Eleven-Year Old Stand-Up Comic Saffron Herndon Appeared on the Today Show in 2015. And, Somehow, Her 2016 Was Even Bigger.
You shouldn’t count on a normal kid to write a joke that could work in front of an adult crowd.
That being said, you don’t expect a normal kid to quote Bob Newhart and have an employee at one of her favorite Deep Ellum joints — Uncle Uber’s, where this interview took place — bring her copies of Siddhartha and the Quran. But that’s what happened in the course of my not-normal interview with the 11-year old comedian Saffron Herndon, one of Dallas’ newest — and youngest — celebrities.
Herndon is an unusual person, and she had an unusually great year. Her sharp, surprisingly dark writing helped her achieve viral success in 2015, which led to an appearance on the Today show. She then continued her ascent in 2016, performing on the debut episode of Standup Empire, and earning opportunities to perform in several comedy festivals. She’s also been working on an Ellen DeGeneres-produced reality show about her rise in comedy — something we previously mentioned.
See More In Our Most Interesting Dallasites of 2016 Series:
• Next Generation Action Network’s Dominique Alexander Became A Leader For Dallas’ Frustrated Youth And Minority Communities in 2016.
• In 2016, Luis Olvera Moved His Taco Business Out Of The Backyard, Inside A Brick-And-Mortar And Into The National Spotlight.
It’s hard to top a year as impressive as Herndon’s, but with her show set to debut and a seemingly limitless enthusiasm for comedy, she’ll probably go on to accomplish more in 2017 than most of us will in the next five years.
And so I talked with Herndon — and her dad, Steve, also a comedian, whose comments are included here too — about her big year, how she juggles school and comedy, and what could happen if success takes her away from Dallas. (Spoiler alert: Some of her theories about that future involve Koko the Gorilla.)
So tell me about your 2016. Give me the highlights.
Saffy: OK, highlights! We paid off my cat’s sex change. My best friend found a house. I was… what happened?
Comedy stuff happened!
Saffy: Oh! I competed in Funniest Comic in Texas, and I didn’t win, but I got to the second [round]. And I didn’t win, but it was still fun. Oh man, I… I’m sorry, this is hard!
There’s been news stories about your having a reality show coming out…
Saffy: It’s a doc-series premiering on A&E! [The Herndons are still, unfortunately, not able to provide new details on the upcoming series beyond what was already covered in our initial report.]
Let’s talk about other comedy stuff you did this year.
Saffy: I’ve been in the Gilda Radner’s Laugh Festival. I was in Hell Yes! Fest in New Orleans. I did Dad’s Garage — that’s just a show I did, but I really enjoyed it. I did improv there.
Steve: It’s a real place.
Saffy: It’s a real place, it’s really awesome.
Saffy: It’s in Atlanta. It was my first time in Atlanta, and I freakin’ love Atlanta. Everybody’s so nice! Everybody’s so grateful, and so happy.
Steve: [The owners] asked her to headline for their grand opening. They bought a church, and they left it pretty much like a church.
Saffy: And I would do two shows a night, so every night I would do two improv shows, and two of my stand-up [sets]. Dad’s Garage is the best! Atlanta is the best! I love Atlanta! Everybody’s so happy there, and there’s good food, and there’s lots of museums. That’s where Coke was invented — not… [I mean] the soda. There’s lots of jazz, and I love jazz. There’s lots of history there, just so much stuff is going on in Atlanta all the time. The show was awesome. They would give me as much as I wanted – as much time as I wanted. The improv was, like, an hour and a half long. It was awesome, I loved it there. And they invited me back! The guy that was in charge there gave me a set of Cartoon Network cartoon magnets that go on the different backgrounds of the show — as old as Cow and Chicken! It was the best. He used to work for Cartoon Network.
So how many places do you think you traveled for comedy this year?
Saffy: I went out of the country for the first time in my life — other than Jamaica, and that time my mom got kidnapped in Jamaica. Do you want me to tell that story?
