Jarrod Harris is an Atlanta comic I’ve been a fan of since I saw him on Live at Gotham a few years ago. He’s traveled all over the country, appeared on Lopez Tonight, and been a part of a successful web series. I had the chance to work with him last year when he stopped in Greenville with Ryan Singer to do a show as part of their upcoming comedy tour documentary Organic.
I spoke with Harris about the documentary and his upcoming shows in the Upstate. Jarrod obliged me even though his blood sugar was low and he wasn’t in a good mood. What I thought would be a short chat turned into a 50 minute conversation. I’ve tried to edit it down but there’s some funny and fascinating stuff in here. I hope you agree.
Justin Thompson: What was the scene like in Atlanta when you started doing comedy?
Jarrod Harris: There wasn’t a scene. That was 2001 and there were 3 clubs, but there wasn’t really a scene. Consistently, I’d say there was only about 15-20 comics that I did shows with. The clubs would do an open mic and those were usually pretty terrible. And there was one other room that wasn’t at a club was kind of an open mic. And that was usually pretty terrible, a bunch of old people that were friends with Jerry Farber, an old school comic here. He would host these open mics that would always have a bunch of older people that didn’t get young humor and they’d be pissed off when he wasn’t onstage and that was kind of weird. And that was it, there wasn’t much of anything going. I had to make shows.
Atlanta is crazy now, it’s a super big comedy scene.
JT: A lot of people are saying great things about the scene now, like it’s right behind NYC and LA.
JH: I think as far as the quality of comedians and the quality of shows, definitely. It didn’t happen overnight. I totally sound like I’m tooting my own horn here, but people that were around during the earlier time period know this, whether they want to acknowledge it or not: A lot of guys that are coming up now wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with some of the guys, or even know some of the guys they have worked with if it wasn’t for me and Gilbert Lawand bringing people in. I was bringing in friends of mine from LA, NY, and San Francisco. I was bringing them into Atlanta and telling them “Hey,we have this really cool show!” and we ran a good, fun show. With the help of Gilbert, we would promote and set the show up where it was a really good cool thing that was outside of traditional comedy club settings.
We worked hard on it and it got to the point where it became it’s own brand, Comedy Gold. For years I would be bringing in people from out of town.
JT: Like who?
JH: Everybody who is doing anything in comedy. There’s a whole list. Kyle Kinane, Rory Scovel, Eric Andre, there’s so many people I can’t even remember everybody. So that’s the thing, I would meet these people from being out in bigger cities and bring them in. No one knew who those guys were at that point. Now they are bigger names. It’s weird because there are people like my girlfriend, a huge comedy fan who was always into comedy. We were right across the street from where you worked, with all these comics that you know and love now, and you never bothered to come over to check it out? It’s so typical, but that’s how people are.
JT: How did you end up working with Ryan Singer?
JH: He’s another guy that I brought into Atlanta back in the day. Like two years ago, three years ago. Something like that. I didn’t really know him that well. I just knew him because other people I knew said “Yeah, he’s cool. Super funny.” So I called him and booked him for Comedy Gold. At this time period, Gilbert was really running things in town and I was doing the whole LA thing. I kinda didn’t really know him real well until probably a year before we started doing the Organic documentary. We just clicked.
JT: He seems like a genuine person, like you.
JH: Yeah, he is. He’s definitely more optimistic. He puts a lot more faith in people than I do. Which is great, that’s awesome that he does that. That’s good. Positive vibes man, that’s the best way to go if you can go that way.
JT: How many shows did you do together for the Organic documentary?
JH: I don’t know man, something like 19 or 20. I can’t remember exactly. It was a little much to start with.
JT: You filmed all of the shows and interviewed local comics after each one?
JH: Yeah, sure did. And that’s pretty crazy. Now we were talking about it the other day, and we decided that in the future, when we do these, we’re just going to have to do the week and maybe do 2 or 3 cities in that week. That’s more feasible than doing what we did, but it’s coming together.
JT: When can we expect to see it?
