Graham Nolte and Tommy Stackhouse travel the country in search of fame
WHEN they were teenagers growing up in West Chester, Graham Nolte and Tommy Stackhouse would surf through town atop a minivan, light their friends on fire and see who could be shot with a paintball gun the most times before calling it quits. They’d seen Bam Margera and West Chester’s own CKY Crew rocket to stardom for crashing shopping carts into bushes. “Basically, we wanted to do that stuff ourselves, so we got out there and started filming it,” said Graham.
During their sophomore year at Henderson High School, the two friends started work on Graham’s graduation project, a film titled Thick-Headed. The school district added the graduation project to their requirements for graduation in 2001 to “permit students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by integrating academic and practical components.” As Graham says, “I was already filming all this stuff, so when I was told I needed to have a graduation project I said, ‘Screw it, I might as well put this together.’” Senior year the crew held a premier for the film and sold the DVDs for $10. The first week they sold 150 copies. Thick-Headed was a hit.
“It was crazy,” says Tommy. “People I’d never seen before recognized me. It even happened to me once when I was up at Penn State. This girl, who must have been in eighth grade when we made the movie, stopped me and said, ‘I know you. You’re the guy from Thick-Headed.”
Five years later they’re still acting like fools and saving it on film. After putting in four years of college, which Tommy refers to as a “solid f****** investment,” they decided to reunite and hit the road to make another Thick-Headed. After studying film at San Diego State University, Graham would ensure that this latest project was finely crafted, and, this time around, they’d also incorporate Tommy’s high school graduation project.
Despite failing to qualify for the Henderson Boys’ Speaking Contest (or possibly because of it) Tommy decided to make his graduation project a public speaking event. He put together a comedy night at school during the spring of 2007, and he and several friends got on stage and did stand-up comedy. Since then he’d done comedy on-again and off-again throughout his time studying marketing at the University of Delaware, and had grown accustomed to making a fool of himself before a live audience.
On paper, the plan was simple: 45 Days. 18 Cities. 4 Guys. 1 Van. The Ultimate Comedy Road Trip. They grabbed Taylor Butz and Steven Briggs, two friends willing to try doing stand-up on the road, found a couple cameramen who were free for the summer, and set off in Graham’s parents ’97 Chrysler Town & Country on a roadtrip that would lead them zig-zagging across the US from California to New York. As the website explains, the plan was to be “hitting up any place that will give them a chance while working towards their dream of making it big in the unforgiving world of stand-up.”
The reality is that none of the guys are honed comedians. Their jokes are untested, their ability to control the crowd is minimal, and their set lists are sketched out on napkins before the show. Often, the funniest part of the performances are the unplanned bits, the recoveries. During their show at Ryan’s Pub on the last Tuesday of August, some jokes left the crowd silent and confused (Steven’s convoluted combination of sex and Guitar Hero), while others produced full-on fits of laughter (Graham’s true story of being tricked into ingesting acid half an hour before heading onstage).
To be fair, Steven’s overly complicated jokes might have gone over better if it weren’t for certain memebers of the crowd. During his set he battled a drunken Russian bride and her friends for control of the audience. He commented on having seen the bride on the internet earlier, and even entertained her friend’s slurred requests before handing the mic to the most insolent girl in the group and walking off stage. Taylor was up next on stage and won back the audience’s attention with self-deprecating humor and marijuana references (“Who’s this slightly over-weight, completely stoned Draco Malfoy?”) after the wedding party were escorted from the bar. Even so the hammered girl in the white dress and her maids were easily the most memorable part of the evening, as frustrating as it was for both the comics and the audience.
However, when you go back over the clips of the tour the Thick-Headed Crew have been uploading throughout the trip, it’s a different story. The short videos hold your attention completely, with clips of Taylor bombing while dodging full beer bottles thrown by a Spanish-speaking audience in Mexico, and footage of the guys off stage, like Tommy, covered head to toe in peanut butter, roaming through a crowded, Los Angeles mall in search of his jelly-clad soul mate. You’ll laugh out loud more times during the three-minute recap of their trip to Tijuana than you will during their hour-long stand-up show.
Talking with them near the end of the tour, it was clear that the trip has become about a lot more than testing their skills as stand-ups. After finishing their tour on September 1, the guys will begin the arduous process of going through hours of uncut footage with the goal of packaging the final edit with a few sponsorships and landing a television pilot. Because, as it turns out, what they really care about is making movies. In Graham’s words, “I don’t give a shit about comedy.”
Meet the crew and check out footage from the road by visiting their website