A Journalist And A Comedian Walk Into A Bar: And Talk About Music And Podcasts And Brooklyn, etc.
The Journalist: Katie Barner
The Comedian: Gastor Almonte
The Bar: SKYTOWN at 921 Broadway, Brooklyn
Katie: Tell me about your podcast Stoops2Stages.
Gastor: I’m a Brooklyn guy so I’m big on the whole energy of stoops. I grew up spending time outside and talking shit on the stoop. That’s how I learned a lot of what I know. It’s kind of where your days start and end. I consider stoops to be something that I associate with urban neighborhoods and neighborhoods that are struggling and the neighborhood that I came from.
"as an artist, your job is twofold: make dope shit that you believe in and when someone else does dope shit that you believe in, share it"
I did audio engineering work when I was in college. After letting that go and getting a regular job, I got into standup and I got the opportunity to pitch some TV shows for bigger networks. I’m a hip-hop guy, so my ideas were hip-hop centric. I feel that as an artist, your job is twofold: make dope shit that you believe in and when someone else does dope shit that you believe in, share it. That’s what Stoops is to me. No one that I’ve ever had on a podcast is someone that I didn’t like. It’s really vital to me that if I don’t like them, I can’t have them on. I felt that people would tell right away through listening to the podcast that this isn’t the same as the others and to be frank, I’d be bored. My time is short as it is. I’m trying to do standup, I got a wife, I got two kids, I still got a day gig, I got property that I manage. I don’t want to do something that I don’t want to do.
K: When did you start doing Stoops?
G: I want to say it’s about three years now. I have a day job and I was getting frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t devoting enough time to doing things that I like. I hurt my ankle unrelated to my job one day and had three days off of work, so at home, I just brainstormed this idea while I had these three days off. I thought it would be successful and it gives me a chance to get to meet the people that I love. It’s a little selfish, but I like these people
K: If you can’t find another outlet to do what you love doing, you make it.
G: Personally, I feel that the biggest value I’m getting is that it recharges your battery over and over. I’m seeing people that are ultra-passionate about what they’re doing, so if I wrote jokes for ten minutes and this guys tells me he’s working on two albums, like fuck, I have to get to work.
We’re all indie artists and all the people I’ve interviewed are indie. Realistically, we’re not all going to make it. I’d like to think that one out of every year’s worth of interviews becomes huge and they’ll be able to listen to that interview when they weren’t and there’s no one like oh, he was an overnight success story, he got lucky. They’ll see the work. They’ll see the interview and the work that it took to get into that.
K: Who do you have as guests on your show?
"I'm not a rapper, I'm not a producer, but I'm a hip-hop artist. I just happen to be a comedian"
G: It’s pretty eclectic. There’s a hip-hop aesthetic to it but it’s not strictly rappers and producers. I’ve had photographers, videographers, but in general, they are very hip-hop centric people. Dave Chappelle, he’s a comedian, but I always considered him a hip-hop artist and I feel that that’s what I am. I’m not a rapper, I’m not a producer, but I’m a hip-hop artist. I just happen to be a comedian.
K: There’s something amazing about teaming up with people who are just as passionate about their art and creativity as you are with yours. You share something special. What have been some particularly memorable moments on the show?
G: My favorite moment happened with the rapper Nello Luchi. She’s from Brooklyn. I was a huge fan of her stuff before I even thought of doing a podcast. We don’t always discuss music. I want to get to know you as a person. She works in real estate and I own two properties, my dad owns five. We had an incredible talk about gentrification in our neighborhood, what’s happening there, how it’s affecting the culture, and when we finally got to the music, we understood each other way deeper than normal so the conversation was so much more in-depth than a typical interview. Afterward, she plays every song she’s ever made for like three hours. We had a beautiful jam session. The fanboy in me is hyped. I just got to see what’s coming out in a year. It’s one of those things where I got to experience it, but I’m also sad because I can’t share it. It’s a moment.
K: How often is the show?
G: We do it weekly but we do seasons. Right now we’re prepping for season three. We’ll do about 15 interviews and we’ll put them out weekly. We’re about three months away from completing a studio that we’re building which will make it easier for people who want to come out to do interviews. We’re building a full podcast studio in the front, a full recording studio in the back, and it’s one of the benefits of being a landlord. My kids are seven and eight, so I def can’t do it with them there. I love them to death but they would have a lot of questions.
