photo by. Raun Harris
A few months back I interviewed Julian Vance for a piece featured on Antithesis Comedy. Much of the interview was trimmed out for brevity. Here is the majority of the “missing” interview. [P.S. For the full experience, imagine frequent laughter between the two of us amid the questions and answers]
Courting Comedy: What rooms were running when you started?
Julian Vance: The Java Source was great. The Java Source was every Friday and Saturday night in the Richmond, kinda across the street from Rockit Room. You had to walk through about forty old Chinese men smoking cigarettes and gambling out front. It was all the way in the back and people fucking hated that we were there. People would come in and turn right back around. The normal customers, every time comedy would start, they would get up and walk away.
CC: Was it always consistent?
JV: It was consistently bad. It was always a shitty experience but you got onstage twice a week… Another great [room] was the Luggage Store. It’s on Market, [its] still called the Luggage Store. This was a mic for comics only, there was no audience. And you would have to pay a dollar to perform, not even pay a dollar, donate a dollar to keep the space open. It was more like a writing workshop than anything else. You would be done with your set and people would tell you what you did right [and] what you did wrong. It was the first place I ever bombed. It was my third or fourth set.
CC: Did you ever do the “scouting” thing of checking a mic out first?
JV: Naw, I just went. The first mic I went to was the Brainwash. This was back when they were doing the lottery system so you picked your name out of a hat. I pulled number “2” and nobody pulled number “1”. I had never seen live stand-up comedy performed before, never been to a comedy club and I went up first.
CC: How did people respond?
JV: My first set went over really well. I still remember the first joke I ever told, which looking back on it is cringe worthy. The first joke I ever told was: “So I’m a fat kid who wants to be a stand-up comic which is code for ‘I’m a virgin’.” [I did] five minutes. I got off stage, I walked right out of the Brain Wash, didn’t talk to anybody. I called my mom. [At this time] Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams had some handprints in some cement around the corner from the Brainwash. I walked past that and thought “I fucking made it man! I’m here!”
CC: Was there a plan other than doing comedy?
JV: No. There was never any other plan. From the time I was twelve or thirteen that’s all I really wanted to do. I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else. I’m not really good at anything else. This better work out.
CC: What was the plan when you first started?
JV: To do open mics until I got good and then to move out of San Francisco. I need to either go to New York or LA. That’s the next stop. I gotta go at some point.
CC: Are you biding your time? Did you feel you were ready to leave before now?
JV: I never really felt ready enough… I think after this summer at the latest will be when I make that move.
CC: Are you confident about the business side?
JV: Naw, I’m not good at the business side. But it’s something that I can [do] if I apply myself. I’m not a good networker, it’s hard for me to build lasting relationships with people with other human beings but we’ll see if I can get better at that.
CC: What do you think is holding you back from where you want to be?
JV: I don’t know, there’s nothing really holding me back. It’s just my own laziness half the time. Also I have confidence issues sometimes. Sometimes I think I’m too dirty to really make anything out of myself [in comedy]. I know deep down that I’m gonna do something good with this. It seems like I’ma have to take a harder route than someone whose material is more approachable or relatable.
CC: What’s the craziest backlash you’ve received live at a show, and has it ever continued after a show?
JV: Nobody has ever looked me up or anything. I did a show at Tommy T’s back when it was in Concord, CA. I was opening/hosting for Mike Mancini (Voted by Jay Leno “The World’s Funniest Cop”). Mo Mandel actually got me this gig because he couldn’t make it that night. Opening for Mike Mancini and Sean Peabody was featuring.
CC: I get up, I do my ten-fifteen minutes, just eating shit. Eating so… much… shit it’s not even funny. There’s a big group of bikers, right next to the stage. I get on stage, eat shit for ten minutes. Sean Peabody gets on, CRUSHES for half an hour. I get back onstage and it’s like somebody flicked a switch… everybody is silent and angry; you could feel it in the audience. Mike Mancini gets on, DEMOLISHES for an hour. I get back onstage, I start to hear boos in the back. I walked off and the one black dude in there said “Man, you were hilarious!” I said “Thanks, man” and I was feeling really bummed.
JV: I look over and the bikers are now whispering to each other and pointing at me. There were like six of them just staring at me. I go to the bar because that’s where I was supposed to get my money ($20). [I asked] “Hey can I get my money so I can get outta here.” The guy was taking his time, kinda meandering, it take him thirty-forty seconds to give me my money. The comedy club was three blocks from the [Bay Area Rapid Transit] station and I’ve never run that hard in my life.
