Many comedians strive to make people from all sorts of backgrounds laugh, but an incredibly small percentage of them actually achieve that. Amongst them is the Ian Edwards. From six seasons on Punk’d to writing on Saturday Night Live to crushing it on stand-up stages everywhere to his current gig writing for the reboot of In Living Color at Fox, Edwards is making his “colorless” brand of comedy known. We caught up with Ian with a bit of time between writing and performing stand-up in Los Angeles. It’s a long back and forth, but it’s totally worth your time. Ian was as insightful as he was honest. Check it out!
Often when you take the stage you raise your hands up as if you’re letting people know that you have arrived.
I don’t want to take it serious and I just want to have some fun and I also hate approaching the stage because everybody walks to the stage and does the same thing when the show starts. So it’s just like a way to do something different.
Because there’s a tension when you get up there.
Yeah, there’s a tension and it kind of takes it down. I mean, I don’t give a fuck. I’m here to have some fun. What I used to do before was I’d get to the stage, fumble with the mic, try to adjust it, and I said, “Just, just give me a second. Let me fix this,” and after I adjust it, I said, “Perfect,” then take it out of the stand. And just like, “What’s up? What’s going on?”
That’s a little Kaufman-esque.
It’s just to loosen me up and loosen them up. It’s kind of a mislead. The rest of my act ain’t gonna be that goofy, but I can be.
Ian Edwards on Punk’d
“I’m just here to make you laugh.” It’s weird sometimes how you have to bring people around. “Remember the good time you were supposed to have?”
Comics forget that too- the good time they’re supposed to have. This shit’s supposed to be fun. Don’t take this shit serious. We’re in the back pacing, getting ready to not bomb, trying to make sure we do good, and then sometimes you don’t enjoy the set until it’s over.
And even afterwards, you’ll be like, “That one line… I killed, but that one line, I fumbled.” Sometimes, when I’m at shows, I’ll see other comics pace and they’ll ask me that question. “Should I do this thing or this thing?” Is this a HS talent show? Just go up. Have fun. Everyone else in here paid ten bucks to get in.
Sometimes we forget the simple shit.
You’re great at stand-up, but you do so many things. Is stand-up what you want to do?
I think I do three things. Stand-up, write, and some acting. So, I’m trying to do whatever will get me some retirement money.
You wanna retire?
I mean, when it’s time to retire. I won’t have to worry about it and I like being in show business. So, as long as one of the jobs is in show business, whether it be writing, running a show, acting, or being on a show, and then parlaying that into going on the road and doing stand-up because people know me now because I was on a show so I’m more of a draw.
Do you think the industry, the way it is now, is such that you can’t be just a writer or an actor or a stand-up? You have to do all those things?
Where the industry’s at is every comic I talk to, and this has happened with me and my agency, they want you to do something on YouTube. You do something on YouTube, you’re most likely to have written it, acted in it, shot it…edited it, and uploaded it. So, they want you to become YouTube stars and that’ll make their jobs easier, you know? It’s funny; I was talking to another comic the other day and it’s like-people are already on TV, they have power of TV, but the people who are in control of TV, they don’t believe in TV anymore, so they go to the Internet, which is their younger brother that’s coming up and they look for talent.
Everybody on YouTube is trying to get on TV, but, I don’t know. It’s like TV’s the ultimate goal and if you’re in control of it, stop sweating the Internet so much. All the major networks have Internet channels and they put money into other channels to make money to create, you know, things for people to watch on YouTube. Focus on your shit. You’re on the top of the hill. So it’s like they’re going backwards to go forwards.
Every time I watch you stand-up, it’s really funny, I just see that you’re one of those guys, no matter what, you’ll find a way to do stand-up.
I’m like that cause I’m afraid to stop. When I first started, I sucked; I was awful…I did a lot of sets and I wasn’t smart enough to pay attention to the sets to maximize them, so I could get better incrementally. I just kept making the same mistakes over and over again and then it was like, some people, were just real natural.
This one guy, Jerrod, he was from Queens, and he would get on stage and just kill. One night, he was at this club, killed, first time I ever saw him and the host was like, “Damn. Who’s this fucking guy? This guy’s pro. Give it up for Jerrod, first time on stage,” and I’m like, “Shit. I’m on my 50th and look at this dude,” but then Jerrod stopped for a year or two. He got married and shit and then he tried to come back and he had lost it. He did the same jokes and it just wasn’t there. So, there’s only one person that stopped and came back just as good or better.
It’s a rare thing. You saw Seinfeld struggle in Comedian.
