As a fan of stand-up comedy, I find myself attending a lot of local comedy shows. I’ve learned that D.C. has a distinctly good comedy scene, and if you go to enough shows and you will start noticing familiar faces.
One of these familiar faces belongs to Matt Begué and I recently talked to him about his stand-up, among other things:
Borderstan: So you live in Navy Yard?
Matt Begué: Yeah, I live in Navy Yard now. I live right across the street from the baseball stadium. And I moved in right after baseball season, so I don’t know how crazy it gets down there.
It’s a cool spot. I like it there. They say when all of the construction’s done, it’s going to be the most densely populated neighborhood in D.C., which I believe.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Connecticut.
Oh, I think I’ve heard you mention this before. Do you talk about it in your act?
Sometimes, sometimes. It’s not really part of the joke, it’s just like a sh-tty setup.
What part of Connecticut?
I grew up in – when you say Connecticut, everybody kind of assumes that you’re, like, really close to New York City – but I wasn’t. [I grew up in a town called] Tolland.
You went to UConn. What did you study?
I got a BS in Math and then I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I was like, I’ll just keep going to school. This is my fifth year at Maryland and this May, I’ll have a PhD in Math.
So, yeah, I’m a big nerd. I tell a joke on stage, it’s like, I’m getting a PhD in Math and I do standup. My math friends say, oh, I had no idea you were funny, and my comedian friends say, oh, I had no idea you were smart. Also, you’re not funny.
That’s pretty funny. So, how long have you been doing comedy?
I guess I started, umm, oh, my god I started almost exactly three years ago, but it hasn’t been a steady three years. I took breaks my first year a lot. I’d do it once a month my first year, maybe two years.
And then just recently, I started being comfortable with it. I do it about twice a week now. The other comedians tell me that if I did it five days a week, I’d be really great, but with school and a relationship, I’d rather not detract from those things and just have this be my fun hobby on the side.
How was performing stand-up, initially, or even now?
You have to be very comfortable with eating sh-t. Especially, when you start. You just gotta be prepared that you’re going to suck very badly and that can’t scare you. It’s one of those things where – you’re not successful right away if that can scare you away. And it’s kind of like math, too, sometimes, like some people can’t do the math problem and they’ll be like, oh, I suck at math, I was never good at math, like they have this phobia of math.
And I see that a lot with new comedians. They’ll try it once and it won’t go the way they thought it would and they’ll be like, oh, I just can’t do this. So, you have to be comfortable with that banging-your-head-against-the-wall feeling.
Just keep doing it, no matter how much it sucks, basically?
Yeah, your love for comedy has to be stronger than your fear of bombing. And when I go to comedy shows, I treat it like a class, basically. Because you can’t really take classes on comedy, and if you do, they’re kind of sh-tty.
You can learn by doing. I feel like you can learn theoretically about the history and stuff like that, but you can’t really learn what it’s like to do it.
So, I watch the greats on TV, I watch my favorite D.C. comics. And then, the goal is to take a piece of all of them and make it “you.”
That’s how you find your voice?
Yeah, when I first started, I was very scripted, very memorized and I was reciting it. Lately, I’ve been getting more comfortable with my voice and riffing and just getting away from the scripted, written jokes.
And just being funny. That’s hard, but I think that’s how you need to start, you need to start with scripted jokes and then as you develop, you’ll get the banter, that’ll develop.
Once you’re able to be more comfortable on stage–
Exactly. Once you get the stage presence, once you get the timing.
Have you only done comedy in D.C. or have you done it in other places?
Uh, pretty much exclusively D.C. I’ve done a couple of gigs in Connecticut. I was at a work event in San Antonio and I snuck away to do a comedy show at night, but almost exclusively D.C.
What are the audiences like here?
D.C. audiences are peculiar. And when New York and LA comics come to D.C., they can be a really good comic in New York and they’ll come to DC and they’ll be like, whaaat? because D.C.’s a town full of professionals. And, like young professionals. We’re very PC and everyone’s a transplant and everyone’s got their MBA and stuff like that, and so, a lot of New York comics will say, I don’t do well in DC because they’re uptight, they’re too educated.
And so, on the same token, I do badly when I go to other rooms or a unique room in DC where everyone doesn’t have that professionalism. Like, my Donald Trump jokes don’t necessarily kill anywhere but this city.
Yeah, are you pro-Donald Trump with your jokes or are you anti-Donald Trump with your jokes?
I think it depends on your point-of-view. From a comedian’s point-of-view, you’re all in. The man is a comedian. But as an American, he’s scary.
Yeah, I would agree that he’s definitely good material for jokes.
Oh yeah, ’cause there’s so much you can do, like you can make fun of the wall, the look, the face, the hair, the voice. He’s almost too easy of a target, that it’s hacky.
What is the comedian community like here?
When I first started, I thought they were very standoffish, but once I got my street cred, they slowly welcomed me into their circle. I think it’s like that everywhere, to be honest. Comedians are very sensitive, kind of standoffish and very easy to get jealous. I get jealous, I’ve discovered – of other comedians.
What do you get jealous of?
I get jealous when someone has a joke similar to mine. And it doesn’t even have to be better than mine. I’ve seen it both ways, but just, like, the premise is very, very similar or it’s just straight up almost the same joke. And I hear other people laugh and I go, those are my laughs.
Yeah, comedians are very jealous and protective because it’s just you on stage. It’s literally all about you. You have to tell these jokes, you have to get these laughs, and then you will feel good.
Check out Matt’s stand up during Underground Comedy shows during the week at Big Hunt (1345 Connecticut Ave. NW) and Bier Baron Tavern (1523 22nd St. NW) in Dupont Circle.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Photo courtesy of Matt Begué