Published on July 10th, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Derek Humphrey and Company Road-Trip Back to Charleston
It’s not unusual to see a skillful Charleston comedian pack up and split town for new adventures in bigger cities. Sometimes they return to the Lowcountry after a stint or two elsewhere. Sometimes they fall in love with big-city life and only occasionally come back for quick visits.
There’s a little bit of all-of-the-above with the comedic foursome of the Road Trip Comedy Tour — a stand-up comedy team comprised of current and former Charlestonian funnymen. Hosted by New York-based comedian Evan Berke, the troupe features Derek Humphrey (currently based in N.Y.C.), Vince Fabra (solidly based in Charleston), and Dusty Slay (newly established in Nashville). They describe themselves as “four creative, intelligent humans with humorous insights exploring the Southeast and their comedic dreams.”
Metronome Charleston recently caught up with Humphrey. He enjoyed a long run in Charleston as a stand-up comic and improvisor before relocating to New York City in the summer of 2012.
Metronome: Why did you leave Charleston for New York City two years ago?
Derek Humphrey: I got out of the US Navy in 2005 and was going to move to Chicago to study at iO or Second City; however, my little brothers lived with my parents in Charleston. They were six years old at the time, and I’d spent the previous five years being overseas. I really wanted to hang around them because I knew I’d never have that opportunity to be near them in their formative years. By the time I left, they were in high school and couldn’t care about their big dumb brother anymore. I learned a lot about comedy at this point through the stand-up scene we helped build in addition to all the time I spent working with Theatre 99, and I felt it was time for me to move on and grow.
Metronome: Did you hook up artistically — or otherwise — with any other former Charlestonians up in the Big Apple?
Derek Humphrey: When I got to New York, I had the luxury of having some friends like Tahlia Robinson, John Brennan, and their siblings or significant others to hook up with. They’re my T99 family and were very helpful in getting me acclimated to N.Y.C. I have some former work colleagues and friends that I see from time to time, and now many other Theatre 99 and Charleston alumni are headed up. It’s an exciting time for me and hopefully us.
Metronome: As a performer shooting for a serious career in comedy, what were some of the toughest challenges for you during your first year up in New York?
Derek Humphrey: My biggest challenges came from the fact that I was old when I tried to get further into serious comedic work. Most people who do something like give up a career and pursue their goals like that tend to be under 25. I was already 34. You get set in your ways as you get older, and it was tough for me to look at things from a new perspective. It took some major adjustments on my behalf, swallowing a lot of humble pie, but I finally feel as if I am more open minded to what life and this career has to offer. I’m a better person for doing it … I hope.
Metronome: What were some of the pleasant/unexpected surprises when you landed and settled in New York City?
Derek Humphrey: One of the surprises that I encountered when I got here was learning that simply because you live in a famous zip code, it doesn’t equate to you being necessarily a better person or performer. People in the North always want to shit on people from the South and vice-versa; however, there are hicks and jerks everywhere. If you think uneducated, backwards-thinking people only reside in the South, then you’ve never been to the Jersey Shore.
As far as performing, just because you live in New York doesn’t mean you’re automatically great. Some people’s only credit is that they live there. The bell curve is the same everywhere. Some of my favorite comics like Jason Groce or Tim Hoeckel still live in Charleston. Talent remains the same. I knew leaving for New York would make me work harder and focus more — not increase my talent level.
Metronome: What is funniest “New York” thing you’ve eaten and drank during your stint up there so far?
Derek Humphrey: My girlfriend and I went to get a “Dim-Sum brunch” in Korea Town in Queens. I entered into the idea thinking I was going to get some kind of interesting egg-infused Asian cuisine. In this place, people come by with carts of food and you just pick out what you want. They stamp a ticket, and you pay per diem at the end. After a couple carts rolled through, I quickly learned I was basically just eating General Tso’s for breakfast.
Metronome: What were some of the best comedy gigs during your early months in NYC — and what are some of you regular haunts these days?
