Matt Bearden is one sharp cookie. We don’t just mean that as a comedian, he’s bright and creative, or that his material is refreshing, well-crafted, the best kind of brainy–and damn funny. Sure, all those things are true in spades, and we’ll come back in a moment to how those attributes have translated to significant career accomplishments.
But another way he’s sharp is his wise reluctance to be pegged as an “Austin comic.” I hear someone in the back asking why he’d want to dodge the “Austin comic” tag, and why that’s a wise move. Very good question, imaginary person standing in the back of this imaginary gathering. And here’s the answer: Because many on the local landscape–starting with the Austin media–are oddly unsupportive of Austin-based comics. I know, I know: It seems counterintuitive, especially in light of how fervently supportive Austin-ites (very much including the media) tend to be of local bands and musicians. It’s a queer form of reverse snobbery, but any close observer of the Austin comedy scene–which is highly regarded nationally (look at all the television networks, comedy festivals, TV shows, casting directors, et al that make special trips here)–has seen this crazy dynamic play out repeatedly for years. And part of that dynamic is that as soon as an Austin comic leaves town and finds fame &/or fortune &/or some other type of showbiz success, that comic is widely embraced like that otherwise ostracized second cousin who just won the lottery.
So that’s why Matt Bearden is too smart to allow himself to be labeled an Austin comic. But being savvy this way doesn’t mean being disingenuous: Over the last 15 years, he has lived in various cities–including Chicago and Los Angeles–as well as, yes, Austin. He first stepped onto a comedy stage in 1990. Yes, it was on a dare; no, we don’t know if alcohol was involved. About a decade later, Matt committed himself fully to pursuing the art of stand-up, a commitment that’s yielded some pretty impressive results: In 2002, he won the “Funniest Person In Austin” contest, which we’d have to acknowledge is a venerable and exceptionally prestigious comedy competition even if we here at Cap City didn’t organize the annual contest. He’s appeared on such TV shows as “Austin Stories” and “Premium Blend,” and was selected to open some shows on Dave Chappelle’s high-profile, post-“Chappelle’s Show” tour. Not bad. And some of his other achievements that are specific to Austin will surely also be partly responsible for his transcending the Austin thang: He starred in “Wrong Numbers,” which won the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival, and he appeared in another film, “The Journeyman” (also featuring Willie Nelson), which won the Audience Award at South By Southwest Film. He’ll no doubt win plenty of unofficial Audience Awards this week at Cap City–he may (or may not) currently be an Austin resident, but he’s unquestionably a top-notch comic. And, did I mention, smart?