Alex Hooper: Going Big and Unbalanced
Alex Hooper’s first-ever stand-up set was March 9, 2009 at the Aura nightclub in Studio City, California. Afterward, he called his mom back on the East Coast and told her he’d found what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Four years later, his first time on the Comedy Store’s weekly Roast Battle show ended with the sold-out audience screaming and chanting for Hooper and opponent Jason Van Glass.
“The energy and reaction,” he recalls, “was undeniable.”
He’s since performed on Comedy Central and racked up millions of YouTube views from his appearances on “America’s Got Talent.” Having recently released both an independent special and book on roasting as a pathway to happiness, Hooper continues seeking undeniability in every project he undertakes.
What does it say about society that roasting has become such a popular television subject in recent years?
We need to stop taking ourselves so seriously. Tension in this country is palpable, and people need a release. Watching people viciously insult each other, yet in a loving way, shows that we can all get along. Words should be fun. Everyone gets upset and angry, so roasting is a way to release those emotions in a comfortable environment.
Can you give an overview of your appearances on "America’s Got Talent" and highlight some of your favorite moments that have happened there?
Three of the most insane performances of my life. Each one was a comedian’s nightmare. I went on there in a super fun, silly costume to roast the judges. A court jester, playfully attacking royalty. No one was prepared for it.
2018, I am booed and screamed at by 3,000 people for seven straight minutes. Combined with the deafening screech of the judges buzzing me, and I couldn’t even hear myself speak. I almost collapsed when I got off stage. Completely rattled and convinced I had done horribly, I drove home crying while doing anything I could to shake the negativity out of me.
2020 first audition, I am back, ready for anything. Only I auditioned on March 14th. So now I’m back in the Pasadena Civic Center, the same room where I was annihilated two years before. Instead of 3,000 people, there are four, all of them iconic celebrities. The room felt so cavernous and empty, yet I did what I came there to do. Being an L.A.-based comic, I’m used to not having an audience. I know what to do here. My fake apology worked, and I received a yes from every judge. Redemption is mine!
2020 live shows, I’ve been quarantined for six months since the first audition. I have not been performing. This show is live for ten million people. I have no way to test the jokes. There will be no audience. Yikes. This was by far my favorite performance. Because we spent six months in limbo, the production was constantly switching what was going to happen. Are we doing a show? Zooming from home? Shooting something remote? We went from Plan A to Plan K. But because of this, I had time to get super creative. I leveled up my performance by turning all of my jokes into a rhyming children’s book, complete with illustrations of the judges that correlated to my roasts. To go from a simple idea in my head and see it executed on a massive stage was an incredible feeling. I went from being booed off the stage in 2018 to being in the top 25 of 2020.
What did those AGT experiences help you prove to yourself … and to audiences?
I have no reason to be scared of anything, ever. 2018 could have been a death punch to me as a comedian. That kind of beating is almost unheard of as a stand-up comic. But I proved to myself that I can rise up to the biggest occasions. I can shine on huge stages. I held my own and flipped my tail and was unfazed by the audience disliking me. By going big and getting creative, I could easily fall on my face and have to be scraped off the floor. But I didn’t. Every performance taught me that I am resilient, powerful, and downright fucking fun. I will always go as big as I can. I’m here to stay, and each one of those sets proved that in a different way.
You take a unique tack when you receive hateful DMs. Why is it important for you to respond positively to those who are critical or even downright threatening?
I started receiving hateful DMs after “Roast Battle” season two. Flaunting myself in furs and tossing lollipops to the crowd, I had my fair share of peasants who didn’t understand or appreciate what I was doing. What I realized as I received these messages is that these people are hurting. If you watched me on TV and were so affected that you had to look me up and take time out of your day to tell me I’m a dumb asshat, I win. You saw something in me that scared something in you. I’m compassionate and I love people, so I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of me trying to hurt them back. I’m stronger than that. So instead, I attack with pure love. It’s easy to say, “Fuck you!” But it’s just as easy to say, “Hey, sorry you’re having a bad day. I’m here if you want to talk about it.”
