To know Brian Holtzman is like watching a butterfly dance within your grip – you have to be gentle to see the beauty as it moves within its environment. Since moving to Austin, the Comedy Store legend has started a podcast, ripped the roof off every venue in the city, and is the man every show promoter wants in their lineup. But, to experience Holtzman live, that’s a psychological rollercoaster, something crafted with decades of experience, keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats, daring them to “buy the ticket, take the ride,” as Hunter Thompson used to say.
One moment there’s a quiet lament within his comedy set, but by the next breath, there’s absolute danger. And it’s not manufactured bullshit danger, either. This is the comic’s comic, this is shirtless Iggy and the Stooges putting it all out there, that’s the raw power of watching Brian Holtzman transfix a room, daring the audience to give themselves over, not just for the jokes, but to see a master weave together outrage with laughter, while confusing everyone, so they’re never quite sure where they landed after his set. And that’s magic.
Heavy hitters like Tony Hinchcliffe, Ron White, and even Austin impresario Joe Rogan love him, and when they share a lineup, Holtzman is right in the heart of the batting order. “It’s incredible that my peers validate what I’m doing.” And every night, it’s rare to see someone follow him. He’s always batting cleanup rather than the top of the order. The fury of his comedic timing, his willingness to go to the edge, searching for the fall-off point, never comes. He knows his cosmic universe too well.
When you see Brian Holtzman perform, it’s a freight running off the tracks to Vivaldi. He’s Rodney Dangerfield coupled with Joey Diaz – he dares to say the things most comics won’t, he’ll dive into dark, forbidden waters and play there, happily.
Getting to know Brian Holtzman through our adventures with Big Laugh Comedy, I’ve seen his sides; he’s a man that’s not easy to pin down. There are layers at play; he’s observant, someone who takes the nuance, the little things about how the human machinery works, and catalogs it through the subconscious. Spending the day with him, shooting an episode of my show, Better Days with Robert Dean, was one of my great joys. I got an upfront seat to the methods behind the madness, to see a true artist at work. While other guests have killed, Holtzman was different. Watching him work up close and personal isn’t like seeing his mechanics move on stage. He’s artisanal, thoughtful, and direct. We smashed televisions, washing machines, and a mirror together. I’d call that a bonding experience. And at the end of the day, he thanked me for having him. He didn’t need to do that, as the crew and I were in awe of how someone can be so tuned in on what to do when the cameras rolled.
Every bar owner and bartender I know glows when talking about a man who doesn’t drink but makes it a point to thank everyone for having him. The man still carries business cards. And despite his place in the books as a working man’s comic, the comedian’s comic, his heart is humble, “It’s up to the audience to decide what’s funny, not me. It’s art, how many people look at a painting and go, wow, that’s a piece of shit and someone else will come along and pay six million dollars for it.”
And Holtzman doesn’t stop at appearing on writer’s tv shows, either. He’s been hard at work with the behind-the-scenes monolith and Kill Tony producer Brian Redban to get his new project “The Dead Air Podcast” off the ground and into public consciousness. The show entertains because of Holtzman’s dedication to playing the straight man for an old school news show with whatever cast of scoundrels they’ve constructed for the episode.
As we moved from location to location on our shooting day, we chatted about music and its impact. Holtzman is a big Beatles fan. He also loves the Rolling Stones and even has a serious soft spot for Ice Cube, which we caught on film. He loves books, overseas travel, and can offer facts about political and social history at a moment’s notice. That’s just indicative of how Brian Holtzman is. You can’t pigeonhole him. There’s too much depth there. His standup is a constant guessing game of “is this dude for real or is this a character?” He’s comfortable playing the role of a willing caricature, “I want to talk about what people can identify with instead of creating this abstract, hypothetical bit. I want to talk about what’s going on with society at large, I talk about the different viewpoints of both sides of the fence, I want people to leave wondering, is he a Democrat or Republican? I say the things you say alone with your friends, except up on stage, the stuff you won’t say publicly.”
It’s a pleasure to watch the crowds know his name. To see empty rooms become swollen with bodies to hear the madman preach his comedy because Austin saw it happen in real-time. This man who came from Los Angeles with a beat-up truck and a briefcase of jokes, entered a city with laughter on his terms, while pulling from the books of the greats, not just in comedy, but with no doubt the poetry and prose of the legends who came before him. You heard it here first. Soon you’ll know Brian Holtzman’s name, too.
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