Kevin Shea makes a living being funny, whether it’s on tour or on TV shows such as his most recent appearance on UrbanflixTV‘s Laugh Tonight with Damon Williams. But he’s had a very interesting road to stand-up comedy, and his journey is far from over.
I recently sat down with Kevin to discuss how he decided that comedy would be his profession and some of the influences that shaped him. We also pulled back the curtain and delved into what it really means to be a stand-up comedian. Get to know Kevin Shea here, and then check him out on UrbanflixTV.
Brittany Frederick: Was there a moment where you realized that you were funny? Or that comedy was something that appealed to you?
Kevin Shea: In comedy, there are people who are funny and then there are people who know how to be funny on stage. Then there’s that rare group that just kill it automatically. They’re just funny all the time. My friends that I grew up with are way funnier than me; they just never got on stage. I didn’t realize I needed to be funny, until after the first time I really got punched in the nose.
I grew up in a predominantly white area – very middle-class, very steel mill, and not a lot of Asians in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. And then my first time I got hit in the nose, I’m like, “I don’t think I want to get hit in the nose anymore.” It was much easier to use humor to offset or calm situations.
BF: That touches on something that happens a lot in comedy – people create humor out of some very difficult situations. How do you take something uncomfortable, or even possibly painful, and turn it into something funny?
KS: Those are the best moments. You take something that’s uncomfortable, and you spin it and everyone’s going to laugh. It’s still maybe sad, and still might be f–ked up. But it’s still funny The first real example I saw as a child is the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are in the car [with] the one black guy in the back, and they go over a bump and they shoot him in the head. I laughed so hard. I knew I shouldn’t be laughing at this guy getting shot, but it was such a ridiculous moment.
That’s what I try to do with anything on my end that’s dark. Everyone has varying degrees of how deep they want to go into their sets. My thing is if it’s just funny to me, how do I dig myself in a hole in the beginning and then dig my way out, and then it can only get better. Sometimes if you start light and then you go darker, ou can lose them quick. You can’t be like, “I love frozen yogurt, but Jesus Christ, how about that looting?”
BF: How do your TV appearances, such as on Laugh Tonight with Damon Williams, compare to a live set? Given that they’re different mediums and they have different time constraints.
KS: With most comics, anything that goes on television, it’s already been honed. It’s been practiced several times. When doing a TV set, and working on a bit, you want to cut the fat. You want the joke as tight as possible. Whereas [with] a regular set, a lot of my stuff is conversational.
Depending on how much time I have during a regular set, I try to do the first couple of minutes on something new that day, and talk it out. If it hits, I’ll keep it, and then I just tighten it up and I’ll record it. And when I’m doing a headlining set, it’s got to be longer, because you’ve got to keep the audience engaged for an hour. But TV is pretty lean. It’s basically an advertising for your regular hour. That’s the way I look at it.
BF: Is there anything that you think people don’t know about stand-up? It seems like many people don’t understand the true grind of being professionally funny.
KS: It’s twenty-four [hours], seven [days a week]. You have to love it. There are comics who know how to do it and know how to write jokes, but I feel like you have to live it every day. And not necessarily just getting on stage and just writing jokes. It’s about living a bit of a life – to have life experience and using that for the stage. Everything I do, everything I experience is for the stage.
BF: When did you decide that you wanted to make comedy your profession and not just a passion?
KS: I didn’t think I was going to be a comedian. I just knew there was this form of entertainment when I was a little boy. I was growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, and on Evening at the Improv I saw these guys talk on TV and it was funny, [like] Eddie Murphy. I didn’t realize what Eddie was doing was stand-up. I just was like, I want to be cool. I want to be a cool guy that people listen to.
Then I got into horror movies and I wanted to get into horror, but I didn’t know how to start that. But I did know how stand-up worked. So what I did was hey, I’m getting into stand-up, I’ll get big in stand-up, and then I’ll make horror movies. I’m still working on the horror movies, and still working on getting huge in stand-up, but I didn’t realize you could get money until I started doing television.
I think I liked the lifestyle more than the actual amount of money. There’s nothing about me that likes being in an office setting, which in the end we have to work with corporate people anyway, the bigger you get in this business. But once I started making some money, then I started focusing on just doing stand-up, and then it wasn’t about the life. It was more of a career choice. It went from a lifestyle to a career choice. And then now, after 15 years of doing it, I’ve come to the conclusion [that] this is it. I don’t know what else I’m going to do.
BF: You mentioned Eddie Murphy. Are there other people who are particularly influential or funny to you? And do you find that your sense of humor has changed over the years?
KS: There’s so many people out there that are great. There’s only certain guys that I’ll actually come in the room for, or take time to watch their specials. Dave Chappelle is one of them. Bill Burr is great. And they’re very similar because they’re very contrarian. They’re very against the social norm at the time. I do appreciate that.
And then I like the classics, like Mitch Hedberg was great. I saw him and thought, man, that’s cool joke structure. You don’t see a lot of short-joke comics anymore. I like long-form, but there’s something about the whole one-liners. And he had a very sing song flavor, which I appreciated.
I started liking certain people when I first started, just because of the local scene in San Francisco. And then you get to a certain age where you become your own person, and you’re just worried about working on your own stuff. You kind of watch other people for motivation or inspiration. You know who every time I listen to him, he gets my brain going, is Hannibal Buress. He’s got a unique sense of what’s funny to him and he rolls with it. He doesn’t necessarily take topics that people are talking about right now.
You can watch Kevin Shea in Laugh Tonight with Damon Williams, streaming now on UrbanflixTV.