Treading Water With Wes Hauptman’s Discount Therapy
The first time I remember meeting Wes Hauptman was in my ex boyfriend’s bedroom in Boston. I caught him and a couple friends doing private college activities in the room as a party raged on downstairs, and had come in to ask them to leave. Wes & Co. laughed and promised to wrap up before causing a stir, and before long I found myself persuaded to stay.
Almost an hour later, the room was fully populated with people, and I still had not left. The bedroom became its own event, with college students laughing and passing around drinks like old friends, a full 2 floors above the rest of the party. Part of me asked, how did this happen? The other half told that first guy to shut up, and just went along with the ride.
From that point on, I became familiar with Wes as an entertainer and comedian, catching wind of his burgeoning comedy sets at Boston open mics and a twitter overflowing with delightful quips. Wes would go on to host his own stand-up show entitled Discount Therapy with Joe Medoff, a fellow Emerson College alum, and take the stage in a basement show hosted at the same house I lacked the heart to kick him out of during our first encounter.
Talking to Wes on the West coast two years later, it’s clear his drive for comedy has not faded since his college days. In his first post-grad year, Wes moved out to LA to give Discount Therapy new roots, where it has found a home in backyards, stages, and venues all across Los Angeles.
Wes and I connected on Dec. 6 at the Lyric Hyperion cafe, one day after a Discount Therapy Planned Parenthood event raised $500 in tickets for the women’s health center. Hanging in the back of the venue where Wes walked me in to chat, I saw the same white sheet spray painted with the characters Discount Therapy that once hung in my ex’s basement all those years ago. But this time: I could see the names of numerous comedians scrawled onto the well-loved cream fabric.
Interested in how the show has grown since leaving Boston, and what brought it here in the first place, Wes and I sat down to chat in the minutes ticking down to the start of his Sunday show. I learned very quickly that Discount Therapy’s roots were not dissimilar to the way we met: slowly, then all at once.
How long were you doing standup in Boston before you started Discount Therapy?
I started doing (comedy) at Inside Joke in 2013 (Emerson’s Stand-Up Collective) and the guy who ran it was having trouble running it (and had me take over in five months.)
He was like: I need your help with this. I was like “OK?” and I started helping him with it, then a month later he’s like “host this show.” “I’ve been doing this for six months I’ve been telling the same five jokes!” So I kind of got thrown in, and I’ve been been treading water until now.
Even ending up in LA was a surprise, because when I first came out to LA last summer I hated it. I hated this city so much. I didn’t know why at first: I was so depressed and I thought “I don’t ever want to go back to LA.” Then there came a point where I said OK, I kind of have to go back now. And then suddenly this time, I just starting loving it and I’m thinking — what’s the difference?
And I realized, the first time I came out here, I wasn’t doing stand-up. I didn’t do any stand-up out here, I didn’t have my own show, I wasn’t doing any of the stuff I loved doing, so I was just in the middle of this desert doing nothing going “Why aren’t I successful?”
Because it comes from the heart, this is your drive.
I didn’t think I would love it. My twin sister was in charge of this troupe at Emerson, and she’s the one who actually made me start doing stand up. Because she started performing, and she stopped immediately. But she started doing it before me, and I thought “I should do that” but I kept having excuses to not do it. One day, she said “I signed you up for this show. You’re doing it.“ So for the first six months I sent her every set that I wrote like “Is this funny?” and she’d say “Yes it’s fine.”
She did it just long enough for you to get into it.
She did it long enough to force me into it, by which point she realized “oh I hate stand up” and I was like “oh, I love it! Let’s switch.”
Tell me about the transition of Discount Therapy from Boston to LA. Was it hard to get the show started again, moving out here?
The way it started out here is a very interesting story. I wasn’t doing it for the first two months I was out here… and then I got dumped. And I thought, I have to find something to do with my time to not think about this.
Two days after, Ben Ellenberg (an Emerson alum and friend) texted me like “Hey, I just moved to LA. Do you do Discount here?” and I said I don’t. And he was like, “let’s do it!” and I said “I don’t know where to do it.” “Lucky for you, I know a place!” So we had it in a backyard in Koreatown one time… and then someone started throwing glass bottles and they said we can’t come back. So then we started acting like nomads.
In Boston it was kind of Nebulous, we would put it on when it wasn’t snowing anywhere and we could find a place, but here we can do it every month out here so it’s picked up some steam.
It’s a reason to turn a city you hate into a city you love.
Exactly! And now I love this city: it’s an amazing city.
What’s it’s like going from backyards to venues? Was that another opportunity you were thrown into, or were you prepared?
I used to work at Gotham comics in New York, and then I did a few sets at Laugh Boston. So I got acclimated to doing sets at venues, but I still like doing it in the backyard because it makes people come.
The reason I do it in the backyard, really, is because… the tenants of Discount Therapy, the reason Joe (the original co-creator) and I created it, was as a place where you can talk about whatever you want and not feel like you’re going to be judged. There’s people that come to these shows and come up to me after and say “I’ve never told that to anyone before.” And that’s the kind of vibe I want to cultivate: that you can be in this room, and it won’t feel like a bubble, but it will feel safe.
