Stand-up comedy, as a profession, is about as far from a sure thing as you can get. But that hasn’t stopped local comics Duncan Carson and Brendan K. O’Grady from starting an Austin record label for comedians named just that.
Sure Thing Records is an offshoot of Sure Thing, the live comedy show the fast friends — who met at an open mic — have hosted on Saturdays at Austin Java for a couple of years now. So far the label has released two albums: a compilation recording of an all-star, local Sure Thing show and the first CD from former funniest person in Austin Mac Blake, which shot to No. 3 on the iTunes comedy downloads chart.
The company’s third release, Bryan Gutmann’s “That’s How Scientists Talk,” drops on Friday, and Seth Cockfield returns from New York City to record his album on Sept. 19.
As local stand-up comics themselves, Carson and O’Grady are natural boosters.
“Sometimes it feels like there’s so much talent here, but not a lot of options for people outside of Austin or Texas to hear that talent,” O’Grady says.
Longtime fans of comedy albums — titles such as Patton Oswalt’s “Feelin’ Kinda Patton” and Mitch Hedberg’s “Strategic Grill Locations” come up during our conversation — the partners realized that audio recordings would be a great way for Austin comics to get exposure.
Carson and O’ Grady weren’t first to the mic. Local comics including Ramin Nazer and Brian Gaar had already released their own recordings.
“(But) we’re able to take the added step that a lot of comics can’t take themselves, which is to front them a couple grand or whatever it is to make an album,” O’Grady says. “Recording is not free — at least not quality recording or printing CDs and things like that. It does take money that a lot of comics, who, for the most part, are not making their full living off of stand-up, do not necessarily have.”
The pair use what they call the “incredibly meager” profits from the live Sure Thing shows to fund the enterprise. (Those shows are free, but Carson and O’Grady, who generate a solid audience of 70 to 80 for Austin Java each Saturday night, “have a deal” with the venue).
“Rather than walk away with a couple of bucks in our pockets every month, we said, ‘What if we just forgo taking any money at all and just put it all into this other thing and see how much more we can do with it?’” O’Grady explains.
“We figured we could take what we made from it and make something that lasts,” Carson adds. “Plus, old Bee Caves over here (Carson’s nickname for Brendan K.) wanted to run a label since he was a teenager.”
The label’s first two releases sound great. The first, “Sure Thing (Live),” was recorded at Austin Java and features 15 local comics at the tops of their games. Blake’s “Bird Drugs,” recorded live at Cap City Comedy Club over the course of two nights, provided the duo with a crash course in the drawn-out and deliberate process of audio editing. The pair relied on local technical professional Dustin Svehlak — Carson calls him “the unsung MVP” of Austin’s comedy community — to record and master the audio.
“I’m not going to lie. I did not think that we were going to spend upwards of 10, 15, 20 hours editing these things, sometimes in the first sitting,” O’Grady admits.
“Let’s listen to Night One. Let’s listen to Night Two,” Carson says, recalling the experience. “Hey — shoutout to that lady on Night One who laughed very distinctively …”
“… and made it a nightmare to blend the two,” O’Grady adds.
“She would pop up every now and then and we’re like, ‘OK, we’ve got to cut that out, but then you’re going to notice she’s not there,’” Carson says. The pair knew it was going to be a lot of work but were surprised by the level of detail and how much they learned so quickly.
“Just sitting down and listening to a recording, you start to hear every single vocal tic. You become such a critical listener,” O’Grady explains.
Comics with whom the duo have worked appreciate that the critical listening is coming from editors with a deep understanding of — and appreciation for — stand-up.
“They’re friends and comedians I respect,” Blake says. “They cared just as much as I did about making sure the final product was as good as it could be. Working with people dedicated to the success of a project is a whole lot easier than working with people who are just ‘doing their job.’”
As for future endeavors, Carson and O’Grady have had a number of comics from across the country reach out to them about recording for the label, but the guys are reluctant to take on more work than they can properly handle.
“Because we’re independent and because it’s Duncan and I involved at every single stage — from the first conversation with the comic until the last person who will ever buy it buys it — we give ourselves a window to work in,” O’Grady explains. “We are going to do the best job humanly possible for Bryan while we are still selling Mac’s record and preparing for Seth’s recording. But when we’re deep into working on someone’s album, we need to be all there on that.”
Meanwhile, the Sure Thing brand has branched out again. Carson and O’Grady screened the 1985 sci-fi comedy “Real Genius” earlier this week as the first presentation of the Sure Thing Movie Club, which meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.
“We’re really excited to bring people a movie we love,” Carson says.
O’Grady agrees. “If there’s one thing that typifies Sure Thing,” he says, “it’s about us being excited about the comedy we get to share.”
Bryan Gutmann’s “That’s How Scientists Talk” album release show
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: Google Fiber Space, 201 Colorado St.
Cost: $5; free with Out of Bounds Fest pass
Sure Thing Records releases are available at surethingrecords.com.