.

PN: From your social media posts, it seems like you are pretty much evenly split between music and comedy. Is this accurate, or have you found one to occupy more time than the other?

Note: Italicized text throughout our conversation indicates where I paraphrased Rick’s answers and comments from our telephone conversation.

RG: In the winter: due to the weather, I tend to do more comedy. In the spring and fall, with more festivals and outside activities, I tend to do more music.

PN: I’m especially intrigued with “An Evening With Burl Ives” from your website. I’ve been a Burl Ives fan since I was a child, and my absolute favorite song is Kentucky Turkey Buzzard. When can I expect to purchase your cover of this?
 
RG: I’ve been looking for a project to do after I complete the current Gospel CD I’m recording….this gives me a great idea!

PN: So, “Patchwork” is your musical persona, and “Rick Garrett Comedy” is your comic persona?

RG: Yes :-)

PN: Does Holly (Rick’s wife) contribute to your comedy act, or does she mainly focus on the musical aspect?

RG: Holly mainly focuses on the music, although she’ll accompany me to my comedy gigs as time permits.

PN: Since you do both music and comedy, for clarity, I’ll lump them together as “entertaining” unless I have a specific question about one or the other. Please tell me about your pre-entertaining life. Where did you grow up?

RG: I was born in East Tennessee, spent most of my life in Cowan, Indiana  (near Muncie) and have lived in Indianapolis for the last 12 years or so.

PN: So, you’re a Colts fan, then?

RG: A casual fan, but I’m more of a baseball fan…a big Cincinnati Red’s fan. I even got to play golf with Johnny Bench one time.

PN: I remember watching Johnny Bench hit a homer when they played the Astros at the Astrodome…..many years ago. Have you ever been to the Indianapolis 500?

RG: Many times! I used to work as rescue crew there as well, mainly as a paramedic. People who have never been there in person are usually surprised at just how huge the speedway is. It’s enormous!

PN: Who were some of your heroes? 
  
RG: My number one hero will always be my Uncle Bob.  He was THE major influence in my life growing up.  He introduced me to the music that I love so much, taught me to fish and enjoy the outdoors, and, most importantly, taught me to laugh.

PN: Kinda like John Denver’s Matthew, huh?

RG: That song is one of my favorites to perform!

PN: Please tell me how you got started in entertaining.  

RG: I guess I took a pretty typical path.  I was the class clown in school, and I always loved attention. J  I started off doing music in Church, and in 1974, I played my first professional music gig.  I got paid 5 dollars and dinner.  I thought I was in hog heaven!  Once I did my first “real” entertainment gig, I was hooked, and knew, that in one fashion or another, I’d find a way to entertain people.

PN: Was that first gig playing a guitar or the dulcimer?

RG: It was the dulcimer. But more to the story, by the time I had a chance to eat, all the food was served and I didn’t get anything to eat afterall.

PN: Speaking of instruments, what all do you play?

RG: I was a classically trained pianist first. I’ve also played the trumpet professionally, but not lately. I play the guitar and dulcimer more than anything else now.

PN: Who were some of your inspirations?

RG: My Uncle Bob, as mentioned earlier.  He had a lot of health problems, mostly from working in the coal mines, yet, he was ALWAYS smiling. Music…Ricky Skaggs is at or near the top of the list.  Not only a fantastic musician, but a man who followed his own path to play the music he loved so much.  Harry Chapin is/was also an inspiration, especially when it comes to songwriting.  He had such a way with words, and could take the mundane….a taxi ride, for example, and make it magic.  Comedy, Bob Newhart.  I appreciate the fact that he never resorts to vulgarity or shock value to get a laugh…he relies on being smart and witty.  I appreciate humor you have to think about a bit.  Jerry Seinfeld also falls into that class.

PN: I’m also a fan of both Ricky Skaggs and Harry Chapin! The first song that comes to my mind when I think of Ricky Skaggs is Uncle Pen. My favorite Chapin song is Mr. Tanner

(author’s note: As soon as I said this, Rick broke into the first lines of Mr. Tanner. As much as I wanted him to continue, we had to focus on the interview.)

Were you ever a fan of Red Skelton?
 
RG: Only a casual fan.  I liked his work, but always equated him with an actor more than a comedian, since he often played characters…..I’m not much of an actor, although I’ve done it a few times.  It’s really hard to step into someone else’s skin and then back into your own!  Actors have my highest admiration!

