Tim Edwards Thinks Dallas Is Great For Growing Comics, Although Race Issues Mean A Ceiling For Some.
Welcome to Humor Us, our column in which Dallas comedian Alex Gaskin interviews other area comedians about the ol’ funny business in order to help introduce DFW at large to the burgeoning comedy scene blooming right under its nose.
Tim Edwards can be both irreverent and socially conscious onstage — and there are plenty of times when he manages to be both in the span of a single joke. He can challenge audiences by dredging up some of the uncomfortable realities of our modern culture, but his charisma and sharp writing ensure that his message — and the punchline — still resonate.
In turn, Edwards stayed pretty busy last year, appearing at the San Diego Comedy Festival, the East Texas Comedy Festival and the World Series of Comedy. This year, he had a different goal. He just released his first album, which is available on his website, and you can see him perform live this weekend at the Hyena’s Comedy Nightclub in Fort Worth along with headliner Dan Soder.
In advance of that gig and in celebration of his new album, we talked this week about his views on how to help the Dallas comedy scene continue to grow, and the importance of cultivating a perspective in stand-up.
You’re featuring for the next few weeks at different Hyena’s clubs. Can you talk about your experience with those clubs?
It’s different between what level you’re at. If you’re an MC, your job — and this is what they preach to you — your job is to just be the foundation of the show, to get the announcements out, make sure everyone starts in a good mood. Basically, just not screw up. I’m very good at that, because I’m very good at being likable. Whether it was authentic or inauthentic, I could be likable. But I got to a point where I wasn’t enjoying it. You can’t say what you want to say as a host, because you don’t have time to recover. You really don’t have time to explain any bit that you’re doing — it has to be black and white, quick punches, stuff like that. As a host, I was enjoying it, but I knew I wanted to get better and move to the feature spot. The way I got to that spot was, I was doing a show with Lisa Landry, and I was opening. The feature, a guy I will not name — he wasn’t from the city — he was terrible. He was low energy, and the crowd wasn’t feeling him. Lisa Landry wasn’t feeling him, either. So after the show she went up to the club’s owner and said [I] should be featuring, the host should be featuring. And that’s what happened. Every time I got an opportunity at a club was because the headliner saw me and vouched for me. The first time I got to host, I had just gotten back from San Antonio, I had done a comedy contest, and I felt dejected. It was, “Oh, man. I killed this comedy competition, and I’m back at the open mic. I’m last on the list. I’m tired. I should be working here.” I was thinking about leaving, like, “I need to go to Austin, I need to go to LA,” and I was about to leave the mic, but I decided I was there already, I should stay. I was one of the last people on the show that night, and for some reason Tom Rhodes and his wife and two of his friends were in the audience, they were in the front row. I did the set I did in San Antonio, and Tom Rhodes and his crew were rolling. He talked to Randy [Butler, the owner at Hyena’s], and I was on a guest spot that weekend. Did the guest spot, killed the five-minute guest spot, that was it.
You mentioned being in that position of making people happy versus doing what you want to do. How do you deal with that situation?
How do I deal with it? I love it, because I can be myself in the feature spot.
What about those other situations, where you’re mainly there to make people happy, and not do what you really want to do?
I’ve tried to eliminate those things. I’ve been asked to do birthday parties, I’ve gotten asked to do family reunions, and there was one point where I was taking every show. I got to the point where I did one birthday party — it was a 50-year-old’s birthday party, it was for a preacher, and it was at his home. So I went there, I said, “OK, I’m gonna do my stuff.” And I realized this isn’t comedy. That’s not stand-up. It wasn’t what I want to do. I’m being, like, an entertainer. I’m like a wedding singer, like an adult clown that you order for a kid’s birthday party. I’m not doing anything like that ever again. That’s what I’ve stuck with. It’s cost me some momentum. It’s cost me a lot of gigs. But I felt so bad after I did that that I said, “I don’t ever want to do this again.” That’s what happened. I just don’t take those shows anymore. Sometimes you gotta make a stand. Some people are cool with it, some people do it. But you’ve got to take a stand. You’re a person before you’re a comedian.
