Erskine adds Youngstown to comedy resume
Different audiences have discovered comedian Kellen Erskine from different sources.
The Dry Bar comedy app (which specializes in clean comedy) and its YouTube videos have brought him the most social media followers. A spot on Conan O’Brien’s TBS show earned him the most credibility among his fellow comedians.
And being featured on the Amazon Prime reality series “Inside Jokes” brought him his most devoted fans. The six-episode series followed several comedians on their quest to land a spot on the New Faces Showcase at the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, which helped launch the careers of Kevin Hart, Gabriel Iglesias, Amy Schumer, Ali Wong and many others.
“Amazon didn’t really promote it, but their advance algorithm found the people who really love comedy,” he said during a telephone interview. “Those are the ones who come up after the show, who want me to sign stuff. It really resonated with a lot of guys.”
The show revealed Erskine as a father torn by pursuing a career that regularly pulled him away from his family. Traveling three time zones away from the West Coast to headline three shows at Youngstown’s Funny Farm Comedy Club this weekend may seem like part of that dilemma, but Erskine said he can make as much or more money headlining a comedy club on a weekend as he did doing nine days of one-nighters through California and Arizona, playing bars that have a comedy night once per week and really aren’t set up for presenting live comedy.
Erskine said he never got used to the cameras following him around on “Inside Jokes,” “But they were with us so much they captured a lot of real moments.”
It was far different from his first experience with “reality” television, a 2012 appearance on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
“‘America’s Got Talent’ was very contrived,” he said. “They’d feed you lines to say while they were interviewing you … (‘Inside Jokes’) resonates more emotionally. With six episodes, you’re able to see that comedy is a grind. A lot of it isn’t fun. People watching it believe it more than they would a reality show.”
Erskine has a dry delivery and approaches topics from a unique perspective. When he appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last year, he let the Siri voice on his iPhone deliver some of his observational punchlines. He gets laughs imagining the mischief he could cause with a bicycle lock or by taking someone else’s shopping cart at the grocery store.
Considering his delivery, it’s not a surprise when Erskine cites comedian Steven Wright as an early influence.
“A friend gave me a Bill Cosby record, but it didn’t resonate with me,” he said. “I’m probably OK with that at this point. Then a friend gave me a cassette tape of Steven Wright. That opened up my world to, ‘Oh, this is what comedy can be.'”
Like many wannabe comedians, he turned to joke books for his early material but that wasn’t satisfying.
“When I read jokes, they weren’t laughing at me. I wanted the credit. They were laughing at the book, so I started writing as a teenager.”
His love of standup hasn’t diminished more than 20 years later. Erskine said he is developing a TV show, “But even the process of that is so I can take standup to the next level. Standup is my first love, the best thing to do, the best feeling. It beats anything else for me.”
He plans to follow the path of Jerry Seinfeld, who continues to do standup despite being the first “billionaire comedian” instead of abandoning standup the way performers like Eddie Murphy did (although Murphy is plotting a return to standup after 30 years).
“I can’t understand how they can do that, but I’ve also never been offered $40 million.”