Michael Che, a comedian who was born in and now performs in New York City, is our Discovery Artist of the Week. BreakThru Radio’s Marcus Parks spoke to Che on his show, Portrait of a Comedian. Che has also appeared on other BTR shows, including We’re All Friends Here and Righteous Kill. In other words, we at BTR are really into him and for some reason he likes us too. We spoke to him about his career here in the city, his initial reservations doing standup, and about how what he really wants to do is share a laugh with you, no matter how much of an asshole you may be.
BTR: Thanks for entertaining us twice over with interviews, once on DJ Marcus’ Portrait of a Comedian and again for this week’s Discovery Artist. It took you a while to get around to the standup game but now that you’re in it, how do you feel about it? Everything you expected or total surprise?
Michael Che: I love it. It’s frustrating not being as good as I wanna be. I’m very impatient with the process of comedy. But that comes with being new. You don’t expect to be great overnight, but you always trick yourself into thinking if it doesn’t happen, then something’s wrong. Which is silly. What surprises me most is how supportive this comedy scene is.
BTR: You told Marcus you were always the funny kid in school. Were you the wisecracking funny kid or the goofy funny kid?
MC: Wisecracks. I always had a very smart mouth. I was never a bad kid, but I would say things that I had no business saying to teachers or whatever.
BTR: So stage fright was your big, initial barrier to doing standup. Can you remember the moment you decided to just tough it out and do an open mic?
MC: I can’t really remember exactly why I just tried it. I always wanted to. I know I was sad and really down, and just felt like I had to do something. Initially I wanted to take a class, but they wanted like $300. The open mic wanted $5. It was an easy choice after that.
BTR: Ever had any problems with hecklers or disruptive audience members?
MC: Yea, that happens. I mean, it sucks for obvious reasons, but I try not to trip out over it cause 90% of the time it’s not mean-spirited. Some people just don’t know you’re not supposed to do that. They actually think they’re helping the show. I have friends who say shit like “let me know when your next show is, I wanna come and boo you! I wanna yell at you!” FRIENDS!! They think that’s what we want.
BTR: How much peer criticism goes down between you and other comedians in NYC?
MC: Hmm. I don’t know. I’d imagine a lot behind my back. Not to be cynical, but that’s who comics are. We critically analyze EVERYTHING. Even other comedians. Especially at this level where we are still learning, I’m sure there’s some criticism about what I do. But it hasn’t come to me in a disrespectful way yet. Like I said, comics have been really supportive.
BTR: Where do you draw inspiration from for your bits, and what’s your process for putting them together?
MC: LOL the short answer is, I have no idea. I’m just living. I hear something, I see something, and I form an opinion. Then I try to make it sound pretty. Then I say it in conversation or on Twitter or whatever just to see what kind of reaction it gets, and then work it out or scrap it. It’s not an exact science at all. It’s more of a feel. When it’s right, it’s right.
BTR: A lot of your bits can be classically irreverent, but you tend to be more compassionate in your humor than shocking or ruthless. Are you conscious of this or is it just you being you?
MC: Yes I’m conscious of it. I try to write from an understanding point of view than a condemning point of view. I don’t wanna call you stupid for thinking a certain way, I just want you to see why others think differently. The reason is, I want people to be able to laugh with me even if they don’t agree with me.
BTR: Comedians who are black and happen to cross over to white audiences can be justifiably hesitant about using the n-word in comic situations, and in the past it’s lead people like Dave Chappelle to rethink their statuses as entertainers with a kind burden of social consciousness that white comedians don’t really have. How does this play into your comedy and do you get offended when people expect you to be an authority on the subject?
MC: I don’t think people expect me to be an authority on anything! I don’t know. I try not to use the word for comedic effect, unless I’m specifically talking about the word. I use it a lot cause I grew up using it. It’s just the way that I talk. As a black comedian, there is a different level of responsibility, cause for some reason, every black person represents ALL black people! You always hear, “Oh he’s setting niggas back!” LOL why? Maybe HE’S just an asshole? Maybe he’s loud and obnoxious just because HE is an asshole, and it has nothing to do with him being black. I can’t wait for the day that black people can just be assholes without being black assholes.
BTR: Are you into politics?
MC: I’m not into politics. But I am into social issues. I can tell you how I feel about a certain issue. But when it comes to running this country as a business, and debt crisis, and sending troops, or whatever, I don’t really keep up. I come from a place where we don’t believe shit the news tells us. So it’s hard for me to take these issues seriously.
BTR: Who are some of your favorite comedians right now?
MC: Of course the usual, Dave Chappelle and Patrice O’Neal, Louis CK, Bill Burr, Hannibal. But other guys coming up like Sean Patton, Jeffrey Joseph, Mike Recine, Kevin Barnett, Andrew Schulz, Anton Shuford, Dan Soder; Murderfist just did a 24-hour show recently! Shit like that makes me feel like a fraud. Meatsteak is another dope crew, Calise Hawkins, Annie Lederman, there are a lot of great people, I don’t know where to end.
BTR: When and where can we see you perform next?
MC: You can check me next at Carolines On Broadway, August 10th @7 PM for “Comics To Watch” show. Or also midnight, August 13th at The Creek and The Cave for my monthly show “Community Service,” second Saturday of every month.
Like he said, check him out at Carolines on August 10th (this Wednesday) at 7 PM or this Saturday at the Creek and the Cave, and remember to sit quietly and cheer when you’re told!
Written by: Jakob Schnaidt