As Interviewed By Brian McGuinness
Conducted May 28, 2008 - Published June 3, 2008
Drew Fraser is a great comic that too often flies under the radar in the crowded New York City comedy market. But with a half-hour Comedy Central Presents under his belt, and as a warm-up comic for the past few seasons of the show, Drew is one of the best out there today. Jack and I caught up with him outside a show he was hosting in Chelsea at Taj.
Brian: What was the moment you decided, I'm doing stand-up for a career.
Drew: You know, when I saw Eddie Murphy. He was my inspiration to tell jokes for a living. My father was where I got my humor from. My father has a really, really weird sense of humor. He always used to make us laugh. So he's where I got it from. But it wasn't until I saw Eddie Murphy that I said to myself, "Okay, you know what. This is probably what I'd like to do for a living."
Brian: Do you have a big family?
Drew: Yes. six children, three boys and three girls. Mom, dad, nieces, nephews, so it's a pretty large family.
Brian: I've heard other comics say if you're from a big family, you're more likely to be funny because of all the different types of personalities.
Drew: I can agree with that. I can see where that makes perfectly good sense. But they also say that children who come from small families or only children are a lot more creative because they have to pretty much entertain themselves. There's nobody else to bounce [ideas] off of. They become eight characters within one.
Brian: How do you feel your comedy has changed over the years? Well first, how long have you been in the game?
Drew: Fifteen years.
Brian: How has it changed?
Drew: I've gotten better at it. I can read an audience very well and I can pretty much at this point in my career entertain anybody regardless of age or race. So it's become multi-faceted, if i may use that word. Or if I'm saying it correctly.
Brian: Yes, you can use it. I'll make sure I type it correctly.
Drew: There we go.
Brian: How has that come about? Do you think it's just practice and doing a lot of different types of audiences?
Drew: Practice and doing a lot. I never really typecast myself into one audience or one age group. I never ran from anything. You'd be surprised how people in this business will hire you to do a show and everybody in the audience is thirteen. They go, "Okay, make 'em laugh." and you're like, "What?!"
Drew: Yeah, so you have to adapt to that and I have adapted to that. I'm pretty confident doing any type of crowd.
Brian: Is any topic off limits to you?
Drew: Um, no. One thing I've learned in this business is it's not the joke, it's how you say it. So, you can talk about anything. I once did a joke on stage about JFK Jr., who had just died a week before in the plane crash with his wife. And I did a joke about that and the whole crowd was on the floor.
Brian: What was it?
Drew: I can't remember now, but I remember the compliment I got after. A patron came up to me at the bar and said, "That was a funny joke. You took a chance and you won." And I said, "That's what it's all about." Another comedian once told me you have to go on stage and take chances. If you do everything that's safe, you're not going to grow. So you have to sometimes take a chance. I went on stage, took a chance, and the joke just went beautiful.
Brian: Who or what makes Drew laugh?
Drew: I love situational comedy. One of the best at it is Ellen DeGeneres. She is pretty much the queen/king of situational comedy, however you want to refer to her.
Brian: Uh oh, is that a gay joke?
Drew: Not really. I mean, if there is a king, she's it. If there is a queen, she's it. I love situational comedy. I think the best jokes is anything we can sit there and say, "Oh my god. That's so true. That happened to me or that happened to my cousin or my aunt or whatever." But I'm a big big fan of situational comedy.
Brian: You're saying sit-coms speak the truth?
Drew: Yes, most sit-coms are based around somebody's family or life experiences, so it may be exaggerated, but it is definitely the truth.
Brian: At this point they're more real than reality shows.
Drew: Oh yes, of course. Yeah, reality shows are ridiculous.
Brian: What makes you roll your eyes?
Drew: When a comedian doesn't know when to get off [stage]. Come on, you know when to get off. Listen. The people have left. Everybody's out there playing cards in the audience. Say good night. Don't sit there and torture yourself. Or us! Say good night.
Brian: What was your first time like on stage?
Drew: My first time on stage was absolutely great. It was a really really great time. I had a house full of people that came there to see me. First time I went on stage I actually told all my friends that I was going to do comedy and I had about fifty friends in the audience. It was a funny story. I was at a club in Boston and I was the only black comedian on the show and half the audience was black. So by the time the emcee brought me on, he was like, "Okay, this is the guy I think a lot of people came to see." And I just had a great great time and they allowed me to be in the rotation that night. It was really good.
Brian: So you got the bug right away?
Drew: Right away.
Brian: Cool. A lot of comics do different things to get their ideas. How do you decide what's going to be a joke for you, what's your process?
Drew: If it makes me laugh, then nine times out of ten I think it's going to make the audience laugh.
Brian: Do you feel it's weird since we're comics and we make ourselves laugh?
Drew: No, that's part of it. If you don't believe in what you're saying, the audience isn't going to. So if it didn't make you laugh, it's definitely not going to make anybody else laugh.
Brian: There has to be some sense of cockiness.
Brian: We have to make ourselves laugh.
Drew: Right. If I think it's funny, they're going to think it's funny.
Brian: Do you see yourself as a stand-up for life, or what else would you like to do?
