Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tanner Nicholson

Talking standup comedy with the SLC-based performer.

Posted By on September 1, 2016, 1:30 AM

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The fall season is a great time to catch up with comedy shows and open-mic nights. Chalk it up to college kids  looking for entertainment, or people getting their last nights out before it becomes too cold to walk around. One of the frequent faces you'll be seeing on the local circuit is Tanner Nicholson, whom we chat with today about getting his start in standup, as well as his thoughts on the local comedy scene. (All pictures provided courtesy of Nicholson.)

Tanner Nicholson
Tanner Nicholson on Facebook

Gavin: Hey Tanner, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a failed athlete (I could use former here, but I still do athletic things. It's just nobody cares anymore) and a college dropout. I am a counselor to convicted youth during the day, which is interesting as fuck and pays the bills. I also work in a bar when I get behind on my tab.

What first got you interested in comedy, and who were your biggest influences?

I always was the kid quoting movies and TV at practice or in class or whatever, but in eighth grade I saw The Original Kings of Comedy and immediately memorized Bernie Mac's set. My parents thought, "If you like this, then you'll really like this" and they showed me a VHS of Eddie Murphy's Delirious . After I heard him say "'ll be a 7-year-old, walkin' the dog, no house muthafucka!," I watched every comedian my parents would let me watch (which was quite a few, because my parents were young and hip). Obviously, Eddie and Bernie were influences, but my main influence and hero in comedy is Dave Chappelle. Chappelle's Show changed how I dressed and the music I listened to. It wasn't just about comedy—Dave changed my perspective on life.

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What made you decide to attempt performing standup comedy?

There wasn't ever a "what." After I quit basketball, I wanted to write and act in movies, so I wrote all the time and had no idea what I was doing, so it was just a string of half-cocked projects. Then out of nowhere, like two years ago, a friend of mine, Alexis Crochet, was like "dude, fuckin' do stand up." And I was like, "Fine, I will!" and then I did. I wasn't sure how to feel about it—but Jay Whittaker was the host that night, and he told me to keep coming back, so I was like "aight" and I kept going back. I didn't realize until like my fifth time that Jay only encouraged me because he was over bein' the only black guy in the room—not because I made him laugh or anything.

What was it like putting together your first sets and doing open mics?

It was hard. People would laugh, but I knew that I was struggling converting anecdotes to actual jokes that people can relate to/laugh at (still do), and was very worried about sounding too much like my influences or other comics. Wiseguys was the only mic I did for months, and then another comedian, who I'm not sure even does comedy anymore, invited me to Mo's Diner for the Tuesday night open mic. Between the themes Johnny Brandin came up with, the five minutes of stage time and the comedians that would come to that mic, I got much better at the prep/writing process. The themes weren't always something I could write about, but knowing other people are writing for the same thing and I could still be unique was enough to help me find my voice and presence.

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What were some of the biggest lessons you learned about performing when you first started?

The lesson I quickly learned was that performance and writing are equal. I guess I always knew performance/presence was key—but there were so many comics who were saying funny things in a boring ass manner. There were also way too many people at the mics doing an impression of a standup comedian. Performance has to have an authenticity to it, or everyone can smell the lameness.

What's your process like coming up with new material and figuring out what to use?

Every time something makes me laugh, I write it down. Then, when I get the chance, there is a group of about five or six people I bounce it off of: my brother Garett, my previously mentioned friend Alexis, Aaron Orlovitz, Mac Arthur and then a friend I've had since college who will be called Favre because I know they prefer anonymity. I need to bounce it off of most or all of them because they all offer different valuable input. It's tricky sometimes. For instance, if Mac thinks something is funny, I doubt the joke almost immediately, but if Mac hates it I'll give it a shot on stage just to make sure. But if it's Favre or my brother, a laugh from them means a laugh from most any other civilian, and when they're like "That shit is weak," it usually is. Aaron and Alexis are there to encourage me not to quit/kill myself. When the others hurt my feelings, they're too good to me.


How has it been for you going from independent shows to playing bigger stages in town?

I'm still trying to book more of the bigger stages. I've been getting opportunities at Wiseguys more these last few months, which was always the goal, but NDS and Aaron with D&C have given me stage time, Jason Harvey and Christopher Stephenson have looked out for me as well. Really, for me it's been about being active at the open mics, trying to put as much new stuff into the scene as I can and hope that the people I think are funny think I'm funny, and put me on their shows.

Do you see yourself branching out and maybe touring, or are you primarily staying in Utah for now?

