2016 is already showing great promise for the standup community, as we've started seeing a major shift in comedy shows being planned in the downtown area. Not just at the regular joints, either; we're getting shows up at the University and down throughout many of the bars in town. If you're looking for comedy, you can practically find it every night of the week. One of the fastest-rising names over the past year has been Shayne Smith, who earned a top spot in last year's 50 West competition. And it doesn't hurt having a face tattoo to stand out, either. Today we chat with Smith about his career and thoughts on local comedy. (All pictures courtesy of Smith.
Shayne Smith on Twitter
Gavin: Hey Shayne, first off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi, I am 29. I am way into board games and I like to drink a lot of Diet Mt. Dew. Oh, and also I think life is meaningless and wonderful.
Gavin: What first got you interested in comedy, and who were your biggest influences?
I have always been way into comedy. I was that horrible kid in the 1st grade that was specifically trying to get people to laugh instead of doing anything productive. I have this awful memory of being on a road trip with my father when I was like 12, and him asking about my social life and I confidently proclaimed to him “I am hilarious! Follow the laughs and you’ll find me.” Just saying that makes me physically cringe with embarrassment. I am surprised he didn’t eye-roll so hard he wrecked the truck. As far as my biggest stand up influences, they are all over the place. Chappelle, Dane Cook and Nick Swardson were some of my favorites really early, but these days I love too many to name. Three that stand out in a huge way right now are probably Dan Cummins, TJ Miller and Pete Holmes. I watch Muppet Treasure Island
upwards of 30 times a year. That has nothing to do with your question, but I feel like people should know.
Gavin: What would you say was the biggest catalyst that made you want to try standup comedy for a living?
This answer is super lame, but I am just flat out in love with comedy. The catalyst to me pursuing it as a career was when I realized I was good enough that people might be interested in seeing me do it. As soon as I didn’t feel guilty about people paying me to make them laugh, I realized it’s all I want to do. I want to be on stage or performing in some capacity 90% of all my time. Another factor was my wonderful wife, who is just constantly farting in her sleep. It straight up sounds like she is starting a chainsaw in bed sometimes. She supports me and encouraged me to pursue this as a real thing, and I appreciate her support a ton, and in return I don’t talk in public about her sleep-farting.
Gavin: What was it like for you first starting out and working open mics?
It was brutal starting out. I was so bad. Just genuinely awful. I would not understand how to fit material in the time I was allotted, and I would get so nervous I would verge on panic attacks. It took me a long time to write anything worth keeping, and even longer to get over being so nervous all the time. I started going to more than one mic, and that’s really when I started to get better. I [started doing] about three a week, and I still do that amount on top of whatever else I am usually doing around town these days. Open mic is all
about bombing and taking risks, and once you learn that, it gets to be a lot more fun. I also have to add I am really lucky to have made the friends I did when I started. It made it much easier to have people working hard that were hustling with me to get better, and willing to do stupid things like drive to Provo on a whim for a three-minute clean set for a bunch of very LDS people, just because we were hungry for stage time.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in writing material and deciding what to use on stage?
I used to sit down and just write on a computer. Sometimes I think I should go back to that, but these days I do most my writing by just thinking of a funny premise or punchline and putting it in my phone and extrapolating from that while I walk to work or something. I’ll think about it when I am at a club or on the toilet or whatever, and the bit will kind of develop that way. Sometimes I just develop stuff on stage. As for deciding what I do and don’t use on stage, I shop my material around to other comics, which I think is a common strategy. Just going up to someone reliably funny and saying “Hey, listen to this and tell me what you think.” is a huge advantage you have later in your career, as opposed to the beginning. Often, though, you just have to suck it up and say something on stage to find out if it works. Sometimes it works the first time and never again after, or not the first time but after that. Crowds can be strange that way. So honestly, the easy answer is you decide what you use on stage by just taking risks and failing a lot.
Gavin: What were some of the biggest lessons you learned in your first year of performing?
There were so many it’s hard to even pin one down in my mind. I think the biggest lesson I learned that comes to my mind most often though is that audiences will have fun if you do. I still get off stage all the time and think to myself, "I wish I would have just been sillier and had more fun." Sometimes I think that I subconsciously worry what audiences are thinking about me and it curtails my personality or mannerisms a bit on stage. Gotta work on that for sure.
Gavin: What was your experience like breaking into the scene and getting to know other comics?
It has been absolutely one of my most favorite things about comedy getting to know the other comics. They are all very interesting and mostly dirtbags, which I love. I have had quite a few of my non-comic friends tell me I have been “too much” or “offensive” or whatever. It was genuinely becoming an issue in my life before I started befriending comics. I would constantly feel like I was censoring myself or toning myself down. Hanging out with comics is the exact opposite of that. I can say whatever I want about anything I want. I can call my friends who are comics out on anything they say or do; I can let it all hang out. It’s freedom to me, and it’s so much more important than most things in my life. If you can’t express yourself freely, I think that is a kind of hell. Breaking into the scene has been not as fun. Breaking into comedy is work: being at clubs or bars 5-6 days a week; going to as many mics as humanly possible despite the cost; a lot of bombing and a lot of awkward bad shows; lots of sitting around spending money to just be around other comics. Essentially, paying dues. If you want to break into a scene, you need to pay a lot of dues and work hard. Lots of staying up till 2 a.m. and working at 6 a.m. on three hours of sleep and doing it again the next night, or not buying that game or shirt you want so you can be at a club where no one might even notice you. Lots and lots of failure. It’s worth it, though.