Drew: I would love to break out and do the TV and the sitcoms and all that stuff. I truly truly admire comedians that have not broken out into television and Hollywood, but are gazillionaires just doing comedy. It's unbelievable. There are 1,000 comedians you could name and no one would know who the hell you are talking about. But they make an incredible living just doing stand-up and that's all they do.
Brian: Inspirational for sure. How do you think the state of New York City comedy is right now? Do you think it'll get saturated?
Drew: Not New York City. I don't think it can ever be saturated with comedy. One, we have a tri-state which his very very helpful. We got New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Everybody wants to come to New York City. It's a melting pot and we have an influx of people every single solitary weekend. So it's never saturated here. You can go on stage seven days a week and play for 300 people for fifteen years and half the city will still not have seen you. So it's definitely a great great place for stand-up.
Brian: What was it like finding out you were going to get your first Comedy Central special?
Drew: I can't even begin to tell you the excitement. I didn't really get a "call", I was asked. I was asked during the taping of the previous season by the big executive producer.
Brian: Were you hosting the shows?
Drew: Yeah, and he said, "Do you have thirty minutes? Can you give me thirty minutes next season?" I said yes. He said, "Okay fine. You got it."
Brian: Just like that?
Drew: Just like that. Actually comedians were calling me telling me, "Hey Drew, congratulations" because you know everyone knows before you do for some reason. It got leaked. I was overjoyed and overexcited. So for that entire season I just put together a slammin' half hour set.
Brian: So what was it like when you quit the "day job" and were confident you could make a living off of this?
Drew: That's very very funny. I didn't actually quit the day job. I got fired from the day job which led to this. It was, how do they call it, divine intervention? God says, "Okay, you know what? If you stay in this job, you're not going to pursue that. So, I'm going to fire you from here and then you're going to pursue that."
Brian: What was the job and what happened?
Drew: I was working for Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Had a great great job, fresh out of college. I was making a whole lot of money, but my calling was to do this. So, God just said, "If you follow this path you're going to be here and you're going to wish that you did this." So he got me fired from that job, and this was the path.
Drew: To this day I have no idea...
Brian: ...Oh come on...
Drew: ...I was on probation, they had to give me a reason and were like, "Okay, today is going to be your last day" and that was that.
Brian: Do you have a worst gig story?
Drew: I don't really have a worst gig story, but I have had bad sets. There have been times when you're on stage and you're like, "Okay, this is not my night" or "last night was better", but I think a true comedian does not rest on his standing ovations and he doesn't cut his wrists when the crowd is not laughing. You can kill on Monday and bomb on Tuesday. As long as you don't completely ride the wave of the standing ovation and don't let the bombing get you down, you're going to do great in this business. Because it does happen.
Brian: What goes through your mind, you've been doing this for fifteen years. I'm sure every now and then you have a set that doesn't go great. Do you get nervous or upset, or do you say, "You know what, I know I'm funny. Just these jokes aren't working right now."
Drew: No, I don't get nervous doing stand-up. I get anxious when I do television. I do get little butterflies that I'm about to be on TV because TV is forever. But just going into a comedy club, that's just five, ten minutes on stage. You either forget about it the next day or you move on depending on how well or how bad you did. Television is the only point where I really get anxious.
Brian: Makes sense.
Jack: How do you deal with the nervousness and anxiety when you have a TV gig?
Drew: Like I said, it's anxious because you want to get out there. So once you get out there, you get that first joke. The most important thing is to get that first joke out there. You get that first joke and the crowd laughs, it's pretty much downhill [in a good way] from there. You get that first joke out there and you don't get the chuckle, there might be a few more butterflies. You go to your next one and then you just keep rocking and rolling.
Brian: You said before one of your biggest inspirations was Eddie Murphy. As a black comic, you don't do a lot of black/white jokes. Whereas Murphy and [Richard] Pryor, there was a lot of that. But you don't really do that at all. Was that a conscious effort to not do that, or just when you were writing stuff it never came up that way?
Drew: It wasn't a conscious effort not to do it. I try to do more situational comedy which I find to be a lot more universal. It can go right down the middle. Your audience can be all white, all black, all teenagers, all senior citizens, or everybody could be six or seven years old. But if it's situational, nine times out of ten it happens to everybody. So it just crosses the barrier all the way across the board.
Brian: Do you feel better or more comfortable in front of certain audiences? All white, all black, do you ever feel like, "Okay this is my crowd"?
Drew: I tell you what my type of crowd is, if everybody is between the age of 25 to 35. Then I can really say this is my crowd. I'll have no problems in there whatsoever. College shows get me nervous. Because I been out of college for ten-something years. So to go back into the college realm, it's like, "Okay, what's going to make these young folks laugh?" I have to do a whole lot of myspace stuff, facebook jokes, then the wheels in my head have to turn a little bit. If I see a mature, working-class [audience], the wheels aren't going to turn because I know exactly they know what I'm talking about.
Brian: Anything you're working on for the future, besides your new half-hour special hopefully?
Drew: Nothing for television in the midst right now.
Brian: We'll try to get you in touch with Ellen.
Drew: Haha, yeah that would be lovely. You never know. In this business, things are just a phone call away.
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