Do you prefer the comedy clubs to bars or other spots? What’s your natural comedy environment?
If the bar’s attentive, and there’s not a lot of chatter… [I like] anything where a crowd is attentive, and not expecting it to be about them. I can deal with that. If the crowd’s attentive, I’m good. I think that’s what any comedian wants. But we got into comedy to do comedy clubs. And this is kind of a weird thing about the black community, a lot of people… the money comes quicker if you do bar and grill shows. You don’t have to have 30 minutes of material to do a bar and grill’s 30-minute set, you just have to be kind of charismatic and entertaining, and say whatever. But I didn’t start doing comedy to start doing a bar and grill. I keep harping on this to all my friends: You gotta take a stand. That’s the only way you’re gonna be happy. I like doing bars. Bar and grill is fine if they’re attentive. But I got into comedy to do comedy clubs. I got into stand-up after seeing Richard Pryor’s Live and Smoking, where he was at the Laugh Factory, and he was bombing, but he was in a comedy club, it was a single-shot comedy special, and the camera didn’t move — it didn’t even zoom in. I said, “That’s what I want to do.” I want to be a stand-up in a comedy club where there’s not a lot of theatrics, it’s just me doing what I want to do. I love comedy clubs. That’s my home. That’s the type of comedian I am.
We were talking earlier, and I didn’t realize this, but you and I both got started through a poetry open mic. How did that come about for you?
Honestly, the poetry mic was the closest thing to me. This is when I was in Fort Worth. There were a lot of poetry slams going on in that area, but it wasn’t any comedy. I don’t even know if Fort Worth Hyena’s had started their open mic back yet. So there were not comedy open mics, but there was poetry, and that was the only place I could do it. So I said, “OK, I can go up there, do some stand-up and get my feet wet without actually going into a comedy club.” After I started doing comedy, I would try to go up every night, and I would end up doing poetry open mics two or three times a week. That really influenced some of my later bits. Like, I’ve got a poem bit, and that really influenced what I talk about, my subject matter. I think that’s why I don’t like to do bar and grill shows. Because I grew up and came up where people were silent, and they were respectful of what you were saying, and they were listening. You didn’t have to yell, you could do subtleties, stuff like that. So that’s probably why I don’t like bar and grills. It’s all coming around! [Laughs.]
Last year you did a few festivals. There was San Diego, correct?
What were some of the others?
I did San Diego, I did East Texas Comedy Festival, I did World Series of Comedy.
Was all of that last year?
All of this was last year, yeah.
Are you still interested in doing festivals, or are you getting away from that?
I’m gonna be straight with you. A lot of festivals are a waste of money. It doesn’t benefit the comedian at all. They don’t set up the shows in ways that people will remember you. If you’re in the festival, and you’ve got 15 people onstage, what exposure is there? The audience isn’t gonna remember you. They just saw 15 comedians who all did seven minutes. There are no agencies at a lot of these festivals, despite what they claim. You’re not really gonna get any press on it. I started being very selective on the ones I submit to. There are some that I haven’t gotten into yet that I want to do — I want to do the Laughing Skull, I want to go back to the World Series of Comedy and win it. I advanced to the finals of the leg I was in in Oklahoma, but I want to go back and win it. And everyone wants to get to Montreal [host city of the Just for Laughs Festival]. But a lot of times for that you need a manager or a credit. Laughing Skull, Montreal, those are what I’m geared towards. If anything else pops up, I wouldn’t necessarily turn it down, but like I said, a lot of festivals are a waste of money.
Was there a breaking point where you had that epiphany?
Probably San Diego. It was really fun. I flew out there, so I paid for an airline ticket, I paid for a hotel room, I did a show that was, like, the late-night dirty show that started at 11:30. After I did it, I was like, “This is a good experience, I had fun out here, it was like a vacation. But as far as comedy, it’s some bullshit.” I’m losing money to do what, y’know? And when things started having momentum as far as me getting booked here — all that was before I started to get booked here — it’s like, “Why do I need to keep doing that to myself?”