JH: Soon, hopefully. All of it depends on who pays for the content, I guess. We had a couple of offers so far, which is good. We don’t want to jump to anything, we just want to talk to some other people.
We were initially going to do a full feature length type documentary. I guess that’s what you call it, I’m not a film person. Then when we were talking to one of the people that we met with, they really liked it and they wanted to do it as a web series. Doing like 15-20 minute episodes of each place and have it be an ongoing thing. It’s not just the US where comedy has taken off, it’s all over the world. We’re looking at it more on a grand scale. We finally got the little tweaks made to the first episode. so now we’re ready to start trying to meet with some people. We’re going to see how that goes and take it from there. All in all, it’s growing in the right direction.
JT: So you lived out in LA and came back a few years ago?
JH: I came back a year ago, but when I was living in LA, It’s more accurate to say I spent my rent in a place in LA for 2009-2012, but I was on the road working a lot. I was back for all of 2013.
JT: I listened to your episode of Terrified with Dave Ross. You guys just hooked up when he was coming through Atlanta?
JH: Yeah, I’ve known Dave forever. I felt bad because he asked me if I knew the format of the show and I didn’t. He’s my friend, but I don’t listen to any podcasts. It’s not because I’m anti-podcasts.
I’m not your typical comedian. I’m not crazy about comedy like other people are. I’m more interested in being out in the woods building jumps. I’m trying to built a bike park right now. All the time I have is spent between that and my new web series. I don’t have time for that, I don’t watch TV. I’m a fucking weirdo.
JT: Tell me about your new web series.
JH: My new web series starts this month. Anyone who liked what I did before will love my new series!
JT: What frustrates you about doing comedy?
JH: The business side. When I say business side, I mean terrible industry people. All industry people are not terrible, there are some really cool industry people. And yeah, I’m trying to find those people right now. I’m kidding.
JT: If they read this article, I’ll have them email you.
JH: No, there are some cool industry people that I like a lot. You know what, it all boils down to business, it’s nothing personal. And the problem is, I think, I’m from the south so I communicate differently. I communicate on a more, maybe, authentic level. I don’t act like I’m somebody’s friend just because I think that person is going to make me some money. We’re either friends or we’re not friends. I think the way that I read people is the absolute wrong way to read someone. In LA if someone says “Let’s do lunch”, in my mind I think “Oh this is a cool down to earth person who wants to do lunch and talk about some of these cool things that I’m doing and maybe they’ll be on board and stand by my side and really help me.” No, if you’re not making that person money within six months to a year, they are already going “How do I politely tell this person to go fuck themselves?” They don’t give a shit about you. It’s just harsh.
My hat is off to anybody who is a good person that becomes successful in that world.
JT: You moved back to Atlanta partly for personal reasons and you wanted to do the mountain bike thing.
JH: It’s a bike park, not just for mountain biking. A jump, free-ride park. There isn’t anything like that out here.
JT: That’s cool. There’s a parallel there with what you are bringing to Georgia, you see?
JH: Thought process like onstage? That’s funny. It’s very sporadic, it’s very stream-of-conscious, it’s very emotional. It’s not very structured at all.
I kind of shut myself out of things, because I am so sporadic on stage. I am so not-focused. That’s the just way I want to do comedy. I kind of feel like “fuck it.” I know that when I am doing shows, people that are at the shows like what i am doing. I’m not really planning to change my stance, to try to accommodate a network or a segment producer because they feel like I should do comedy in a certain way.
JT: You have the freedom to express yourself and there’s something rewarding about that in itself.
JH: It’s really cool to just get paid to do something that I love. I know what works for me because I am on stage every night experiencing it.
What matters to me is doing my own thing. and because of the internet I can do my own thing, which is why i’m super stoked on this new web series. You have the power to do shit for yourself now you don’t have to have four decision makers that are like the comedy mafia, because they don’t have the power any more and it’s fucking great. It’s a big giant “fuck you” to those people and I love it. It’s really motivating and shouldn’t just be motivating to me, but it should be motivating to all young comics that are coming up.
