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Fables & Folk - Off the Cuff with Warren Hines

"I think at the end of the day, comedians shouldn’t have any responsibilities other than making people laugh and giving the audience a little vacation from their brains, which can be full of self-criticism and over-analysis." - Warren Hines



Fables and Folk Interview with Comedian warren Hines

Coppage: Warren, you have always put yourself out there. You are a journalist and music lover, created and hosted a podcast, as well as an extremely talented woodworker. Could you talk about the transition into standup comedy? Do you feel this was a natural transition for yourself? Was there a defining or influential moment that incited your decision to venture into standup?


Warren Hines with Cedric Burnside
Warren Hines with Cedric Burnside (2023

 Hines: Thank you, Will. I think of myself more as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. I’ve always done well with language arts, in terms of getting localized recognition. In school I was always good at essay-writing and had my moments in theatrical performance. I think that background has taken me from essays to columns to music journalism and then to podcasting, although in some cases I felt a bitterness as I didn’t feel like my work was being recognized in the mediums I was previously attempting. There’s always this sort of glitter on a different medium, which you convince yourself will be more conducive to reaching more people with your art, but as you know, “everything that glitters is not gold.” I wasn’t getting paid anything to write columns, but I was getting some local exposure. So, I figured delving into music journalism would help me get more national exposure by writing interview features on major American musicians.


Warren Hines' Podcast, Hindsight 2020
Hindsight 2020, a podcast from the mind of Warren Hines

That was sort-of true, but I still wasn’t making much money at it. I had access to all these publicists fairly quickly and access to all of these artists, so I figured why am I begging all of these editors to throw me some scraps when I’ve developed all these connections on my own? That’s when I decided to start the podcast, Hindsight 2020. It was a lot of fun, but there was absolutely no money in it. Soon after my son was born, I had to sort of triage priorities and trying to put out a podcast that didn’t make any money every two weeks was first on the chopping block.


Another thing that burned me out on writing was politics. I probably never should have written about politics, because I don’t think it made me or anybody else happy. I think that part of me felt like I had to be like Hunter S. Thompson, and there is literally no law in this country that requires anybody to be Hunter S. Thompson. Sometimes I think Johnny Depp needs to remember that. I don’t think it even worked out very well for Hunter. He wrote a type of satire and then tried to live up to the humor written. I think we see that today. Some of our most famous comedians try to live up to the jokes they write. It’s probably healthy to have some boundaries between your artwork and your identity, whatever the medium.


My early interest in standup was really through student government. After one of the ice storms, my parents never got cable back — ever. As a result, basic access television was very influential to me in my teen years — particularly Seinfeld and David Letterman. I decided to run for Vice President of the high school at Washington School in Greenville, and I had recently gotten a short haircut, glasses, and a grey suit. I looked a fair bit like a young Letterman. One night I watched him do toe-touches on the show to prove he was still limber. So taking a nod from him, I went out in the auditorium and did a toe touch before my campaign speech just like Letterman. I got a great response. It was part timing and part dumb luck, but the crowd went wild. I became the Vice President of the student body.



Overall, it took me about 21 years to finally realize that I don’t really give a crap about politics. What I loved was making people laugh. Making them feel free for a little while. Making them feel light about the absurd nature of what we were all collectively up against. I think this  is my true calling, honestly, but I took a detour to do other things because it wasn’t clear to me… “Hey, I’m not a leader of men… I’m a comedian. And that’s what that’s all about.”

 

Coppage: The Mississippi Delta, where you were born and raised, is known for storytellers. You know live in Washington state. Many of the artists that we both know, whether still living in Mississippi or elsewhere, tend to use Mississippi as a type of compass-rose — using Mississippi culture, people, and landscape — in there art. In your standup, do you see your do you see yourself as an extension of the Delta landscape? If so, how? And if not, is it a conscious choice?


Warren Hines in British Columbia
Warren Hines in British Columbia

Hines: I identify as a Delta boy, even though I’m not really a typical Delta boy. When traveling, people ask where you are from, and so you tell them. After a while, they have certain perceptions of you, and you sort of “yes ma’am” them to death and play into that. But then I would go home and remember I don’t know very much about different rifle models and my eyes always glazed over when people talked about passing yards for Ole Miss or Mississippi State football players. I was the drama nerd who was into student government and honors English and AP history. So I think while traveling through New Zealand and Australia and Hawaii in my 20’s, I kind of developed this faux Macho Man, Mississippi Delta persona that was built a little bit out of nostalgia from home and a little bit of perception other people had of who I should be. So then, I could sort of make that up as I went along. It’s almost embarrassing to talk about all these self-made characterizations, but I think we all play different roles as life goes on.


