This weekend, Arts Hub has brought together comedians both national and local for two days full of comedy with acts taking stage at The Guild Cinema in Nob Hill for 25 acts and 10 shows. Not simply limited to stand-up, the Funny Fiesta promises “stand-up, improv, sketch, film, magic and more.” It is an ambitious program and a lot to digest, but the full lineup is online at abqartshub.com.
A stand-up standout among the comics is Albuquerque native Rusty Rutherford. Having been a fixture in the Albuquerque comedy scene (in its many manifestations) for well over a decade, Rutherford is as much funny man as local comedy booster. Weekly Alibi sat down with Rutherford to talk about the changing comedy scene here in Albuquerque and beyond. The following is an edited version of that interview.
Weekly Alibi: Say something funny.
Rusty Rutherford: Dick. This interview is over.
You grew up here. Is Albuquerque a funny place to grow up?
Yeah. I mean, you have to find the humor anywhere. When I started doing stand-up, I started doing character stuff. I didn’t do straight stand-up for several years. One of my big characters I did was Rusta Rhymes because I grew up in the Northeast Heights and that was my wannabe gangster character who thinks he’s hardcore, he thinks he’s a thug, but really he’s an upper-middle class Northeast Heights white kid who wants to be urban but isn’t. That’s kind of a small part of me magnified because the Heights is pretty boring.
You’ve been known to challenge the police to rap battles. Why do they refuse?
Once I did get arrested in LA and I challenged the cops walking me into a rap battle. They both laughed. I was like, “How about we rap and if I beat you, you let me go, no questions asked? If you beat me, then I won’t give you a hard time, you can book me and lock me up?” The cops laughed and one of them said, “How about you rap and we lock you up anyways?” I was drunk, so I freestyled and they were both cracking up. Then I’m waiting to be processed and put in a holding cell and another cop comes in. He looks at me and he’s like, “Are you the rapper? I heard you’re pretty good.” So, it was like getting props from cops.
You’ve been doing stand-up here for well over a decade. How has the climate for comedians changed?
Locally, there are so many more opportunities. When I started, there was Laffs Comedy Club and all the local comics—and there were really just maybe a dozen of us that were were really hitting mics performing—
Do you think a comedian will ever be able to make a living as a comedian in Albuquerque?
I think it would be hard if they just wanted to make a living doing stand-up solely. Hopefully at some point, we’ll get there. A good club would be nice. At this point, there are so many comics that could get good work from there. If they use their skills from stand-up in other comedy fields, I think there is a potential. For the past three years, I’ve been able to pay my rent off comedy alone. That’s a big step, but that includes stand-up, dinner theater, writing for some blogs—anything I can do comedy related.
What would help?
All of the comics that I know here promote, but pretty much none of us puts money into promotion. A little bit here and there, but no more than a few hundred bucks in Facebook ads or small newspaper ads. I think if we got somebody that really knew what they were doing business-wise, but also had the artistic mindset, because you need both, that could really help.
Do you feel like the audience is here?
I do. They just don’t know about it. I feel like everybody knows about stand-up because everybody I know does, because I tell them, but I still meet people all the time that ask if I’m performing at Laffs Comedy Club and they closed eight years ago or something. It’s this indie scene, which is really cool if you’re into the indie scene, but you have to dig for it.
How did you get involved in Funny Fiesta?
I saw a post that they were accepting submissions. One thing I love about it is that it is not just stand-up.
Is social media trolling a legitimate art form?
I think it can be. I think there’s levels and layers of trolling. There are the ones that just troll to start shit and be dicks. I troll a lot, but I feel I troll the trolls. I love messing with people that are just leaving tons of negative comments on news stories. That’s one of my favorite things. Teabagger Barb is a lady I messed with for years. Somehow, I became friends with this lady that was a super right-wing teabagger, one with the stereotypical crazy posts with no sources behind it. I would mess with her by pretending to be more conservative than she was and getting offended that she wasn’t conservative enough.
You’ve been involved with pro wrestling for a while. Do you think President Trump should be removed from the WWE Hall of Fame?
Is he in the pro wrestling hall of fame? I’m going to have to boycott WWE now. That’s terrible. I mean … I guess he is the biggest heel.