DFW comedian Cowboy Bill Martin’s first TV special, Cowboy Bill Martin: Let the Laughter Roll, starts with sights that will be familiar to many Tarrant County viewers: a string of freeway scenes, including construction-area barrels, uncompleted overpasses, and the exit for Main Street in Saginaw, near where Martin grew up.
There are also Stockyards scenes in the special, airing at 11:30 p.m. Saturday on CMT, but you won’t see the cattle that national TV so loves to show to represent Fort Worth. Instead, you’ll see all 6-foot-2 1/2 feet of Martin — who looks even bigger in his trademark cowboy hat — disembarking from his bus as he prepares to do his show inside Rose Marine Theater, a location he says means a lot to him.
“It’s just a couple of miles from Blue Mound, where I grew up,” Martin says. “It’s a stone’s throw from where my father climbed in and out a truck, driving a truck. And my mom counted pennies, nickels and dimes working at a diner, literally two miles from the spot where I was standing and telling jokes. There’s a synergy and energy when I walk onto the stage. It was home.”
I knew that the guy on the camera in the balcony loved me because every time I got to a punch line and he was operating the camera, the camera would shake.
Cowboy Bill Martin, comedian
The street scenes make for an appropriate metaphor, because this special traveled a long road of its own before making it on the air. Taped in July 2013 at Rose Marine, it was a second attempt at getting something TV-worthy. A first try, taped in Grapevine earlier that year, didn’t go so well: Martin says the graininess of the resulting film reminded him of a bootlegged DVD.
“I knew that the guy on the camera in the balcony loved me,” Martin quips, “because every time I got to a punch line and he was operating the camera, the camera would shake.”
Regrouping, Martin teamed with John H. Reynolds of Fort Worth’s Middlin’ Creative, who has some experience filming live shows — the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, for instance, and Live at Billy Bob’s performances. The hope was that Reynolds could pick up on the nuances in Martin’s act.
“I knew that he would know how to shoot a guy with a cowboy hat, and that’s important,” Martin says. “Because a lot of my material is not just the words, but it’s also the expression on my face. So I knew that it had to be well-lit and well-shot. And we did it.”
A lot of people have made their own special, but nobody has done it as their television debut. Normally you do panel shows or a stint on one of the late-night talk shows
Cowboy Bill Martin
Of course, Martin was taking an unusual route toward a national-TV special. Comedians like Louis C.K. and Dallas native Jeff Dunham also have done self-produced specials, but not before they’d already made some TV breakthroughs. Martin has performed for troops overseas, worked with musicians like George Strait and done the cruise-ship circuit — he was, in fact, calling us from a Carnival Cruise ship — but this is his first shot at national TV exposure.
“It’s a pretty big risk,” he says. “A lot of people have made their own special, but nobody has done it as their television debut. Normally you do panel shows or a stint on one of the late-night talk shows, then people in L.A. talk and then somebody else talks and somebody finally says you can do a 30-minute or a 10-minute showcase kind of show. We didn’t have that.”
With the help of a friend who was associated with Dunham, Martin attracted the attention of Inception Media Group, which has distributed projects by Dunham and by now-Daily Show host Trevor Noah.
Martin and director Reynolds were on the verge of deciding simply to get a DVD of the special into truck stops when two networks bit.
Inception had a year to get the special onto national TV, and just as that year was running out and Martin and director Reynolds were on the verge of deciding simply to get a DVD of the special into truck stops, two networks bit.
One was Mark Cuban’s AXS-TV. The other was CMT, which Martin says is right in his wheelhouse. That does not mean, however, that Martin can be defined by redneck or cowboy humor, despite the “Cowboy” in his name.
“I’ve got a brother named Skeeter, and he’s not exactly a mosquito,’ Martin says with a laugh. “It’s a nickname that’s been with me for a long time. I do participate in and enjoy the cowboy lifestyle, but I think we’re about a lot more than that.”
The special has a fitting lead-in: “blue collar” comedian Ron White’s Comedy Salute to the Troops 2015. But Martin’s own humor ranges from riffs on the Texas heat to a middle-aged man’s bathroom habits. And then there’s that hilarious gag about the McRib. Don’t expect clean humor — Martin doesn’t shy away from the strong language (Although CMT did, originally. At first, the special was announced as airing uncensored, but Martin says now that it will be bleeped).
“It’s fine by me,” Martin says. “It’s a grown-up show. There’s a lot of grown-up language. It’s not like there’s a lot of sex talk or anything, but I felt like if the work required [the language], I used it.”
Fort Worth radio station KTFW/92.1 “Hank FM” will present a watching party for the special beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday at Mama’s Texican Kitchen, 9120 Boat Club Road in Fort Worth. The special will also be out on DVD and available via iTunes and Amazon on Dec. 21.
Whatever reactions the special earns, Martin says he and director Reynolds have already won.
“Everybody in the industry told me that there’s no way you can get a special made on your own without anybody from L.A. or New York pushing it,” he explains. “But nobody in the industry can say, ‘You can’t do this’ anymore, because we did it.”
Cowboy Bill Martin: Let the Laughter Roll
- 11:30 p.m. Saturday