Interview: Bryant Hicks

Courting Comedy is proud to present its first interview; our subject is Bay Area comedian, Bryant Hicks. Hicks is a figurehead of the Be Funny 365 comedy collective based out of Oakland’s New Parish and an associate of Jabari Davis and Associates. He will be headlining this upcoming Friday (3/25. 10 PM. 18+) at the Historic Purple Onion (140 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA). Tickets are available: here.

Courting Comedy: Who came up with the name Be Funny 365?

Bryant Hicks: Be Funny was a name that Chris [Riggins] came up with. 365, that was from me and my crew being called 365 and about getting fucked up all year round. We took now to being funny all year round.

CC: You’re originally from San Diego right?

BH: I’m from all over. I was born in Sacramento… then we moved to Virginia…then we moved to England, then San Diego, then Oregon (Beaverton), then back to San Diego.

CC: What did all that moving do to you culturally?

BH: I think, where I’m at right now, it’s definitely helped me become who I am because I had to go into places and get people to like me from the giddy-up… There was one point I moved every year for three years.

CC: What place defines you the most?

BH: San Diego pretty much and it’s funny ‘cause just lately it’s been more changing from San Diego to the Bay Area. I’ll always rep San Diego. I’m a Chargers fan, Padres fan.. that’s where my heart is. But then when I go down there, and I hang out with my old friends [I think] “Man, we’re not the same people anymore.” … In general it’s like “Yeah I went to high school with you; yeah dude I really don’t want to fight anybody”… I’m considered like a hippy down there because I want to throw a can into they recycling bin and not the trash can… Up here I like it, everybody’s open, everybody’s all free. The only time I’ve ever gotten into trouble for anything in San Diego was for some weed; I smoke weed freely up here.

CC: When did you start thinking about doing comedy?

BH: I’ve been thinking about doing comedy for a real long time. I actually did it maybe four years ago at a cafe with Tony Sparks was running some other cafe not the Brainwash. Me and my wife, [recollects] it was actually six or seven years ago, we weren’t even married… I went in, told jokes, everybody laughs, Tony gave me tickets to some show, went and saw the show [and thought] “Shit I got tickets to a free show, I’ve made it”. Got married, had kids, didn’t have a chance to do it [until] a year ago my wife had just finished her graduate school [and told me] “You’ve been taking care of the kids, and been doing all this shit, go do [something] you want to do. My boy Feel Woods was down [and said] “I wanna do comedy”, so we went to the Brainwash.

I’ve been doing this for 9 months and since [I started], it’s been exploding. [After] the third time I was at Brainwash I hooked up with Jabari [Davis], got a show [with Jabari Davis and Associates] the next month… be doing shows and kinda in it now.

CC: Wait, so how do you know Feel? He’s a real interesting cat.

BH: Me and Feel work together. We both teach the young black youth, to play games and not fight and stuff like that; we work for a non-profit… [He’s] my road dog, there for years. Cool cat, misunderstood.

I think when I first went out I was always around my friends making everybody laugh. [They’d say] “You should be on Def Jam.” [I replied] “Muthafucka, are you going to put me on Def Jam? You don’t know anybody. You know the people I know.” [I realized] if somebody is going to see me, I’m gonna go out and have to tell jokes. [After the first time] I felt I almost made it… probably for the first two weeks I was sitting around waiting for a call, [but] I didn’t give anybody my phone number. There was no e-mail list back then, I thought some somebody from that random cafe [was going to book me]. And then I didn’t really have anyone to roll with… because coming from the East Bay before we had the New Parish, there wasn’t really spots to do an open mic. [There was] the Layover, which is a cool spot but it’s not really an open mic.

CC: You have a different style than most out there. You have well structured, story-driven jokes. Were you always working that style, is that natural or do you do it to distinguish yourself?

BH: I feel that’s how I tell jokes in general. With work I sell our program to a lot to people and it’s basically telling people about what we’re doing. I tell them “it’s five components” and I break down the program and that’s a big selling point so I kinda do that with my jokes. I’m trying to give you the whole picture and then hit you with [the punchline].

CC: Who are your influences?

BH: Michael Colyar is one of my inspirations. He’s a great storyteller. [Coylar famously donated winnings from a Star Search victory to the homeless of Venice Beach]. When I saw him it’s just the greatest storytelling ever and really funny jokes. I’m a big fan of doing jokes because everybody can talk about “Oh I was in Little Italy and there were all kinds of Italians” and that stuff but it’s hard for someone to go back to work the next day [and say]

Worker #1: “I was at this comedy show, it was hilarious”
Worker #2: “Well what was funny about it”
Worker #1: [befuddled] “Oh… there was this guy, he was doing the Italian voice…”

I like to give one or two [jokes for people to say] “This a joke this guy told”. Then that joke gets passed along… My mom is a big comedian, not a real one but she’s been known to tell a funny joke. I’ve actually told several jokes [on stage] that she’s told me. For instance at [Speech Therapy’s] All Black Everything I told her joke of: “What’s the difference between a white owl and black owl? A white owl says ‘Whoo Whoo’. A black owl says ‘Who Dat Who Dat Who Dat’.

