When I got into comedy in earnest in the early aughts, one of the biggest names in the biz, for me, wasn't Zach Galifianakis or David Cross or Patton Oswalt. No. It was a bloke down in Atlanta by the name of Henry Owings who was relentlessly working his fingers to the bone publishing magazines and books, putting on shows, managing tours, designing artwork for stuff and releasing records. Since founding Chunklet magazine in 1993, Henry has served as a human suspension bridge joining the alt-comedy and indie rock scenes, and his output has been astounding. His 20 issues of Chunklet are indispensable celebrations of quality content and quality execution, utterly jam packed with everything from interviews with comedians and indie rock musicians to tour diaries, cartoons, satirical essays, lists and so much more.
Always acerbic, Chunklet was as adept at celebrating the various players in comedy and music as it was in tearing down the pretentious conventions these scenes were rife with. His books The Rock Bible: Unholy Scripture for Fans & Bands, The Overrated Book, and The Indie Cred Test were more focused, long-form indictments and stand tall next to more academic music theory and criticism. He has also released an insane amount of CDs, DVDs, EPs, and singles on various formats by the likes of Zach Galifianakis, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Don Caballero, Les Savy Fav, Maria Bamford, Brian Posehn, Eugene Mirman, Ted Leo, The Melvins, Torche, Part Chimp, Harvey Milk and more. He's also an insanely gifted designer and art director. Look no further than every issue of Chunklet, every tour poster he has ever created, and every album jacket he has designed (like the new Husker Dü Savage Young Dü box set). He's also been tour manager for such glorious comedy cavalcades as Comedians of Comedy and "Mr. Show with Bob and David Live."
Back in August 2017, Henry went from releaser to releasee when he put out his own album Micro-Impressions Vol.1, proving that in this day and age literally anyone with the slightest motivation can release an album on vinyl. The album finds Henry unleashing several dozen 1-second impersonations of some of your favorite bands. A limited run of 7" vinyl sold out basically immediately. However, the folks over at Third Uncle Records have you totally covered all the other popular formats: cassingle, a 3" CD version, and a MiniDisc. Yes, a freaking MiniDisc version. The most appalling medium of all time. Get em while you can, you esoteric sonofabitch! You can also get it digitally via Bandcamp -- stream it below.
Meanwhile, Henry has also been dabbling with stand up comedy, and he's bringing his act on the road with some of his musical buddies, including a stop at Union Pool on February 17 with Bardo Pond, Major Stars and Honey Radar (full list of dates below). Tickets are on sale now! I had a hot second to talk to Henry about his album and forays into comedy. Read that below.
So let’s get the obvious question out of the way: How does a graphic designer-slash-author-slash-tour manager-slash-record label guy-slash-promoter get around to doing “stand up comedy” during middle age?
Good question, Klaus. I guess I started doing stand up after my wife and I challenged each other to see who was more funny. After a couple of lively open mics that we’d close in the neighborhood, we decided to do an occasional variety show called “Stand Up Stand Off” which features some of Atlanta’s truly talented comics and paired with my musical friends. People like William Tyler, Mary Lattimore and Ted Leo have all done our show and then, to top it off, our good pal Robert Schneider from the Apples in Stereo is our musical host. Heck, he even wrote our theme song! But I was finding that what I was doing on stage (I loathe calling what I do traditional “stand up comedy”) was offering me the platform that I’ve yearned for since the last issue of Chunklet which seemed to time just perfectly with me becoming a father. And here it is. I did a couple tours (the one I did with the Gotobeds could best be described as “long drives”) and decided to muster up my on-going collection of “one second band impressions” and title it “Micro-Impressions Volume 1”. I’m almost done with my next record which, literally, tens of people are anxious to buy.
What spurred on this tour you’ve booked?
I’ve been dying to get back on the road. Combined with that, many of my favorite bands don’t really stick their neck out where I live in Georgia. So I thought to myself, “why not have those bands do shows with me up there?” Not that I like to book tours, but it’s not entirely that difficult. Also, it’s hard not to completely get wound up at the thought of seeing Bardo Pond, Major Stars, Honey Radar and many others night after night. Oh, and I get up on stage for a little while? Cool. That’s easy. I should also add, by way of an apology, that the tour was originally booked in December, but moments after the whole thing was finalized, The Jesus Lizard decided to tour that exact same week. So I rescheduled. And thanks to all the clubs that allowed me to wiggle those dates to February. The Jesus Lizard takes priority.
Why has Chunklet gone away?
I don’t know if it’s gone away exactly, but I feel like selling a magazine (or a book, or record, or anything, really) in 2017 is a losing battle. The last issue of Chunklet was called “The Last Magazine Ever Printed” as my own personal way of saying that we, as a society, are reaching the end of the need of bountiful physical copies. Not that I’m one to complain, but it’s the truth. Personally, I feel like what I’ve been doing on stage has been a pretty logical extension of Chunklet. The record itself, the packaging, the way it’s presented. It feels very natural and free of a lot of typical comedic nonsense and/or facts masquerading as comedy. I remember Fred Armisen telling me that Chunklet was “kind of like comedy” so I guess equating me on stage would be akin to calling it “kind of like stand up comedy.”
You interested in what’s going on in “rock” right now?
All I can tell you is that I’m largely underwhelmed with what passes as trendy and/or popular “underground” music. It seems like the “Us Versus Them” thing has gone away. Bands sure love selling PBR and Red Bull for a sweet, sweet paycheck. Once in a while, corporate paychecks are fine, but it seems like everything’s been reduced to money. Fuck money. Let’s art! On a side note, I do really love Endless Boogie.
What can we expect from you on tour?
Ridicule. Little people. Trampolines. Buckets of lube. And some of my favorite rock acts. Allow me to stress, I seriously can’t believe my good fortune.
Hey, before I go, did I notice on your Instagram that you released your new record on Mini Disc?
That’s correct. While millionaire garage pimps are running vinyl into the ground, me and Billy at Third Uncle decided to put my single out on the most literally irrelevant music format thinkable: The Mini Disc. While you thank God for this, let’s remember what a truly annoying format we’re talking about here. Billy was up for the challenge and got to finding Mini Discs to use. As of right now, the “Micro-Impressions Vol. 1" Mini Disc has sold four copies. Yes, Rhianna, you read that right. FOUR COPIES! EAT IT! The one question we have is: How do we report this to Billboard? Our modest goal is to corner the Mini Disc market before those losers over at Third Man or Joyful Noise decide to gang rape yet another dead format. This one is mine, guys. Please let me have this one modest victory.
HENRY OWINGS WINTER 2018 COMEDY TOUR DATES
2/18 : Baltimore, Metro Gallery with Honey Radar, Margins, Homosuperior (tix)
2/19 : Washington, DC9 with Margins, Homosuperior, Birth Defects