CC: Who is your ideal audience?
JV: I’m fine with anyone. I love black audiences. There’s a few comedians who have trouble with black audiences but it’s a vulnerability thing. If you don’t show any vulnerability you’ll be fine. White audiences, I do very well in front of. Its old audiences that I don’t do very well, especially old black people. Old black people absolutely hate me. A lot of old black people are really conservative and I get up, I’m young and I’m talking shit that I’m probably not supposed to be saying according to them.
Actually, the first time my mom ever saw me do stand-up was in front of 150 old black people. My mom was there with her friend from Portland. [They] flew out pretty much to watch me do stand-up. And my mom starts talking to the table next to her, as [she] will do all the time, and they become kinda chummy and friends. I go over and start talking to them and [my mom says *excitedly*] “Oh this is my son, he’s going up, blah blah blah.” Everybody is crushing, it’s a competition. You’re supposed to get five minutes… I go up and eat shit for three minutes. I was supposed to get five, they played music to get me off. The host gets up and starts roasting for twenty minutes… talking about my shoes, talking about my dreadlocks. “This muthafucka thinks he’s a surfer! Muthafucka got skate shoes on.” He’s absolutely crushing, everybody is loving it. In the end, my mom starts screaming at the guy: “That’s my baby! @#$#@$#*&#,” all this shit. We leave and my mom [says] “Yeah, after you got off stage, my friends wouldn’t talk to me anymore.” The people she just met turned around and wouldn’t talk to her any more.
I had to learn to be more of cognitive of what the audience is. I think [that night] I went up and opened with an abortion joke, as I’ll do sometimes just to see if I can dig myself out. [That night] I didn’t have the skill set to get out of the hole.
CC: Do you feel you have the skill set you want right now and where do you feel you could improve?
JV: I think I’m doing really well actually. I’ve always felt comfortable on stage. I think that’s always been a strong point of mine. The one thing I’ve always had trouble with is writing quicker jokes. I’m good with word economy but getting to the point in things is a problem of mine. It’s not really even a problem but it’s something I would like to add to the repertoire.
CC: When did you find out who you were or are you still finding who you are?
JV: Still finding out. I remember when I was eighteen-nineteen I thought I had everything figured out. I thought, “Oh I’m smart, I can talk to people, I’m charming,” I was real cocky (I’m still real cocky). Yet, the older I get, the sooner I regret shit. There’s shit from two days ago where [I think] “Oh god I’m so young and stupid. I’ll never do that shit again.”
CC: Who has been teaching you from the comedy scene?
JV: You mean like comedy wise or life wise?
JV: Life wise I take a lot from everybody. Comedy wise I take a lot from everybody too. Everybody’s so good out here, it really makes you want to get better. Life wise I’ve learned a lot from Dave Wiswell, he’s one of my best friends. He taught me how to shave, he taught me how to shop for myself. Greg [Edwards] taught me how to cook. Greg and Justin Scales pretty much raised me. I lived with Justin Scales from twenty years old to about twenty three. Greg [lived with us] for a year and a half and they really helped form who I am as a person today.
CC: What were you like, right before you got into comedy?
JV: Depressive, angry little kid. Angry for no reason. Fat, I didn’t shower. I [still wondered] “Oh, why won’t girls touch my penis?” Maybe because you’re fat and don’t shower. I was always pretty funny and could draw people in that way but I always had a hard time establishing lasting connections with people. I don’t know if it’s going to follow me to my old age; I still struggle with that. But I was really struggling with that in [high] school and I would always feel alone in a room full of people. I would go home and my home life was hell and school life was hell. The only outlet I would have [was to] write jokes. I would then go to school the next day and drop [my jokes] into casual conversations to see if they were funny.
CC: What draws people to your onstage persona?
JV: I think my allure on stage is that it’s the one place that I feel good and I think people can tell that; hopefully [my performance] makes them feel good. Joe Tobin once told me “You can’t make the audience have fun, but can go up and have fun and hope that they hop on board.” I just try to go up and have fun. I’ve definitely have been in the middle of sets where I wasn’t having fun and any time I’m not having fun the sets usually aren’t going well.
CC: Have you noticed any trends or changes to the SF Comedy Scene since you’ve been here?