PN: What was it like first starting out? What were your biggest fears?

RG:  I was fortunate.  I never suffered from stage fright.  I LOVE being in front of people, and I’m MUCH more comfortable on stage, speaking to a group of people than I am talking one on one. I guess my biggest fears was that people wouldn’t like what I was doing.  It took me a while to cope with that, and to follow my own path, especially in comedy.  My early career in comedy was MUCH different than what I do now.  I was more R rated, and I tried political humor and shock value.  Once I decided to just be myself on stage, I was much more successful.

PN: More “Rick Garrett” and less “Sam Kinison?”  

RG: Absolutely!  I’m convinced that the key to being a successful comic is being yourself.  Opening the door to your inner being and letting people have a peek inside.  Generally, I try to be a kind and gentle person, and that’s the kind of comic I try to be.



PN: Can you tell me what some of your biggest expectations were?

RG: I can’t say I really had any!  I honestly considered myself so fortunate to be on stage, that that was enough for me.  Although I still have to pay bills and such, still…I’ve no expectations.  I’m honestly just please to be on stage.

PN: I take it, then, your green room requirements are minimal? No contract specifics like “only green M&Ms in a red plastic bowl” or “A sandwich tray and a case of Dr Pepper?”  
RG: I’m pretty happy if they’ll provide me with a bottle of water, actually.  I just feel fortunate to be doing this! :-)

PN: What were your biggest surprises? 

RG: That people seem to really appreciate clean comedy.  In a day and age that often relies on shock, it’s a pleasant surprise to see what a hunger there is for good, clean comedy.  Also, how competitive both music and comedy is.  It IS a bit disheartening, at times, that so many of us compete, instead of working together.

PN: Your philosophy reminds me a lot of my friend Mutzie. His shows are very family friendly as well. I bet y’all would make for an interesting evening performing together.  

RG: So, how do we make that happen? :-)

PN: I can easily put you two in touch with each other. Mutzie, be on the lookout for a message from me about this.

So, please describe a typical day when you are NOT performing, such as rehearsing, writing, promoting…

RG: A pretty typical day for me is a LOT of computer time.  I’m seeking out venues, festivals, and such to perform at.  Then I send a query to them, and much of the rest of the day is promoting gigs already booked.  Add to that the occasional interview, either for newspaper, radio, or a podcast, I typically have fairly busy days.  Most folks don’t realize that the vast majority of entertainers don’t have an agent or promoter.  We have to be a booker, promoter, web designer, publicist, and much more, all rolled into one.  It is quite time consuming!  Add to that a notebook that keep comedy ideas in, I’ve got to set aside some time to write new material.  I don’t have have a set schedule for that…I technically in the process of writing ALL the time.  I’m fairly good at multi tasking.

PN: I didn’t realize that most entertainers had to rely on themselves until I met a couple of comedians on cruise ships. Without the help of something like Self-Promotion and Gig Booking for Dummies, was this a “learn as you go thing?” 

RG: I was fortunate that early on, I got paired with a couple of VERY experienced comics, who were a wealth of information for me.  I will always appreciate those guys!

PN: And answering all of my questions, which I thank you for, just adds to your work load. What about non-work related activities. Do you ever take time for that?

RG: I really enjoy my bicycle, although I don’t get on it nearly enough.  (Indiana winters severely cuts my time down!!)  I’m a ham radio operator, so I do like to take a break here and there and see who is on the air.  I’ve got numerous pets (cats, lizards, snakes, turtles) and they’re always a nice distraction when I’m feeling like I need a break.

PN: I’ve seen you mention your cats, especially on Facebook. I didn’t know you also have snakes. I’m shuddering just at the thought of it. To me, all snakes are considered “armed and dangerous.” 

RG: That’s a really common misconception. And I occasionally do educational shows with snakes and lizards for schools, etc.  Like any animal…they CAN be dangerous if not treated with the proper respect.  The same goes for dogs, cats, and just about anything else!

PN: As a diver, I get the same reaction when I mention sharks. Most sharks really don’t want anything to do with you. Snakes, though, just arouse some primal instinct in me. I don’t even care to look at photos of snakes in a book.

Please describe a typical day when you have a show or shows to do.

