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Hollis Gillespie brings day drinking and comedy together with monthly Sunday brunch

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Thursday, March 31, 2016

Stand-up comedy tends to be a late-night affair, set in theaters or darkly lit bars and clubs.

Atlanta humorist Hollis Gillespie is bringing light to the profession: sunlight, that is.

“I come from California,” Gillespie said. “When I moved to Atlanta, you couldn’t drink before 12:30 on Sundays. That offended me. Drinking on Sundays is my religion. It’s been in my head for years: I always thought there was this whole population in Georgia who want to day drink.”

So she came up with the idea of a monthly Sunday comedy brunch. She selects up-and-coming stand-ups she admires to entertain a party with friends and fans featuring sausages, pastries and copious amounts of mimosas, “picnic” punch and bloody marys.

Gillespie, 54, organized and hosted her first brunch in November. The concept worked so well, she has continued the monthly shindigs in different locales. (The next one is April 24 and tickets are available here.)

“Every time we host one, more people come,” Gillespie said. “The comics get to come, perform, eat free food and get paid. I’ve nailed down a system, and now the brunches are very much worth the time and effort. For me, the best part is introducing these amazing comedic talents to new audiences.”

During March’s thematic “Mom” brunch at Paste magazine offices in Decatur, Gillespie zipped around the room, prepping the space and handing out drinks to anybody who had an open hand. Her older sister Cheryl Groth worked the door with loud exuberance.

Headliner Hank Denson entered the room at 12:30 p.m., psyched to talk about his mom and his wife in front of mostly mothers in the audience.

“A majority of your crowds are female, so you work your best materials with females,” said Denson, who emcees frequently at the Punchline Comedy Club in Buckhead. “Women give you good energy, and you’ll get new fans and they follow you. Dudes just look at their girlfriends and say, ‘Why are you laughing? He’s not funny!’ “

Besides, he added, “people like daytime drinking here more than any other city!”

After trying Highland Ballroom and the Punchline, Gillespie especially liked Paste magazine’s casual ambiance. The stage, which was already installed when Paste moved into the converted art gallery five years ago, has a lovely backdrop of old concert posters.

“It’s a creative atmosphere,” she said. “It’s a warehouse. The sound is good. There’s a lot of parking.” And she has control over the drinks — suggested donations accepted.

A former Delta Air Lines flight attendant from 1989 through 2012, Gillespie has also been a humorist and author for the past two decades, writing columns for Paste, Creative Loafing and Atlanta magazines. She teaches screenwriting, blogging and creative writing classes and hosts a podcast. She also provides occasional commentaries for CBS46 local news.

Gillespie only began doing stand-up herself last year, trolling open mics all over town.

“It seemed like a natural next step for me,” Gillespie said. So far, she said she’s bombed plenty of times. “I’m enjoying the constant public shaming,” she added. “You have to grow the hide of a rhino to do stand-up.”

While this is Gillespie’s event and she plays host, she cedes the spotlight to the more seasoned comics. At one point, she placed seven Pabst Blue Ribbon cans on a tray and walked around the room offering them to attendees as if she were channeling her flight attendant days.

And though the headliner was a guy in March, she tries to highlight a couple of female comics at every event. During the most recent brunch, she picked Laura Austin and Hayley Ellman.

Austin mined her dismal relationship status and her pale appearance. “You know hard it is to find makeup for the color of milk?” she said. “I’m really, really, really white — and a little dead inside.”

Ellman was more cerebral and sardonic, referencing Bobby Fischer, Judaism and “Goodnight Moon” over 20 minutes.

One of her best lines regarded how it’s important for parents to allow their kids to grow up “weird.”

“You want them to grow up just weird enough that they never feel like they belong anywhere,” Ellman said, “then they end up telling jokes to strangers in a magazine studio that’s impossible to find!”

And Ellman addressed adult arguments vs. child arguments: “I love saying, ‘You’re projecting!’ ” she said, “because that’s the grown-up version of ‘I know you are but what am I?’ “

The audience grew steadily more rambunctious as the alcohol kicked in — just like it does in a comedy club.

“I was rolling by the end,” said Elizabeth Denney, who had recently taken a creative writing class from Gillespie and became a big fan. “I had no idea what to expect. We’ll definitely be back next month!”

The next event is scheduled for April 24, also at Paste offices. Appropriately, the thematic: stories about getting drunk and the ramifications thereof.


Hair of the Dog Comedy Brunch

Theme: tales about being drunk

Noon-2 p.m. April 24. $10. Paste Magazine offices, 2852 E. College Ave., Decatur.


Paula Poundstone

7 and 9:30 p.m. April 2. $35 in advance, $40 at the door. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. N.E., Atlanta.

Joel McHale

8 p.m. April 7. $35-$49.50. The Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St., Atlanta.

Kathy Griffin

8 p.m. April 15. $50-$95. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta.

Martin Short and Steve Martin

2 and 7 p.m. April 24. $50-$225. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. www

Tracy Morgan

8 p.m. April 30. $35-$55. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.