CC: Are you performer or are you just being yourself up there?

BH: I definitely go up there with some sort of set, but I definitely don’t use the same set. If you came to my show [tonight] and came to show [a week later], if I actually see you in the crowd I probably will change up a lot of my joke. If you’re paying twice to come see me I’ll change it up. What gets told, if you paid, that’s getting left there and you’re the one that saw it. At an open mic, I might run through it a couple of times but I try not to especially if it’s the same open mic. I know I don’t like hearing the same jokes all the time, so if I don’t like to hear it… I figure other people who are going out don’t want to hear the same jokes either.

CC: Do you feel that with the competitive nature of [the Bay Area comedy community] is pressing you to come up with the strongest, newest jokes?

BH: I feel a lot of comics up here do their same set a lot and they put a couple [new] jokes in there which I like. There are also a lot of comics that you know what joke is coming next, that you know that set.

I was in an Asian Comedy Competition and first round, killed it. Everybody was dying, “Next advancing is you for sure”. In the next round [I] did completely new stuff, everybody else did their exact same stuff. My new stuff wasn’t as good as my old stuff, which if I really wanted to win that competition I should have stuck with the old stuff. I’ll use [that experience] as a learning experience. Still, I liked it because four of my friends paid for it the first time and the second time, so you’re not going to sit here and pay $35 to see me tell the same shit I told a week ago.

It’s hard too though because like you said it’s a really competitive scene and the more you get seen, the more you get booked. And it’s just harder to come up with new shit all the time.

CC: How do you feel about comedy competitions in general?

BH: I’ve only been in one so far and from now I’m I’m using competitions as stage time, a chance to get out there wherever I can. I’m not trying to do one that costs money and ones where they say they can take your stuff. There’s a lot of these comedy competitions I’ve read into [will say] “Yeah, we’re filming this and we’re an affiliate of NBC.” So basically they can take [your] joke and see it in a sitcom sooner or later. So [I’ll] try to keep it fresh, and pick out the right competition… I wouldn’t mind winning one, doesn’t hurt but also not going to beat myself up for losing.

CC: What’s your inspiration right now?

BH: Man, everywhere. I can be walking down the street and think of a joke. I have my pen and pad on me all the time, cellphone if not. I have at least 40 text messages to myself… My kids. My kids are funny as shit. If I could explain more of what my kids do and get into a “bam-bam” joke it’d be hilarious. Work and the kids [I] work with. I work in East Oakland, you walk down the street in East Oakland you’re going to see something funny, or something crazy, or something you want to make from being tragic to something to laugh about.

CC: You’re apart of this new group of East Bay comics. How do you feel about the crew that you’re assembling?

BH: I love it actually… It’s so funny [because] I feel like we all met at this random time. If you were to look at us from the outside coming in you would think that all of us knew each other for years. I’ve known Chris [Riggins] for a few months. When I met Chris he had the New Parish and five people were at the New Parish. And I was like “I’m not gonna be apart of this”. We hung out for a time [and thought] “We can get this shit cracking” and got more people. That next week we had 80 people in the crowd, Chase [Perdue] was one of the people in the crowd. I met Amy [Miller] that night, I met Becky [Wolf], it was just all these people we met that now [are] almost like family. It’s dope that we have that bond in general and it’s really good because they’re all funny. And we have some hard hitter too who I’m trying to get down more with like Chris Storin… He’s a funny, FUNNY cat.

CC: You headlined in November 2010 for the first time. How did you feel? Do you feel you were ready? Did you feel nervous?

BH: I didn’t feel ready going up to it and when I got on I was like “Let’s get it”. I did one joke, my first joke, I envisioned this joke that I would get going, I was going to do this whole rap. It started going and it wasn’t [succeeding] as much as I wanted so I cut it and went into a whole different bit. Then all of a sudden, the crowd was laughing and I just went into it. It was good…

CC: How does it feel to be an Associate of Jabari Davis [and Associates]? Explain how that all came about? How did he approach you, did you approach him, what was the story there?

BH: You know actually, I still don’t know how I became an Associate. It was just a call up one day [Jabari] was like “Yo, I’ve been talking…”, it was after the November show, “I really like what you do… I really like you, Trenton [Davis, no relation] and Karinda [Dobbins]. Y’all my three new up-and-comers and y’all gonna be associates along with Tony [Sparks] and Kiko [Briez] and Frankie QuiƱones.” I [said] “Of course I’m down,” I wasn’t associate with shit else.

[Jabari] is a great dude to be associated with, it puts your name on a completely different level. It’s almost a good and a bad thing too; I feel like some of the bookers aren’t fucking with yo boy anymore just ‘cause they think that they have to pay me or something. I’m more like “Hey, I’m down to come out and do shows” but then also working with Jabari I also [think] that the art that we do is worth paying for… It’s a weird kind of Catch-22 because I really don’t care about the money that much but it is nice to have some.

CC: What’s the next stage you want to hit?

BH: We want to do a showcase throughout California.