Derek Humphrey: Part of the learning process for me is finding my voice and my peers. I was lucky enough to get some great opportunities within my first year, but some of them turned out to be things I don’t care to do again. I auditioned for TV at a major New York club, and the booker for it, before the show sat down next to me and started name-dropping being at James Gandolfini’s funeral and some of the people he created opportunities for who also happened to be there. It was as if he was saying, “Stick with me and I’ll make sure you’re at all the good funerals.” It was a huge turn-off.
I seldom hang at the clubs anymore, unless I get a spot on a show or get in for free. Right now, I just try and support the people at my level and their shows which center on the most important aspect of why I came here: comedy. I go to Kabin on the Lower East Side on Thursday nights and get to see some comics I know from their open mics sharing the same stage as Hannibal Burress or Louis CK. I’m as happy for them as I am to see the big names. I go to all the free, comedy community shows that I can along with the best open mics I can find.
My favorite one, Monday night at Freddy’s in Park Slope/Brooklyn, was ran so well by the very funny Christian Polanco that you’d see as many as 50 comics in a night. It was tough for him; however, it was cool to see people working on their tight five as well as people working on stuff for their Comedy Central specials. I met so many great comics there. [The series was recently canceled].
Metronome: Did you have to adjust, expand, or rework any of your material or some your style and delivery when you got rolling in the stand-up scene up there?
Derek Humphrey: When I left Charleston, I felt as if I had 45 minutes of material. When I got to New York I realized I had 10. The stereotype is true: New Yorkers are a tough crowd. I had to develop a more personalized style — which is why I moved. I’m more honest with who I am on stage which helps me to relate to people better than my old one-liners and puns. Some of my favorite guys are one-liner guys: Stephen Wright, Mitch Hedberg. But that’s not me. I try to tell a story when I’m not interacting with the crowd.
Metronome: A poster for this current Road Trip Comedy Tour describes you and your colleagues as “creative and Intelligent” with “humorous insight.” Is that true? If so, who is the most creative and who is the most insightful?
Derek Humphrey: It’s definitely true of three fourths of us. And then there’s Dusty. Oof. But we all bring something to the table. I’m the oldest and most traveled, but Evan bring his perspective of being young and fresh faced, full of currently unjaded perspective. That’ll change, though.
Metronome: All four of you are old pals and seasoned veterans, but we’re sure that some bickering, frustration, or annoyance has inevitably popped up on this tour — just like it does for any gang or artists/musicians on the road together. What are the pettiest or silliest complaints you might have about traveling and performing with Vince, Evan, and Dusty?
Derek Humphrey: I get real sick of Vince Fabra’s positivity and cheeriness. He’s a “touchy feely” guy, and that ain’t me. All that happiness? Ugh. No wonder people love him.
Metronome: What are some weird new things you’ve learned about each other during this trip?
Derek Humphrey: The most surprising thing I’ve learned about Vince is that I’m not invited to his wedding. I guess I have to return all those jewels I bought his fiancee back to Tiffany’s in New York. Fortunately, we haven’t spent a lot of time in the car so I don’t have to listen to too many of Dusty’s opinions. But I’ve known these guys forever. So in all honesty, I’m surprised by how much they can still make me laugh.
Metronome: What are your comedy plans for the rest of 2014?
Derek Humphrey: I have one show on the books when I get back home, maybe an audition or two. I kept things open for the fall because I really want to get into the open mics to refine my current material and generate more. I’m also going to get back involved with the Upright Citizens Brigade. I took a break to focus exclusively on stand-up, but I love sketch and improv, too. I want to get back into it because that community is really cool. Additionally, Evan and I are in the process of getting our own live show off the ground in Brooklyn. We’re pretty stoked.
Metronome: What might attendees expect at the Road Trip Comedy show at Theatre 99 on July 12?
Derek Humphrey: People can expect a great show. Despite our disparate locations we all have a solid comedy background and we wanted to end the run where it all began. We’re all humbled and grateful to have so many friends and followers to give us these opportunities to perform for them.
The Road Trip Comedy Tour — featuring Derek Humphrey (N.Y.C.), Evan Berke (N.Y.C.), Vince Fabra (Charleston), and Dusty Slay (Nashville) — lands in Charleston on Sat. July 12. Show time at Theatre 99 is 10 p.m. Admission is $10.
Top photo by Justin Commodore.
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