Ian Edwards is one of those comedians who is so good at what he does, you sometimes forget that he’s actually doing a rehearsed act. So at some point, between jokes about how much cocaine has helped rock music, hitting on other women at his own wedding and his meat-eating friends ridiculing his vegan diet at his funeral, there is always someone in the crowd who reacts in horror, has if Ian were relaying these stories over a coffee date. But most of the time, you won’t hear those shocked gasps over everyone else laughing so hard. (For the record, Ian doesn’t do drugs, isn’t married and obviously is not dead.)
Ian is one of the most respected comedians working in Los Angeles today. He performs regularly at all the major clubs, all around the country and will be headlining the Sacramento Punchline Comedy Club from November 1-4. He recently launched a podcast called The Preposterous Sessions, and is working on a second podcast for soccer fans. Despite the fact that he loves non-American Football, he’s also one of the coolest guys on the planet. AmericasComedy.Com spoke with him recently at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles about comedy, coolness and getting buzz.
AC: What is your comedy origin story?
IE: It’s about an immigrant in New York, trying to figure out a way to communicate in a completely new society that he’s only seen on TV. So I’m working at this Burger King and I have this friend who’s an American, his name is Greg Ellis, and Greg is just funny as shit and whenever Greg would work, time would just go faster. You’d just gravitate to Greg. And it just hit me, “Why don’t you tap into your funny side?”
When I was growing up in England and Jamaica, I was funny. But somehow [in New York] I was just shell shocked. I was shell shocked like Obama talking to Romney in that first debate.
Then one day I was doing voices on the drive through when I was taking orders and this dude just drove around and said, “Hey, man, was that you on the drive through? That was funny as shit, you should be a stand-up.” And I never saw that guy again ever in my life, but I took a stranger’s advice. I mean, I’m 20-something years old, what the fuck am I doing with my life? There’s a comedy club right down the street, let’s try some open mics.
Then, just watching TV, I saw all the guys on TV were New York City comics. And the first time I went into the city and was like, “Oh shit, I wanna be here.” And I just started doing spots, found someone to represent me and made it happen.
AC: It seems to have worked out for you. You’ve also written for a lot of cool things. You did the new In Living Color, how was that?
IE: It was interesting, it was hectic. It was with Keenan [Ivory Wayans], who hired me for my first writing job, so that was good. And he’s cool and funny and smart and I learned a lot. Basically, I got paid to learn.
Like, I’m a good sketch writer, but there’s always something you can learn, there’s always been something missing and I found out what that something is. I’m interested in writing, I’m interested in “funny” and why things work. And I was thinking about why sketch shows don’t work and I thought of the first In Living Color – and this is even before they started back up – and I was thinking about why that show worked and I realized it’s that all the sketches were character based.
Keenan would tell us, “If your character’s a woman, write down everything that’s funny about women. Then, say the character’s a homeless theme, write down everything that’s funny about being homeless. Then you have the situation. Write down everything that’s funny about that. Then, say you’ve got 10 things that are funny in 5 categories you can just slide into the sketch, and then you’ve got stuff left over for your other sketch or for the next time you do that character.
And it’s like a funny drama. You know how they reveal stuff about characters across episodes, like on Homeland? Well, you gotta do those same things in sketch. Instinctively I knew it and I’d do it sometimes, but not all the time.
I’m into the science of funny.
AC: I think about you and all the cool stuff you’ve done, but a lot of it is writing, which is behind the scenes, so it’s not necessarily something you can put on a billboard if you’re going to Kansas to headline for a weekend. Do you ever find that frustrating?
IE: You know what’s frustrating about it? I know why you phrased the question that way, but it has nothing to do with my credits, it has to do with representation. Take Hannibal Buress; he wrote on two TV shows and he can headline a weekend in Kansas, so if you’ve got good rep, you’ll be fine. You need people who believe in you. Every day, somebody makes it that you never heard of before – how did they do it? They had someone who told the powers that be, “This dude is bona fide.” That’s what you need, not credits.
AC: You don’t have to answer this, but a little birdie recently told me that you and Erik Griffin had a serious conversation with some younger comics at dinner the other day…
IE: That’s hilarious.
AC: So what did you tell them? What would you tell a younger comic is the most important thing?
IE: It’s pretty easy and it’s the same corny answer. Like, take an example of a rock band. How does a rock band do it? By practicing in their garage for hours every day after school, then they get one shitty gig in a bar and then they have the next gig in three months and they practice every day for that. Comics are the lazy version of a rock band.
It’s hard, sometimes you sit down to write and you got nothing, but if you do sit down and write every day, you’ll have a lot more than you’ve got now. Like, once in a while, you get that gift, like “holy shit it just fell out of the sky!” But you have to learn how to do it, practice like a rock band. Comics have got to write before and then go over their set afterward. It can’t just be, “You did five spots tonight? That’s good, what did you learn?”
The two examples of that are Angelo [Bowers] and Jerrod [Carmichael], they love comedy and they want to be funny, so they worked at it, so other comics enjoyed watching them. Your first fans are gonna be other comics. The time you’re going to make an impact is when comics spread the word to other comics. Like, my name has been to more meetings than I have. You can make your reputation precede you if you work hard.
AC: Some of your jokes are almost offensive; how much do you worry about the audience not necessarily going along with you?
IE: Sometimes. Like, when I was in Madison, there were three guys on the lineup and I was the headliner. And I’m a strong comic, but after the show there were some people who would go to the opener and say “great show, you were so funny” [because] they liked him more. Then I’d be like “Shit, I was funny, but they don’t like me…” but fuck it. I just need to find my fans, that’s all that tells me. Some day I’ll do a show and everyone who comes will know what they’re in for. I’ve seen Jim Jeffries do it, I’ve seen Bill Burr do it and I just need to find my audience.
AC: Sort of related to that is that you’re cool. You’re one of the coolest people we have around here [as Paid Regulars at The Comedy Store].
IE: [laughing] I agree, I agree.
AC: You and Cort [McCown] are some of the coolest guys we know, but there is so, so much self deprecation in comedy now. Do you ever worry you’re a little too cool for school and somehow that’s not translating?
IE: Nah, I never… like, to me, I can’t say I’m not aware that other people think I’m cool. But, to me, I have my own idea of what’s cool and I’m not it. So, I’m not worried about other people thinking I’m cool when I’m not my own idea of cool. Being self-deprecating is a way of being accepted, being cool is a way of being accepted, being a hot chick is another way of being accepted. It just is what it is.
About the Author: Amy Hawthorne is an LA-based stand-up and writer and the founder of ComedyGroupie.com. She is convinced that the food industry is being unduly influenced by Big Avocado.