Even after he shot the special after the Seinfeld show, those were some of the same jokes that he did from before and it was like a shell of himself, you know? He has his whole process to get back to being Jerry Seinfeld, the comic.
So I understand that presiding fear and I don’t want you to stop doing stand-up.
And I’m from New York too, so we’re like rhythm comics. We feed off of going on stage night after night. If I miss a night, it throws me off the next time I’m on stage. That’s just one night.
Who would you say that you look up to in comedy?
I look up to Patrice O’Neal. They had an article in Rolling Stone.
“The Death of a Stand-up.”
I guess Billy Burr now, JB Smoove. Like, these are people that I know.
Did you take Patrice’s death hard?
Yes and no.
You didn’t know him that well?
We were pretty good friends. We used to talk on the phone. Any time he came to LA, he stayed at my house. I used to live right around the corner and he would call and say, “Is Hotel Edwards open?” when he came through and we would just hang out. Even when he taped Def Comedy Jam, he didn’t stay at the hotel. He stayed at the house.
Did he know you when you started out?
I knew him from when he moved from Boston to New York and I was in New York then and then we were cool then, but then I left to come out here because I got a writing job. And then I was out here and when he started coming out here, going back and forth to New York. I used to share an apartment with this other comic in Jersey City, this comic named Will. Patrice took my room after I left. So the connection is always there. I knew him before I left, then he took my room.
Would you cite Patrice as a big influence in your comedy?
Yeah, in a sense that if you have a conversation with Patrice, whatever the topic is, you’d never look at that topic the way you thought about it before again. He just blew the doors off it and you’re like, “Shit. I need to think more.” Some comics used to tell me, they like my comedy because I’m pretty thorough.
You pay attention to detail.
Yeah, paid attention to detail. “That was a sharp joke,” and stuff like that. I asked comics, if they compliment me, just cause I want to know me, “What do you mean by that?”
“What do you find specifically funny?”
Yeah, “What’s funny about that?” Like one comic would say, “You’re thorough,” but when I talk to Patrice, he’s passed thorough. He’s the template. Billy Burr too, there’s a template for just thinking stuff out more and pushing passing the normal boundaries and taking it further which is what I like to do anyway, but now, because of them, when I look at stuff, I just like… like I’m doing this thing right now about marriage is prostitution, so it’s not complete. But, you know, just when I say it, the crowd pulls back and it makes you want to pull back, but now I know I should just step on the gas harder. Drive through and knock some people over and then get them on board.
Ian Edwards on Conan
Absolutely. I think a lot of comedians are scared of doing that because they’re afraid of losing the audience, but I think that’s a great way to find the core of your audience. Those people will find that hilarious.
Exactly. Like I do the goofy intro so the crowd likes me. So, sometimes when I get into the darker stuff, they’ll be like, “What happened to the goofy stuff?” “I’ll get back to it. I’ll get to it in a moment. Right now, I’m going to make fun of this thing that I shouldn’t make fun of. See what happens.”
It’s like “Did you forget that you were at a comedy show?”
I always remind them of that. I remind the audience of that at least once a show. Like I do this thing about I don’t want to have kids, cause, you know, they’re a lot of maniacs out there in the world, and I do this thing about if I had a daughter, I would want the ugliest daughter possible. Ugly to the point where she would come to me and be like, “Daddy, I’ve been raped,” and I’d be like, “Stop playing around. You know that didn’t happen. Go to your room,” and then she’s like, “Just playin’, Dad, but I did go down to the alley to try to get raped though,” and then she describes the encounter with the rapist.
Then, someone would go, like last night, somebody went, “Ohhh…” and I’m like, “Bitch, did you forget I said in the beginning that I didn’t have any kids? So how is this an “ohhh” moment. What we’re talking about doesn’t exist, but I maybe I’m taking away credit from myself. Maybe I painted such a great picture, she forgot that the kid didn’t exist.”
You have said that your comedy is colorless. Why do you think that distinction is important?
I think some of the best comics have universal appeal. The trick to it is how do I make black people still want to come and see me and if they do come and see me and, if they’re in the crowd that night, still laugh and, at the same time, make white people laugh. You know what it is? I guess the easiest thing to do when you’re doing that type of comedy is to tell the truth no matter what color you are. So, I joke along truth lines and I talk about life experiences and how I think about something. It’s along truth lines, so it makes it colorless. The truth makes it colorless.
Your truth supersedes color lines.
I ask because I wanted to know what you think of the label of “urban” comedy or clubs that specifically market towards that like the J-Spot or the Comedy Union here in LA.
