Qs With Steve Treviño, 2022 Pollstar Awards Host

Steve Treviño
Courtesy With Lots of Eggs
– Steve Treviño
hosts the Pollstar Awards on Feb. 8 at The Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.

Steve Treviño’s career is exploding both on the road, playing some 250 dates a year, and online. His self-produced specials and viral clips have been viewed by over 175 million, while selling out shows coast-to-coast, amassing nearly one million total social media followers, headlining specials for Amazon, Netflix, and Showtime, and co-hosting a podcast with his wife, Renae. “America’s Favorite Husband,” as he is known, is also hosting the 2022 Pollstar Awards on Tuesday, Feb. 8, here’s a preview of what to expect. 

Pollstar: Because Pollstar is “The Voice of Live,” and the conference is all about the live industry with promoters, managers, agents, production, venues, etc., how will you approach the Pollstar Awards? 
Steve Treviño: I always look at it, when I’m at a club or a venue, like number one I’m an employee of that building, that comedy club or venue. With the janitors, the dishwashers, the servers, ticket pullers, I look at it like we all have to work together in order for my dream to come true. That’s how I look at the industry, without promoters, without venues, without agents, managers, all of it is part of a team and ultimately, we all need each other.

Who are your big comedic influences? 
Growing up it was the Eddie Murphys, the Sam Kinisons, the Dice Clays; when I was a little kid, I was like, “Oh my God, these guys are the best ever.” Nowadays, the guys I admire are all the comics that stayed married. There was a time in my life where I thought, “Oh, I can’t have all of it, I can’t have a wife, I can’t have a family and a stand-up career.” When I look at a Ray Romano, Jeff Foxworthy, or Jim Gaffigan, these guys that have these wonderful comedy careers, but they’re also family men, those are the guys I admire because I know how hard it is.

How did you break out of a small town in south Texas?
First of all, it’s really overwhelming for me. I truly believe there’s two kinds of comedians or two kinds of entertainers. There’s the entertainers that think, “Oh my God, the audience is so lucky to see me perform.” Right? And then there’s guys like me, and there’s a lot of us, not as many as I would like, but where I go, “Man, I’m the lucky one that you guys came out to see me.” That’s exactly how I treat my audience, and I think it has a lot to do with being that little kid from Gregory-Portland, Texas. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. I didn’t know what managers did. I didn’t know what agents did. I took a blue collar approach and I said, “I’m gonna get on stage as much as I can, and I’m gonna become as funny as I can,” and we started to produce our own specials.
Where in South Texas did you do  stand-up?
Well, I was doing backyards, barbecues. My family had a karaoke machine. We’d all sing karaoke and then they’d be like, “Okay, well, now Steve wants to do jokes.” I’d go up there and roast the family and tried to be as funny as I could, and then all a sudden this little playhouse in Corpus Christi, Texas, which is 30 minutes from my home town, that was the big city, Corpus Christi and they started bringing comedians to the Harbor Playhouse. I drove to the radio station because I heard the comic on the radio station, senior year in high school, and I go, “I’m a comic and I need to perform on your show.” And the comic goes, he goes, “I’ll tell you what man, sell 50 tickets to your friends and you can go on stage.” So that’s what I did, and the promoter was like, “Hey man, every time we come in, you wanna go on stage, sell 50 tickets.” That’s where it all started.

How did you expand from there?
My cousin called me, I had just graduated high school,  and he goes, “Hey man, there’s an Improv comedy club across the street from where I live.” And I was like, “I’m on my way.” And I walked in the door at the Addison Improv and again being bold and young I said, “I’m a comedian and I need to work here.” And lo and behold, they gave me a door guy job, and I was like, “No, no, no, no, I should be headlining. I don’t know why you’re giving me a door spot.” That was my introduction to what a comedy club was, I walked in there and I was like, “Oh my God, this is show business.”

This was in Texas?
This was Dallas.

What was your next step?

Comics were coming through, and I knew I needed stage time. So I went up to the general manager, Trey, who was my friend, and said, “Hey, you pay the opening at $400, right?” And he goes, “Yes.” And I’ go, “I work the door, I answer phones, I give these comedians rides to press, I’ll continue to do all of that, and I’ll work the door, and I’ll give you 18 hours a day sometimes, but you make me the host. And all I want is $400.”  All the sudden, I got to be on stage every week as a host. All the other open mic comedians were like, “Well, what the hell man? Why does Treviño get every single week?” And little did they know man, I was spending sometimes 15  to 18 hours to be in that club, from taking Chris Rock to radio in the morning to going back to the club, answering phones all day, changing at the club, being the door guy, the sound guy, a waiter, and again, taking a blue collar approach to stand-up.

