The Happy Good-Time Variety Show’s inaugural episode, broadcast April 8 via Facebook Live, begins with a calming shot of a crackling fireplace and lilting piano. The camera then slowly drifts over to Chad Stockslager, a music teacher, sitting comfortably in the living room of his Dallas home. “Oh, hello good people of … world,” he says warmly, addressing his digital audience. “I’d like to take this opportunity to point out what a special thing it is, in these dark moments, to enjoy a bit of levity … tonight, I would like to present to you a parade of impeccable nonsense.”
From there Stockslager wanders over to a keyboard, where he belts out songs; one of them is “about a little boy pooping his pants.” He interviews characters like a “wayward stranger with sad luck tales,” spins a cringeworthy yarn of him as an eighth grader trying to impress a crush, whispers his way through an ASMR segment that involves him eating chicken wings, and imitates Mick Jagger’s dance stylings for a home workout routine that includes such moves as “stir the pot” and “the donkey kick.”
Some viewers in the comments seemed to find the show discomfiting, while others were transfixed. “Twin Peaks debuted thirty years ago,” commented one viewer, Jason Hensel. “This is not much different.” “The livestream is being reinvented in front of my eyes,” wrote David Okamoto.
Throughout the hour-long program he livestreams on Facebook twice a month, Stockslager, 43, at once presents himself as a comedian, poet, songwriter, dancer, and philosopher—and, above all, a well-rounded entertainer. Part fireside chat and part Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the Dallas keyboard player’s humor and whimsical performance style makes for an unusual and often surprising watch.
With recording studios and venues temporarily closing during the pandemic, musicians and artists have turned to streaming performances, how-tos, and guides from quarantine, where they’ll often include virtual tip jars and Venmo handles so viewers can chip in to help. These livestream performances are uncharted waters in themselves, as many artists are used to primarily communing with audiences in person instead of through a webcam. And while many of these livestreamed performances are inventive, Stockslager seems to be transforming his into a new format entirely, one that’s inspired by old variety shows like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.
Following shelter-in-place orders, Stockslager—a local musician who’s been a part of bands that have opened for acts like the prolific musician Kamasi Washington, and who gives private music lessons (currently online)—decided to try streaming, albeit with a different approach. “The bar was set pretty low, so I wanted to put together bits and have a camera that can actually move from one room to the next to allow for a change of scenery,” he says. With a camera following him around his house, Stockslager launched his one-man variety show with segments anchored by live musical performances on the piano and guitar.
Although he’s a lifelong Texan, Stockslager bears the kind of accent and manner of speaking that does not seem to come from the Lone Star State, or anywhere in particular. “Aw, my sweet beloved Lakewood, yes,” he says, when I ask him what part of Dallas he lives in. And in the opening minutes of the first episode, he tells viewers to what expect through nonsensical wordplay: “There’ll be flimflam, there’ll be jimjam, there’ll be some flibber and some flabber, and some flibbity flu.”
He says people have been asking him about his voice all of his life. “When I was younger, I would notice that whenever we went to visit my grandparents in Marshall, my parents’ voice would relax into a really deep, rich, Southern drawl,” he says. “I was always fascinated by that as a kid.”
Stockslager also grew up loving old comedians, like Bob Hope and George Burns, and was particularly taken with how they just seemed to walk around sets being funny. As a teenager growing up in Terrell, he enjoyed drama class and acted in high school productions. After high school, he says he did sketch comedy with friends—“late night stoner riffs” inspired by Monty Python and Saturday Night Live—that once aired on a public-access channel in Mesquite. But all of this doesn’t quite explain how he came to arrive at performing a variety show. “It’s not an act,” says John Pedigo, a fellow Dallas songwriter and a longtime friend. “Either that or he’s always performing. His vernacular is so unique. It’s over-the-top and otherworldly.”
The goal of the show—the next of which airs tonight at 9, and which he typically takes two weeks to prepare for—is to pay rent “until he can steady the ship” with a reliable source of income as a musician again. Stockslager says Venmo tips from viewers have helped him meet that goal so far. Moving forward, he plans to add more video segments to make the show a mix of live and pretaped segments, similar to the cult hit Mr. Show.
“The variety show concept has always intrigued me,” he says. “I love the idea that you want to keep watching to see what happens next. In this show I am a lonely fella kind of wondering through his strange house of memories, and that is an extension of me. I do look back wistfully at things and probably linger more than I should.”