Sam Tallent has made an art form of non-traditional performance gigs for a standup comedian. Whether traveling on the cheap across unloved American landscapes or hustling for shows in dive bars or house parties, Tallent adapts to whatever stage is beneath his feet — at his best when he's untethered and unprepared. Though a casual fan of cuisine, Tallent is no chef, so he's an interesting choice to co-host a cooking demonstration dinner at the tony French restaurant Le Central. A monthly engagement, the event boasts a bountiful feast in addition to a funny and informative cooking demonstration. This month, five different volunteers join Tallent as they prepare the famous five mother sauces of French cuisine. The show begins at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28; tickets are $35 per person, and reservations are available on Le Central's website. Westword caught up with Tallent before the show to discuss cooking, taking on unusual gigs and the future of the Fine Gentleman's Club.
Westword: You've been a fan of dining at Le Central since long before you started co-hosting this cooking show, right?
Sam Tallent: I'm a fan of decadence Byron, so yeah, I've eaten there before. I'm not a fancy guy like you, but I like to eat a good meal. I like French cooking.
Where did the idea for the show come from?
Carmen Dusek used to do open mics, and she's the manager there. So she asked me to come and do this weird thing. Do you remember those segments on Letterman? He'd have a chef guest come on near the end, right before the comic? It'd always be some sassy old lady?
They'll still do that with Rachel Ray of whoever.
Sure. So the show's like that, only with a chef who's not like, a television chef. They're very skilled chefs, and I'm just there to punch it up and keep the crowd entertained so they can focus on getting their skill across. It's a whole different demographic than I'm used to. People who can afford a $35 ticket. The crowd asks a lot of questions, which sucks. "What kind of whisk are you using?" And the Chef will answer in depth. You wind up eating a lot of time that way. So I'm there to keep it moving, keep it interesting. It's very hard to make jokes in that situation, it's all on the fly like Lucha Libre & Laughs or InFauxmation. That's the stuff I'm good at, just riffing. Although the first time I did this one, I ended up getting kind of drunk because I was so nervous.
So you've always had a casual interest in cuisine, was it something you've been looking to get more into?
I'm like a mechanic in there. I don't think I'm like a chef. I can put together a meal.
Does the ticket include a pre-fixe menu?
Yeah, we're doing the five mother sauces of French cuisine. So that's cool, we're having a guest come out. The audience typically gets whatever we're making. They also bring out waves of hors d'oeuvres and cheese plates. There are drink specials. It's fun and you're definitely being fed. $35 seems kind of weird, but it's actually a pretty good deal for how good Le Central is. You get wine and whatever they want to bring out of the kitchen?
Has it been a different chef each time?
It has been so far. Because they'll have dessert chefs, or pastry chefs, or sous-chefs come in. I think they've had five different chefs so far, each with different specialties.
What have been the highlights of the past shows?
I've only done two, man. So the highlight of the first show was just figuring it out and the second highlight was being asked back after the show. It's still sort of too early to tell. Seriously, I don't remember the shit I'm saying up there. A couple softballs will come your way and you can really hit them out of the park, but I can't remember anything particular. It's a gig, you know?
You've taken on a lot of non-standup gigs. There's the brunch bingo at Squeaky Bean, the aforementioned Lucha Libre & Laughs and InFauxmation, Arguments & Grievances, the odd Quinceañera here and there.
Yeah, commentating on Lucha Libre & Laughs is out of everyone's wheelhouse but me & Nathan Lund it seems. We have it broken down where Lund mainly calls the moves, and I put up a lot of lobs. I'm not afraid to take a lot of shots, and tip in other people's layups. Lund says a lot of funny stuff too, but he knows more about wrestling. He's the Jim Ross and I'm the Jerry Lawler, but I'm not gross about chicks' boobs. I talk about guys' dicks a lot.
Tallent and Nathan Lund holding court at Lucha Libre & Laughs.
And their sweaty butts. I put over Royce Isaacs' dick real hard. He always comes up and thanks me for putting over his dick, which is like carnie slang for talking something up. Not many other shows are that much fun. Gossert's the real hero there. To answer your question though, I'm not afraid of any gig. I think the best part of the Le Central gig is that it's worked. It's something else I can do. I'm more confident now. I do so many weird gigs. I just did a tour doing hour-long sets in North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. I host the open mic at the fucking Squire. Two Sundays ago, I hosted bingo, did an LGBT show, did Lucha Libre & Laughs and then Arguments & Grievances. Only one of those shows was a straight-up standup set of my material. Even on the LGBT show, we did an InFauxmation-like panel on equality issues, so even that was like half fucking improv, man. So yeah, that's weird to think about.
That's a super marketable skill though.
I think that's why I've had so much success with the management company that bought me.
Can you talk about that development, you know, like on the record?
Sure. These people who produced Party Down, like these three people who are pretty cool, found out about me through actually Kayvan [Khalatbari of Sexpot Comedy], I think. Because they wanted to do a weed thing with him. Justine Marino was involved initially and she's a big fan, and we're good friends. She's killer. She's always gone out of her way —more than anyone in L.A. that I can think of— to help the Fine Gentleman's club. She's from here, so when people say "who's funny that we can get" she'll say our names. We got to do a gig at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts because of her. Marino has hooked it up, and her Aunt is actually one of the people who's on my management. She gave me a holding contract and now we're just filming a bunch of stuff. Hopefully some of it works out. They've met with like, MTV and Lifetime. Lifetime likes me a lot because I play well for women. I'm real likable.
Anything else you want to mention?
Oh yeah, the Fine Gents are taking over the Grawlix show. But I think we want to save the breaking news announcement for their show. When is this coming out?
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Okay, well, yeah, the Fine Gents are taking over their Friday time slot. Chris Charpentier's going away show is on May 6. It's a bummer he's leaving, just as a friend who's going to miss him. I'm happy for him and I think it's a good move, but it'll be different without him. He's very much a pillar of who we are. It's gonna be weird.
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.