Gary Fletcher, one of the founders of Nashville's Corporate Juggernaut comedy show, has never left Tennessee's capital, or so he says. As a result, his view of America might be a little skewed, no thanks to his comedy partners, James Austin Johnson and Jane Borden.
"Gary, I don't know how to tell you this, but we can't actually get New York-style pizza in any of the places that we're going on the tour," Johnson, the group's other founder, informs Fletcher during a conference call with the City Paper.
"Oh, come on," Fletcher replies, his spirits sinking.
"New York's really far away. We don't have the gas," Johnson responds, a bit harshly. "You've got to actually think about that before you make an unrealistic plan."
"And Gary," Borden — a former New York City comic who recently moved to Nashville — cuts in. "I'm sorry I lied when I told you that there's a Disney World in every city we're going to."
In response to the upsetting news, Fletcher lets out a prolonged sigh of disappointment. At this point, he's got to commit to the bit: He's joking about never leaving Nashville, and Johnson and Borden are in on it. This slightly twisted sense of humor is what Corporate Juggernaut has become known for in the Music City. Formed by Fletcher, Johnson, and original member John Thornton Jr., who recently relocated to North Carolina, these guys didn't want to be like Nashville's other comics. Their shows weren't going to be roadhouse spectacles that appeal to the Tim McGraw-beer-neon sign crowd that often frequents the city's more expensive comedy clubs. Though those kinds of shows aren't without their laughs, Johnson thinks they're pretty predictable. "It's very much, here's your emcee, here's your three comics on the showcase, here's the feature, here's the headliner. All right, now get out," he says.
"We basically just got sick of performing in front of 65-year-old men in cowboy hats and overalls," Fletcher adds.
"No kidding," Johnson responds. "That's who can afford to go to the comedy club in Nashville. You pay $20 to get in and you buy apple fritters and a beer and that's another $20. And everyone I know is sleeping on their girlfriend's couch and has been wearing the same shirt for five days, and that guy's going to like my show. I need to find a way to get him in." And that's who they wanted to appeal to.
Today, Corporate Juggernaut hosts monthly shows with national touring headliners, as well as open mics. They charge a low door price and don't have a drink minimum, unlike other venues. It still took a while for the act to start attracting the right kind of audience, but they hit gold when they decided to start sending Facebook messages to more established touring stand-up comedians. Rory Scovel, a Theatre 99 regular, was a huge help in the beginning days — and when Borden moved down to Nashville and opened up for Scovel's show, she met Fletcher and Johnson. "I think in many ways, what attracted me to you guys, to Corporate Juggernaut, was that it is to some degree less professional," Borden says. "It's very silly. It's kind of anything-goes. You can be very silly or weird or a little more out there with your comedy and the audience is OK with that."
Corporate Juggernaut describe their comedy as being not quite as highbrow as a McSweeney's writers panel, but you're also not going to hear any redneck jokes about the presidential candidates. With the outside support, the group is starting to grow an underground comedy scene in Nashville. "Even though we kind of have no idea what we're doing," Johnson says. "Kind of."
On the tour, which hits venues in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, Borden, Fletcher, and Johnson are looking forward to the opportunity to show themselves off without being overshadowed by a big-name headliner. Borden describes their comedy as jovial and playful, not mean-spirited. Johnson does characters, voices, and tells jokes, and he has a bit where he sings songs by the Eagles in a Scottish accent. Meanwhile, Borden tells embarrassing stories about herself. And Fletcher mostly does Latino-influenced vaudeville. "Not a lot of people are into it, but the ones that are are really into it," he promises.
In most cities, they'll also invite someone local to host the show or join in (including John Thornton Jr.), so that they can interact with the comedy scenes in each town. It's the first tour that the three are doing together, and they're bracing themselves, even if not every city has a Disney World or New York-style pizza.
"My mom made me promise that I'd call her every hour to tell her that I'm safe," Fletcher says. "That's going to get annoying, but it's fine."