I mean, it exists. There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s a place for it. I enjoy urban comedy. I don’t even like saying “urban comedy.” That makes me sound not black. I like black comedy. When I first started, there was only white comedy clubs, so I did white comedy clubs. Then when the black comedy clubs came around, I started doing black comedy clubs. Then, I found a place in New York, the Boston Comedy Club, where everybody would go, where it was the toughest white club because there’d be Puerto Ricans there and white people there– and that was my main club.
It was the Boston Comedy Club. Me, Dave Chappelle, Patrice, when he came to town, started working there, Rich Vos, Norton, this group called Red Johnny and the Round Guy which doesn’t exist anymore, Jim Bruer, Tony Woods, and there’s probably a few names I left out, but we were just all there. Robert Kelly.
Crazy. It’s an interesting debate that a lot of people that fall under that urban comedy category like to just have a sense of humor that’s directed towards black audiences.
Before, that used to be a problem. Like, I’ve seen a lot of urban comics that used to struggle with, let’s say, a black act, for the sake of this argument, in front of white crowds. But now, white crowds understand them. Like they don’t have to change anything really. I’ve seen black comics coming to quote white rooms. The only difference is there’s an “extra white circuit” right now.
“Extra white circuit?”
It’s like I do universal comedy, but I’m black. Then, there’s white people that do comedy, but they’re not hipster. Those white comics that just do regular comedy go into a hipster room, the audience will just stare at them.
You honestly believe that? I think you would do great…
I do fine in hipster rooms. I cover everybody. I wasn’t even aware that that hipster shit happened until it happened. But when it happened, they invited me to do their shows and I’m did them and I did well in them.
At the same time, I’ve seen Finesse Mitchell do well in a hipster room. His act is so tight.
Yeah, he’s such a professional. He has it all worked out. But, what I was saying, is some white comics don’t do well in hipster rooms like when you mentioned earlier about Dane Cook and that crowd not being there to see Dane Cook (when TJ Miller tweeted about Cook bombing at the Laugh Factory). That’s what I’m talking about. So, the hipster rooms are “extra white” rooms, but I do fine in them.
Do you think those cues are important for comedy audiences? Some comics that do those hipster rooms don’t want to be known as that.
Hipsters don’t want to be known as hipsters.
There are those hipster rooms or “extra white circuit” or whatever you want to call it and that’s a type of the comedy, but that shouldn’t be divisive where certain comics can’t play certain rooms just because of what they’ve been labeled.
I agree with you, but hipsters– You know what’s funny? I think they started… What did they used to call it at first? What did they used to call hipster rooms at first?
Yeah, alt. And you know, they were kind of persecuted or kind of shitted on, but now they’re in control. They are the power of comedy. If you look at Comedy Central, like most of the specials, most of the comics are, you know, there’s a good percentage of them, that are hipster comics, you know? So now they do frown on a certain type of comedy that maybe the rooms that didn’t let them perform before now that they’re in power… Like I’ve been to alt rooms and they make fun of Dane Cook, Whitney Cummings…
…which I don’t appreciate all the time.
Listen, I like hipster comics. I like alt comics and I still think Dane Cook is funny and I still think that Whitney Cummings has talent. Some of the biggest alt comics have made fun of them and I think you know their names. You’ve probably seen them do it.
Yeah. I don’t think you should, unless you’re doing it in a roast way where you’re kind of honoring them–
No, they’re shitting on them. They’re unzipping their pants, undoing the fly button, and they’re pulling it down and they ate a whole bunch of stuff to upset their stomach, and they’re shitting on them.
With that in mind, what do you think of these two things, Tyler Perry and Key & Peele?
I saw another episode of Key & Peele last night. It’s a funny show and I hope it lasts. They’re actually one floor down from where I’m doing In Living Color at.
Congrats on that, by the way.
So what do you think of Tyler Perry? Outside of his fan base, he’s kind of universally hated.
Right. I think I joined the universal hate, but I got to give him props for his hustle.
Absolutely. No one can take that away from him.
I think he’s too arrogant right now to learn to be a better writer. He thinks–this is what I don’t like about Tyler Perry–Tyler Perry used to come on Oprah and the crowd used to cheer, he used to let them cheer and take the cheer in as if “I deserve it. I deserve it,” you know? There wasn’t many signs of humbleness. Like Steven Spielberg or someone bigger, like somebody that’s been in the business a lot longer, they would tell the crowd to just hush. They’ll make the crowd calm down, but like Tyler–I’m just not into–I guess you should just want the praise, but, at the same time, I don’t think he’s evolving and I think he’s a little arrogant.
It’s not fair to me to say because I haven’t watched any of his movies in their entirety, but, certainly from the trailers, they seem kind of the same.
