Coming in for a safe landing with Derek Sheen
Just a few days removed from performing at what must have been an insanely fun Comedy Exposition in Chicago, Derek Sheen shook off some jet lag and absolutely nailed the interview that follows.
As a matter of fact, if you want to skip these introductory paragraphs and go directly to the Q and A, that’s fine. Chances are your humble author isn’t going to come up with anything as good as Sheen’s insight into stand-up.
He did his first open mic at age 13, toured with the great Patton Oswalt and has done comedy festivals from Wilmington, N.C., to San Francisco. His album “Holy Drivel” is really funny and features disturbingly awesome cover art and that’s enough of me writing.
TC: How was Chicago?
DS: Chicago is ridiculous fun. It’s one of my three favorite cities — Portland and San Francisco are the other two — for stand-up. Their scene is so good and the audiences are very open to anything.
It’s a place I like to go to test new material, too. Their Comedy Exposition was one of the best weekends I’ve ever experienced as a comedian. No hyperbole.
Also, the food scene is stupid, in how good it is.
TC: You got started in stand-up very young. Do you remember who was the first person to tell you that they thought you were funny?
DS: My mom was the person who encouraged me, from a very young age. She loved playing stand-up albums in the house. Very subversive stuff, too. None of that Borscht Belt crap: Lenny Bruce, Carlin, Mort Saul, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Nichols and May. She’s been my biggest supporter and also my biggest critic. She’s the original comedy nerd. Heck, sometimes laughter was the only thing we had to get us through. I am always grateful she taught me humor as a survival skill.
TC: Box wine contributed to you getting gout, but you got a very funny bit out of it. So the pain was totally worth it, right?
DS: If you’ve never had gout, it essentially feels like every bone in your foot/feet has been shattered, because the cartilage crystallizes so that your bone is scraping against shards of hardened material. It is, essentially, the funniest disease you can discover you have while you are walking from Gate A7 to N22 at Atlanta-Hartfield.
Also, totally worth it!
TC: You’ve toured with one of my all-time favorite performers, Patton Oswalt. Did you watch his shows each night and if so, what was that experience like?
DS: I made it a point to watch Patton every single night because he is my comedy idol and also because I loved watching how he made the sausage every night. Patton isn’t a comic who just goes up and “does” his material, he allows it to live in the moment and each show is different. Sometimes that audience energy is different. Sometimes Patton’s energy is different and watching how a performer of his caliber is able to traverse any situation and still make it memorable and fun, there is nothing but good that can come from that. It is always an honor to get to see him work, especially from the side of the stage.
TC: When you tell a joke that is met with an immediate gasp, due to the imagery or hitting someone’s religious sensibilities or whatever, then laughter follows, is that more rewarding in a way than just getting immediate laughs?
DS: The stuff that I’m most excited about sharing with an audience is the stuff that challenges them. I am definitely a tension and release kind of guy and there is no better feeling than being able to ratchet up a group of people and then watch the relief on their faces when we all land safely on the ground.
Although, I do enjoy getting people to just gasp and not laugh sometimes, by painting them a horrible picture and leaving it on a wall in their brain. For me, that’s just as rewarding. Words are truly powerful things and finding new ways to shock or stun a group of strangers, without resorting to junior varsity level racism or trigger words, is kind of a thrill for me. There’s nothing wrong in shocking people with how smart you are.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes:
— Cameron Esposito (@cameronesposito) July 17, 2014