My fans love it, but I’ve also flipped a ton of people. One guy said, “I want to murder you, motherfucker!” I responded, “You don’t even know me. Why would you want to kill someone you don’t know? Perhaps there is some deep-seated anger that has nothing to do with me.” He came back the next day saying I was right, and he had signed up for an anger management class. Love is powerful.
During quarantine, some comics have focused on virtual shows, some on writing scripts, some on starting podcasts. How were you able to release your own independent special, one filmed in London, no less? What did you learn from the process?
I’ve done all those things and so much more. Without performing, I have a lot of untapped energy flowing through me looking for an escape route. I was supposed to shoot a special last year but obviously that couldn’t happen. My friend Kyle [Troxell] is a brilliant filmmaker who traveled with me to London in November 2019. Our initial plan was to make a seven-minute teaser to show proof of concept for the special. When our plans were scrapped, he started putting together all the footage from London and realized we could do something unique.
Kyle filmed everything, edited, and did original music for the special. I’m incredibly fortunate that he believed in the project and dedicated so much time to making it something people would watch again and again. It’s all about making do with what you have. This past year showed us we need to adapt and pivot as life calls for it. Excuses don’t get you anywhere. You need to always be ready, no matter what is thrown at you.
You also recently published a self-help workbook called Roast Yourself to Happiness: A Comedian’s Guide to Finding Joy by Embracing Your Flaws. Can you provide a few examples of the types of exercises included?
Pretty crazy what boredom can do to a creative mind when pushed to the limit. I believe so much in this workbook and its message of self-love through brutal roasting.
Day 7: You stand naked in front of the mirror and dissect your flaws. Everything you hate about yourself. I teach you my process of writing roast jokes and you write three of them about your body. It’s a way of taking the power back.
Day 12: Write five things down in your life that you wanted but didn’t get. It could be a promotion, a part in a school play, an unrequited steamy love affair. Then go outside and burn them. Yes, literally. Tear out the page and light that shit on fire.
Day 26: Compliment five people throughout your day. I call it “glowing.” You shine on someone else, which in turn raises your level of shine. The more you do it, the better you feel.
This workbook is 28 days of concepts and exercises to live a more fruitful life. I wrote it for people who scoff at self-help. People who find it boring and trite. I promise, this book is anything but.
It’s important for artists of all stripes to cultivate outside interests. How does your slacklining hobby help give you a sense of, ahem … balance?
So many ways. When you begin your slackline journey, you're going to struggle. A lot. I’ve never met a person who can do it right away. But you keep going and, little by little, you begin to understand and eventually master the art of staying afloat on this one-inch piece of webbing.
It has taught me patience, focus, strength, and how to enter a flow state. It has improved my comedy so much better because I am much more in tune with my body and mind. It allows me to let problems fall away and simply exist.
You’re also a big music and arts festivalgoer. How do those types of environments help foster creativity?
Festivals are easily the biggest source of inspiration for me as an artist. When you go to transformational festivals like Burning Man, Lightning in a Bottle, Desert Hearts, etc., you experience a vast array of people, all choosing to radically express themselves as they see fit. You can be anything you want at a festival. You can wear anything. Do anything. You see insane art structures that leave you completely amazed, bewildered, and motivated to create your own.
When I’m at a festival, I refer to myself as “Cage-Free Alex.” I am untethered, unafraid, and am willing to experiment with different versions of myself that ultimately feed into becoming the truest version of me. When I see people that are so free, loving, generous, and fun, it makes me want to be all of those things as well. The festival community is largely responsible for the freakazoid you see before you. They broke me out and showed me an unapologetic way to be whatever the fuck I wanted to be.
What are you most looking forward to doing when it’s safe to interact with large groups of people again?
Live comedy. Festivals. Concerts. Hugs. The energy of a shared experience with groups of humans, both strange and familiar, is what I live for. Turning to someone in a crowd and singing every word even though you’ve never seen each other before. Being a part of millions of magical moments that truly make you feel alive. I’m lucky that I’ve done so much cool shit, but I’m not even close to being finished. There’s a lot more laughter, music, and drugs to put in my body.
*Feature Photo: Alex Hooper / photo by Troy Conrad