RG: A lot depends on where the show is, if there is travel involved, and so on. But, pretty typically, it will be spend loading in the PA system, taking some time to go over my set for the gig, driving to the gig, setting up the PA, doing the show, tearing down and loading out the PA, and then either spending the night or driving back home.  I always like to get to a gig early, whether it’s comedy or music.  I like to set in a dark corner and watch the crowd filter in. Although I always have a basic set list in my head, nearly every time I have a gig something will happen that will cause me to alter that.  It might be an older or younger audience than I anticipated, or I’ll hear a snippet of conversation from someone that will spark a thought, or see something in the room.  I really think one thing that sets me apart from some other entertainers is that I never do the same show twice.  I work really hard to make each one personal and unique in some way.  I also try to make a couple of Facebook and Twitter posts day of the show as reminders. :-)

PN: Your social media updates are quite effective, and always entertaining. For some reason, I always think of “Metamora” when you mention a musical gig. Can you remind me exactly what/where Metamora is?
 
RG: Metamora is about halfway between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.  It’s a beautiful, pre civil war Canal town, we still have a working canal, with horse drawn canal boat, a working grist mill, and more.  It’s an amazing place to visit!  You can see pictures and such at www.metamoraindiana.com

PN: Do you ever indulge in anything non-work related on show days?

RG: I try to keep gig days…especially higher profile gigs….pretty stress free. I’ll take some time to answer any emails that need to be answered, make any phone calls I absolutely need to, but I usually DO try to find a way to relax, mentally, on a gig day.  Maybe I’ll play with the cats, or go for a walk or a bike ride.  It’s all about finding time to get in the right mental space.

PN: What is your proudest accomplishment thus far?

RG: Overcoming my past.  I was a pretty terrible student in school, and was actually in special ed for the first part of my elementary school career, until a teacher realized I just learned differently.  I was able to go mainstream, graduate, and even to college when no one really thought I’d be able to.  It was a huge obstacle for me, and I still learn kind of untraditionally.  Often, we don’t only have to learn, we have to learn HOW to learn.

PN: My late brother was mildly dyslexic and way back then schools didn’t routinely test for such things. I know he struggled with school until he adapted to it.

How do you maintain your energy level through several shows in a row? 

RG: That’s a really good question!  The main thing for me is to take a mental break here and there.  If I can keep my mental status sharp, the rest is a piece of cake.  Usually, that involved doing something that’s almost mindless.  Play a computer game, read a magazine, go for a bike ride, grab a guitar a play not to rehearse, but just to play.  For me, maintaining an energy level is pretty much all about being in the right mental space.

PN: Surely robust laughter or enthusiastic applause helps. I remember my days in high school marching band and our small town school had a very supportive crowd. I can still feel the surge of energy from a stadium, albeit a small one, filled with cheering fans. Given that, how do you overcome a “dead” or “flat” audience? 

RG: I just have to remind myself that everyone may be dealing with issues I have no idea about.  My job is to do my very best to entertain  them.  Early on, I would be very discouraged when I stepped off stage from an audience like that.  Now, I realize if I gave it my all….I did my job. :-)

PN: What is your toughest challenge to stay creative?
 
RG: As a comedian…it’s to avoid the cheap laughs.  It’s easy to use profanity  (and, I’m no prude) or shock value to get a laugh.  When I’m struggling  with a new bit and can’t quite get it to work, there’s always the temptation to take the easy way out.  I always have to remember  it only takes one slip up to alienate my core audience, and loyal friends and audience members are VERY important.  I need to keep first and foremost in my mind how important they are, and how much I care for them.

PN: So, the easy Hillary or Trump throwdown may not be the wisest choice? 

RG: Low hanging fruit.  Far too many comedians rely on that.  I don’t find that stuff all that creative. :-)

PN: What advice would you give to newcomers in your field?  

RG: The BIGGEST advice, is to be yourself.  You’re not Robin Williams or Paul McCartney.  People want to see you.  People want to hear YOUR jokes, hear YOUR take on songs.  YOU are who people what to see, and it is YOUR story they want to hear, whether through music or comedy.  Be yourself.

PN: Great advice! I have to constantly remind myself of this when I’m writing short fiction. On a subconscious level, I tend to try writing in Stephen King’s voice. That’s his voice and not mine. I’m definitely no Stephen King and need to remember that.

What would you change about your profession (industry) if you could

RG: I’d completely get rid of shows like The Voice or America’s Got Talent or American Idol.  None of us are really in competition with each other.  We’re all unique, and there’s an audience for each of us.  AND…those shows give an unrealistic view of success.  It’s not an easy road.  There are lots of miles to travel and lots of shows to do in small towns and dimly lit bars.  99% of us will never make a full time living at this….but we’ll be incredibly happy.

