I think failing is important. You have to have the courage to fail at this job I think. For me it’s been the only way to figure out how to say a joke the right way or present a character or an idea. A lot of things won’t be funny but the failing sometimes guides it there I think. It at least shows you where not to take it.
My first standup set was really fun. I tried it randomly in Spartanburg, SC at a rock bar called Guitar Bar. It was an open mic poetry night and they said it was ok to tell jokes instead of poems. I invited a bunch of friends and acted like an idiot for 20 minutes, not knowing what I should do anyways. It was fun enough to make me really want to commit to trying it. So I moved to DC and that was that.
I started to take improv classes with Washington Improv Theater at the exact same time I started going around to open mics in DC to watch and if lucky perform. Took about a month of watching before I really got to get on the microphone at any of the shows. So that month of foundations of improv learning with the great Dave Johnson really influenced my approach to standup. Not that I wanted to get up and improvise but the moments of not being funny on stage was easier to cope with after having learned to relax and build from nothing in class.
It’s made me quit caring so much about my career, and where it’s at, and what I’m doing. It’s so hard to remember the career is the thing that’s just always happening. I think we always look forward to when will I have the job where I go, “There, I did it. I made it to the top of my personal mountain of achievements. And here I am.” I think Roger Waters had a great quote, that I will misquote, but the gist of what he said was: In Pink Floyd, they were always playing and he felt like it was a big rehearsal for a big show until he finally came to realize the big show was always happening. It wasn’t a rehearsal, it was always happening. I could relate to that a little bit.
The nervous energy for me is the entire show. That comes from a place of “will this show be fun, will it work, will it fall on its face?” I try not to do too much with any of my characters other than just say the same material as this person. It all came out of boredom really. I didn’t have any new ideas or jokes to work on, which scared the shit out of me, so I decided to do what I had as different people. It became so much fun to do that I decided to just keep it as a thing and work on it. That sort of led to writing a few bits that were specific to the characters. I’m sure it will fade eventually. My german character makes fewer appearances. I’m sort of addicted to the southern preacher g...
I’d say the biggest influence was probably anything religious. I was raised Catholic. And in the South, there’s such a wealthy amount of Southern Baptists. I look at [religion] a little more skeptically through the lens of someone who is from the South. It gives me the confidence to do jokes about being brought up religiously, or any kind of religion, because I feel like I kind of grew up in the thick of it. Not that any of that has anything to do with the voice I put on. That voice definitely just grew out of me needing to do something new on stage. I was like, “Oh, I know this.” And it was a combination of family members and [that] I love doing this voice. Over time I started to figure out...
I think just reminding myself to quit thinking that there’s some kind of perfect show to capture; to remind myself constantly that it is comedy and mistakes are funny. Anything that is too perfect—it kind of becomes too sterile and then it does not feel genuine. If it doesn’t feel genuine then there’s no possible way people are going to feel they saw you.
It’s a weird balance of listening to yourself, so you can kind of be driving the car, but also listening to the audience so you can also see the road. Whenever I have a bad set it’s usually because I’m not doing one of those things at all. I’m either not paying attention to the crowd or I was over-confident with what I was going to do. Whenever there’s a night where I’m dialed in and I have the most fun, it’s usually because I’m right fifty-fifty on listening to the crowd and myself.