The Charleston Comedy Festival (CCF) Stand-Up Competition just wrapped up its seventh year, turning out three stand-ups — all relatively new to performing — who'll be joining the big boys of comedy this January at the Charleston Comedy Festival.
First-place audience winner Jeremy McLellan, third-place audience winner Mike Brocki, and judges' winner Anthony Driver (who also won the second-place audience vote) will all perform at the festival's annual Stand-Up Competition Winners Showcase on Friday, Jan. 16 at the Woolfe Street Playhouse. We caught up with these three fresh faces to find out more about who they are, both on and off the stage.
By night, born-and-raised Charlestonian Jeremy McLellan hits open mics around town. But by day, he works at the Disabilities Board of Charleston County, where he handles the administrative side of the Adult Day Services program. The program provides employment and vocational training, among other things, to adults with intellectual disabilities.
McLellan has worked with this population since he was 12 — in college, he studied the history of disability policy and later joined the organization L'Arche, which creates intentional communities of people both with and without intellectual disabilities. "It's like having a family but no one's in charge," McLellan says. "You just have to figure stuff out. That was really intense — I loved it, but it was hard."
His time with L'Arche was spent in Chicago, but he didn't start getting into comedy until after he came back to Charleston. Jason Groce, last year's CCF Stand-Up Competition winner, is one of the first people who encouraged McLellan to try comedy, McLellan says. "I was always very opinionated, very intense, and I needed a way to channel that into something constructive. I was friends with Jason, and he suggested comedy. So I started doing open mics."
That was about two years ago. His first ever open mic performance was at TROM, or the monthly Tin Roof Open Mic, which Groce hosts. McLellan also took the mic at the Big Gun Burger Shop Open Mic, which erstwhile local comedian Dusty Slay used to host each week, before he moved to Nashville.
This is the second time McLellan's competed in the CCF Stand-Up Competition. Last year, he made it to the semifinals. Now, with this year's win under his belt, he's working toward eventually doing comedy full-time, be it writing, performing, or both. And he's getting better all the time. "It's always scary," he says. "I used to get up there [on stage] and just black out, not remember anything, but you get over that."
Anthony Driver is a comedian based out of Atlanta who came to comedy after asking himself a simple question. "I was thinking, if I didn't have to pay bills, what would I do? Drink beer and talk shit. So that left radio and comedy," he says. He chose comedy.
Driver's only been performing for about a year, and it's been a pretty good one. He takes the stage at several clubs around Atlanta, including the site of his first-ever performance, the Laughing Skull Lounge.
Before starting stand up, Driver was on his way to a graduate degree in electrical engineering, after completing his bachelor degree at Tuskegee University. But it didn't really stick. "All I did was waste time and play Playstation," he says. "After a year I got kicked out."
Today, when he's not at the mic, he works as a construction manager. But like McLellan, he'd like to take on comedy full-time one day. "That's definitely a vision I have. I think anyone who does it as much as I do has that dream. But I try to focus on having fun. It's all about having fun for me," he says.
Although there are certainly more black comedians in Atlanta than there are in Charleston, Driver is still in the minority in his chosen field — but then, he's pretty used to that. "It's kind of been that way my whole life," he says. "Growing up in El Paso [Texas] and Columbus, Ohio, I'm used to seeing a lot of white people, Asian people, Hispanic people — a mix is what I'm used to. It's just a chance for me to get grounded in my own identity. I just have to be confident in that."
Like Dusty Slay and Jason Groce, both of whom are (or were, in Slay's case), evangelists of sorts for Charleston's comedy scene, Mike Brocki is very passionate about the local stand-up community. "It's a very tight-knit community down here, very supportive," he says.
Brocki's been in Charleston for about a year and a half, after spending four years in the Air Force. Although he's always wanted to pursue comedy, he wasn't able to start performing regularly until he moved here. "I could mostly just write while I was in the Air Force because I was in Delaware, and there was pretty much no place to do comedy in Delaware," he says. "Only when I moved to Charleston was I able to get in front of a mic three times a week." He hits the open mics at Park Circle's The Sparrow on Mondays and Joe Pasta on Tuesdays, and saves Fridays for random shows that pop up or monthly open mics, like TROM. Brocki also runs his own open mic at King Dusko on Thursday nights.
As for style, Brocki says he likes telling "joke jokes." "I grew up listening to Mitch Hedberg, and he's a one-liner kind of guy. That's how I started out, but I do tell a few stories now," he says.
To continue expanding his repertoire, Brocki just signed up for the Level One improv class at Theatre 99. And while doing stand up isn't remotely scary for him, that's not the case with improv. "I am scared of improv," he says. "I have such respect for improvisers." And the skills you learn in improv, he says, can be helpful to you in all areas of life — even if you work in IT, which he probably will when he finishes his computer science degree at Charleston Southern University.
But as far as he's concerned, stand up will never take a backseat to his IT career. "I want to do stand up full-time, for my whole life," he says.