PN: I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who doesn’t care for those types of shows. What are some of your interests outside of entertaining

RG: I’m an avid Geocaching…..kind of like a high tech scavenger hunt,  My wife and I play together as a team and it’s great fun, and has taken up to SO many amazing places we’d never have seen otherwise.  Lately, I’ve been playing a similar game called Ingress a little bit.  I love animals, and I’m a ham radio operator  (N9GSU)

PN: We definitely have a few things here in common, don’t we? Both my Geocaching and Ingress names are “Lefty Writer.” What’s your favorite type of cache? 

Personally, I avoid most puzzle caches. I think I’m fairly intelligent, but the vast majority of puzzle caches destroy my sense of logic. It’s worse when I see the log state something like “Thanks for a fun puzzle. It took me a few minutes to solve, but it was fun.” Wait, a “few minutes?” I struggled over that bad boy for hours

And don’t get me started about micros in the woods……. 

RG: I really like caches that make me see something that I would not have otherwise seen.  A pioneer cemetery, a historic marker, an interesting view or building.  If they show me something interesting, I really don’t care if they’re a micro or large.  It’s more about the experience than the container to me :-)

PN: How did you pick your Ingress faction? For me, my sister introduced me to it and said “When you sign up, join me on the Resistance side.” I’m still plugging along at level 9, stomping “frog portals” every chance I get. 

RG: I like the color green.  Seriously…that was all it was :-)

PN: Please elaborate on your passion for tenderloins. When and how did the Tenderloin Connoisseur make his first appearance? If you and Holly ever make it down here, I can’t guarantee you’ll find places that serve a good tenderloin, but you’ll definitely be able to experience some world class Tex-Mex cuisine

RG: Holly and I were having dinner at a little dive bar, and I ordered a tenderloin.  I said it was the best I’d ever had, and she said  “Why don’t you start reviewing them?”.  I realized there were lots of general food review sites out there, but not that many that were focused on one particular food.  And I did it, and the rest is history.  It’s been a great journey that I still enjoy!  That was about 5 years ago. :-)

PN: If you weren’t an entertainer, what would be your preferred vocation

RG: I really can’t imagine doing anything else.  I’ve had a number of great jobs in my past  (and some NOT so great ones).  I supposed I could see myself working in a museum as some sort of interpretive person.  Hmmmm…..maybe I should look into that!

PN: You mentioned firefighting to me before, in an offhand comment. Did you do this as a volunteer or were you in a paid position? I was a volunteer firefighter for several years, mainly when I did EMS full time. I loved doing both.

RG:  I was full time  (but I also volunteered with a small rural department, which made for some interesting union issues)  Being a medic led to some great comedic bits! :-)

PN: Suppose you won a multi-million dollar lottery. Would you still perform or would you retire? 

RG: I’d certainly still perform!  But if money weren’t an issue, every show would be a charity show for a good cause.

PN: Good for you! While I truly love my job as well, if I won a huge lottery I’m pretty sure the first thing I typed would be my two week notice. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. However, there are too many geocaches and portals in the world just waiting for me to discover, and there are many places I haven’t had a chance to dive yet. Just think of it….doing a fascinating multi-cache in Dublin, Ireland followed by refreshments at a local pub, listening to authentic Irish music.

Rick, thank you for your precious time. Any last thoughts? 

RG: Thank you for allowing me to do this!  It’s been a blast, and it’s the first time I’ve ever done an interview like this.  I look forward to doing it again!

I hope this has captured your interest in Rick. He’s definitely a fascinating person and it’s fun reading his tweets and other social media posts. Below are several ways to contact him.

Website:         http://www.rickgarrett.net
                        https://www.facebook.com/patchworkstringband/?fref=ts (music)
Tenderloin Connoisseur:   https://breadedtenderloin.wordpress.com/
Twitter:           @IndyCacher

I hope to do several more of these interviews in future blogs. I have a few people in mind, and I hope they will be amenable to something like this. I’m sure you will find them every bit as fascinating as I do. Of course, I’ll still continue to blog about other topics as well. Hopefully I won’t be blogging about a cat-5 hurricane rumbling towards the Texas coast.

Until next time……

carpe cerevisi