JV: It’s skewing younger now. When I first started there were the “old-old timers”, there were “the newer guys” that were [aged] around 25-27. Those were the Louis Katz’s and Sheng Wang’s. Then it was me, Stroy [Moyd], Dave Medina and Edwin [Li] and we were the four youngest kids doing stand-up. But, all-in-all it’s always the game is still the game. Faces change but nothing else really changes.
CC: Explain the infamous Folsom Street Fair incident.
JV: Well Folsom Street Fair, that was just wild. I was a year into the City at that point. When I left the house that day, I looked in the mirror and thought “Somebody I know is going to see me and they’re going to take this wrong.” I went to Folsom Street Fair in a giant pink sun hat, black and white stockings, pink booty shorts, and a tube sock in my pants that made it look like I had a ten-inch dick. I’m running around, having a great time. I think that was the first time I did ecstasy. All of a sudden, W. Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery show up with a camera crew… it was like “don’t get on the wrong side of us, or this footage will be released.”
CC: One of your most recognizable features is your ever changing hairstyle. Are there eras, are there any stories?
JV: It changes so much. The only constant was the dreadlocks for about two years. You could tell how old I am by how long my dreadlocks were. But I’ve had nappy fros, regular fros, Mohawks. I shaved my head into “male-pattern-baldness” one time.
CC: Did you?
JV: Yeah, I only kept that for a day. I once had a dread-Mohawk that Dave Wiswell cut for me. The next day we tripped on mushrooms and went to the beach and [Dave] said the whole day my dread-Mohawk was dancing and talking to him. And the worst part about it was when Wis cut it, we were wasted drunk. He cut it all fucked up so the whole day I was pulling out wayward dreadlocks out of my hair while tripping on mushrooms. It was mind blowing.
CC: Is that just you being you?
JV: Yeah, I guess. I’m just trying to have fun. I spent a lot of my childhood caring what people thought about me and at a certain point I just said “fuck it, I’m gonna kill myself if I keep living like that.” I’m always worried that I might piss somebody off, and I usually think that everybody hates me, but mostly anything I do, I’m just trying to have some fun; there’s never any malice behind it
CC: Are you looking to do other creative endeavors such as a podcast or…?
JV: Oh yeah I’ve done some podcasting. I want to do acting. I’ve done a little bit of acting. It’s something I want to take classes on [because] I’ve always been hard on myself about that. Otherwise, I love stand-up. I really want to do that… I like rapping every now and then without ever letting anybody hear my raps. I’ve always toyed around with the idea of doing a mixtape with some friends of mine that make beats but not showing my face.
CC: What’s your theme song?
JV: [Chuckles] Shit, I don’t know. You know what I’ve always loved was “22 Two’s” by Jay-Z
and “Deadly Combination” by Big L and 2Pac.
Theme song wise, I like shit that’s kinda hardcore and makes me want to go up and shoot somebody!
CC: What’s the next immediate step?
JV: Next immediate step is [probably] L.A. Get in on [that] comedy scene and start getting acting work.
CC: Have you been to L.A. to do comedy?
JV: Yeah, I’ve been to L.A., did a couple sets down there. I did a movie with Kevin Avery called “Thugs, The Musical” and had a really good time. Every time I’ve gone to L.A. I’ve really liked it. I get the feeling that I wouldn’t like living there but it’s kinda a beast you have to tackle no matter what.
CC: Are you prepared to drive? You don’t seem to drive.
JV: I don’t drive, I don’t have a car, I don’t have a license or any of that. [Both laughing] No, I’m not prepared at the moment but I figure I gotta get there.
CC: Do you know anything now that you would have told yourself when you first started?
JV: Um… don’t chase pussy.
CC: [Laughing] Does that get you in trouble?
JV: Yeah. Well, not only will it get you trouble but that lust for vagina will distract you from trying to accomplish things. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve spent hanging out, trying desperately to fuck some girl. That time would have probably been better spent y’know, writing or performing. Also, exercise more Young Julian.
CC: If you had to make the recommendation of ‘If you like Julian Vance, you’ll like [blank],’ who would fill the blank?
JV: I always say that if you like my stuff… uh… I don’t know. If you like Julian Vance you’ll like Julian Vance. I tried to pride myself on thinking that there’s nobody who has the thoughts that I have. So, if you like Julian Vance you’ll LOVE Jeff Foxworthy.