‘Happy Gas’ alum releases debut comedy album

2005 WKU graduate Joe Starr performs a stand-up act in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Spitfire Creative.

Jackson French

For the past seven years, former WKU student Joe Starr has been in San Francisco working to make a name for himself as a comedian.

His career recently took a big step forward with the release of his first stand-up album, “Heroic Effort,” which was made available for digital download on Bandcamp on Oct. 6 and on iTunes on Oct. 14.

The cover of Starr’s debut album depicts him standing beside a giant robot, wielding a giant sword from the “Final Fantasy” video game series. It gives listeners a feel for his brand of humor.

“As much as I try not to call it nerd comedy, I talk about ‘Transformers’ and ‘Batman’ way too much for it to not be,” Starr said.

He said his humor relies primarily on storytelling rather than shorter jokes and takes inspiration from real events from his own life.

“On the album, there’s five minutes on an encounter with a locksmith because I locked my keys in my car while looking for a Hugo Chavez costume at an Army depot store,” he said.

Starr said he also tries to be “current events-savvy” with his humor.

“I try to talk about things that I care about, but all of that kind of spins through the filter of me being a huge dork,” he said.

Starr said “Heroic Effort” was recorded in the back of a Los Angeles comic book store called Hypno Comics.

“A big thing about comedy now is, like, you just make your opportunities where you can find them,” Starr said. “The clubs are sort of a dying thing out here.”

He said he performs every month in the back of Hypno Comics, adding that with the venue, he has found the perfect audience and aesthetic for his brand of humor.

Starr moved to San Francisco with his friends and his wife, Torlin Torgersen, who he met at WKU, to pursue a career in comedy.

He said when he was in college, he wanted to work as an improv or sketch show artist.

“I always really liked doing comedy, but I was always much more comfortable in a group setting than doing solo stuff,” he said.

Starr said he became active in stand-up almost out of necessity.

“It’s easier in a way to kind of get stuff done on your own,” he said. “We all moved out to San Francisco together to do stuff, and while the group wasn’t working on things, I just started trying to do stand-up on my own just so I was always working and always, you know, trying to get better at some aspect of doing comedy and just started to get really comfortable with that.”

Starr attended WKU from 2000 to 2005 as a theatre major.

During those five years, he was heavily involved in Happy Gas, WKU’s improv comedy group, and was inspired by older members of the troupe.

He said a seminal moment in his decision to pursue a career in comedy came when the Chicago-based Second City improv group held a workshop on campus.

“That was, like, a big thing for me where I was like, ‘Okay, I think I really love doing this,’” Starr said.

David Young, theater and dance department head and one of Starr’s former teachers, said Starr was heavily involved in Happy Gas while he was a student.

“He was very active in the department when he was here,” Young said. “He did a lot of shows, and he was one of the people who kept Happy Gas…going and it was very active during his time here. So I just remember seeing him in all sorts of things.”

Young said he’s not surprised Starr is now working as a comedian.

“It was clear from watching him in Happy Gas and how successful Happy Gas was when he was around and how much he loved it that he was going to go into comedy or improv,” he said.