by Ryan Meehan
San Francisco Weekly describes Grant Lyon as “a hilariously sharp observer, not one of those tired white-guy bellyachers.” Born in Los Angeles, taken to Chicago for middle school, high school in Sacramento, college in Santa Cruz, Grant has been around. He is a practitioner of sophisticated immaturity – his comedy blends intelligent wit with pure silliness all while maintaining a relaxed surfer-dude personality. A history major in college, his infatuation with this nation’s past and present stand out throughout his show. A former collegiate soccer player with UC Santa Cruz, Grant decided to pursue a career on stage instead of on the field. He was a featured performer at the Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival in Seattle, the recent winner of the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival in Atlanta, the Asheville Comedy Festival in North Carolina, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, winner of the Colorado Mile High Comedy Competition, appeared in the prestigious San Francisco Comedy Competition, and has opened for names like Bobby Lee and Robin Williams. He is a member of the sketch comedy group Four In The Back, performs improv regularly, and is an accomplished, award-winning actor. In addition, he is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, was a finalist in the 2010 Slamdance Screenplay Competition, and won the D.C. Shorts Screenplay Competition. His film Interview Date, which he co-wrote and produced, has won awards at film festivals across the country, including an Audience Award at the 2011 DC Shorts Film Festival. He has appeared on the nationally syndicated Bob and Tom Radio Show and his material is played on Sirius/XM satellite radio. His comedy is clever and honest – a unique combination of social commentary and ridiculous observations, and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: First off, congratulations on being the 2014 winner of the Laughing Skull Festival in Atlanta…Who were the other finalists, and what do you think it was about your set that impressed the judges enough to declare you the winner? When you left the stage after your final performance, did you really feel like you knew you were going to win?
GL: Thanks so much for the congrats! It was a really fun festival full of lots of hilarious, talented comedians, and I feel very honored to have won it. The other finalists were Caleb Synan from Atlanta, Johnny Beehner from Wisconsin, Leo Flowers from Los Angeles, Joe Larson from New York, Jen Murphy from Los Angeles, and Chinedu Unaka from Los Angeles. I took a big gamble with my set in the finals that I think helped me win. The gamble was that instead of doing lots of short jokes, I spent 7 minutes of my 10 minute set on one story. It’s a gamble because if the audience doesn’t come along with you, doesn’t enjoy the story from the beginning, you’re stuck in that one story and there’s no real way to jump ship on a story in the middle. So I knew doing a long story was either going to crash and burn and I’d place last in the finals, or it was going to make me seem different and stand out from the other comics. Fortunately for me, the latter was the case. When I left the stage, I knew I had a great set, but I didn’t necessarily think that I was going to win. Comedy is very subjective. You can have a great reaction from the audience but not with the judges and vice versa. However, after my set, I felt like I had a great time on stage and the audience really enjoyed it, so I was going to be happy with anywhere I placed. It was a great feeling when that place turned out to be first. RM: On your webpage, you gave a few pointers for comedians who are performing at festivals…My favorite one was “Don’t Hand Business Cards Out to Everybody”, which you followed up by saying “Seriously, nobody likes this guy…”. So when you are at a comedy festival and somebody does hand you a business card, what is the appropriate way to act? And which did more to render the business card meaningless…Was it the Social Networking sites or just the general douchebaggery of the people who hand out their cards at comedy shows?
GL: It’s the general douchebaggery of the people who hand out their cards willy-nilly to everyone that’s the turnoff. Business cards are a way to stay in touch with people you’ve met and genuinely liked, not to hand out to anyone that’s breathing. I actually don’t mind at all if I’ve had a real conversation with someone and they hand me a card at the end of the conversation. If we’ve had an interesting conversation, you are most likely someone I want to keep in touch with. But we have to have had a conversation first. If you give me a business card and we haven’t even spoken, I’ll be polite, but I’m not going to keep the card.
RM: How has your improv background allowed you to have such success doing stand-up comedy? Is it more than just the performing and crowd work aspects that you can draw from; and what can you tell us about “Four in the Back”?
GL: I think the biggest thing improv helps with is character development. In improv, you need to embody different characters on stage, and I bring those voices and demeanors into bits I’m doing in stand up. I’m not a stand up that plays a character my entire set like some, but I like to have different characters within a joke, i.e. people I’m talking to or things I’ve seen. I think improv also helps build your confidence as a stand up because you realize you can be funny in the moment and don’t have to hide behind your written material. When you can blend your written material with in the moment ad libs, that’s when a performance becomes transcendent. Four In The Back was a sketch video group I had early in my career in San Francisco. Unfortunately, a lot of the videos don’t stand the test of time, but I learned a lot about filmmaking and writing by doing it. I think that’s the best way you can learn – by doing and making mistakes. You can only read so much or talk so much. At some point, you just have to do. I’m very proud of the videos I’ve made in the last few years, and I wouldn’t be if I did not learn the lessons I learned by doing Four In The Back. RM: When you’re brainstorming ideas for jokes, are you one of those comics who writes down everything that comes to mind without thinking about how the joke would go over in front of an audience; or are you the type of person who tries to make those checks and balances right after you think of something funny? Have you found that it’s best to edit and/or question yourself sooner than later, or vice versa?