I’ve seen a lot of them. He’s ripped people off.
I know that because he works outside of Hollywood.
People say, “You cracking on a black man and he’s employed people?” Well, still, he could have paid them more. How much money do you need? And then, slow down. Like, I’m an artist. I want to be a good artist.
You want to put good product.
I don’t just want to abuse my followers. You know what I mean? I don’t think he thinks like that and that’s where I disagree with him.
He just wants it to be a factory.
He’s got a factory and he’s making money. He’s like Fords in the 80s when Toyotas were better.
We’re just going to outproduce them.
So when you got hired to write for In the Flow with Affion Crocket, obviously it was Affion’s show–it was only on for less than a season?
Shit. That’s basically the pilot order. What were you going for with that show?
We were going for In Living Color meets the Chappelle’s Show and then the show had no kind of direction like everybody had a different say– there were three heads and all of them had a different view for the show and they never agreed on one idea. So, it kind of just ruined things. Two people would like one thing and one person didn’t, then a good idea would get scratched.
And they would do that with all the ideas. At some point, they had to make something so then, the good ideas got burned and some OK ideas got made. You know what I mean? It kept on doing that. It started out beautiful. It was fun. It was a great job. A lot of promise. Man, we could do this. I know Affion and I liked going to my office, sitting there, writing, but, you know, somehow, the show lost its way in production.
The good thing about Keenan [Wayans] he has a strong point of view and he doesn’t waver from it. Fox has seen what he’s done before and he’ll be–I just think he’ll have more power to get what he wants and what he knows he wants because he’s established. It’s tougher when you’re Affion and you feel they’ve given you a show.
Yeah. “You have a YouTube following…”
“…and we’re going to give you this show, but you got to listen us,” and then there’s Jamie Foxx, then there’s Affion, then there’s Fox, and it’s just like, it’s just a tough situation.
It was almost doomed from the start?
It’s like I’m on the middle floor of a building and it’s having an earthquake, but it’s also having a “roofquake” and there’s just nothing else to do. You’re just caught in the middle of it.
Was there any similarities or differences with your time at SNL?
SNL‘s like, getting stuff on, is kind of political, you know? If you’re established and you’ve been there and you’re used to getting stuff on, you’ll get stuff on. It was just good to be there, to walk in a room and Lorne Michaels will say your name, just to work there.
Did you get a lot of sketches on?
Nah. Not at all.
But it’s not like the “three heads?”
No. They know what they’re doing over there. They’re an established show. They’ve been doing it for a minute.
So what do you want to do at In Living Color? When it started in the 90s, it was supposed to bring attention to a lot of funny people that were black, but weren’t in the mainstream, but do you think that needs to be done, to the level it was done back then, now?
When you think about it, there aren’t that many black shows on. It just seems like there is because we have a black president. Think about it. There aren’t that many black shows on. In Living Color will have some white people on there, but there’s not that many black people on TV. There’s like maybe one “token” for each show, but how many straight-up like legit black shows– like there’s some TBS shows, but those don’t get considered for Emmys and stuff like that no matter how good they are.
I have a friend who worked on Are We There Yet? and I watched it; they had some pretty good episodes, but I don’t think anyone considered it for anything. Like, at least this show [In Living Color], they’ll look at it to see if they want to give it something. But those shows, they’d be like, “Ah, that’s just TBS. That’s just some black shit on TBS.”
It’s hard with awards and I don’t think people should put as much weight on it if they knew what the voting process was.
What is the process?
There are basically industry people that are voting on the job they have, which makes it incredibly political. I know, for a fact, that there are voters for Emmys or even Oscars that don’t watch all the nominees. They just go like, “I really like this. I’m just going to vote for that.”
Everyone likes Mad Men. I’ll vote for Mad Men. It’s like that?
Yeah, it’s dumb. That’s why, for the Oscars, when Crash won Best Picture, they specifically pointed out in the LA Times that the actors represent the biggest demographic amongst Academy voters and that movie is very performance heavy. A lot of other people, myself included, think it’s kind of maudlin. It’s over the top.
I kind of like Crash, so I might disagree with you. What was it up against?
I couldn’t bring myself to watch Brokeback Mountain. I tried to watch Brokeback Mountain one time and just to be a man, I had sex with a girl in the middle of it, so I never finished watching it.
Those labels, “Best Picture,” “Best Actor,” “Best Writing” aren’t necessarily 100% true.
No, they’re not. They’re not, but they have value, you know, I’d love to win an Emmy, just to keep working. It’s cool to walk into a job with an Emmy. You can pitch a show with an Emmy. It just gets people on you.