I'd love to branch out and tour, but it's not really up to me. I need to stay active around here and improve and get a super solid half hour and hope someone invites me to tour. I mean, if we're talking ideal scenario? Myself, Jackson Banks, Aaron Orlovitz, Abi Harrison, Amerah Ames, Mac Arthur and Sam Poulter would go on tour tonight and stay gone until probably Halloween.

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What's your take on the Utah standup scene and the people coming out of it?

I like a lot of people coming out of the scene. I like the different stages and active comics trying to fill rooms and book stages. One thing I have to say about the scene that baffles me is people complaining about a lack of support. What in the whole entire fuck are we thinking here? Do we need cyber-bullies and relentless burns and shit talk? I mean, yeah, pretty much. How the hell are we supposed to make the scene strong, put us on the map so to speak, if we applaud and laugh at motherfuckers with no drive or talent or both? I would put this in a sports metaphor about how people don't "support" me as a basketball player because I'm not good enough to be a pro, and so I explored other venues of expression—but I'm talking to thin-skinned comedians here, so I'll put it in terms of politics. Lots of people want to be President or Congressman, but a majority of them have really shitty ideas that only they get, or regurgitated garbage we've already heard from somebody else, or it's just word-shaped noise. Do we support and encourage those people? Nope. We viciously drag them on the internet and talk shit about their families and organizations. If you want people to appreciate your comedy, make them laugh. If you want people to appreciate your efforts, volunteer at a shelter or something.

Who are some of your favorites you like to check out around town?

I am absolutely my favorite local comic, but I also like Abi Harrison and Jackson Banks because of their inimitable steez. I like Aaron Orlovitz and Sam Poulter because they were the first guys I'd seen at an open mic that was making me laugh but also sayin' "Hey man, you're not bad." I like Mac Arthur and Shayne Smith (his alter ego Shanye is cooler) because their comedy bromance is cute as fuck. I like Amerah Ames because she's better than all of us, but like not even really into comedy like that. Nicholas Don Smith makes me laugh really hard literally every time I see him. I've also always been an Andy Gold fan as well, mad steez and soul despite his Davis County lineage.

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What are your thoughts on the current club system, both major and indie, and the work they do to promote comedy?

I am consistently impressed with the fact that Wiseguys is THE venue in Utah for comedy, but it's also extremely accessible to anyone. Literally, the first stage I ever stepped on as a comic was in a room that Cosby was gonna play not even a week later. I'm more impressed by how many of my peers run their own shows and how many places want to host a show. Jason Harvey, NDS and Christopher Stevenson have all put me on really fun shows in the bar scene. They're always tinkering with the lineups and giving the new guys a shot to cut their teeth.

What's your opinion of national stand-up comedians coming through town, and what impact do you believe that has on the local scene?

I mean, "national" stand-up comedians wanna get paid, so they're obviously going to make a stop here. They keep making stops because Wiseguys is an excellent club and people buy tickets. As far as impact on the scene? I'm not sure it does anything that the internet or Netflix doesn't already do, but I like that Keith [Stubbs] and Wiseguys make it so we don't have to go to Vegas or some shit to see our favorites do their thing.

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What advice do you have for people looking to getting into standup comedy?

My advice to anybody that wants to do stand-up is to do what you know, be real, stay writing and prepare to fail your ass off. Know that everybody in the audience is gonna talk shit about you; also know that 72 percent of the people talkin' shit about you aren't funny either, and bad at talking shit, so don't even sweat it. Also, it would've helped me had I been to a few open mics before trying it out, just to get the feel and see who does what and how long two to three minutes actually is, so I'd suggest doing that. Don't tell the audience how many times you've done comedy, just don't. DO NOT ASK THE AUDIENCE AT AN OPEN MIC HOW THEY'RE DOING! They're at a comedy open mic, and you only have 150 seconds. Don't waste any of it. Before you tell a story about your job, ask yourself, "Would anybody that doesn't work here get it?" Don't bring your friends for the first few times, because you don't want to put your friends in the awkward position of "do we tell him/her to quit now or...? What do we do?" You know? Don't do that to your friends. Get some unbiased honest feedback first. Also, you'll feel better if a room full of people that have never met you laugh at your jokes, trust me. Lastly, don't leave it to anyone else to believe in you. If you don't fully believe in yourself nobody else should have a reason to, and if people don't believe in you—fuck'm.

What can we expect from you over the rest of the year? 

Me? The rest of the year? Pffft. Whatever comes my way. Next month I'll be in Provo doing D&C with NDS, Aaron, Mac, and Shanye. After that, who knows. I'm not gonna quit anytime soon though so you'll see me around if you're come out for shows ever.

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