What did working at a comedy club teach you about the business?
You start to realize that it’s truly is a marriage, because all the sudden you had these guys that would come through and they were $1,500 a week acts, and Saturday would be jam packed and they would go, “Well, I sold out. I should be making more money.” Well, I knew that it wasn’t a sell-out, and I knew that we papered the room, and back in those days, it was for real paper. I was passing out fliers all over town to get somebody to come in for free. So for me, it made me understand that there’s headliners and there’s closers. A headliner sells tickets, and a closer, closes the show. And a lot of these closers, they would come up to me and they’d go, “Hey man, I sold out. I counted the room, there’s 250 people in here, I gotta get paid.” And I would be like, “Hey man, you didn’t sell out, you filled the room. There’s a difference.” And because that person didn’t sell tickets, they gotta sell chicken strips and beer,  so they need bodies in there.

What about the importance of the venue team?
I quickly learned  how much influence the staff had on the next booking. We had comics that would come through and they were real jerks, and at the end of the year, we have our staff meeting and the manager would go, “Hey, who do you guys think we should get back?” Everybody had strong feelings, would be like, “Well, we don’t want this guy to come back, he was a jerk man, he tried to fuck the waitstaff.” But then there were guys who were awesome and we loved it when they came that week, and our staff members would be like, “No, no, bring… Bring Pablo Francisco or Mark Curry back.” So having that insight as I went on with my career made me realize it’s really important to be nice to people.

I read that you lived out of your car for a little bit and that also that you played in Ogden Arena opening for Pitbull in front of 20,000 people. You’ve had quite a range in your career to say the least, tell me about both things,

My dad gave me work ethic, my mom gave me values, my dad gave me values, but they didn’t give me any money. I didn’t grow up poor, I didn’t grow up rich. But it was very apparent that there was no help. My dad made it clear to me when I didn’t go to college and didn’t go to work in a refinery as a welder, my dad made it very clear to me, “Do not ask me for money, and I will not give you money. If this is what you wanna do, then you’re doing it on your own.” So man when I moved out, it was like, figure it out.
Sometimes when you move to LA you’re in between apartments and you can’t really figure it out, so I found a Walmart parking lot to live in, in Rancho Cucamonga.
And I would drive out there and I would go to the Walmart parking lot, ’cause I knew that you could sleep there, and I would crash out. I had a gym membership so I could shower. I’d go to the 24-Hour Fitness, and I work out and I shower and was trying to figure it out. And finally I did.

And  then to be perform before 20,000 people with Pitbull?
it was just really cool to be a part of history, really. I don’t think two Latinos in different forms of entertainment have ever performed on a level like that before. And Pitbull being Cuban and me being Mexican-American and me being a comedian and him being an international sensation. To be able to do something like that, to me was really special and historic.

So between Walmart parking lot and the arena in Ogden, what were your big milestones, the things that got you took you to the next level?
To be honest with you, it’s been very progressive. My career has grown over the years, slowly, but I think the defining moment, was when me and my wife self-produced “Relatable,” that got bought by Netflix. I literally had $400 left in my account. My wife and I, we spent every penny we had to produce the special and we put it out. We finally sold it to Netflix. I made no money from selling it to Netflix, because we had to pay back production. And I remember telling my wife, “This is it. We’re on Netflix. We’re gonna blow up.”  Well, nothing happened at all, zero. But I told my wife, “I know it’s good, and I know what I do is good, and I know people like it”. So we broke it up into these little clips, and one of them went viral, and that was I don’t know, six, seven years ago. And I think now it has almost a billion views? I mean it’s stupid how many views it has.

Then what happened?
There’s one before that. And the McDonald’s one went viral after that one, and so the one before that is “Shopping”, where my wife comes home from shopping. And with that I was refreshing my Facebook feed, and they were coming in by the tens of thousands. That  literally changed my life. But at that point, remember I had been doing stand-ups since I was 18  and I had already been doing it for 15-16 years, by the time it blew up. After that I thought to myself,  “Well, we self-produced this special, and now Hollywood’s gonna call. They’re gonna give me a special because I killed it. I went viral.” Well, nothing. I didn’t even have an agent when that happened by the way. Nothing happened. And I told my wife, “Well, let’s self-produce another one.” So we  self-produced the “Till Death” and Till Death went viral, and now Till Death’s going viral on TikTok. And we have another one, awe did “My Life In Quarantine” and some of that is going viral. And we have this other special called “I Speak Wife,” that we want to sell or put it out ourselves. We just keep doing it. We keep self-producing , put that out, self-producing, put it out.

