Ketchup and mustard

Altercation Comedy Tour hits Portsmouth with a double bill

Stand-up comedian JT Habersaat is a native New Yorker who relocated to Texas in the mid-2000s. The change made him “softer around the edges,” he said. “Which is a positive for me.” Returning to the region, however, causes old instincts to kick in. Habersaat just rolls with them. The tour stops in Portsmouth on December 6.

“I always say I have dual citizenship because Texans view their state as a country, and New York is a very proud spot to be from as well,” he said by phone from Austin. “My East Coast lies somewhat dormant until I get back; then it springs to life. My step immediately increases in pace, and my ‘let’s get this done’ attitude jumps.”

Habersaat’s on-stage style is frenetic and intense, much like the punk rock bands he admires and whose road ethic informs the Altercation Comedy Tour he launched in 2008. Frustrated with the industry’s inflexibility, he began booking rock clubs and dive bars, zigzagging the country in a van full of comics with a penchant for coloring outside the lines.

Ten years on, the tour’s attitude remains the same, but it’s “more streamlined, leaner and meaner now. It’s evolved from what was more of a Ramones gang mentality,” Habersaat said. “Now I basically fly out to a region, and use a strong feature … that I really trust.” In each city, like-minded locals join the headliners on stage, like Kevin Cotter in Portsmouth.

Manchester comic Jay Chanoine is on the current tour; the two gig together frequently. “Jay and I have a very similar kind of aesthetic,” Habersaat said. “He’s like a Ramones and Devo guy, and I’m a Black Flag guy. So it makes sense in terms of a punk comedy tour vibe. While we’re both ranty, we have very different approaches. It’s ketchup and mustard.”

When Habersaat began Altercation, he was a trailblazer. “It was a weird thing we were trying to do,” he said. “Used to be the comedy clubs were the only place, and their set of rules were the only way, unless you wanted to do what we did or what the Comedians of Comedy ( Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, and Maria Bamford) or Doug Stanhope did, which is to say fuck you; but man, was that harder!”

Road life is now much saner, and the business also got easier in the intervening years. “I’ve been around a long time, so I have the contacts and stuff, but also it’s the fact that there are so many different types of venues,” he said. “The definition of what is a comedy room is so broad … it’s more of a level playing field, and you don’t have to play the reindeer games.”

Along with touring and writing the recently published road diary, Killing For A Living, Habersaat’s Altercation Comedy Festival is in its third year as an annual event in Austin. “I think it’s successful because I constantly dragged feet. People asked me to do a festival for years and I said no. I didn’t have the right mindset. I think just intentionally waiting until everything was right is why it’s been doing well. Also, I’m lucky to have friends that are headliners to help me out.”

In January, he’ll do a series of spoken word events with musicians like Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys), Kyle Schutt (The Sword) and Mike Wiebe (Riverboat Gamblers) dubbed Altercation Road Stories. “I host and do kind of comedic stories,” Habersaat said. “Then they come up and tell insane stuff about touring with Metallica or the time that Cheetah got into a fist fight with Iggy Pop … just crazy stuff like that.”

Whether it’s recalling the night an Altercation comic’s dalliance with the girlfriend of a Misfits cover band’s drummer got the entire tour chased out of Grants Pass, Oregon by a caravan of pickup trucks, or tour craziness in Alaska, storytelling is Habersaat’s favorite format. “When it’s done right, it’s super powerful,” he said.

Though tempting, the current political scene is mostly off limits in his act, however. “I talked about Charlottesville when that was going on because I come from the East Coast punk and hardcore scenes and we have very strong opinions about how to deal with Nazis… but it’s something that I wasn’t enjoying talking about on stage,” he said. “So I kind of decided I’m going to take people out of that, make it a break… because it’s so important to have times where there is a break.”

JT Habersaat and Jay Chanoine, with Kevin Cotter
When: Thursday, Dec. 6, 9 p.m.
Where: Trigger House, 135 McDonough St., Suite 24, Portsmouth
Tickets: $8 at eventbrite.com

This story originally appeared in the 7 December issue of Seacoast Scene