Clean jokes. Unclean jokes. Either way, these three stand-up comics performing at the Lighthouse at Shem Creek this week have got 'em. One, a former litigator, lives in Maine but has a Southern accent; another is a former English major who speaks four languages; and the other might single you out and knock you down a peg. Think you can handle it?
Karen Morgan, who turns 50 this year, had a great career as a trial attorney. But after she had three children in three years she decided to get out of the courtroom and stay home with her kids.
"While I was home with three babies I went a little nuts," she says. "I told my husband that I had to get out of the house and do something before I shoot everybody in this household." That was almost 10 years ago. She still has all her kids.
Though she's from Athens, Ga., Morgan and her family live in Portland, Maine. To get out of the house she signed up at a nearby comedy club for stand-up classes. She did so well that her comedy instructor nominated a video of her act for a nationwide contest that was searching for the funniest mom in America. Morgan became one of seven finalists out of 1,200 comedians and started doing stand-up in New York City.
"I'd always watched stand-up and never really thought 'Oooh, I want to do that,'" she says. "But what I found with the comedy, which is why I stay with it, is that learning to write comedy is a very, very special thing." She fell in love with the challenge.
Working a courtroom during trials as an attorney, she says, gave her the confidence to stand up in front of people. But she admits being a comic is almost harder than being a lawyer. Most of Morgan's material comes from her family and from being a Southerner living in Maine. "I talk a lot about my mom. My mom's retired and she doesn't know she's funny, but she's hilarious," Morgan says. "I always have a pen in my hand when I talk to her. I find that the life experiences of people that I perform for, they might be younger than me, but they're going to be my age one day. And if they aren't parents yet, they have parents. I find the family subject matter is always a good dynamic for me."
Originally from Montreal, 34-year-old Daniel Tirado, who speaks four languages, lives in New York City where he practices what he describes as a clean but edgy act. He got into the stand-up comedy business when he was 26, but he went to school for theater.
"I just didn't want to be like that actor who waits by the phone for auditions," he says. He wanted to be more active. So after reading an autobiography of Robin Williams, who wrote that after doing stand-up comedy he felt like he could do anything, Tirado switched gears.
What he likes about stand-up, he says, is that he gets to create his own work.
"You're your own writer and performer," he says. "You have an audience, and a stage, and you're constantly working your creativity.
Within six months of doing stand-up he was hooked.
Besides being on the cleaner side of comedy, Tirado says it's hard to describe his typical act. "I feel like it's just doing me," he says. "It's a lot more challenging to write a clean joke than to make a fart joke."
This year's Charleston Comedy Fest will be the second time Tirado has performed in the Holy City. What stuck in his mind about the place?
"It's so rich historically," he says. "It's cool to know that like every restaurant is haunted. It's kind of spooky, but I didn't want to leave there."
Nicholas Anthony, 31, is a heady, high-energy, and quick-delivery comic who won first place at the coveted Las Vegas Comedy Festival and appeared on NBC's Last Comic Standing. He's also currently in an advanced TV-writing program at UCLA where he recently won a half-hour pilot for a script he wrote.
His comedy, he says, is going through something of a transformation.
"I'm at this place now where I'm really starting to kind of hone in on what makes me, me," he says. "And I think that's a combination of just scooping out my guts and really wanting to have some pathos and wanting to be held accountable to what I'm actually talking about as opposed to just a punchline." For the first 10 years of his comedy career, he was basically just learning how to make people laugh. Now he's much more particular about his message.
For Anthony, there isn't a topic he wouldn't joke about.
"I think if you can't laugh at it, it's won," he says. "I think levity brings light to places that can be very dark. Timing is part of it — and tactfulness. The only thing offensive to me is unfunny. I'm not that shocking, but I'm not a prude either."
At 6' 2", Anthony says he doesn't get heckled that much. "I'm an intense guy. And I've got a microphone. People don't say a lot of dumb shit to me." Heckles from the crowd, he says usually come from one of two places: bad comedy or an empty glass.