If you are a fan of mine, and I know there’s one of you (Hi Mom!), you may recall that I wrote about Baron Vaughn and his comedy residency at Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage Productions in last year’s August issue, which appeared online here with, for some reason, a ridiculously outdated photo. I know that photo is ridiculously outdated because that’s what Vaughn looked like a decade ago when I was living in New York and going to see my boyfriend’s acting-school-buddy-turned-comedian perform at random Brooklyn bars and Manhattan basement spaces.
But we’re all grown up now. The boyfriend is now my baby daddy. Vaughn is a bigtime star on Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, and since his last weeklong residency in Fort Worth, he has made a few remarkable things: The Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot, a documentary about finding the father he never knew called Fatherless, and a baby, who he is expecting with his beautiful girlfriend in six weeks. I caught up with Vaughn to ask a few rather serious questions.
Last year Amphibian Stage Productions gave you the rare opportunity to spend an entire week performing and working on new material on its stage, and now you’re back to do it again. Did your last residency prove to be useful?
Absolutely. It was an experiment, and it ended up being even better than I thought it would be. I recorded each set set, listened to it, and then would write the next day, immediately applying what I had learned that night. So, it speeds up the process and puts me in a creative mindset. Sometimes, I do a set and it’s going to be another week or two before I have another set. So, even if I rewrite it the next day, it’s still going to be a while before I’m able to apply those things.
For years you’ve been telling a joke about growing up without father—that missing him was like missing your pterodactyl wings—that always broke my heart a little. [Another part of the joke, which can be seen here at the 3:25 mark: “My mom’s black and my father was absent, so I’m half black, half empty. Half full. I’m an optimist.”] Now that you’ve met your dad, and produced a documentary about it, what’s your act like?
I have a lot of new jokes since the documentary. New things about having a relationship with my father, about meeting my other family members. Working through the feelings I’ve had since then. About the fact that I’m about to become a father. I have a lot of material about those things, which I’ll be working out at Amphibian Stage. It’s an interesting balancing act because it’s such a personal subject that it starts to really make people tune in to what they believe about their own families. Sometimes I can’t tell if people are uncomfortable or if they’re just riveted. They both sound like silence when I’m on stage. But that old joke you mentioned, the premise of it is that people are really concerned for me, and I’m not. I don’t miss something I never had.
At some point, you did care about finding your dad. Were you working through something and being dishonest with yourself all those years when you were telling that joke? Did something shift?
It’s a combination. I’m not saying I wasn’t concerned; I was saying, “This is my normal.” I have only ever had a life without him. It didn’t feel like anything was missing because I didn’t have anything to compare it to. But it started to reveal itself as something that was deeper than just the fact that he wasn’t there. I don’t really view these events as something that happened to me. I view them as something that’s happened to my mom. Getting to a place where she was ready to talk about these things is, I think, the biggest reason I was ready to talk about these things. It’s something I’m still processing. There’s no clear emotional way to feel about this. It’s complex; it’s entangled. Some of it I feel good about. Some of it I feel bad about. Some of it’s never going to be one easily definable feeling. I think that’s true about most life events.
Now that you’re expecting a baby, do you think it makes a difference that you have now met your own father?
I think that I had a lot of fear, a lot of feelings about becoming a father that were tied to not having a father. Being able to look this person in the face and hear his side of the story, hear my mom’s side of the story — I just wanted to know and understand, and that in itself allowed me to let go of a lot of things I didn’t know were there. Becoming a father, I think, is part of that. Something has lifted or shifted. I wasn’t aware that I might have been afraid of it. It’s exciting to me as opposed to scary.
Are there any places you look forward to visiting while you’re in North Texas?
There’s a lot of good stuff in Fort Worth. There is that coffee shop that I liked. I did a lot of writing there last year. Avoca? [Ed.: it is Avoca, which, I’d argue, has the best latte in North Texas.] There’s that local taco chain. They have all sorts of things. A chicken curry taco. I remember it being next to a bank. That place was great. [Ed.: Fort Worth’s Velvet Taco is near American National Bank of Texas.] There’s also the Museum of Texas Music; I think it’s in Irving. I went for a tour last year and it was pretty interesting. [Ed.: it’s actually called the Texas Musicians Museum, which I had never heard of until now, but it does, in fact, look interesting.] One of the big reasons that I like doing this residency is because I like being able to actually experience the community. Going to the places where locals go. That in itself is really inspiring and gets the creative juices going.
Finally, you’re donating your earnings from this Fort Worth residency to Hurricane Harvey, is that right?
Well, not to the hurricane itself.
Visit amphibianstage.com for tickets to see Baron Vaughn live on stage tonight and every night through Saturday, which doubles an opportunity to give to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts (not to the hurricane itself). The theater will also host a special happy hour screening of Fatherless on Thursday.