Gavin: I've read elsewhere that you try to keep your comedy on a positive note, and try not to become cynical with your act. What's the motivation behind that direction?
Being positive is the absolute best. Positivity is synonymous with happiness, and who doesn’t want to be happy?! I got lucky, I think, and just figured out how to flip the switch to happy and stay that way. I am clinically positive. Have you ever been heartbroken and someone cheered you up, and even though you were happy in that moment you could feel the undercurrents of sadness and your heartbreak underneath all that happiness clawing away at you? I think most people can relate to looking happy but being sad. I am that in reverse, only I just look happy most the time because I am happy. I genuinely haven’t had a bad day in my entire life. So I want to be positive in my comedy, because I want to share my happiness with other people. I want people to laugh and then when they think on my act after it’s over, they laugh more. Some comics make you laugh and when you think on their act later it doesn’t make you happy because of negative undertones that run through it. There is nothing wrong with that style, but it’s just not what I am going for. Fun is the name of the game over here. Keep it posi!
Gavin: You've actually become one of the fastest-rising names in the SLC comedy circuit. What would you attribute your steady rise to?
Oh man, I am gonna get made fun of a lot for that sentence. I think it mostly has to do with me just working really hard and being kind. People are always complimenting me on how nice I am, and all I can think is that they are being just as nice to me so I don’t get why I am getting praise for this but, OK, I'll take it. A lot of my “rise” also probably has a lot to do with me increasing my actual skill on stage in a short time, not just with my work paying dues. I think a huge factor in my skill increase is just being surrounded by incredible talent. If the other comics in the scene were all mediocre, I wouldn’t be getting better.
Gavin: Last year you competed in the 50 West “Salt City Superstar” standup competition. What was that experience like for you, and how was it working both with and against the other performers?
I loved it. Competitions are weird and sort of arbitrary, so I have gone into the two I have done with a “who cares, what do I have to lose?” attitude that helps a lot, I think. Working with the people in competitions is the best I love the feeling of high stakes and friendly competition with your colleagues it makes me want to be better. It adds a strange layer of camaraderie I think and I am a sucker for camaraderie. Working against them is equally awesome, because it’s fun to trash-talk your friends, and I like that sink-or-swim feeling. On the flip side, though, some comics take losing really hard, and that’s really tough to watch. When I won, I didn’t really say too much about it on social media for a while, just because I didn’t want to be that douche rubbing it in people’s faces.
Gavin: Are you looking to tour outside of Utah anytime soon, or sticking to home for now?
I am looking to tour immediately. I’ll perform in Syria if you pay me. Get me on all the stages everywhere, please.
Gavin: What's your take on the Utah standup scene and the people coming out of it?
It’s an absolute anomaly. I am floored sometimes by how lucky I am to start here. Seriously, we have one of the best mics in the country, and it’s fairly easy to get on. No "bringer" shows. A club that is amazing. A ton of bars and other places that support comedy. A lot of knowledgeable, great comedy fans. And as far as the people coming out of the scene, we have so many great talented comics. It’s overwhelming at times.
Gavin: Aside yourself, who are some of your favorites you like to check out around town?
Ah, SO many. I am always excited to see Jackson Banks, who has the most unique act of anyone in the scene. Andrew Hobbs and Jordan Makin are "pseudo-clean," and have these stage personalities that I never get tired of. Andy Gold exudes confidence on stage and I am constantly jealous of him. Guy Seidel is the worst, and shouldn’t have beat me in the competition we were in, but also he is funny, I guess, if you are into old people. Christian Pieper is best-dressed and hilarious. Rich Wilson is most improved. Tanner Nicholson is a great story teller. Beemo is a personal favorite. Eric Ripley is someone I am always envious of in terms of raw talent. Aaron Orlovitz is my Hebrew brother from another mother. Alex Velluto has wicked good horse puns. Kristal Star cracks me up. Nicholas Smith is the dungeon master we deserve. Teresa and Doug Wyckoff are the only genuine duo in Salt Lake and are wonderful. Jonathan Falconer wears a woman's coat. Jay Whitaker is hilarious and reps the nerd cred with me and (this is lame) inspires me. Oh and of course my comedy best friend Mac Arthur, who is constantly telling me how awful I am doing and generally keeping me humble. He is my favorite.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the current club system in Salt Lake City?
It’s super great. We have three clubs that are capable of having great shows and as many or more bars. It’s a lucky time to be a comic in Salt Lake.
Gavin: What advice do you have for people looking to getting into standup comedy?
Just do it. You have nothing to lose. Have fun with it. Oh, but don’t try to be dirty at open mics. You are bad at it, and everyone will hate you.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
I hope to be writing and working twice as much. Expect me to be anywhere and everywhere people will let me try to be funny and also I am gonna get a Venture Bros.