"They think they’re funnier than me. I have to agree, they’re good."
K: What do your kids think about everything you do?
G: Last year I got on Comedy Central. They have an idea that I do something that revolves around being funny. They know that that’s my job. They’re like, daddy has to go to be funny.
K: Do they think Dad is funny?
G: They think I’m funny but they don’t think I’m the funniest. They think they’re funnier than me. I have to agree, they’re good.
K: Tell me a bit about what it was like growing up in Brooklyn.
G: Growing up there was definitely in the rougher time, in the ‘80’s, ‘90’s. I’m from Brooklyn when Brooklyn would scare people and now there are maybe two or three neighborhoods that still does that. I take pride in that. I used to be able to say “I’m from Brooklyn” and there was an instant credibility. Now I have to explain where. I lived there for most of my life. I moved to Queens for high school because I got into St. Francis Prep. I moved back after I graduated and went to college at Baruch. Then I got married. Had to get a real paying job, so I did that. I became a sales manager at PepsiCo and I did that for about five years.
During my third year when I did my initial promotion, and I would be required to do presentations, I read an article in a magazine that Fortune 500 CEOs are taking stand-up classes to get better at public speaking. I took a class with my cousin at Gotham Comedy Club and it’s seven weeks. You write and would perform in front of your classmates and then the last day, you did a show in front of all your friends and whoever else is at the club. Gotham Comedy Club has two levels, so this show’s happening underground and there was a main level show happening in promotion of Sullivan & Son. It was a show on TBS. Roy Wood Jr.’s on that show so he comes downstairs before his set to look at the show. Roy comes up to me and he’s like, “Yo, how long have you been doing this for?” Seven weeks. He was like, “Seven weeks? That shit was crazy, I thought you’ve been doing this for years,” so he gives me a pound. He finishes his show, talks to the comedian who taught the class and asked where I was at because I was at a bar next door. He comes to see me after his set and was like, “Yo, what do you do?” I’m a salesperson. He said, “I don’t care what the fuck you do. Quit. You need to be doing this.”
K: Who would be on your dream list of people, dead or alive, to interview on Stoops2Stages?
G: I would love to talk to Biggie Smalls. I would like to talk to Hype Williams, I love his visuals. I don’t think enough people appreciate the visual way to tell stories, so I’d love to talk to Junot Díaz. Knock on wood, I got my fingers crossed. I’d love to sit down with Dave Chappelle and Barack Obama.
K: What’s a phrase you would use to describe your podcast to someone who has never heard it?
G: A Jay Z quote, “I’m on my grind, cousin.” It was my away message on AIM when I was in college.
K: If it made the away message, you know it’s significant.
"The gamble that I’m taking while having a wife and kids, most people are scared to do it. "
G: There’s a simplicity to that quote that I don’t think people appreciate but I always related to it. What I’ve been doing and the age that I’m doing it at, thankfully my friends understand. I’m taking a gamble and I’m trying to do something that at our age, most people are scared to try. The gamble that I’m taking while having a wife and kids, most people are scared to do it. The reason I like that line so much is it very directly says I’m working and there’s a casualness to it. Recently, I’ve seen friends from back then that are like yeah we know. We get it. It’s not him saying I’m on my grind, boss. It’s cousin. People that I rock with.
K: Has everyone close to you in your life been that supportive?
G: The only one that really wasn’t that supportive was my dad. I don’t think it was a negative thing. He was an immigrant from Dominican Republic. He came here busting his ass at a minimum wage job. He went to high school here, didn’t speak English until he was about 20. He learned the language here, bought a deli, bought his first home, now he owns seven houses. He’s a mogul. He put me through school and I was on that same path but faster because of the advantages he gave me. To him, it was like why are you gambling like this in order to try something risky when I gave you a blueprint that works and you can take care of your family? What’s really brought him over, this past year, he actually walked in on two different interviews I’d been doing and he’s had several other people tell him yo, he’s on this podcast, he’s on this TV show, and they made him aware that I’m approaching this with the same level of business ethics that I approach to houses with him. Without that, I still don’t think he’d be on board. The reason it sounds unrealistic to him is that was too outlandish where he was at. I’m sure one day my kids are going to do shit I think is crazy. But I’m going to let them shoot.