Open mic nights have gotta be the closest thing to ego hari-kari one can do on a typical Thursday. Think of it. You're a wannabe comedian, and you have a handful of jokes you've work-shopped with who — your mom? So, feeling flush with confidence, you decide to take a chance and hit up amateur night at a local club. It's just you, a stage, and a room full of not drunk enough listeners. The potential for cringe-inducing failure could not be higher. And yet dozens of wannabe-comic-stars do this every week in Charleston. But, come to find out, some of them really have the chops — these three finalists from Theater 99's annual Stand Up Competition included.
Deshawn Mason self identifies as a nerd. From Star Wars to anime, comic books to video games, he's a fully functioning geek. But that hasn't stopped him from finding the funny in life's little moments. Take for instance how he got into stand-up in the first place.
"I was working at Hollister in Northwoods Mall and a guy came in and was like, 'I need pants because I'm a comedian,' — which looking back was a little douchey," Mason says. "But he was like, 'You should do open mic.'" As weird as the interaction was, Mason took the bait and he's been doing comedy ever since.
Now his laid-back observational style will be on display when he opens with his fellow Stand Up Competition winners for Todd Barry.
"I'm planning on telling a story on how I got out of a speeding ticket in Florida," he says. "I might also do this thing where I host a game show on stage. But I'll have to decide if that's a good move. I'll have to see how the room feels." Either way, Mason has a contingency plan: he has two sets ready that he can pull from based on how the audience reacts.
For Mike Goodwin, it's the same story — only you won't hear one thing in his set: cursing. You see, the Camden native calls his comedy as clean as a bow tie. And he's not kidding. "I do a lot of church-based and corporate events," he says. "I can be in a number of different scenes — the clean scene, the Christian comedy scene..." Or the festival scene. Goodwin recently performed at the Boston Comedy Festival.
But let's not get him confused, Goodwin doesn't do like Old Testament jokes. "I'd say my comedy is benign. It's from an African-American male, Southern perspective. Before the whole rape situation, I used to say I was similar to Bill Cosby," Goodwin laughs. "Not any more."
But benign doesn't mean he's afraid to point out the the truth. Take for instance his thoughts on subdivisions: "They're building new homes but call them plantations. I don't know about you, but I can't live on a plantation. That didn't work out," he says.
We imagine the Stand Up Competition winner Jeremy McLellan would agree. McLellan calls bullshit on racisim, politics, and current events via his social media pages, and he's developed quite a following. Take for instance this recent Facebook post: "Last year, 44 Americans were shot by Muslim terrorists. By comparison, 52 Americans were shot by toddlers. Which raises the question: Why isn't the government doing more to protect us from toddlers? Think about it. They don't share our values. They barely speak English. They steal our welfare. They have no marketable skills. They're prone to angry outbursts. Worst of all? Most of them aren't even Christians. How long until we say enough is enough and deport these free-loading parasites once and for all?"
Bits like that have led to big internet buzz. Just the other week hop-hop artist Talib Kweli shared McLellan's post on gun violence while another post got him to the top of Reddit. But putting your comedy online has its pitfalls. "There's plagarism," says McLellan. "I've had a joke go viral then said it in my set and had someone accuse me of stealing it."
In order to avoid that, McLellan saves his best jokes for his live sets. Which is what his Comedy Fest show will be all about. And perhaps some jabs at Trump too. As McClellan posted today, "Donald Trump keeps criticizing Hillary Clinton for taking bathroom breaks during the Democratic presidential debate. Easy for him to say. Whenever Trump has to go to the bathroom he just holds it for several days then releases it out of his mouth on stage."