Published on June 1st, 2015 | by Free Standup NYC
Q&A with: Charles McBee and Andrew Bayroff
Let’s get the standard question out of the way first: Yahoo or Gmail?
Gmail all the way. What am I, a savage?
Where and how did you get your start, and how long ago?
I got my start here in NYC. I've been doing stand up for about 6 years now and counting. I moved here thinking that I would become a serious actor. But stand up was always this fantasy that I never thought would come true. I didn't think you could even enter into a club without being hilarious. Like you had to have permission from Chappelle, Rock and George Carlin. But then I discovered open mics and that was that. "You mean i just show up and sign my name?" I also took a class with teacher Rick Crom who's become a very dear friend over the years.
Who or what was the single most influential person or event in your life in stand up so far?
While I was attending the University of Cincinnati (one of many schools I flunked out of) I was staying with a friend for the summer. She didn't have cable. Just this old rabbit ears tv and a VCR. So bored to tears I was looking through her videos hoping to find a sex tape and stumbled upon Chris Rocks "Bring the Pain". Game changer. Sure I had heard comedians curse on stage before like def jam etc. But I had never been exposed to a comedian talking about the things he talked about. My first reaction was how is this guy not arrested? You can say this on stage and get away with it. I hadn't discovered Lenny or Carlin yet so this was my gateway. The only other version of this type of free speech had been in rap music for me. But never stand up. O.J killing his wife is understandable, Black people hate Niggas too and on and on. Being the son of two Baptist preachers from Ohio I thought my brain would explode and ooze out of my ears.
What has been the biggest pain in the ass for you in the past couple of years as a stand up?
The biggest pain in the ass has been not comparing myself to my peers. I'm at that stage where my friends are becoming famous. I'll be with my family and I'll say hey that's my friend on TV and they would say "oh cool, when are you going to be on tv?" Or, "how come you don't call them and ask them to make you famous too?" I had to learn that jealousy is a human emotion and doesn't make me evil. And that their success doesn't mean my failure. Having learned that I'm in a great space and I can be truly happy for everyone because I know how hard this game is.
You were raised in Toledo, what’s the stand up scene there like and how do you think growing up in a small town molded your take on the world and eventually stand up?
I'm not sure what that scene is like in Toledo. I haven't made my big debut as of yet. But its kind of small. There is a Funny Bone but that's about it. I started in NY and I'm so grateful for that. But I am glad that I have the perspective of growing up in a small town and now living in NYC for almost 8 years. Both places have positive and negative stereotypes. And both are correct. People in NY think that people from Ohio move at a slower pace and that we all love chain restaurants and that's true. But we also have a history of being super conservative and homophobic. People from Ohio think that New Yorkers are rude and always in a hurry to go nowhere. Which is true. But New Yorkers are extremely fascinating and always seeking knowledge. They come from all over to peruse a dream or change the world. New Yorkers are also a lot less judgmental because it's hard to think someone is weird when you pass by the Naked Cowboy everyday. I like having both perspectives and being able to live in the middle.
Just how many directions can Charles McBee be pulled in before he snaps? And would it be a Dave Chappelle going to Africa snaps, or Martin Lawrence running in the street holding a gun snaps? (Sorry, these happen to be two black comics, just a coincidence)
I'm pretty Zen about most things. I like to pick my battles. I had a pretty dark child hood. Some mental and emotional abuse combined with bullying at school. So I've experienced every type of depression, rage and sense of hopelessness. Now as an adult not much gets to me but I'm not made of steel. I'd probably snap if someone attacked my family or close friend. But I read the Art of War so I rarely act purely off emotion. However if I did snap I'd def pull a Chappelle over a Martin. Let's put it this way, I would love to pull a Martin but right before doing so I'd hop on a plane to Africa.
I’m a stand up that happens to be Jewish, I’m not a Jewish Stand up. Do you feel you’re a stand up that happens to be black, and not a black Stand up?
I am definitely a stand up that happens to be black. And when I say that, some people take that as me denouncing my blackness, whatever the hell that means. I love being black, I'm super militant on some issues. I'm very conscious and I have a deep love for my culture and history. Having said that, when I'm on stage I only see funny. Yes I may talk about race but I talk about it because its something I experience as a human being. I'm an educated black man in America so my point of view reflects that. I don't speak for all black people. I realize that the audience has something in their head in regards to how I'm going to be when they see me on stage depending on what I'm wearing. If I'm wearing glasses and a button up then they say "black nerd". If I'm wearing jeans and t shirt with no glasses they say hip hop or Urban comic. But once I perform they realize they have no clue as to which I am until I let them into my world so they just enjoy the ride and I love that.
I’ve always told younger comics they need to expand their name in the comedy world. Create a blog, produce a show, run an open mic, write a book. How important is it to not “just” be a stand up?
Expanding your name and brand is super important. People want to be in show business and never pay attention to the business part. When I know that I'm going to be on stage or just leaving my apt, I put on an attitude of today could be a day that changes my life. I dress a certain way; I make sure that I have business cards. I don't talk crazy about other comics and producers or shows. Never pass up an opportunity to shut up and listen. I have a web series, short films, and I also produce 6 shows because I didn't want to wait around for clubs to give me stage time. But even with my shows I make sure that they are packed and booked with professional comics because it all reflects back on me. The person who has their shit together stands a much better chance of succeeding than the person who's just "funny".
What is it about stand up comedy that is so alluring to people to try it out?
I did a show where the entire audience was filled with millionaires. I mean powerful people that could buy and sell my family a hundred times. Heck, some of their ancestors might have. The point is, most of them kept coming up to me with this look of awe and saying things like, "I could never do what you do." I'm a musician and actor and I know that if someone puts in the time and effort anyone can become an actor or a musician. Not everyone can be a comic. It's a true gift and even though it doesn't get the respect that it deserves, everyone knows that we are a special breed. Also making someone laugh is possibly the most powerful and natural medication there is. When you laugh it's impossible to feel pain. Even though the pain will still be there later, but in that moment you don't feel it and that's pretty amazing. Anyone who can do that for a living has to get some props.
For you, is there any topic that is really, truly, completely off limits?
There are topics that are off limits for me as a comic and my brand, but there are no topics that are off limits in general. I feel that comics can talk about whatever they want and the audience decides if it's funny or okay to talk about.
What does the next 5 years look like for Charles McBee?
The next five years involves me embarking on my first few failed tv pilots and also my first comedy special. I don't know where that special will air but I'm pretty sure I'll have one within the next five years and it will be awesome.
Could I have done a better job with these questions?
You could have done a way better job with these questions. You stink.