You have the ability to create something online that has thousands of views, millions of views. No one sits at home going “I can’t wait for such-and-such show to come on at 8pm and we gotta make sure we are here.” Definitely a lot of power to have something that has millions of hits and a big fanbase. That’s all these networks are doing, buying web-content. these people aren’t creative, they’re trying to hire other people. If you have the ability to create without having to go suck someones dick, then perfect. What better way to live you life? Be a fucking rebel, take chances. Do your own thing. Don’t conform.
JT: Why is that every comic says “We gotta do sketches!” but never has any follow-through?
JH: Most comedians are fucking lazy. I hear people talk about shit all the time. I’m lazy. The amount of ideas I have that could be successful… I don’t act on any of those ideas, because when it comes to that I’m lazy. When it comes to building the bike park, I’ll go. That’s more fun for me than sitting around writing or doing whatever. We all have have our things we like to do.
JH: It’s cool man. It’s good. It’s the only kind of girlfriend I could have really. No woman is going to want to put up with this shit. No woman is going to be cool with not having a bunch of money.
Comedy is such a weird thing. You can make a shit ton of money, but it comes in spurts. You can have a really good year and then the next year is like “Oh wow, no one wants to respond to my emails because i haven’t been on tv this year.” That’s how fickle some people are. Comics are more cool about it. You can’t make as much money doing these small rooms, but comics will have you come back over and over again. There is a handful of clubs that work me consistently, the rest of them book all these other people. Whatever fucking actor things they can do comedy now because they aren’t making enough money, they start doing stand-up comedy. Reality show people who are like “Well I should go do comedy now” and pro-wrestlers who are like “What can I do? Oh I know, I can do comedy!”
Everyone wants to do comedy now, so then you can’t get in clubs as easily. You kind of have to rely on other comics. Thank god for being able to do that. I think my biggest problem is not remembering the question you asked and getting off on a tangent because I haven’t taken any medication.
JT: I heard you joke about how you haven’t recorded an album yet. Is that something you care to do?
JH: Sometimes I think I really need to record an album, because everyone is recording an album and sometimes I’m like “I don’t need to record an album.” Rooftop Comedy has been talking to me quite a bit about doing something. So I think what we are going to do, I’m going to end up going to San Francisco and recording an album with them. We are kind of working out the whole deal to do something. I say “deal” like it’s some kind of big deal, it’s not a big deal.
If I do something, I want to do it right. I want to promote it. We are just kind of talking back and forth about doing something right now and I like those guys. They’re cool and they have always been super supportive of my comedy. So yeah, I don’t give a shit. Let’s do it.
JT: Since your style is so stream-of-conscious and improvisational, is it hard to set something in stone like an album?
JH: Yeah, it is. It’s really hard. The only thing I can do for sure is open with this, I say a chunk of maybe five minutes. Alright, I’m going to open with this five minute chunk, or this three minute chunk or whatever. Then 80% of the time I go onstage and I might open with something and then I’ll get off on something and I’m not very focused at all. I have a very short attention span.
JT: Do you feel like you’ve found your voice onstage?
JH: Yes, totally. But my voice is not easily identifiable to some people. Because they’re like “I don’t know who you are because you do different sets. One show I’ve seen you be this redneck guy and the next show I’ve seen you be this way.” That’s my voice, the fact that you don’t know exactly what I’m going to do. That’s my thing. I don’t know what other way to describe it.
I do whatever the fuck I want to do onstage. Sometimes I have a pro-liner character that I doesn’t every smile or laugh, is just extremely serious. I’ve got multiple different variations of country redneck guys. Sometimes I just totally get off on speaking ebonics. It’s not that I’m being racist, just what I grew up around. I’ll do a southern woman. Or just an effeminate southerner. I do a lot of people I grew up around really.
I’ve had people in the past be like “We don’t know what it is that you do. It’s so hard to market you. because you’re not something we can put on television like, he’s the hipster comic with the glasses or he’s got a beard and he’s like a manly bearded guy that’s so cool.” I can’t grow a beard so I can’t go that route. I’m not a hipster. I’m clearly not black. I’m not asian. Nah, I fuckin’ make 80 year old people laugh, I make 8 year old people laugh. I just try to be funny. And that can kind of fuck you up in comedy if you don’t know what your schtick is. You have to have a shtick.
