Sam Castillo: Keep Moving Forward

March 15, 2019


Valerie Lopez


Richard Goodwin


This week’s inter­view opens with Valerie Lopez threat­en­ing to throw down with any­one who dis­agrees with her; name­ly, on the fact that Sam Castil­lo is one of the nicest comics in the scene. I’ll leave that jux­ta­po­si­tion of vio­lence and kind­ness with you to mar­i­nate a bit, but I can tell you that from the first moments of hear­ing Castil­lo tell his sto­ry, you’ll be inclined to agree. 

For 2 years end­ing this March, Castil­lo has host­ed the open mic at Love Goat, which Valerie calls the best worst open mic in town”, with pre­vi­ous Com­e­dy Wham guest Andrew Wag­n­er. After March, the reigns are being hand­ed over to Eric Scholl and Casey Stew­art. Every Sat­ur­day at 9:00PM, Love Goat wel­comes a mix from sea­soned stand-up vets to first-timers, often from the UT cam­pus, giv­en the prox­im­i­ty. Regard­less of your time in the scene, Castil­lo and Wag­n­er don’t pull any punch­es when inter­act­ing with the per­form­ers. We’re all about being as unsup­port­ive as possible…kicking you while you’re down,” Castil­lo bois­ter­ous­ly jokes. 

In real­i­ty, the show is all about giv­ing peo­ple the chance to get stage time to try their hand or prac­tice their craft, no mat­ter the skill lev­el. That same open­ness is clear in Castillo’s atti­tude; toss­ing out comic’s names as he and Valerie try and track down a fact about a pre­vi­ous guest, it’s obvi­ous he knows and cares about many of our local com­e­dy friends. 

It’s not sur­pris­ing to find this deep inter­est in the top­ic and peo­ple of com­e­dy, giv­en Castillo’s love of the genre ear­ly on. Raised in Dal­las, TX, his dad pro­vid­ed a steady stream of con­tent through hours upon hours of VHS tapes of the Mer­ry Melodies car­toons, John­ny Car­son mono­logues, and A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion. David Let­ter­man was a for­bid­den fruit, appar­ent­ly a bit too edgy for young Castil­lo to be allowed to watch; you can tell he still found a way, as he excit­ed­ly recounts some of his favorite Let­ter­man skits, like Will It Float?, also a per­son­al favorite of mine.

As a teen, Castil­lo found his way into more than one form of per­form­ing, includ­ing paint­ing and singing in the school choir; he speaks fond­ly of both, but admits cir­cum­stances weren’t exact­ly ripe for either to blos­som. Com­e­dy wasn’t out of the pic­ture, as Castil­lo took in Com­e­dy Cen­tral pre­mieres from the likes of Pat­ton Oswalt and Daniel Tosh. He even tried to get on an open mic, but didn’t make it, and the quest fell to the back­ground for the time being. 

When he entered UT, becom­ing a The­atre major was his plan, but ulti­mate­ly he piv­ot­ed to that most lib­er­al of arts degrees: Geo­graph­ic Infor­ma­tion Sys­tems (with a cer­tifi­cate in Busi­ness, for good measure). 

It nev­er ceas­es to amaze us the var­ied paths peo­ple take on their way to the stage, but indeed to the stage Castil­lo went. While still in col­lege, he start­ed hit­ting open mics, begin­ning with Cold­towne The­ater. I think I went to the bath­room 20 times before [get­ting on stage]; there was not a sin­gle ounce of flu­id in my body, I was so ner­vous,” he says. After that, he began com­mit­ting to try­ing to per­form every night, not want­i­ng to half-ass” it. 

I think I went to the bath­room 20 times before [get­ting on stage]; there was not a sin­gle ounce of flu­id in my body, I was so ner­vous.” Sam Castil­lo on his first Cold­towne open mic

Some­times that meant the last slot of the night, basi­cal­ly per­form­ing to the clean­ing staff, as Castil­lo tried to find his per­sona”. He tells Valerie about try­ing impres­sions, attempt­ing the ver­bal gym­nas­tics of idols like Oswalt, and try­ing out razor-edged one-lin­ers in the style of Antho­ny Jesel­nik. None of the gim­micks” were a good fit for him, as a club man­ag­er some­what tact­ful­ly let him know; in his quest to put a spin on mate­r­i­al so it would seem new and unique, he lost the thread of sim­ply talk­ing about things he knew and enjoyed. 

It’s a jour­ney Casti­lo is still nav­i­gat­ing, find­ing the bal­ance between bor­row­ing from the styles and mate­r­i­al he loves, while apply­ing his own view­point to it. One key les­son he’s try­ing to tack­le is writ­ing in a more uni­ver­sal style, say­ing: Write a joke that any­one [would] under­stand, even if they don’t find it fun­ny.” There’s still a bit of emu­la­tion in his process; while nei­ther Valerie nor I picked up on it, Castil­lo notes he’s in a phase of try­ing to learn from the best of the late Brody Stevens. (Stevens passed away short­ly after record­ing this episode.) I think it’s impor­tant to note here the rev­er­ence with which Castil­lo talks about this method­ol­o­gy; though he may claim to be rip­ping off” this or that big com­e­dy name, it’s clear that the under­cur­rent is about him try­ing on dif­fer­ent hats as a means to ulti­mate­ly find his own unique voice. 

Although what sounds like frus­tra­tion seems to seep into Castillo’s descrip­tion of his strug­gles dis­cov­er­ing and learn­ing, he makes it clear he’s upbeat about the entire enter­prise. Most [com­e­dy] is good; some of it is great. I want to write just one great joke; I think that’s rea­son­able,” he says, which may sound cyn­i­cal to some. To me, it speaks to a bit of the per­fec­tion­ism that is inher­ent in most that intend to make com­e­dy their full-time pro­fes­sion: if you don’t deliv­er con­sis­tent­ly, and have a few of those shin­ing moments to amaze peo­ple in the mix, peo­ple aren’t going to remem­ber you. (And def­i­nite­ly not pay to see you again.) You shouldn’t aim to kill…you should prove to your­self that you went for it,” Castil­lo advis­es inex­pe­ri­enced comics; Go to the clubs, watch every…act you can. Try to learn from your time on stage, and their time on stage.”

You shouldn’t aim to kill…you should prove to your­self that you went for it.” Sam Castil­lo

At the end of the day, Castil­lo, with his ups and downs, is all about the eth­ic and prac­tice of his work, say­ing: I’m not try­ing to be the best overnight…I’m just try­ing to have fun, and enjoy my life, because I found this thing I loved.” In his view, what­ev­er your pro­fes­sion may ulti­mate­ly be, come­di­an or jan­i­tor, you should put the time and effort in to do it the absolute best you can. He raves about the qual­i­ty of Austin’s clubs and per­form­ers, not­ing that we have peo­ple in the scene that could sell out venues 10x the sizes they often per­form at. 

It’s a scene Castil­lo is proud to be a part of, and shows no signs of quit­ting; with a goal of match­ing – or beat­ing – the amount of time he spends on stage each month, it’s clear he’s in for the long run. He shares vol­umes of addi­tion­al expe­ri­ences and advice with Valerie about how he makes that hap­pen, and how oth­ers can build their plans. May is his com­e­dy birth­day”, and – ever the vig­i­lant watch­er– he will judge him­self on whether he’s fun­nier this year than the last. 

We think he’s in for a hap­py birthday.

See more of Sam Castil­lo at these upcom­ing shows:

  • March 17: SXTX at Cher­ry­wood Cof­fee­house @ 7pm 
  • April 5: Sure Thing at Fall­out The­ater @ 9:30PM
Sam Castillo