INTERVIEW: Steve Trevino
Steve Trevino started his career in comedy at the extremely young age of 8 years-old. His first gig was at a second grade talent show and he has not stopped telling jokes since. His journey from being a young open mic comic in Portland, Texas to headlining comedy clubs across the country has been long and arduous. From his days working at The Improv in Dallas to his time spent as a writer for Comedy Central’s hit show, Mind of Mencia, Trevino has constantly evolved as a writer and comedian cementing his status as one of the premiere stand-up comics on the circuit today. SanDiego.com recently caught up with Trevino from his suite at Pechanga Casino and discussed his formative years in stand-up comedy and his effective process for handling hecklers.
Is it true that you started doing stand-up in the second grade?
Steve Trevino: I was a child dude; I had never not known what I wanted to be. It was kind of bullshit because there was auditions. And my mom was like, “You’re going to audition for the talent show, what are you going to do?” I said, “I’m going to be a stand-up.” And she was like, “Maybe you need to write some jokes.” I was like, “No, I’ll just make it up when I get up there.” So I got onstage, and dude, I ate it. Well it was a fucking audition and I was a kid, and there’s just a music teacher in the cafeteria, and I had to perform. I ate it and she goes, “You know what, come to my room tomorrow and we’ll work on some jokes for you to tell.” She got like, a little joke book and I remember one of them was, ‘If bread had feet what kind of shoes would they wear? Loafers.’ Shit like that, but dude, I was eight. And ever since then, that’s what I did every talent show, I did stand-up.
How long did that go on for?
ST: Second grade through sixth. And then junior high, no stand-up, then in high school that was right about the time back in the day when all the karaoke machines were coming out and we would have family barbecues and everybody would sing karaoke and then I would jump up and do stand-up. So those were my open mics; family friends. Then it got to the point where people would book me for their parties. I’d show up and they’d give me fifty bucks to come show up at their party, and I’d perform. Then I started wondering, especially growing up in South Texas, “Where do I go? I don’t know where to start; I don’t know where to begin?” When I met Mencia, he was doing a show there at the theatre, and he’s the one that told me about these comedy clubs.
So this is before you were working at The Improv, right?
ST: Yeah, absolutely, I was like 18 or 19. I had no idea that comedy clubs even existed. All I knew was that I used to watch Evening at The Improv, and he goes, “There’s an Improv in Dallas, Texas.” I was like, “I’m going there then.”
Did you watch a lot of the stand-up that was on HBO back in the eighties?
ST: In junior high and elementary school, I remember staying up all night, because you had one HBO, and there was no guide, so you would just wait and they would tell you what the next three things were. It would be midnight and they would go, ‘Okay, we’re going to have this movie, The Karate Kid and then this movie and then a half-hour of stand-up. And I would set my alarm to wake up at 4 a.m. to watch a half an hour of stand-up.
When did you move to Dallas and start working at The Improv?
ST: I moved to Dallas when I was 19 or 20, and then I started working at The Improv after 21. I got to Dallas on Tuesday, I did open mic on Wednesday, and Thursday night was Jamie Kennedy. And I’m watching Jamie Kennedy and I’m thinking, “Oh this is easy, this guy sucks! Like, this is the guy that’s getting booked? Fuck him, right.” So then Friday night was Pablo Francisco, and then Pablo Francisco got up and then I got scared. Pablo got up and he was fucking amazing, and I was like, “Holy Shit; there’s no way I can do this.” And then I started working at the comedy club, and then I got to tour with Pablo and Mencia and Freddy Soto, God rest his soul.
What do you remember about the first time you did stand-up at The Dallas Improv open mic?
ST: I remember I was so cocky; I was like, “I’m so good, I’m going to be the shit.” I went up there and did great, I did well right away. Within a year I was the house emcee, and then a year after that I got on the road with "Three Amigos", and I’ve been a professional stand-up comedian now for like, fuck, ten years.
How much time did you do on that "Three Amigos" tour?
ST: I was the second guy up and I would do five minutes. And I would bitch about the first guy. Looking back, all I had was three minutes, maybe. But that started my career, I started hanging out with Freddy Soto, and him giving me advice, Pablo Francisco giving me advice, and then Mencia, believe it or not, as bad of a human being as he is, he really knows how to teach someone to be a stand-up comic.
You were a writer for Mind of Mencia, correct?
ST: Yeah, first season. Dude, I worked on the pilot, I helped create it with Mencia, the whole thing.
Was that the catalyst for you moving to L.A. or was it stand-up?
ST: Well stand-up, but the show too, so it was kind of simultaneous.
But it was perfect timing because you knew you had a job waiting for you in L.A. right?
ST: Well, yes and no. I worked on the pilot and he didn’t pay me. I did that for free. He would pay me to do stand-up but very little.
Wow. And I listened to your interview with Marc Maron on his WTF Podcast and I don’t remember you mentioning that.
