Tim Brewer is a comedian based in the Austin, Texas area. His character Terry Thigpen is a youth minister, reformed sinner, and standup comedian who deploys his special brand of “racy” humor in service of saving souls. Brewer will perform a brand-new Terry Thigpen holiday special, A Very Terry Christmas, in the 10:05 pm EST show block on Thursday, December 10 at the 2020 Very Normal Festival. In this spotlight interview, Brewer talks about the genesis of the Terry Thigpen character, his comedic influences, and why Franklin Barbecue is overrated.
We’re incredibly excited to have you with us this year! Tell us about A Very Terry Christmas. What can audiences expect?
Audiences can expect a peek into Terry Thigpen: youth minister, reformed sinner, lover of candles and handsome men, racy humor, and Jesus Christ. They can expect a short intro into who Terry is and a fun origins-story play in the style of A Christmas Story.
Tell us about the genesis of the Terry Thigpen character. How has Terry changed and evolved over the years that you’ve been portraying him? How do you, as a performer, find ways to keep the Terry character feeling fresh and exciting for yourself?
I developed Terry in 2017 when I decided I really wanted to do something on my own. After years of being in improv troupes and sketch troupes, I wanted to explore stand-up, but I also wanted to do something that involved character work and would give me complete creative control and freedom not constrained by others’ availability or input. Terry is based largely off of my real-life youth minister I had in high school growing up in Southern Mississippi, down to the way he looks, how he talks, the jokes he makes, and his general personality. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago, so in a way this is a tribute to him. I feel like he really shaped who I am and showed me not to be scared to be yourself. I’ve always admired him for that. Terry hasn’t changed too much since his inception, I’d say. He’s a portrait of many men like my old youth minister in the South: battling inner demons with humor and a large dose of denial, while generally being pretty open about their vices in a way that they can make it seem like “God’s always working on them.”
What’s your favorite Terry moment? Can you pinpoint a moment when you were like “You know what? This character’s got legs!”
The first time I ever did Terry, I had no idea how it would be received. It was in my friend’s variety show at The Institution Theater to an absolute packed house, and I generally expected him to elicit groans and discomfort. About 3 minutes in, people were roaring, and I really just felt like I WAS Terry and found myself ad-libbing and improvising a lot of the set and those parts of the show even got some of the biggest laughs. I got nothing but compliments and a lot of raised eyebrows after the show of people saying, “dude you really went there but I loved it.” From there, I think people just grew to love the character because (by my own design) he’s very unique and the entire act isn’t something you generally see too much of in comedy, which is someone doing stand-up completely in character and both riffing on the idea of bad stand-up and everything this character is at the same time.
The two of us perform together as a duo called “From Justin to Kelly,” and every now and then people will come to our shows expecting a screening of the abysmal American Idol movie of the same name. Have you ever had actual evangelical Christians come to watch a Terry show, expecting something very different than what the show actually is?
HAHA, no, no. BUT one time I did a Terry set in the downtime while they tallied the votes for a cagematch show at Coldtowne Theater and there was one guy in the front row who was obviously NOT digging it at all. Afterwards, he wrote the owner of the theater a really long email saying how offended he was that I basically lampooned religion for 15 minutes and how disrespectful my entire act was. They laughed at it because I’m punching up, ya know? We have to make fun of these institutions and their ideas, I think that’s part of my job as a comedian: to spotlight the ridiculousness of the entities that lord over us. That’s what Terry is, essentially, he’s a lens to see the ridiculousness of the south and its culture and religion through.
You’re based in Austin, Texas, which is one of our absolute favorite cities in the world. The question everyone wants to know: Is Franklin Barbecue actually worth the wait?
Not at all. There are so many smaller bbq places which are just as good if not ten times better than Franklin’s that have no wait. One of them is in my suburb, Pflugerville, called Brothertons, which has got to be the best bbq I’ve ever had and there’s never any wait. Also many places in Austin are overrated, much like Franklins, e.g. Salt Lick. It’s just not that great. There are also so many places we’ve discovered that are hidden gems of dining in Austin that I always recommend – Asiana in South Austin (the best Indian you can probably get in Texas), Kim Pho off Riverside (the absolute best pho I’ve ever had), and Salty Sow off Manor just to name a few. Generally, my advice is, if everyone who doesn’t live in Austin talks about some place you HAVE to go to while in Austin, it’s likely touristy and not worth it. Ask someone who’s lived here for a few years about the hidden gems they’ve found and you’re in for a MUCH better experience.
Finally — we are contractually obligated to ask this question — on an ascending scale from 1 to 10, how normal is your show and why?
With 1 being normal? Definitely an 8. My entire goal with Terry was to A) do something different than what I had been doing for the past few years, and B) do something I don’t see much of in the comedy scene. I’m heavily inspired by Zach Galifianakis, Tim Heidecker, and Neil Hamburger AKA Gregg Turkington. This is a character who through I intentionally do very uncomfortable and even cringey things. This is me, playing a character, playing a role, very badly doing comedy with bits of genuine wit and well-crafted humor sprinkled throughout. I think that’s why I’ve been so successful with this character, he’s different and he’s doing something people want to see.