You need to really understand what it is that you want to be as a comic, and have it defined. It is all about product. Everybody that is huge in comedy is a caricature. Literally. Think about it, like Bill Burr. You only have to hear a few words to know it’s Bill Burr.
JT: Why can’t DMX get it together?
JH: Who? I don’t know anything about Gospel music, dude. I’m completely out of that world.
You could ask my grandmother if she was still alive.
JT: Is there anything else you want to promote besides the upcoming shows and the web series?
JH: No, not really. My bike park. if anyone rides and they want to check out a bike park in Georgia. It’s badass with jumps and all that stuff. Go on facebook and look up Jarrod’s Place.
JT: What do you think about the emergence of all these comedy scenes in unconventional places?
JH: I think it’s great. It’s awesome for comedy. It’s just cool that people have places to perform. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
JT: It garners an increased interest in comedy overall?
JH: I think so. A lot of the time people that go to indie comedy shows are people that won’t go to a regular comedy club. A lot of those people won’t, or never have.
You have different comedy audiences. You’ve got people who don’t care about comedy but want to get their picture taken with someone that they can show off a the office and you’ve got people that are really into comedy that come to your shows all the time. I mean, I do shows in Atlanta all the time and I have people that come out all the time. it’s like “oh this person is a really big comedy fan.” and they don’t give a fuck if Aziz Ansari comes into town, they aren’t going to those shows. They are a true comedy fan and they know all the local comics and they go to all those shows.
There are two different types of fans. people that care about your celebrity status and there are other people that just really love comedy. Those are the people that interest me the most, it’s not the people that are waiting in line for two hours to try to get a picture with Aries Spears or somebody. I don’t know, I’m just throwing names out there.
JT: You don’t worry about audiences getting over-satured with amateur comedy?
JH: No, not really. I think everybody knows what they are getting into. If they don’t know what they are getting into when they go to an open mic they are fucking stupid. You’re going to see some gems, but I never get mad if I see bad people on stage. I enjoy watching terrible comedy than I do watching someone who’s really good at comedy. I’m a weirdo.
JT: That’s because you also like Nascar, right?
JH: Don’t even get me started on Nascar. I think Nascar is transcendental meditation for rednecks that just gave up on life. Just watch those cars go in circles long enough to where they just leave their body. it’s the only way they know how. Just watch this for four hours and leave this shitty life that I have fucked up for myself. Drink all my pain away. I guess it takes balls to race Nascar. I guess people do die from that, occasionally. Once in a while, maybe every ten years or so.
JT: When it goes right.
JH: When things go well, someone dies. That’s a good Nascar race.
JT: What advice do you have for people that are interested in comedy and furthering what they do with it?
JH: I say fuckin’ do it. Fuck everybody else. Fuck what your loser neighbor who gave up on their dreams tells you. Go fuckin’ do comedy. Just do it. Fail. Be Terrible. You’ll have great nights, you’ll have shitty nights.. I just think humans should do whatever the fuck makes them happy. If you want to do comedy, don’t not do it because you’re scared.
I can just see how this interview will show up on paper. “What? What the fuck? This is crazy. I don’t understand. What is he talking about?”
JT: Anything else?
JH: I don’t know. Comics, fuckin’ do comedy. Enjoy it. Have fun. I’m sorry for saying fuck a lot.
Jarrod Harris at the Laugh Factory
Come check out one of Jarrod’s shows in the Upstate. Both shows have no cover charge.
Thursday 1/30 10PM – Whiskey’s Tavern – 3069 Wade Hampton Blvd. Taylors, SC
Friday 1/31 9PM – The Fox in Anderson – 312 S. Main Street, Anderson, SC
Jarrod can also be seen regularly in Atlanta at The Punchline and The Laughing Skull. Thanks to comics who helped submit questions and to Carolyn Adams for help with editing. Giant special thanks to Jarrod for the interview.