Saginaw-bred comedian Cowboy Bill Martin has performed frequently in DFW, and has done gigs around the world in settings both leisurely (on board cruise ships) and more serious (performing for troops in the Middle East). Now he has the attention of national cable network, enough for a possible special drawn from two performances Martin will do this week at Fort Worth’s Rose Marine Theater.
He can’t say which network, because of contractual restrictions. And whether the show airs depends on how much the network likes the finished product. If the show gets picked up, the earliest it will air will be in mid-fall. But he does have a little more control than comedians had in the past.
“Louis C.K. and Jeff Dunham kinda changed the business model of what most [networks] who are buying comedy are doing,” Martin says. “They used to go out and pay for all the production. Now, those two guys kinda led the way in filming their own special and taking it to the network and doing it that way.”
The more proactive approach allows Martin to film in (OK, very near) his hometown, rather than having to travel to one of the coasts to film it.
“The Rose Marine Theater happens to be about seven and a half miles from where I grew up,” Martin says. “I watched my father get in and out of a truck my entire life about two and a half miles from the very spot where I’ll be standing. I watched my mother count pennies, nickels and dimes from a diner that she worked at three miles from that very spot. So to be there with the lights and camera running and everything else is almost surreal.”
This isn’t Martin’s first crack at filming a potential special. The unnameable network had seen a single-camera, 40-minute video of Martin (who has also released a DVD and an album) and -- upon realizing that despite his lifelong nickname, Cowboy Bill doesn’t do redneck or cowboy humor -- approached him and his agent, wanting to see more. “They said, ‘If you have something that’s air-worthy, then we’re absolutely interested in it,” Martin says.
In January, Martin took a crack at it, taping a show in Grapevine. That didn’t go well.
“I was pretty good, and the audience was unbelievable,” Martin says. “But the crew that I hired -- when they say, ‘You get what you pay for’ -- it was a learning lesson, a crash course in what not to do.” The result was a grainy tape with bad sound that Martin says reminded him of a bootleg copy of his own DVD.
Martin decided to pony up more money and look around for another producer. He found John H. Reynolds of Fort Worth-based Middlin’ Creative, which has filmed the Live at Billy Bob’s music series and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
“He knows how to shoot live, he knows how to light a face, and if you’re wearing a cowboy hat” -- a Cowboy Bill trademark -- “there’s a lot of technical problems with shadows and not being able to see my face. My stand-up comedy isn’t just the words, it’s the facial expressions and that kind of thing.” Martin says that Reynolds got around those problems from the moment they started working together.
Martin says that Fort Worth wasn’t his management team’s first choice for filming. But because of the way he’s filming and pitching the show, he preferred to be where he was most comfortable.
“[They] wanted me to come to New York, and I’ve played there several times, and it goes well after about three or four minutes on stage and I can finally get them past my cowboy hat,” Martin says. “If you ever want some stares, wear a cowboy hat to New York. They look at you like you’re stupid. I can get onto an elevator and tip up the hat and go ‘This is one of them magic boxes! Don’t press anything! Let’s see what happens!’ Then I take their dang wallet.”
Los Angeles was another choice, but Martin has seen too much resistance to his cowboy persona there. “It’s not like I’m coming in with a pirate outfit and a parrot on my shoulder saying, ‘Aargh, matey, let’s see the special’,” he cracks. “People around the country dress like me.”
And, of course, when he mentioned Fort Worth, people told him, “Oh, great, Dallas!” But he corrected them and stood up for his old stomping grounds.
“I am that guy who goes out to the North Side every Friday and Saturday,” Martin says. “I have been that guy who’s just looking for that one, through the beer and the dancing and the country music. I’ve lived that life on and off since I had a 28-inch waist and a fake ID.”