ST: Oh yeah, all that crazy stuff. Dude, Marc Maron’s a genius, and that episode is one the most compelling episodes, and not because I’m in it. It’s funny because you hear people review it and they talk about it, and they never bring me up. They don’t bring me and Willy up, and it’s because Mencia is so crazy in that episode that you don’t even think about us.
Do you think working on Mind of Mencia for that one season helped you evolve as a writer?
ST: Absolutely, the experience was wonderful and I got to meet a lot of people and I started headlining Improv comedy clubs when I was 26 years-old. I’ve been a headliner ever since, it’s really hard to complain.
Is riffing on stage part of the writing process for you?
ST: Absolutely. I will just keep going and going, and riff on a bit until I find all the things I need for that bit. Then all of a sudden you wake up six months later and you’ve got a three minute bit.
What about crowd work?
ST: Unless you’re going to be that kind of a comedian, where your thing is fucking with the audience. To me it’s like, if you’re that kind of comedian then get good at that, but if you’re not that kind of comedian, why even mess with it? It’s like last night, we had such a rowdy crowd the second show here in Temecula, and I told my openers, “Hey guys, you can’t talk to the audience. Because you’re the ones that are opening the door.” As soon as that opening comedian comes out and goes, “Hey what do you do?” Then the people go, ‘Oh it’s a group thing we can talk!’ So you’re kind of giving them permission to talk. There’s no point in it, you’re not learning anything and I learned that from Chris Rock. I’m at The Comedy Store O.R. (Original Room) in Hollywood, there’s five people in the room and I gotta go up. And I was lazy, I went onstage and I just fucked with the audience, and I had to bring Chris Rock up, and I thought to myself, ‘Goddamit, this is the one time when Chris Rock was watching me, and I’m fucking with the audience.’ So then Chris Rock gets onstage; he doesn’t even talk to the audience, he goes straight to material, and he’s working. You see him work and I’m like, ‘God, I’m wasting my time. I’m wasting my opportunity onstage riffing on the audience when I could be up there working on my material.'
How do you handle hecklers?
ST: I usually shut them down pretty quick. I’ll push through it and let them know that I’m not going to acknowledge them, and if that doesn’t work then I’ll look at them and go, “Look I’ve been nice, I need you to keep it down." I’ll just give them a look and keep moving on. And if they keep going then I’ll go, “Listen, I asked you fucking nice, now I’m telling you, shut the fuck up.” Then usually the audience goes nuts and they get it, but it’s very rare that I get heckled. I think I’m one of those performers that hustles through; I really don’t give people enough time to breathe much less talk.
How did the shows go last night?
ST: I was standing outside before the show, which is normally fine, and people walk past me and occasionally I’ll get someone point at me. Last night I couldn’t stand out there. People were coming up to me and giving me hugs, and these girls freaked out. One of them was like, “I’m shaking, I’m shaking! Oh my God!” And I’m like, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?” I still get embarrassed when somebody asks me for an autograph. It embarrasses me. “Can I get an autograph?” I’m like, ‘Why? Why the fuck would you want my autograph?” It’s fun. It’s creating those fans, that to me, they’re friends. Every club I go to I have an entourage of friends that I’ve met over the years.
You’ve performed all over the country, what do you think about the audiences in San Diego?
ST: San Diego, in my opinion and La Jolla and that area is the best place to live in the country. The weather’s amazing, the audiences are great, I mean it’s just an amazing place to live. If I wasn’t such a diehard Texan I would live there if I had my choice of where to live. La Jolla is lucky to have a Comedy Store. That’s the real deal. I get to go down there and I get stay in the same condo that Jim Carrey stayed in, and that Sam Kinison stayed in, all these great comedians. There’s a history behind it, the club is run a certain way. All the guys that work there are comics and they’re all amazing comics. It’s the real thing. It’s the only thing I have as a stand-up comedian to say, ‘Hey, I’m a part of something.’ And what I’m a part of is The Comedy Store, and I’m proud to be a part of The Comedy Store. Yes, I started at an Improv, yes I like Improv’s. But I’m not in their club. There’s not a fraternity. I’m a Store comic and I’m proud to be that. That’s what took me to the next level. I was on the road, then I came to L.A. and I ended up in the O.R. and it took me 2 or 3 years to figure out how to kill in the O.R. and it made me a better comedian. It’s the best room in America to learn about becoming a great comedian. I tell all the door guys from La Jolla to move to L.A. and go work the Original Room. There’s so many up-and-coming comics right now that are at The Comedy Store in Hollywood that I’m so proud to know. Jesus Trejo, Jerrod Carmichael, that kid’s hilarious. Jaime! Gay Jaime from La Jolla, I think Jamie’s grown leaps and bounds. I can’t wait until we are all touring as equals.
Does Steve Trevino have a message for the children?
ST: Not really. Just be true to yourself and be real. If you’re real and you’re sincere nobody can get mad at you. That’s why I do what I do onstage, nobody can say, ‘Hey fuck him.’ Hey this is me, this is real. This is how I feel. Don’t get mad at me because I feel that way, because it is sincere. That’s about it.
Steve Trevino headlines The La Jolla Comedy Store May 13-14.