BARON VAUGHN is a busy man.
On the day of our interview, he had just gotten back to the States after a much-needed 12-day retreat somewhere in the jungles of Mexico, with neither cell nor Twitter. He had stopped in Boston on his way home for only a brief moment, to visit a friend and to speak with me, before returning to Los Angeles and getting back to work. In addition to his role in the new Netflix series Grace and Frankie—with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Martin Sheen—Vaughn also hosts his own podcast, Deep Shit with Baron Vaughn; co-hosts the Maltin on Movies podcast with film critic Leonard Maltin; and was recently enlisted by Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson to voice Tom Servo in the series' forthcoming reboot. And of course there are his film cameos, club gigs, comedy album (2011's Raised by Cable); appearances on Conan, Jimmy Fallon, and Craig Ferguson; and a half-hour Comedy Central special.
So, yeah, Vaughn deserved a fucking vacation.
"When you're shooting a TV show, they ask you to be available for five months," he says. "And, within that five-month period, they don't tell you much about what you will be doing or when you will be doing it. You're basically on-call every single day, and some days you're needed and some days you're not. But you have very little notice of when that's going to be, and when that happens I don't get the chance to do stand-up on the road like I would like to."
To be able to play standalone headlining gigs—as opposed to routine five-night runs at comedy clubs—Vaughn had to make use of what little time he had that wasn't beholden to Grace and Frankie.
"I have Saturdays and Sundays off," he explains, "so I decided I would book shows mostly at independent venues, on Saturdays only, in order to keep myself fresh, and to work on my material. I was literally getting on a plane Saturday morning, because I might have to shoot until midnight on Friday. So I would book these flights on Saturdays, fly into a city, do a show, and fly out on Sunday."
Forgoing comedy clubs in favor of indie venues, Vaughn plays a different city each Saturday. One show, one city. In, out. It's an exhausting, potentially disorienting schedule: hence the name "Saturdaze Tour."
Vaughn has been a favorite of Portland for years, and a longtime champion of the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. After all the time he's spent here, he has become quite familiar with Portland audiences, and our refined tastes.
"[Portland audiences] tend to be pretty smart. They tend to like their comedy well-seasoned," he says with a laugh. "Like, gourmet."
For this Saturday's show, he'll be joined by some of Portland's comic luminaries: Curtis Cook, host of the Black by Popular Demand podcast; Nariko Ott; Trevor Thorpe, who will be serving as master of ceremonies; and the always-unfuckwitable Amy Miller, recently named Portland's Funniest Person in Helium's annual competition.
"Stand-up, to me, is almost like a purer form of theater," says Vaughn, who also happens to be a classically trained actor. "There was theater before there was dialogue, where there was one person onstage doing a monologue, giving a dramatic speech, a dramatic poem. It was Homer; it was Thespis up there, doing their own thing. And sometimes I see stand-up as a direct ancestor of that, where it's one person on stage, responding to the times, responding to themselves, responding to the energy in the room, the audience. And, if you can say something in a funny way, people will remember it."
Comics—African American comics in particular—have the heavy burden of responding to systemic violence and prejudice against black men and women, while also trying to tell jokes and be funny. The rise of demagoguery and hate speech in politics and media can drown out everything else. While having a public platform can be used to instill fear, Vaughn acknowledges that it can at the same time be used to bring joy and foster community.
"Hate speech is a dangerous performance," he says. "And a lot of the problem with what's going on, with violence against black people, is because of the images we have been shown over and over and over again, of what black people are. Any black actor will tell you that they've had to audition for 'Criminal #5,' or 'Gang Member #6,' hundreds of times. We keep feeding these images to the point that we think that these performances are true, that these performances are real. It makes people afraid, it makes them concerned, and it makes people act in a different way, in a defensive way, in a frightening way.
"I don't want to sound cheesy," he continues, again with a self-aware laugh, "but the only way to offset hate speech is with looove speech."