Discount Therapy, out in LA, was totally self-serving for me. Because I was afraid I would have no friends out here, and I would never do anything, so I was like “I’m gonna make a thing that my friends have to come to!” So, I did this as a reason to see people… then I was like, “Wait a second this is good!”
How would you say the turnout when you’re doing backyard shows differs from a charity show like Planned Parenthood where you have that crowd to support you?
We actually get pretty similar crowds for mics and the Planned Parenthood showcase. We sold tickets to that one and we had to limit it to 80, and we sold every ticket. Normally when it’s not charity, we’ll get, like… 50 people, which I’m told is pretty big for like, random backyard comedy show standards.
Here at these venue shows, we’ll get 20? 25? Maybe 30? But those people that come are core supporters, people that will always laugh at a joke, people that will go out for drinks after… It’s basically just a portfolio show. Just showing your friends what you’ve been working on.
Like a critique.
Exactly! It’s mostly a show, but it’s also a critique. You have friends in the audience, and I know these friends won’t shy away from telling me “that’s a bad joke.”
Do you have an idea of what’s the next step for DIscount Therapy? Do you have a goal in mind, or is it just that feeling of enjoying what’s ahead?
It’s kind of both. I still have ideas, 90% because I love doing it, and I love doing comedy, and I love having my show, and I love having all these people, and I love that it connects other comics. And the other 10% is professional reasons.
My end goal would be to have this at (Meltdown Comics,) because I have friends that have shows there and I love that venue. I was just talking to the programming director, and I pitched the show to her, and she was like “Oh I’ve heard of it, I’ve seen people. We have a lot of straight-up stand up shows, so probably not now.” So my goal now is to be such a good stand-alone standup show that they want me. I want people to fight over me. I want people to want this at their venue.
It’s really impressive (for me) to have seen Discount Therapy grow from just a fabric cloth hanging in a basement.
I spray painted this in my room despite warnings from a graphic designer saying “you’re going to get really sick from fumes.”
And that’s really developed your style of comedy.
That’s right! Kill a bunch of brain cells… it’s like a buffalo herd. You can only go as fast as the slowest brain cell, so you kill off the slow ones.
A lot of people starting in LA going the organized route: like groundlings and UCB. Would you recommend jumping into comedy, as you’ve done, or going into school?
I don’t think there’s such a thing as “jumping into comedy,” because if do like comedy, you’ve been a fan of it for years. It’s not like “Oh I hate comedy — I guess I’ll try it!” No, you’ve liked it, you watched it. Like when I was seven, I was making my own joke books. I’ve always been a comedy fan. So it’s not like jumping in cold, if you ever end up doing comedy it’s because you’ve loved comedy.
But in regards to UCB, I haven’t done those, and I’m not sure I would, but they’re absolutely helpful to anyone who might not have any experience before. I’ve done a storytelling class at storytelling at Improv Olympics, and those people haven’t done (comedy) before in their life, but they’re excited and ready to open their mind.
So your practical goal for comedy is to get excited and follow your heart?
Yeah! Get excited. The worst thing that can happen is you get no laughs, and that will happen to anyone. Like my first show outside of Emerson, I didn’t get a single laugh. And I was like “well, that’s it for my career. Time to become a doctor.” The worst that happens is no one laughs. And if you get over that fear, you’re fucking invincible.
Well you’ve given me a lot to work with, here. Any closing remarks?
Aside from come to the show — try stand-up, do stand-up. I think everyone should try stand-up once in their life.
Standup was really great for me, because it opened my mind to the possibility that there are people out there who think like me, who have the same anxieties and insecurities. Every time I say something that I’m anxious or insecure about, every laugh is someone agreeing. And that’s really nice to have.
Sticking around for Wes’ show, you can see the quirky, perfectly flawed heartbeat he mentions pulsing through every joke and performer that takes the stage. In an intimate crowd of about 15, comedians open up about their mental illness, love lives, and vices over the course of a 2-hour set: quick to point out “oh you guys didn’t like that one” when a joke falls flat.
With Wes’ thoughts echoing in my head as the show runs its course, I’m left reflecting on my own feelings about LA, and the loneliness and isolation I’ve felt in a city where your best friend can oftentimes be your car. But as Wes has said, with every quirk and anxiety I see reflected in jokes onstage, I feel a bubble of laughter explode from my chest: like a battle cry raging against the pain that caused it.
Leaving the venue, I’m reminded of how I felt finally leaving that bedroom in college: floating on laughter and good times that transformed a den of young people into the musings of an intimate few. Maybe I’ll try stand-up in the future, as Wes has recommended, to conjure this feeling out of my own insecurities as the talented cast of Discount Therapy has done onstage time and again. But in the meantime, I’m left thinking Wes’s show has done as the title proclaims: helping my mental wellbeing without the price of a counselor.