As we're now trapped inside the Easy-Bake Oven that is Salt Lake City summer, these are the months people dread the most sometimes when trying to go out. Not gonna lie: Standing around for three hours in a sweltering room with 200 of my closest friends to see three bands play under hot lights isn't my first choice for a summer night. Which is what makes standup
comedy shows a fantastic choice for heatwave entertainment, as you get to chill out in a room with drinks and laugh your ass off in an air-conditioned room. Today we chat with local comedian Sam Poulter about his career and thoughts on the Utah comedy circuit. (All pictures courtesy of Poulter.
Sam Poulter on Facebook
Gavin: Hey Sam, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a 22-year-old comedian/web-developer
but I think most of my appeal stems from looking like what might’ve happened if Crispin Glover had sex with a baby-faced volleyball player. I spend most of my free time dwelling on what I could be doing better, and subsequently drinking those anxieties into submission instead of trying to become a better person. I feel like this keeps me stunted emotionally so that instead of going back to school or doing something for another person, I can continue to chase my dreams and think only of myself at all times.
Gavin: What first got you interested in standup comedy, and who were some of your favorite comedians growing up?
I didn’t get a lot of attention from my father growing up; anyone who has ever seen me run or throw a ball can testify to that. I knew that if I was going to get validation, sexually or otherwise, it was going to have to come from complete and total strangers. But since my body is tender like a baby calf destined to become veal, athletics had to be ruled out. The next logical thing for me was comedy
, probably due to all the specials I watched on Comedy Central growing up and my own self-hatred. Mitch Hedberg instilled a love of one-liners and misdirection in me as a youngling; I also liked Greg Giraldo and Zach Galifianakis a lot. I’ve got too many favorites to list now, but lately Sean Rouse and Hannibal Buress have really been hitting (my) spot.
Gavin: What officially brought on the decision for you to attempt it as a career?
I was in a band that broke up when the two other guys got engaged, and as much as I love playing music, I don’t enjoy writing it nearly as much, and wasn’t about to do the whole singer/songwriter thing. I did, however, want to get involved in some type of performance art where I only had to be reliant upon myself. I’ve always been a comedy fan so I googled open mics in Utah, and that’s when I learned about Wiseguys. Three weeks came and went before I built up the courage to give it a shot. I can’t say I regret that decision.
Gavin: How was it for you breaking into the local lineups and getting gigs?
It took me about seven months before I was put on my first show, and I shouldn’t have been put on a minute earlier than I was. Everyone’s different, but I wanted my material to speak for itself. I never asked anyone to put me on a show, because I knew that they’d ask [first] if they thought I was funny. So that’s what I worked on: writing better jokes and just making more of an effort all the way around. The bookers around town hit the mics and are involved in the scene, so they notice when you’re working hard, and when I did get asked if I’d do a gig the first time, it felt like more of an achievement than if I’d have pestered someone over and over for months. Which reminds me: special shouts out to Nicholas Don Smith and Jason Harvey. Those guys were the first people to take a chance on me, and we’ve continued doing shows together since. They bust their asses to make things happen, and they’re both dear to my loins.
Gavin: When you first started out, what were some of the lessons you learned about performing?
Be confident; if you believe what you’ve written is funny, then there is no reason not to perform it with confidence. Don’t be shocking just for the sake of it, unless you can do it in a way that’s clever and insinuative at the very least. If your battle plan is to be blatantly offensive just to elicit a reaction from the audience, it’s never going to go your way, which is something that happens fairly often when people are starting out.
Gavin: What's it like for you personally coming up with material and deciding what works and doesn't?
I don’t have a specific method or a formula; I’ve only been at this for a year and a half, so I still have an infinite number of things to learn. They say it takes anywhere from ... 8-15 years of doing stand up before you can hack it. Usually, I’ll try to take something that’s grounded in reality, like an experience that I had, and just make it dark and surreal. I’m a big fan of misdirection and the ‘ol 180 twist. Like I said though, I’m still a baby and have a long ways to go in terms of becoming the comedian I want to be. I feel like I’ve just recently become comfortable enough onstage to where my personality and mannerisms bleed into my act and I don’t know where that will take me. As far as knowing whether or not it works, that’s just a matter of hitting every mic in town and seeing how the different crowds react to it.
Gavin: How is it for you interacting with other local comedians, both as friends and competitors?