But do the festivals help to build the momentum to get you more work here? Does it help when people here see you doing things in other places?
Probably, but it shouldn’t. Anything I’m doing at a festival, I’m doing here. So if somebody is booking a show, and they’re waiting on you to do a festival, then they’re either very ill-informed on the ins and outs of a festival, or they just care about a credit under your name, and not talent. It probably did help out here, but it shouldn’t. I think locally, what really got the respect of my peers was when I started working at the clubs, especially when I started featuring. Then people are thinking, “Oh, you are funny. Someone believes you’re funny.” And that sucks, man! It sucks that it takes somebody else to say that you’re funny for anybody else to even consider that you might be funny. Even though you’ve been seeing me do everything I do the whole time.
What are your thoughts on the Dallas comedy scene in general?
I think this is one of the best scenes to grow. I’ve been to New York, I’ve been to LA, I’ve been to Austin. As far as cost of living for a comedian, which is really important, and the amount of stage time you get, the opportunities we have to put on our own shows, to get in clubs, this is probably the best city. We have five — no, six! — clubs. Six clubs that are dedicated to comedy in the city, within 45 minutes of each other. It’s not like that anywhere. I see people talk about wanting to go to New York, and I’m gonna be honest with you, I hated New York. New York sucks, the streets stank, they smelled like urine everywhere. Yeah, you can get up at five mics a day, but those mics suck. Some of them are in the afternoon. You can’t even go up if you have a job. And you have three minutes! So New York? No. And it’s too expensive to live out there. A lot of people who went to live in New York, they came back. Same as in the LA scene. In LA, you have people who’ve been doing it for 20 years. You’re so focused on killing that you’re not focused on finding who you are as a comedian. So those are two scenes that really don’t make a lot of sense. Austin’s probably the closest one — Austin and Houston. So I think Dallas is one of the best comedy scenes in the nation, hands down. And it’s waiting for somebody to… the thing that Dallas is missing — and you could say that Paul [Varghese] is that guy, you could say Aaron Aryanpur is that guy, you can say CJ Starr is that guy — is we don’t have a guy that has the cachet to bring along a series of people. Like, “OK, now I’m gonna take Alex under my wing. Now I’m gonna take Tim under my wing.” We don’t have a guy like that. In those other places, they have it. There’s nobody that I know of that can say, “Hey, I really think you’re funny, you’re killing it, come on tour with me.” There’s nobody in the city like that. In New York, LA, Houston, even Austin, there are people like that. So that’s the only thing we’re missing. But I think it’s coming. Aaron Aryanpur is killing it. CJ Starr is killing it. It’s coming.
You did comedy while living in Fort Worth for a while, right?
Does it seem like less happens, comedy-wise, in Fort Worth? I know that’s where I see the fewest shows come up in the area.
I think it does, but I think it’s because the brand of humor that Fort Worth likes, Dallas doesn’t produce it. If you have open mics, you’re gonna have new comedians. If you have new comedians, you’re gonna have one out of every 10 comedians say, “Hey, I’m gonna put a show on!” Or something like that. And that’s how you develop a scene. It starts with the mics. We have to have the mics. We have way more mics in Dallas than Fort Worth. I think that’s the biggest issue. Wherever you want a comedy scene, put some open mics there. Have somebody that manages it, that knows how to bring a crowd, because if you’ve got a mic that’s just a mic, and you ain’t got no crowd, you aren’t testing on real Fort Worth citizens, and you’re not gonna produce comics that are good in Fort Worth. That’s what you’ve gotta do.
We talk about a DFW comedy scene, but it never feels like one cohesive thing. There’s a lot going on in different parts of Dallas. Things happen in Denton. But other areas get less attention.