Saffy: Do you feel like I need to?
I think you need to.
Saffy: I feel like I need to. It was the second time my mom got kidnapped.
Steve: Out of the country.
Saffy: Out of the country. The first time was in Paris. They were obsessed with redheads, and these people pulled her into an alleyway, and she lost her voice, and she was with her cousin, and there were two guys trying to pull her into a van, and then another guy came out of nowhere and put a gun to the other guy’s head, and said something in French, and the guy [the attempted kidnapper] backed away. And then the guy [with the gun] bought my mom a Coke, and said, “Don’t leave your hotel.” And the second time, we were on a really cheap cruise that we shouldn’t have been on, and we went to Jamaica. It was fun for me because I was 4, and they were braiding my hair and cornrowing it, and it was awesome, and at the time I didn’t realize my mom was getting kidnapped. These people were like, “Come to my shop!” And my mom was like, “OK!” And you’re not supposed to leave your family or whatever in Jamaica. So my mom walks over there and she’s gone for a long time, so my dad starts making a big deal and screaming until they bring her back. She said she went through a bunch of alleyways and they wouldn’t let her go back. They kept saying, “My shop is up here.” And she kept saying she wanted to go back, and they’d say, “No, you’re going to my shop.” And it was the same cruise — I wasn’t on it — but it was the same cruise that a few years later broke down in the middle of the ocean. That was that cruise.
So what places did you go to do comedy?
Saffy: New York. I went to New York. I did some StubHub work there. I guess I’m a spokesperson for StubHub now, right?
Wait, you’re a spokesperson for StubHub?
Saffy: I am. Y’know what? That’s pretty cool, right? Right, Dad?
Steve: Right. Probably.
Steve: We’re probably not supposed to talk about it. They haven’t told us much about it. It’s their own fault.
Saffy: It’ll be fine. It’ll be fine, Alex. But I went there. I went places in Texas, I went to… places I can’t talk about. Oh, I’m going to California!
You did Standup Empire, right?
Steve: There you go!
Saffy: I did Standup Empire! In Austin. That was awesome.
That was the first episode, wasn’t it?
Saffy: It was awesome. Brently Heilbren was really nice to us, and he helped us with everything, and the show was really fun.
Steve: He started [comedy] in Dallas at Backdoor when he was 14 or so.
Saffy: He was really nice. That was really fun.
What do you think you’ve learned, comedy-wise, from this year of traveling and working more?
Saffy: It’s hard to explain, but… OK, I think this is easier to explain: Bob Newhart says that every comedian starts out doing another person — that they’re another person, and they’re not really themselves. I think that, over the years, back in the day since I was 8 to now, I feel like I’ve really found my voice, and doing all that stuff has helped shape it. My life is a piece of clay.
That’s impressive! Most 11-year olds haven’t really found themselves. You kind of usually have to wait until middle school for that. But, then again, you’re also Internet famous…
Saffy: Uh-huh. My dad put out my memes about two years ago. And they really started to get more and more popular, and that was really awesome.
How much time do you think passed between when they posted and when they got popular?
Steve: Not long.
Saffy: It wasn’t long. It was Reddit, and so… it was like a week, maybe?
And that helped you get on the Today show, right?
Saffy: Yes, I was on the Today show. Met Al Roker and Tamron Hall.
Steve: The Today show was 2015.
Saffy: Yes, that was 2015. But I met Seth Rogen, and that was cool. The cool thing was, I was walking by, and he was there to promote his new show, and that was during… that was the … Neighbors, that’s what it was. He was there to promote it, and I watched the interview with my mom. It was awkward the whole time, but it was funny, because I was with my mom. But we watched it anyway. I thought it was fun, and I thought he was nice to meet, and it was cool because I was walking through, and he was like, “Oh, I know you! You did the memes and stuff!” And I went, “[nervous snort] Yeah. I did.”