I’ve made a lot of friends in the scene and some of them are people I see on almost a daily basis now. A few of us are around the same age and came into comedy at around the same time, and I think we all champion each other more than we envy one another. It’s definitely one thing to talk shit and put each other down; that happens a lot because it’s funny. But at the end of the day, I’d love to see any one of these guys make
it—mostly so I can ride their coattails to riches and infamy.
Gavin: You've been coming up through the independent and underground circuits in town. How has it been for you being in those groups and working your way to bigger shows?
I wouldn’t change my experience up to this point. I don’t feel any real division in the comedy scene here between a club like Wiseguys and the “alternative” rooms, which are typically bar shows and things of that nature. Any headliner who has hit the road has done bar gigs, and there’s no real reason I haven’t been to Wiseguys as often over the past few months. Now that my schedule has opened up a bit with school and my job, I go every time I can. I love that club, and everyone there has been nothing but awesome to me. The alt rooms cut your teeth in a way that I think is necessary starting out, but they’re also easier to ease your way into if you’re consistent. At a comedy club, people are there specifically
to see comedy, as opposed to just stumbling onto you doing a set, so they’re usually more generous. They’re both necessary.
Gavin: What are are your feelings on seeing the more recent influx of people trying out open mic nights and making an effort at doing standup?
I think they should go to all the open mics and learn through trial and error. That’s the only way to go about it in my opinion.
Gavin: What's your take on our standup scene and the work coming out of it?
I think it’s really underrated. I remember going to my first open mic at Wiseguys, seeing Abi Harrison and Jackson Banks for the first time and just being like “Holy shit, how do people not know this exists here? How have I not known?” Now we’ve got more opportunities to showcase around town thanks to the hard work of people like Natashia Mower, Nicholas Don Smith, Jason Harvey and Christopher Stevenson. More comics seem to be coming through Salt Lake, as well as people coming to see them, and I think it’s really cool and awesome.
Gavin: Who are some of your favorites you like to check out around town?
I honestly feel like my favorite comedians are local and the list is long, but instead of talking about them I’ll go ahead and say, Mac Arthur. And Amerah Ames, and Aaron Orlovitz. And Levi Rounds, Nicholas Don Smith, Jackson Banks, Jason Harvey and Natashia Mower. And Jonathan Falconer. Abi Harrison, too.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the clubs that provide comedians a forum to perform, and the work they do to help bring in audiences?
We only have one real club in Utah and that would be Wiseguys, and I love that club. Every Wednesday they do open mic and it is PACKED, the audience is always ready to laugh. It’s an awesome place, and I’m grateful for its existence.
Gavin: What's your opinion of national stand-up comedians coming through town, and what that does for the local scene?
It’s rad because usually when someone established comes through town, someone local will get the opportunity to open for them, which hopefully leads to the comics who live here getting some exposure and making connections. If the show goes well, there’s also the added benefit of having people in the audience become more supportive and aware of the local comedy scene and ultimately how awesome I am. Are you reading this, Dad?
Gavin: What would you say the impact of events like the SLC Comedy Fest and the Comedy Carnivale have had on local performers?
I think they’ve had a big impact in terms of giving comics the opportunity to showcase in front of amazing comedians from all over the country and make connections that can further your career. Christopher Stephenson, who runs the Carnivale, is a super-driven guy, and I think it has definitely brought some attention to the scene here, locally and nationally.
Gavin: What advice do you have for people looking to getting into standup comedy?
On Mondays at 7:30 there’s an open mic run by Jonathan Falconer, Jackson Banks and Wallace Fetzer at the University of Utah Union Theatre. On Tuesday there’s the Comedy Roadkill open mic run by Johnny Brandon at Moe’s Diner at 7:30, on Wednesdays there’s the open Mic at Wiseguys in West Valley City (be there by 6:00 if you want a spot), and on Saturdays there’s the Split Sides Split Wrists open mic run by Nicholas Don Smith. I’d say go to all of those that you can and always stay focused on improving the quality of your material above everything else, the rest comes with time.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Right now I’m booked for Christian Pieper’s Adrenaline Show at Wiseguys on Sunday, July 5. It’s a super cool show where all the comedians have to adhere to an unfair and strenuous rule set by Christian in regards to how we do our set. Either we’re forced to sing our jokes or tell them without a microphone, or people in the audience get to throw things at us throughout our performance—something along those lines. Definitely come out for that one. Aside from that, myself and Jackson Banks are going to be collaborating on some short film stuff in the near future and I’m going to keep writing material and hitting the stage whenever I get a chance.