I obviously look up to my Dad a lot, but I also admire guys like Tim Hovas and Uncle Gary, who are life-long towboat workers. These folks must consistently take risks, but through those experiences they also have a disarming way of communicating and a natural bearded, whiskey-drinking and storytelling charm. You have to be a little crazy to push a tow-line between the channel markers through all the bends of the Mississippi, and I’ve always been drawn like a moth to a flame to that bit of charming madness the towboat captains have.                                 


Howard Brent on Mississippi River
Warren with his Uncle Howard Brent.

One of my greatest heroes from childhood through today is my great-uncle, Howard Brent. I would sit as a guest at his table growing up and watch in awe as he captivated the attention of everyone with some hilarious trope about small aircraft mishaps or a couple of guys getting a ride back from Hot Springs in a hearse because they couldn’t hire a taxi that late on a Sunday. I think deep-down, I wanted to captivate people’s attention and make them laugh like that. I still don’t think I’ll ever hold a candle to Howard. I think it takes a lot of living and experience to have a deep well of stories to captivate peoples’ attention in that way.


Howard Brent - Department of Having a Good Time
Howard Brent with his daughter, Jessica. Howard's truck is emblazoned with "Department of Having a Good Time."

Coppage: Riffing off the previous question, you have spent a considerable time living and traveling abroad. Numerous people you have met, you became lasting friends. I know many have visited while you were still living in Mississippi. People present themselves as an extension of place. In standup, it appears that there is only a short window to win over the audience and gain their attention. With

the time spent outside of the United States, how did you break down the barriers of culture in order to be “brought in” or accepted, and do you feel similarly when you are now performing?

 

Hines: I feel like leaning into my Southern accent and sensibilities sets me apart from other comics. I know a lot of people I’ve met on the road have been interested to hear about where I come from and what it’s like in the Mississippi Delta. It’s no accident that when the Cohen Brothers went to tell their American Odyssey in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, they chose the Mississippi Delta. We definitely come from a storied place among a storied region, particularly for American music and the Blues.


Because of my Southern drawl, sometimes I hear little giggles before I even make it to the punchline. They are definitely laughing at my accent, and that’s okay. I’m there to make them laugh, so it’s just a bonus to be able to prime them up based on the way I talk. It can go the other way though.


Sometimes leaning into the Mississippi thing makes people in the Pacific Northwest assume you’re a racist who grew up without flush toilets. That’s okay though, I can’t please every person out there who cannot appreciate variations of culture within geographic areas and the varied socio-economic nuances that exist within the Delta alone and the South in general.



 Coppage: Just like with any artist, the muse can strike at anytime. While those moments of inspiration are graciously desired, many artists such as writers and songwriters discipline themselves to a schedule for producing their work. How do you come up with your material and is there a certain regime you use to hone your work?

 

Hines: Seinfeld has a great clip about this, and I think it’s him on Howard Stern. He says as a comedian, you’re always trying to work out jokes. Howard Stern says, “Isn’t that a kind of torture?” and Jerry says, “Find the torture in life you can stand and you’ll do well.” I’m paraphrasing, but I think this is true to me. I’m always trying to turn everything into a joke, especially when I’m supposed to be serious. It’s my mind rejecting the serious, trying to channel the inner Uncle Howard. So I’m always on call, and if I don’t write it down on my phone, a lot of the jokes will just disappear into the ether. But the powerful ones will sometimes follow you around for awhile, and you say, “Okay, I’m going to jot this down before I forget it again.” Then it’s just tweaking it or adding to it, even after you start performing it. You can keep tweaking it, and it’s never done until you decide you’re done with it. Even then, it's just archived.


Open mics are most of what I do. I’m not in my twenties working hospitality though either—I have a day job. I must pace myself and having fun with it all. The idea behind comedy is that you work things out at open mic nights. Hopefully you can try a joke out on two or three different crowds and tweak it a little as you go. It’s easy to get discouraged if a joke falls flat and just send it to the recycle bin, but I’m not convinced that always needs to be the approach. You try to take those tried and true jokes that always got a laugh and roll them into your material for a show, but then you could get a crowd that doesn’t like those jokes at the show. You need to know your audience and cater your jokes to them a little bit, but I think that’s a very fine skill.