Steve: Something else really big happened about ten feet from here this year…
Saffy: What? Oooooh, OK. [Laughs.] So this is what happened. I was here, and I was sitting on this stool, and I reached over to tell Kaitlin [an employee at the restaurant] something, and when I did, I fell over and went kerplunk! And I went deaf for a second, and my arm hurt so bad, and that’s when I hurt my arm.
So that probably wasn’t one of the bright spots of this year.
Saffy: I’ve been through a lot at Uncle Uber’s! I first met Kaitlin. I’ve been coming here since three years ago, every Tuesday to get my regular — well, we call it the regular. It’s grilled cheese with some sort of bell peppers, and fries, and my sauces. And I get pickles from the cooks, and it’s fun here! When I wasn’t allowed to do [the open mic at] Hyena’s yet, because I was too young, I came here one time on Wednesdays instead, and they were doing this thing — trivia, they do it every Wednesday — and I got to do my stand-up. It was pretty awesome. And I got to choose whatever song I wanted to play.
What song would you choose?
Saffy: Probably “Clint Eastwood.”
Steve: You got to do some improv this year, too. You had the class, and you got to do the jam.
Saffy: I got to do the jam in Deep Ellum at Dallas Comedy House (DCH). That was fun! I took some classes there. I did take summer class there. But y’yknow what? Overall this summer, do you know what I learned? Oh! Do you know what I learned today?
What did you learn?
Saffy: I thought that Belgium was inside of Germany. And I thought that forever. Because I thought… I just thought that. I played a board game, it was Ten Days Across Europe, and I discovered Germany is not part of Belgium. Did you know that?
Steve: Is it part of Holland?
Saffy: It’s its own country.
Steve: Is Holland in Belgium?
Saffy: Don’t test me. Because I don’t know.
Let’s talk a little about your references, since we’re talking about your music tastes. You draw from some older references in your act. You’ve got a joke about Foo Fighters, and you have your shirt based on a popular Nirvana shirt.
Saffy: That is very true. Four years ago, my uncle showed me “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. My Unc — I call him Unc — he showed me it. And then a few days later my dad showed me, “I really like this band.” And I went, “I know that song! Unc showed me that song!” And, after that, I just really liked Nirvana. I had a CD for a while, but then I lost it. I would put it in my Walkman and listen to it during class. But I really like that kind of music. I like music that kids my age don’t really listen to. A lot of them I don’t understand. I showed my best friend a lot of that music — I taught them who Nirvana was and I feel proud of that. But, yeah, I have different references, I have different music choices. I think a lot of it stems from when I got my Walkman for the first time, and my cassette player, and my dad was like, “Here’s a Screaming Trees album — go wild!” It was like, “Yeah!” A lot of it is my dad’s kind of music. Like, he’ll show me something and I’ll go, “That’s pretty cool, let’s listen to that!” And then I got my dad into rap music. I got him into 2 Chainz. It was fun listening to 2 Chainz every day. [I got] the American Pie soundtrack, and different soundtracks. American Pie 2 — that’s what it is. But, yeah, I like music. I like… do you want me to name people I like?
No, that’s OK.
Saffy: OK. Because I’ll keep going. It’ll be people you don’t know.
I believe you.
Saffy: Because I know deep cuts.
OK, give me one deep cut.
Saffy: What’s the name of that Screaming Trees cassette that I have?
Saffy: Yeah, Anthology!
So what’s it like going between the comedy world and school world?
Saffy: I usually don’t tell the kids at school that I do stand-up. Because I learned my lesson. Because you don’t tell people you work with that you do stand-up. They go, “Oh, you should do stand-up at my house!” or “I’ve got a joke for you!” Teachers do that to me: “Come to second grade class! You’ll really get a lot of material out of that one.” OK. That’s nice. But I mean, it’s not very different. Comedians are like children.
