Comedian Carl LaBove on Kinison, The Comedy Store and Congress
From his days as a member of the notorious Texas comedy crew, the “Outlaws of Comedy,” to his nights spent headlining comedy clubs across the country, comedian Carl LaBove has lived a fabled life and lived to tell the tale. Born in Fort Worth, Texas LaBove would discover stand-up comedy at the young of age of nineteen, right before the great comedy boom of the 1980’s. The lack of comics at the time provided Labove and legendary comics like Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison an abundance of stage time where they quickly honed their craft and headed to Los Angeles in pursuit of success. Both Hicks and Kinison would tragically die before their time, leaving Labove to be one of the soul survivors from the Outlaws of Comedy still performing today. Unfortunately, LaBove’s life has been marred by a paternity suit that came as a result of Kinison fathering a child with LaBove’s ex-wife, a matter that has gone unresolved until recent DNA evidence finally proved that Kinison is in fact the father. SanDiego.com recently caught up with LaBove from his home in Texas and discussed his early years in comedy and what the next step in his legal case will be.
Do you remember the first time you did stand-up?
Carl LaBove: My dad and I worked together at a gas station; my father was trying to get into the gas station business so we owned a station. After his retirement I was down in Texas helping him and he saw a newspaper article that was looking for comics; ‘If you want to try stand-up, come to the Comedy Annex this weekend and put your name in the hat.’ He turned to me and said, “You ought to try this, I think you’ve got a knack for this.” And it inspired me, so I spent a week writing five minutes of what I thought was funny, went down and tried it for the first time, and got hooked. That was 1979.
Was Kinison already doing stand-up there or did he start later on?
CL: He moved there a month later, but I met him that first night, along with Bill Hicks and several of the other guys; there were about 12 of us. At that time that was just a bunch of guys doing it the first time, then over the course of the next couple of months we all moved into Houston and did stand-up every night. So we became a family within months, and it was a supportive group that would sit around at night going to Chinese restaurants; taking restraunts over and talking about our stage experiences and helping each other and sharing in the adventure we were all living.
When did you move to Los Angeles?
CL: A year later. After four months of performing in Texas, I ended up getting a job at The Sheraton outside of Houston and every weekend I had to do four shows in front of a road singer in a little bar and I would hire Pineapple, and Sam and Hicks and whoever else every other weekend so there was a rotation of different comics, and we would do professional gigs. A year of performing every night really developed the muscle, but we left in the first part of 1980. We had to do at least fifteen minutes a night, so that was a real test of writing and that’s why we all shared so much. We were all on the same boat; nobody had ever done it before.
Where did you go when you first arrived in Hollywood?
CL: Kinison and I moved out there in my car, so the place that we went was The Store. We had met several comics during our year in Houston. Ollie Joe Prater and Argus Hamilton, those were the two that we knew. The day we drove into town we went directly to The Comedy Store and stood there staring at the building going, ‘If we’re comics, this is the place to do it.’ So within a week Argus had got us jobs as doormen and that’s how we started developing.
When do you feel that you discovered your voice as a comedian?
CL: Probably 4 years into it. I always look at The Comedy Store years as a like, a high school experience. Where my first year I was just a doorman and didn’t get to perform very much. Second year everyone knew me, I was becoming popular; people started seeing when I occasionally got to perform that I had something. Mitzi noticed it and started throwing me down to Westwood to work with the college kids all the time, and La Jolla. So I opened shows in La Jolla in 82’ for Robin Williams, Damon Wayans, Arsenio Hall, Ollie Joe Prater. All these guys that you get to learn a lot and sit at their feet and watch yourself grow every week; that’s really when it started. So hanging out with all these older guys that were already established and working on television; that was like getting in-house schooling. It was like being tutored.
Did you arrive in Los Angeles after the comedy strike had just happened?
CL: Correct. There was a little bit of dust, but I wasn’t involved enough in it being a brand new guy that it affected me. I met some of the other guys that had gone through it and paved that road to being paid. But that’s what we all strived for is to get what was called regular status and if you were on regular status you got a paycheck when you performed; you got a piece of the deal in the room. It was a big deal that basically said you were a comic. And on that fourth year I got my name painted on the wall, which was the epiphany that changed everything. It was like, ‘Mitzi Shore says I’m a comedian now and it’s been proven.’
What is the current situation regarding you paternity suit?
CL: The hard part about this is it’s such a long story, when I had a lawyer way back when, it was a rumor to me and I wanted to pursue it but I was told that even if I had DNA it wouldn’t help me because the laws were set in stone at the time in which you had to prove a child was yours or not. So I was coerced into not doing it at the time because I was told it wouldn’t help me. DNA work as prevalent as it is now; I just went with the wrong advice of the time. But it was also a rumor; I never had a relationship with my daughter, or who I thought was my daughter after her first year of life. Her mother basically kept her from me, so I didn’t even have a way to do it on my own if I wanted to. So it was only after the DNA I was searching for the last couple of years had come to fruition that I was able to take this information to the courts and prove my innocence. And that’s when the judgment was handed to me.
What’s the next step for you, is there an appeals process?
CL: There is, but I’ve made a big decision. I’ve realized that the courts and the judges are only going to keep handing me down the same answers that they’ve been handing down for years because the law has said this is what it is, so the courts just repeat what is handed down from lawmakers. So I’ve realized that I need to go to a higher level and sit in front of Congress and share my story. I need to get to the lawmakers and share this story, because my life has been, up until recently, destroyed by this. I’ve decided that I am not defined but what happened to me. I didn’t do anything wrong, I was a victim of a situation that was out of my control So I’m going to try and do everything I can to help guys like me and our children. So that young guys don’t grow up and go through anything like what I’ve been through. So I’ve decided to let it go and just approach it and attack from a whole different standpoint; which is helping the guys behind me. It’s something that I don’t want anyone else to ever go through, it’s unfair. I mired in anger for so long it affected me in a bad way, and once I realized that, I realized my anger did nothing to help me or anyone around. Being proactive and standing up for what’s right frees you, and I didn’t feel it until I shared this story in the last couple of years. Especially after the WTF Marc Maron interview; the responses I got were phenomenal. I’d love to be the Martin Luther King for paternity fraud.
Do you think a lot of comedians are frustrated musicians?
CL: I think musicians, comics and strippers just have some kind of affinity for each other. It’s all about getting onstage and expressing yourself. Every musician I’ve ever met wants to be a comic, and every comic wants to be a musician. It’s just an expression. It’s just presentation of rhythm. It’s all about rhythm and getting an audience to follow you.
What advice would you give to someone interested in trying stand-up comedy?
CL: Never to listen to anybody else just do what your heart tells you to do and enjoy the failures just as much as the successes. Because in the failure you’re going to find out who you are.
Does Carl LaBove have a message for the children?
CL: I don’t know so much about the children; I got a message for the dreamer. You get one shot. Defeat fear, that’s your journey. Fear has stopped some of the most talented people I’ve ever known that you’ll never know, because they had a fear in them and couldn’t continue. So if you can defeat fear you can be anybody you want to be.
Carl LaBove headlines The La Jolla Comedy Store May 20-21.