You’re also diversifying, you’ve got a digital kind of strategy, you’ve got podcasts, you’re going out live and doing big tours you’re warming up for people, so you’re doing a bit of everything, right?
And real estate, don’t forget real estate [laughter]. You know what? It’s one of those things where podcasting wasn’t attractive to me, but when the pandemic came, I couldn’t go out and be on stage, rightfully so, because it was scary, and we decided to start podcasting. So we did and then that has become a stream of income and very successful, and we just continue to produce ourselves and it’s a good feeling to not ask permission. It’s a good feeling to not wait for somebody to tell me whether my stand-up is desirable or not. I know it is, with my ticket sales and the 1.3 million followers on Facebook and 800,000 followers on TikTok, and 150,000 followers on Instagram so we just keep feeding the monster.

And now your agents are Nick Nuciforo and Jackie Knobbe, how did that happen?
When you’re a South Texas boy like me, who grew up in a town of max 10,000 people, you don’t know the business at all. I bounced around. I was at one agency and then they took me so far or didn’t take me far at all and then you just keep doing stand-up and you end up at another agency. When UTA and I got together, it was because Joe Eshenbaugh had been recruited over there from Innovative. He took me with him to UTA. We’ve just been growing like crazy lately, and to end up with agents like Nick and Jackie is just pretty freaking cool.

It’s fascinating how incredibly helpful a good agent, who really know the business can be.
No only that, but it’s the mental toughness. Where I come from, being tough meant that you went outside and you threw blows, physical blows, but these guys through mental blows, man. And they get into it with negotiations. As sweet oas Nick is and Jackie is, man, when it comes to negotiations and business, they’re tough, man.

Yeah, they don’t F around.
(laughts) It’s pretty fun to watch. And for me, on the business side of things, I love doing stand-up, so if somebody else can handle the negotiations, that’s awesome.

So you opened up for The Three Amigos comedy tour, way back when?
Way back when, and I thought that was a genius plan, I always have the idea that if we could put together four of us young Latino comics that are selling tickets and do a kings of comedy type of tour, then we could really make some noise and break records. Hell, yeah, I sell 3,000 tickets every time I go out. Felipe Esparza sells 3,000 tickets every time he goes out. Anjelah Johnson does the same thing. Cristela Alonzo does the same thing. Let’s put us four together and Let’s go freaking shock the world, and we sell out Staples Center

So, how was it opening for Carlos Mencia, Pablo Francisco, and Freddy Soto?
Well, now remember the original Three Amigos was Carlos Mencia, George Lopez and Paul Rodriguez, and I got to open up two of those shows. Now they all needed separate dressing rooms, none of them got along. And for me, I was probably 20-years-old when that happened, I forget how old I was, but it was heartbreaking for me because, man I thought it was gonna be this big love fest and everybody got along, and I looked up to Paul Rodriguez and Mencia and George Lopez. And then it was sad that they all couldn’t get along.

So tthey broke up. Paul and George decided to do the Latin Kings of Comedy with Cheech Marin, Alex Reymundo, and Joey Medina, and then Mencia reached out to Freddy Soto, God rest his soul, and Pablo Francisco and myself as the opening act, and we ended up doing big theaters. Well, again, competing against each other, Mencia and The Three Amigos put out a movie with Warner, and then the Latin Kings of comedy put out their movie at the same time, and the Latin Kings of Comedy got distribution, the Three Amigos didn’t. So even back then, things were on the right track, and then ended up separating each other and competing against each other, and it was just a bummer. I learned a lot from watching those guys, and man, I have no ego when it comes to working with anybody. Somebody wants to work with me, I wanna work with them. They want me to open, I’ll open, they want me to close, I’ll close. I got no ego.

it’s a shame they didn’t get along those guys because it might have taken it to another level earlier.
Oh  1000%. And of course, we all know that Mencia went on to become Mencia, and Lopez went on to become George Lopez, and Paul Rodriguez is still Paul Rodriguez the legend. And Cheech Marin is still Cheech Marin the legend. But if we need to open doors in a way that is crossover, in a way that the industry can see that “Man, there’s so many Mexican-Americans out there.”

Next Tuesday you’ll be at The Beverly Hilton in front of all these people from the live industry – what’s your message to them? 
I’m giving them a round of applause for surviving what we’ve been through. For being resilient, for believing in the fact that human beings need live entertainment. That’s my mission. As a stand-up, as a musician, as an artist, to be called unessential hurts, man, it really hurts. I don’t think we are unessential; I think that being able to take your wife or friend or a date to go watch somebody play acoustic guitar while you drink a beer is important. I think it’s part of our life. To be able to go watch your favorite stand-up comedian live and meet that comedian, it’s important to society.