Saffy: Right? You wouldn’t say? That’s what Bob Newhart said, that comedians never grow up. But a lot of kids… I don’t have many children friends. Well, I mean I have acquaintances, kids I met at school. But it’s not that “I’ll share my drink with you!” kind of friendship. That’s gross. I mean, I don’t care if people drink after me, and I don’t care if I drink after them, except my best friend has this thing where if she gives me any of her spit, I’ll get mono. But she doesn’t have mono. She just has this condition where she’ll give me mono.
So is it weird to have people talking about sleepovers, and you have to say, “I’m headlining this weekend”?
Saffy: That’s true. My best friend, her birthday – I feel bad about this – but she was having a birthday party, and she was telling me about it, and she was going, “Saffron, we’re going to get some ice cream! Do you want to come to my house? We’ll have some cake!” I went, “Oh, you beautiful flower. I can’t because I’m headlining a show tonight.” And she was like, “Oh, that’s OK! We’ll do it next time.” And we did, and I got some cake, and it was fun. But I don’t really participate in a lot of school things where I have to go places after school, because I know I can’t really do it. I do orchestra at school, but I don’t really have to go anywhere after that. Next question!
OK. next question: What are you looking forward to from 2017?
Saffy: I want to meet Koko the Gorilla, Betty White’s best friend. That’s my goal, because I really like Koko the Gorilla. I would like to… hmm. I would like to write [more] stories. What am I looking forward to? My show coming out! Stuff like that. Shows. Life. In 2017, I’m going to middle school! I just realized that! That’s not gonna be fun. I don’t like khakis.
You have to wear khakis?
Saffy: Yeah. I can deal with everything but khakis.
Steve: You could also get home schooled, who knows…
Saffy: Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say. My mom might home school me.
Let’s say you strike it big. You’re doing TV, movies, and you’re off to L.A. What are you going to miss most about Dallas?
Saffy: Oh God. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, actually. I mean, if stuff happens, I can’t stay in Dallas. But Erykah Badu lives in Dallas, and Andre 3000 lives in Dallas, so you never know. My goal has always been to move to New York. I think the thing I’ll miss most about Dallas is Deep Ellum, and everything here, especially Uncle Uber’s, the places I did stand-up, my friends in Deep Ellum, some of the comedians and being able to walk into a place and have them go, “Oh, hey Saffron!” because that’s always awesome. In New York, people are kind of mean to me, I guess? Because I’m nice, and I guess I’m from Texas, and in Texas you smile at people and they smile back at you — that’s a thing! In New York, they don’t smile back at you. It makes me think, “Oh, well, I guess I just wasted a smile.” But I think I’ll miss a lot about that. It’s weird because Deep Ellum’s starting to… what’s that word when things are changing?
Saffy: Lots of gentrification going on. Have you noticed that? How old dive bars are changing?
Steve: Our very own home comedy club… have you seen what they did to the old DCH? [DCH moved to a different location, still on Deep Ellum.]
Saffy: It’s like three different stores! But all in one! It’s terrible. I mean, it’s giving people jobs, but it’s sad to me that it happened. And I don’t like change, so it’s weird.
Steve: Y’know, I was interested in the “moving to California” question, too. You ran off to New York in there somewhere.
Saffy: I did. If I’m going anywhere, it’s probably gonna be to New York to go to college. Hamilton went to school when he was 14! But I want to go to New York’s School of Visual Arts. I want to go there and I want to get a Bachelor’s degree, and then I’m gonna get a Master’s degree, and then I’m gonna take a break probably, and do a movie.
What will your degree be in?
Saffy: Fine Arts. That’s what my dad got his degree in. Well, was getting his degree in. Oh, and then my Master’s? I’m gonna go to NYU, and do science stuff, and then I’ll get my Master’s. And then I’m gonna be 40 by then, and my best friend is gonna be Koko the Gorilla.
Will you still be doing stand-up?
Saffy: Yeah! And I’m probably gonna have a penthouse. Actually, nah, I don’t want a penthouse. Those are too much work. I’ll have a three-bedroom nice apartment in Manhattan.
I know, I’m going fancy. That’s my answer.