Artist Spotlight: Tony Casillas

A comedian without an audience is just a man talking into a microphone, and it’s pointless.
— Tony Casillas

Ask anyone who has been to a local comedy show in the last few months and they will tell you that Denton is full of funny people. Stand-up comedy is very different from being the funny one of the group. Going onstage to entertain a crowd as an able comedian is no easy feat. Tony Casillas may be a relative newcomer to the growing Denton comedy scene, but the multi-talented comedian and photographer has quickly made a name for himself as one of Denton's outstanding comics.

His start as a comedian began around a year ago after a break-up. Casillas's friends took him to Hyena's Comedy Nightclub in Dallas, where he took the stage at 1:30 a.m. in front of a crowd of three people to tell some jokes. "I loved it," Casillas said. "It was the greatest thing ever.... It was so fun, and I haven't looked back since."

Since that noteworthy night, he has performed in front of crowds big and small all around Denton. Venues such as Killer's Tacos and Backyard on Bell have passed Casillas the mic. The Bearded Monk in particular, with its weekly open mic night on Sundays, has become a personal favorite.

Portraiture by Jenni Johnson

"It's just a fun environment, good beer, good people," Casillas said. "It's a very good place to go and just practice new jokes because it's a very positive environment. So when I come up with a new bit, The Monk is the first place I'll take it."

When it comes to the content of his sets, Casillas tries to connect with whatever audience is in front of him.  "I hope people can somewhat feel relatable when they listen to me talk," Casillas said. "I like watching offensive comedy, like when you make fun of a certain kind of people, I enjoy it, but that's not the kind of comedy I want to do. I kind of want to get everybody involved."

Casillas is one of several stand-up comedians who has joined Denton's developing comedy scene. A greater variety of venues has created more opportunities for Denton comics to share their jokes with larger audiences. 

"I feel like the comics that we have right now are so good, and each has their own voice. When you do go out to a comedy show, you're not hearing hacky bits. You're hearing five individual voices, five individual people telling some great jokes and that's why I think we're growing a following.... The comics that are here are putting in a lot of work, and it's showing," Casillas said.

When he's not on stage behind a microphone, Casillas is probably behind the viewfinder of a DSLR camera. Photography has become a means for Casillas to connect with people. After dropping out of college and beginning to feel lost in life, Casillas enrolled in a community college photography class, where he fell in love with taking pictures. He quickly left his bland point-and-shoot style behind and learned how to tell a story through pictures.

Over time (and with a lot of practice), Casillas's skill set as a photographer developed alongside his relaxed style of shooting. Most of the time, he improvises his photographs and excursions around Denton and Dallas, something his models are quite familiar with.

"I like to make them feel comfortable, and we'll just go out to where they feel comfortable. So, if they're a city person we'll go out to Dallas, Deep Ellum. We'll take pictures where they feel comfortable, and it lets them relax," Casillas said.

Photo by Tony Casillas

Casillas's prefers to share his photography through his Instagram account @casillasvisuals. However, this isn't his first photography account. The first one had gained a following of thousands before it was hacked and removed from the photo-sharing website, but Casillas hasn't let that bother him.

"I'm starting fresh.... I'm back to focusing on my art and not the social capital of it all, which is what I want to do," said Casillas. "If I can make money with it, cool, but I just want to do it to create because that's why I got into it."

For Casillas, not every picture is Instagram-worthy. Out of every thousand pictures he takes, he uses roughly four of them. His favorite shoot was done recently and themed in the style of film director Wes Anderson. The colorful photographs have garnered an overwhelmingly positive response. The photo shoot was held in the Bishop Art District of Dallas and involved an extensive amount of prior planning and coordination with half a dozen models. One of the models, Andrew Valentine, described the process as being very loose.

"We wandered around the location, and Tony picked shots and backgrounds that looked good," said Valentine. "He has a good eye for spur-of-the-moment images like that."

Photo by Tony Casillas

Whether he is on stage or on location, Tony Casillas has found his place in the Denton community. He plans to continue developing his talent for comedy and photography over the next year. Be sure to keep up-to-date with his photography on Instagram and on the lookout for him at an open mic night near you.

Portraitures by Jenni Johnson
Photos courtesy of Tony Casillas
Header image designed by Christopher Rodger