In August 2014, Brian Armstrong joined the staff of the American Botanical Council (ABC) as executive assistant, supporting ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. Originally from Houston, Texas, Armstrong has an extensive international background and came to Austin, Texas from Toronto, Canada. He graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in English.
“After college, I went over to Korea first and started teaching English over there, and I was there for a little over a year and a half,” he explained. “Then I went to Vietnam and stopped there because I really liked it. I was in Hong Kong for a while, [then] Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.”
A lifelong interest in stand-up comedy brought him back to North America. “I had started doing stand-up quite a bit in Saigon,” he said, “and so I wanted to make a little bit more of a run at it. Toronto is probably one of the top five places in North America to do it.”
While performing for American expats (and a few Vietnamese locals) looking for entertainment in Saigon, Armstrong showed a knack for organization and promotion. “When I showed up there, there was a small group of three people who were putting together shows. I had done that quite a bit in college, so I came in and helped them rearrange how they were running things. I teamed up with them and we started doing shows, and [it] quickly went from fifty people showing up to two hundred or so.”
At ABC, Armstrong assists Blumenthal primarily with his travel arrangements, schedule, and phone calls. He enjoys the variety of tasks necessary to keep everything running smoothly for the executive director. “I pretty much work as Mark’s arm here,” he said. “Since he’s always out creating and nurturing organization and business contacts, my work is a lot of the things which directly relate to that.” Armstrong is actively involved with scheduling Blumenthal’s appointments, calls, and speaking engagements, as well as his daily activities and on-site meetings. “There’s a lot of stuff to do here, and there’s a lot of little things,” he said. “Sometimes there can be fifty small tasks in a day, and it’s challenging.”
“This is the first time we’ve ever hired an executive assistant with any stand-up comedy experience,” said Blumenthal. “It’s really different to have someone in a position of such high-demand for organizational and professional skills who sees the inherent humor and absurdity in many day-to-day activities and tasks,” he added. “It’s really different, and a pleasure to work with someone who doesn’t get uptight just because there’s a big deadline approaching, or, perhaps, just because we just missed one!”
When he’s not pursuing his stand-up comedy, Armstrong keeps himself busy outside of work with music and cooking. He made a point of taking a cooking class in every country he went to, and he claims that his current pursuit of healthier cooking was inspired by ABC. Texas’s eclectic music scene has drawn his interest as well: social and unafraid of a crowd, he attends open-mic nights with his girlfriend — also a stand-up comic — to play the guitar and sing.
Armstrong considers the location and mission of ABC to be the best job perks. Though he admits to having very little interest in herbal medicine prior to joining the staff, he finds it interesting to learn the basics from Education Coordinator Jenny Perez and Special Projects Director Gayle Engels. “It’s neat to go downstairs and see Jenny’s desk covered in vines,” he laughed, “and it’s nice to work for an organization that does some good.” Open to trying herbal remedies, he enjoys exploring various tinctures, teas, and other preparations. He also appreciates having his own corner office overlooking the 2.5-acre gardens at ABC’s Case Mill Homestead.
The sometimes hectic world of a nonprofit organization’s daily operation seems to suit Armstrong just fine. “I like the people I work with, and I like that there’s always something different to do,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a great 2015 here in my new home at ABC.”