Work of art | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City
Comedy, like any form of creation, is not for those who expect things to be easy. Maybe you are able to make a career out of it; most never do. After more than 10 years of experience in stand-up comedy, Travis Tate takes a step akin to the one comedians take when aiming for the big moment: recording a live set for an audio/video “special.” But it’s also just another example of him just working for the love of doing it.
It took a while for Tate – who lives in Grantsville, with a day job for the US Postal Service – to hit the stage for the first time. He married in 1995 when he was only 17; at the age of 18, he and his wife already had their first child. This is not exactly the ideal scenario for deciding that you are going to become an artist.
“I put it off for a long time because when you’re 18 and you already have a kid, you have to get a job,” Tate says. “Responsibilities have definitely slowed me down.”
In 2011, however, he finally took a hit for the first time at stand-up. “I talked about it all the time,” he recalls. “My wife said, ‘Just go into an open mic, or stop talking about it.’ And I did pretty well, I didn’t get completely discouraged…. If I had started younger, I don’t think I would have been mature enough to deal with the disappointments.
Tate admits he had a lot to learn when he started, especially when it came to developing a stage presence. “It took me a long time to feel comfortable being on stage,” he says. “I think I’ve always been good at writing and figuring out a joke in my head, but I was not a natural performer, at all. Some people you see, and they’re just natural, and I wasn’t like that.”
The answer, as he describes it, was therefore work: observing other actors; think about how facial expression, body language and intonation affect childbirth; develop a set through a process of trial and error. “I was trying to joke one way, and it didn’t work at all. Then the exact same words with just a different tone, clicked,” Tate says.
When it comes to his voice acting, on the other hand, he thinks he’s always felt more comfortable making his own life as a husband and father the focus of his material. There, too, he acknowledges that the details of his debut – and the fact that he didn’t start earlier or younger – had an impact on finding that voice.
“In the early 2000s, there was this ‘morning show’ style of humor, which is very different from today,” says Tate. “I may have gotten caught up in that, which isn’t the kind of comedian I am at all.”
Likewise, he thinks it impacted him starting his stand-up career just as social media was exploding, pushing him away from a potential comedy brand. “That’s when Twitter really started,” he says. “The topical jokes were really difficult because 100 people would have made a similar joke on Twitter.
“My voice was just me. … My oldest son has Asperger’s syndrome, I have two gay children. I don’t care. But I end up talking to people after shows all the time [about those subjects]. When you make that connection with someone, it’s an emotional thing.”
Being able to make those connections is what makes comedy a kind of art, a word Tate initially dismisses with some self-deprecation. He spent his 11 years in comedy mostly doing local shows, occasionally traveling out of town, barely breaking even. It was never about a crazy ambition to be a star. “I think for me, the type of personality that I have, I was setting small, achievable goals,” he says. “I never said, ‘I’m going to have a Netflix special.’ I just wanted to have a good three minutes of material that people will laugh at. Then I wanted five minutes. Then I wanted to have a weekend show. I don’t know if there’s a right way or a wrong way, but I didn’t. I don’t want to do these big plans.”
For now, he’s taping those shows on July 22 and 23, a do-it-yourself operation where he hasn’t sold it to a distributor, or planned anything beyond streaming on YouTube. “I have a great hour that I’m very proud of,” Tate said. “If I can sell it, even the audio if not the video, that would be great. But if not, I want to release it.”
And finally, he is ready to consider that with the work, there is a bit of this “a-mot”. “Stand-up can be so juvenile and silly and silly. But anything that you put so much time into and sacrifice time with your family, it has to be a bit of an art to make it worthwhile.”