There’s a clear bias against comedy. The Golden Globes have “comedy and/or musical” as a category and it feels like we’re a redheaded step cousin. “You guys don’t make people emote sadness, so you guys get your own shitty category.”
To be honest, as an actor, I’m better at drama, then comedy. Comedy’s harder. There’s a certain timing and shit to it. Even when I watching Key & Peele, they’re both funny and they did a sketch about the two R&B singers from the 80s and they’re singing their songs and there’s a bunch of girls in the audience and one of them is letting the other one know that his verse is that he’s in love with her. And it’s like a lot of Peele’s eye movement and facial gestures and just his timing making, more than lyrics, that sketch work.
Comedy Central had John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show that was a showcase of sort of those “hipster comics” then they had Gabriel Iglesias’ Stand-up Revolution, and now, the Ruckus with stand-ups presented by Russell Simmons. What do you think of all of that?
I never watched the other shows, so I can’t comment. It’s funny that it seems like they have one show for each demographic, which is, I guess, financially smart for them. I wrote on both seasons of the Ruckus, performed this season, and. like, all I just know is the Ruckus show.
I guess there is no shows of black stand-ups on right now. There’s no Comic View. No HBO Def Jam. There’s Starz. I’ve done stuff on Starz, but not everybody has Starz. I didn’t even see the stuff I did on Starz. More people have Comedy Central, so it’s good for people to see what’s going on in black comedy right now from a five minute set standpoint like they did back in the day with clips at Def Jam.
Would you rather have a show like Ruckus on Comedy Central, like there is, or would you rather have a show where the funniest people, at their discretion, are put up together?
You know what the thing is? It’s Comedy Central. I’ve worked with them before and everything they do is theme based. It’s theme based. When I worked on Chocolate News, we were making a black news story and if we wanted to talk about stuff that was going on now, they wouldn’t let us because that would go into Jon Stewart’s theme. He was going to allow us to follow him and we can’t touch his theme. The black shit is the black shit. The hipster shit is the hipster shit. I don’t care because I can perform on all those shows.
Would you like it to be where it didn’t matter?
I just make it not matter for myself. That’s all I can do by doing universal comedy. The world is like that so I can’t change the world. Maybe two people I can change.
Ian Edwards-The World Stands-Up
Or, you know, a crowd of 50…
A crowd of 50. It just is what it is.
What’s the biggest crowd you’ve performed in front of?
I did a show in Trinidad once at a race track once in front of 30,000 people.
Shit. How did that go?
Good. You know, I had my heart in my throat and did my thing, did like 10 minutes because there’s a bunch of comics on the show and left them laughing.
In a stadium?
Yeah, we did a stadium, then a racetrack.
How is that set up? That’s a weird for comedy.
Exactly. It was outside, early evening to late evening.
Either way, you got adjust your mechanics for that.
Well, the crowd stopped and they listened. They came to see the show and they listened, but I was worried about, like, all these people are out there as far as I can see doing all kinds of shit and then a comic comes on stage and they listen. I just hoped they listened when I came up. I went up, they listened, did it, and got off. Didn’t do one minute over what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t going to push my luck. I think I want to tell you that one of the crowds had 50,000 people, but I’m not sure. Pretty much the whole island was there.
I wish, it was like 10 years ago and cell phone cameras weren’t that big, so I don’t have any pictures of it, but I wish… it’s crazy.
It must have been beautiful. I always just love the sound of that many people laughing. It’s like an ocean. Do you have any projects or albums or specials coming up that you can let us know about?
I’m thinking about doing an album. I want do an album more than I want to do a DVD.
Why– just audio versus video?
Cause you can listen to it in your car, on your iPod, get it on your computer. I think the reverse works better. Everybody is making a DVD. I think making a CD would just be better cause people can just listen to it on their device.
It’s more accessible.
It’s more accessible. I think people are making a mistake making DVDs if it wasn’t put out by one of the major channels.
Are you going to do it yourself?
I would do it by myself. Like, I’m always overlooked by Comedy Central for specials. It doesn’t make any sense. I think I’m one of the best out there.
Because you’re too universal, you think?
Maybe. I don’t fit a theme. It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve worked for them before, writing and stuff, but like if I named the people that have specials and they can give you a reason Ian Edwards–I don’t think they can give you a legit reason why Ian Edwards does not have a half hour. So, I’ll just put out a 1-hr DVD at some point.
Visit IanEdwardsComedian.com to see more clips and see where he’ll be performing next as well as following him on Twitter @IanEdwardsComic.