For Clayton English, the recent champ of NBC’s Emmy-nominated reality series “Last Comic Standing,” victory is only the beginning.
He and the other finalists are halfway through a nationwide tour that will show the audiences of America that these comics are as funny in person as they are on the tube and will pass through the Mahalia Jackson Theater on Tuesday, Nov. 17.
English hasn’t had time to bask in the glory of his recent win, the culmination of years of hard work. The national tour began almost immediately after the final episode of the series.
“Our first show was probably a day after the finale, and we’ve been on the road ever since. I haven’t really got a chance to enjoy it or celebrate with my family. … I haven’t soaked it all up yet,” said English.
English’s big win on “Last Comic Standing” might never have happened if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of his friend and fellow finalist Karlous Miller and for the sudden evaporation of a dead-end job.
“We were working together at that cellphone kiosk in 2005. And we came in to work one morning and the kiosk was gone. … They took the computer, they took all the phones. And we’d already been doing a little stand-up at that point, so we just kept doing it. That was 10 years ago.”
Ten years of stand-up gave English a confidence onstage that complements his casual, homey delivery style.
“I like to describe my style as conversation. I think of it like talking with somebody that you always have a good time with, you know, like that one cousin that you’re actually happy to see when they come around because you know he’s going to be the life of the party. That’s what I try to bring.”
Of course, there’s a difference between making your cousin laugh and getting a giggle out of judges like Norm Macdonald, Keenan Ivory Wayans and Roseanne Barr. English’s secret to success? Not worrying about the judges too much.
“At first, I was like, OK, these are all people I’ve watched and looked up to. They’ve had careers that I’m trying to emulate. But at the end of the day, I decided not to look at them when I went out there because I didn’t want to intimidate myself. … I just focused on the audience because the audience was like the fourth judge … so as long as I can make the crowd laugh, I think it’ll be all right.”
English learned how to make a crowd laugh in the rough Atlanta comedy clubs, where dedicated comedy scenes are few and far between and most sets are performed in bars or restaurants.
These rocky beginnings helped English keep the stress of trying to be funny on national TV in perspective.
“Sometimes, the people there don’t even know it’s supposed to be a comedy show, so it’s like you’re interrupting their evening by doing comedy. Once you’ve had to deal with the rough crowds in Atlanta, it sharpens you up and you learn to adapt to situations. I’ve been in way worse situations onstage, so like, TV, lights, camera, judges, cool. Nobody’s throwing bottles at me. I’m not gonna get beat up afterwards. I can take this pressure.”