It isn’t cohesive. Because there’s so much going on, and it’s so big, as far as population and stuff, that you don’t have to interact with everybody. I think that’s what keeps it from being a unified scene. I went almost a year without seeing Justin James, one of my best friends, and it was simply because we weren’t doing the same shows. You’ve got an alternative side here, and a mainstream side here, and the improv side here. And they’re all funny, but you never see them, so it’s not a cohesive unit. I think there should be — and Dallas Comedy House does this from time to time — but there should be something that brings everybody together. Where you have urban comedy — and that’s another thing we don’t have, but I’ll get to that later — but you’ve got urban comedy, you have alternative comedy, mainstream that appeals to everybody, the improv comedy, and bring it all together, and give it something for everybody and make sure the community knows that we have comedy for you. A lot of people, like black people in Dallas, think that, “Hey, if I haven’t seen em on TV, if it’s just a local Dallas comedian, they’re lame, because all the shows I’ve been to weren’t for me.” It didn’t have anything that appealed to [them]. We need to change that. And not only will the crowds grow, but fan bases for every comedian — for that improv troupe that I wouldn’t see, because I’m black and I never would’ve come to see you — that’s gonna grow. Or, shit, there’s no doubt in my mind Tyler Simpson would have black fans if they saw him perform. But I’m not gonna see you perform because you ain’t on a show that appeals to me at all! We have to get together. That’s how we grow. Unification is important. But as long as we’re all on our own, and everybody’s keeping their heads down and being antisocial and shit, it ain’t gonna happen.
You touched on the urban comedy scene. Can we go back to that?
There were no mics in any urban areas other than Legends, and places like that. Which were cool, but one of the only reasons I didn’t do Legends a lot was because it started too late. It started at 11:30, I lived in Fort Worth, I had to get there, yadda yadda yadda. What replaced my urban rooms were the poetry open mics. What people have to understand, and what I understood to a little bit, but I understand to a bigger extent now, is there are different types of everybody. There are different types of white people. Some white people want to hear shit jokes, some white people want to hear alternative humor, some white people want to hear mainstream, middle-of-the-road humor. And there are different types of black people. Some black people I’ve met in the poetry scene, they like to listen, they like to think, they want something they can talk to you about after the show. Some black people in, like, South Dallas or Oak Cliff, say, “I just want to laugh. I don’t care how you make me laugh, just make me laugh.” I’m not saying anything negative against either side, it’s just, “Hey, that’s what I came here for. That’s who I am.” What I realized is that I am a product of how I was created. My comedy was created in a situation where you had a certain type of black people, so when I would go to the other open mics, like at Legends, it wasn’t resonating with them, because it wasn’t the style they were used to. There needs to be more urban mics of all kinds. You just can’t have one or the other, because then you start producing one kind of comedian, and those comedians don’t always translate throughout the scene. You can’t get a crowd-work type comedian in a host spot at a comedy club. And even some of the best comedians who are black can’t work — I don’t know if you know this — can’t work at certain comedy clubs, because black headliners don’t want black openers. Because they feel that we’ll talk about the same thing, and that we’ll say something they were gonna say, and they’re not gonna get a good enough laugh. I tried to get on at different comedy clubs, clubs that I’m not currently working at, and they told me that I need to tone it down because the headliner doesn’t want to have to work that hard.
Yes. [Laughs.] And there are other reasons why I haven’t gotten into certain clubs. I used to be very boisterous — I still am very vocal about certain things that I care about — and I made some comments about how there were no opportunities given out to certain comics at a particular open mic. And that was fine. However, there were things being said, I feel like we were being pegged as criminals, to a certain extent.
By the venue?
By the venue. They were saying we were stealing shit, that we were breaking things. What I know is that once you start saying this, and once you start attaching certain labels to certain people, other clubs don’t want to work with them. I don’t care that you’re not giving work, I don’t care that we’re not getting paid — this is open mic, that’s what we’re supposed to do, we’re supposed to be working, you’re giving us a venue, thank you for that — but when you start attaching labels, that is killing anything that I’m gathering from this experience. You’re being detrimental to my growth in other places. I said something about that, and I feel like that’s part of the reason I’m not at certain clubs. But you’ve gotta have a mixture. If you don’t have a mixture of the types of crowds, then you’re not gonna get anyone who can really work as a professional comedian. Because I think we all know that a headliner has to be able to survive in any kind of circumstances. And comedy clubs and open mics should be in the business of creating headliners. If they’re not, then they’re doing something wrong.