GL: I think you have to write down everything at first and then edit later. If you let your inner critic define your writing process at the outset, you’ll talk yourself out of every good idea you have simply because it’s not brilliant the moment you think of it. In fact, I write so much down, I’ll write multiple punchlines for the same joke. I try to think of a bunch of alternatives, and it’s not until later that I try to think of which one will actually be the funniest in front of the audience. I also do a lot of rewrites on new jokes. With some comics, everything that comes out of their mouth is amazing and hilarious. I’m the type of comic that needs to try something, rewrite, try it again a different way, rewrite, try it a 3rd way until I figure it out. That process of ‘figuring out a joke’ is one of my favorite parts of comedy.
RM: What were the events that led up to you getting kneed in the junk by a dude in a mullet and a Batman wife beater at the Vaudeville Café in Chattanooga, Georgia earlier this year? Did you ever think when you got into doing this that you’d have to answer a question as ridiculous as that; and did you interact with this guy after the show? What did the club owner have to say about this?
GL: That was crazy, right?! No, I definitely did not think I would have to answer questions about ridiculous situations like that when I first got into comedy. The guy that kneed me is a professional wrestler and he’s used to being the center of attention. He kept yelling out stuff the entire show and disrupting everything. At first, I tried to playfully make fun of him and get his attention. After I teased him, he would pay attention for 3-4 minutes, and then he’d start yelling stuff out again. It was 40 minutes of the same cycle between us. I got increasingly frustrated with him, so after I’d be on stage for about 40 minutes, I finally started ripping into him without being playful at all. I guess he got upset with that, so he walked on to stage and kneed me in the groin. The club didn’t do anything – no one came to my rescue, no one told that guy to leave, no one told him to be quiet. It was unbelievable. I did not interact with the guy after the show at all. He stuck around to talk to me for a bit, but I told him I had nothing to say and we did not talk. The club has since apologized to me and assured the comedy community that nothing like that will happen again. RM: You offer a cool deal on your website where if a person signs up for your mailing list, they can download fifteen minutes of your album for free. Where did you record this album; and what were some of the “Baby Steps” that you had to take before you became a touring comedian? Is working your way into the comedy world something that you think can be taught, or is more of just a trial and error set of circumstances where you are learning new things every day?
GL: Glad you like that deal! I recorded the album long ago in 2009 at the Morgan Hill Playhouse, a cool theater in the Bay Area. I think your entire career in comedy is a series of baby steps. There is no one thing that makes or breaks you anymore. It used to be that one performance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson launched your entire career, but I think now it’s more about just steadily putting out quality products and slowly building a fan base. I don’t think working your way into the comedy world can be taught. I think lots of people can give you valuable advice, but no one can teach you to be funny. You have to learn by doing. The audience will teach you what’s funny, so you have to keep finding audiences over and over. Often times after shows, people ask me ‘how do you become a comedian?’ and there’s really no secret, no mysterious path. You simply have to start doing open mics. The more you get on stage, the faster you’ll progress. In comedy, we often measure someone’s experience by how many years they’ve been doing comedy, but I actually think that’s not a good measure of comedy. Someone who’s been getting on stage 7 nights a week for 3 years is probably going to be better than someone who’s been getting on stage every other week for 6 years. We should really measure experience by number of shows, but no one keeps track of that.
RM: Is there anybody in particular that you would really like to work with someday; and why? Do you feel you’d be a better fit on a writing staff for a late night talk show or a television sitcom?
GL: My favorite comedian working today is probably Dana Gould. He’s smart, insightful, dark and hilarious. I hope to get to do more with him someday. But there are so many comedians out there I respect right now. It’s so hard to pick one, I want to work with them all! I would probably be better on a television sitcom because I’m much more of a storyteller than a one-line joke writer. And sitcoms allow you to really get in a character’s head which is fun. RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
GL: I’ll be headlining comedy clubs all over the US in 2014! There might be some other big things like various film projects in the works that I can’t talk about yet, but we’ll have to see! Thanks for having me on the interview!
Official Website: http://www.grantlyon.com/
Grant on Twitter: https://twitter.com/grantlyon1
Grant on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/grantlyon
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