The hardest thing to realize is that a lot of people are funny around their friends. It’s easier to be funny, off-the-cuff with those that know you. To bottle that and store it and then release it into the world at-will with a microphone in your hand—that’s the magic trick. On stage, I want to appear as if in a conversation and riffing stuff off-the-cuff, just like I would on a car ride with my friends. So, there’s sort-of an acting component as well.

 

Coppage: Comedy is a necessity to society, many times mirroring current events, whether good, bad, or absurd. The role of the comic appears to put forth an idea before an audience and somehow make the audience see it in a different way. In this, it’s kinda like a photographer and the photo, capturing a fleeting moment. How do you see the role of comedy, especially in 2023? Do you believe that the comic has a larger responsibility to the audience to point out these moments that affect us deeply as an individual or society as a whole?

 

Hines: I think that comedians have a responsibility to make people laugh. I think that in 2023, people sometimes take comedians too seriously. The whole country is so touchy about politics, and it’s like you can’t even mention certain things without pissing off half of the crowd. Out here in the Puget Sound, it can literally depend what community you’re performing in as to which group you can have a laugh at.


If I was a doctor, I wouldn’t ask my patients to fill out a survey with their political preferences and then give them a menu of organs I could take out based on their responses. In the same way, I think that people should be able to laugh at others and at their own sensibilities a little bit. The saying goes, “It’s comedy, not therapy.”


At the end of the day, comedians shouldn’t have any responsibilities other than making people laugh and giving the audience a little vacation from their brains, which can be full of self-criticism and over-analysis.

           

Coppage: Going back to the places you are live and now reside, community is a strength with the power of momentum due to the individuals that make up the community. Many times comics appear to be a solo act, rather that a group. Talk about the local scene of comedy. Would you and how would you define it as a community?


Hines: I’m raising a four-year-old boy, so I don’t have a whole lot of extra time for community. I get about one night a week. I think as a community, it may appear to be this real love-affair when people hear their favorite comics superfluously flattering each other on one another’s podcasts. But at the grunt level where I am, it’s more like a community of sharks. Some sharks swim together, but at the end, we’re all out there for the kill, metaphorically speaking. You don’t see sharks in the wild sitting down together to share a meal over a nice Chianti. Having said that, it’s fun to meet other comics. I try to be kind and cheer on other people, but there are a lot of egos in comedy. There’s a little clutching of the pearls from the guys who have been doing it longer. At the end of the day, it’s a personal pursuit for me and building a little sense of community within that is just a bonus.

 

Coppage: Lastly, I want to give you an opportunity to let our readers know anything I may have overlooked. What do you see next on your horizon? Is there anything that you wish you could dive into, but never feel you have the time?


Hines: I’m definitely trying to put myself out there more. As I mentioned, I did one show at Snapdragon Vashon this past spring as one of several openers for Teina Manu of Olympia. It was loads of fun, even though somebody pulled the fire alarm. The entire Vashon Fire Department got on stage to clear the stage of a fire threat while I was doing my roughly 8-minute set, which went over pretty well with the audience even though the strobe lights from the alarm continued in the building for the rest of the night.


My buddy, Richard Moore, organized another show in October at Dig Deep Gardens on Vashon Island with mostly the same line-up of comics, so that was fun. I improved on that show after hitting a bunch of open mics over the summer. I have a guest spot upcoming for a show featuring Erik Escobar, through Comedy in Kitsap, which is run by a buddy in Bremerton. I also recently got my first hosting gig. This has been a blast as I enjoyed throwing quips between people’s sets and trying to keep the momentum going. A lot of opportunities pop up just by showing up and through happenstance.


I wouldn’t say I’m “killing it.” That term gets thrown around a lot in comedy, but to me you’re killing it when people in the audience are streaming tears and struggling to breathe from laughing so hard. That’s what I want to do, and that’s what I’m trying to build: a tear gas empire



 

Warren Hines is a rising comedian from Greenville, MS, now living in the Pacific Northwest. He adores driving long distances in order to embrace new local cultures and experiences. In 2010, he drove north from the Augusta Lighthouse in Western Australia to Kununurra. From Mississippi he logged over 4,000 miles driving to Fairbanks, Alaska during 2017-2018. Being from Mississippi, Warren thrives on the blues and Americana music. Although he always loves his trips home to Mississippi, he thrives on meeting new people and embracing new cultures.


You can find him all over the web at:

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