You have an album you’re working on, right?
The album I’m doing is called Beats, Jokes, and Life. It’s a take on A Tribe Called Quest’s Beats, Rhymes, and Life. What I’m doing is I’m taking certain excerpts of music that really influence me, and I’m blending it in with the jokes. It’s similar to what Bill Hicks did. This is before he died. He had albums where his band would kind of, like, intertwine music with his comedy. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do. The things I want to talk about on the album are things that, hey man, I might say it in a show, and it might bomb, but I want to say it. It might not get the reaction I want, but I want to say it. I’m not calling it an album, I’m calling it a mixtape, because I have to tape the joke from the moment it hits, because it might not hit every time, because some people might not be in the mood to hear about Black Lives Matter, they might not be in the mood to hear about social justice. Like I said, they might want to just laugh, they don’t want to think. So I’m taping the album, I’m taping my jokes, I’m blending it in with different civil rights jokes, different black quotes, and stuff like that. One of the cool things I’m doing with it is, every comedian says, “I don’t want to make an album, because I don’t want to burn all my material. I don’t want to put out an album out and never be able to do this material again.” I’m coming up with an idea where, instead of physical copies, you get download codes, access codes. So you buy my album once, and you have access to that album for life. The cool thing is, my album changes. A bit that I have today, I might create a better version of it, and you get the new bit on the album for free. Instead of buying one moment in time, you buy a living comedy set. That’s what I’m doing. That solves my idea of burning my material. That solves the idea of burning material, that solves somebody saying, “He’s young in the game, he’s not gonna be funny, I’ll wait.” Every week you might get a new version of that album. I got inspired by Kanye West to do that. When he did Life of Pablo, he would add tracks, and add beats, and change the lyrics. I thought, “I could do that with comedy,” and rearrange my stuff to give you a better version. At the end of maybe a year or two years, of course I’ll cap it off, and say that’s the final version, stop updating it, and move on to something new. I was ready to put out an album, but I didn’t want to go through a comedy label. I wanted to have complete control of what I give people at all times. I’ve sold more than I expected to sell. [Laughs.] Luckily, as a feature, you get an opportunity to sell merchandise, and on the road.
So it’s already available?
It’s already available on my website now. You can get it at my shows. I’ve been selling it all this weekend and donating all the proceeds to charity. Half of it goes to the Flint water situation. The motherfuckers still got lead in their water! People forget! It happened in January, but they still got lead in the water! Half of it goes to Flint, half of it goes to Louisiana flood relief. That right there is another thing I wanted to do. We get to the point as comedians where nothing matters, man. You start telling a joke, and you think to yourself, “After I say this, and it gets a laugh, nothing happens with it.” It’s like, it doesn’t affect anybody’s day to day. It makes them happy in the moment, but it doesn’t cause anybody to think. When my kids hear this joke 20 years from now, are they gonna say, “Oh, that was funny, but alright, whatever…” It gets to a point where we’re blessed and fortunate enough to do what we want to do, but we have to help people. We have to make a difference somehow. If not with your comedy, then the comedy album. We get paid to perform. I was thinking, “I get paid to perform, so anything I get from the merchandise is extra.” So, fuck it. We have to get to a point where we’re giving and we’re saying something that matters. That’s what hurt me the most. When all this stuff happened with Black Lives Matter and the shooting in Dallas, I looked around and said, “Who do we have to turn to as a comedian?” If this had happened when Richard Pryor was alive, and Dave Chappelle was doing comedy, and Patrice O’Neal was alive, we would turn to them. I thought to myself, there’s nobody we have. If it has to be me, then that’s what I’m meant to do. I cannot be silent on things and just go out and get a check. I couldn’t do it. So I said from that moment on, anything I do, anything I say, I want to try to make it have a purpose. Sometimes, it might not. But I’m gonna try. If you take anything away from this interview, it’s that I am somebody who wants to be relevant with what I’m saying, and I want to have a purpose. I don’t want to just be up there talking about bullshit.