[Bryant and Be Funny will be at the Kava Lounge in San Diego next week, spreading their brand and comedy on the road]

Eventually a tour going from Oakland, maybe Bakersfield, Pasadena, LA, and ending in San Diego. Being from San Diego I know a lot of people who still live in Tijuana and [might] even do a show in TJ. Of course we’ll call it Mexico not TJ, [Mexico] sounds more alluring… But that’s big, big picture, later on. Right now I’m just trying to really focus on being funny and getting better at what we do.

CC: Which comedian would you like to work with, feature, host, open for?

BH: You know what’s funny? Mike Epps, I love Mike Epps and my biological father is married to Mike Epps’ cousin. There’s probably a chance sooner or later I’m go to be performing with [Epps]. I would love for [the situation] to be “I heard this comic, he’s really funny, let’s put him on” but I feel like it’s going to happen because I’m a [distant] family [member] married into and kinda funny. [Still] I would love to meet Mike Epps because I feel like he’s got a crowd that’s really open. I like all kinds of crowds. I’m down for whatever. If you’ve seen any of my shows it’s all about diversity. I don’t want to necessarily perform in front of an all black crowd, I don’t want to perform in front of an all white crowd, I like a mix of everything so I’m going to offend everybody.

CC: Do your children know what’s going on, that their dad is a comedian?

BH: My son turns five in April, my daughter just turned three. [When] they know Daddy is about to leave say “Daddy, you going out to tell jokes?” [and I say] “Yeah”. That’s pretty much what they know. I’m a character… and my kids are lucky because we’re always playing and I’m always super silly with them. So they think of me telling jokes as going with them in their class telling jokes. I play games with their class and they think I’m going out and doing those games with adults… They’ve never seen me, they’ve seen me on Youtube clips and we hit the mute button.

CC: Do you get any slack from the audience? Does anybody come up critiquing your work?

BH: I’ve had ladies ask “You really mess around with other women?” [because] I’ll talk about having sex with other women and talk being married. [I tell them] it’s a joke. I also didn’t just jump off of an airplane with two dudes. It’s all jokes, don’t look too into it. Somethings are real, somethings are fake but it’s all about funny. Every joke that I’ve told my wife has heard part of it or watched the reviews, I say the word watch because she gets embarrassed, she’s [a] very shy type woman so she doesn’t like [those jokes]. I don’t feel I get a lot of slack, I feel like people are surprised that I cuss as much. I’m also trying to stop [cursing] as much. I’m trying to bring the cussing up for the actual joke [instead] of just cussing but then I drink.

CC: What is your proudest moment in comedy?

BH: I think the first time at the Purple Onion.

I just went in there and I was just “swaggeriffic”. I was super hyped. The week before I bought a shirt. I had the outfit. I was like “Yo son, I’m gunna be stuntin’ on ‘em.” I already sold a bunch of tickets. I had that money and I [thought] “I got 20 dollars [per person] to go tell jokes for 15 minutes. This is ridiculous.” This was close to “making it”, from going to open mics to going to that stage. [Also] going to New York and being on a show and people coming to see me… That was cool.

CC: Do you have any aspirations to move to LA or New York or are you going to try to keep building the New Parish and your other projects in the East Bay?

BH: San Francisco is such a creative ass place. All these people are moving away and we have all these people here already, why not start it here. Jabari did a great job with flying these special acts in. These cats going back to New York, Philly [would report] “Yo, I was in San Francisco and there’s this dope room and got broke off all this money, we should go out there and make it.” Bring the circuit back here you know? There used to be a comedy circuit out here, time to bring it back. So why leave? We can be the ones headlining the shows, promoting other people. [Also] I gotta problem, I smoke a lot of weed. Here weed is legal. [In New York the police would make nervous]. It’s a trip even between [San Francisco] and San Diego, day and night.

CC: Where do you want to be in a year?

BH: I definitely want to be known as Bryant, funny ass dude. I would like people to request me for shows… not deal with so much of the leg work… I wouldn’t mind more traveling. But I’m down to grind, nothing comes easy, I have no problem with hard work. That’s where you learn to love it. If it’s given to you, why would you do it? When you’re out, grinding every night trying to hustle around and you actually make it, if you make it, you’ll feel like “No, I earned this and [I’m] going to enjoy it.” If T.V. comes, great. Radio. Everything is there to me. I hope nothing bad happens, that’s my main thing. Hope it just stays as positive as it’s been.

CC: What defines you most? Are you a husband or a father or a comedian or child service provider, what’s the lasting image you want to leave on this Earth?

BH: Definitely want to be known for is making everybody happy. My one friend [jokingly] always calls me the “Good Samaritan”. I do shit that most people wouldn’t. The other day I was driving my car leaving one of my schools and I saw some dude pushing his car; he was drenched in sweat and I [said] “Need some help?” and he [said] “Yeah.” So I [put my car in park] and helped the dude push his car. And I didn’t think of it like him needing that help, I looked at it like “[What if] my wife car was broke down, would a decent person come by and help her and my kids”. I want to known as a fun person, always had a good time.