BWW Interview: Comedians Tollie (Tollie) Jones, Peter Davenport and Chris Davis talk about the boom of comedy in Birmingham.
This week I was able to grab an interview with three of Birmingham's best comics performing at the BIRMINGHAM COMEDY FESTIVAL Tollie Jones, Pete Davenport and Chris Davis are hilarious and motivated comics with passion to grow the comedy scene in Birmingham.
Tollie (Tollie) Jones has established himself as one of the top comics in Birmingham. He has been a showrunner for multiple comedy shows that give local comics a place to show their stuff. He spoke to me on how the comedy scene in Birmingham has grown. "In 2008, we had one solid weekly open mic and one monthly show (Fresh Ground Comics) that was really solid. Outside of those shows, there weren't many opportunities to get stage time. The only option was to move to a bigger city" The past nine years has seen a spike in the amount of open mics, dedicated shows and visiting national comics. Now, we are much more ambitious about the shows we produce. "
Jones produces HELLO CITY and THEME SHOW. Both have a steady line up of talent and a strong audience in Birmingham. With the rise of interest in comedy he does not have to work as hard to book venues. "A few of us showrunners have built up enough of a reputation that venues and organizations are now reaching out to us." I asked who are some of the pioneers showrunners are. "Chris Ivey and his Goulash Comedy brand was really essential to the growth we've had over the past two years. In that time, he's brought in performers that previously didn't even consider Birmingham as a stop on their tour. Jackie Kashian, Myq Kaplan, Shane Mauss, Sean Patton, Sam Tallent, Sasheeer Zamata, Billy Wayne Davis. Not only are these great shows to bring to Birmingham audiences, but it's also a chance for local comics to work with some of the most respected names in the business on our own turf. And that's invaluable."
Jones is a true original with great material and delivery. In all the years I've seen him go up he's never lost stride. He gives comedy his all. I asked him why he continues to get up on the mic. "Being part of or producing comedy shows that "works" is an electric feeling. Considering all the elements working against you to promote, book, and perform stand-up shows in the age of endless home entertainment and more sure-fire attractions available to audiences, you feel like you've moved a mountain when a show goes really well."
Peter Davenport has been doing comedy in Birmingham since 2013. He has also seen first hand how the industry has expanded. "It's great to see the scene growing but really irritating when the new folks are funnier than me." He tell me about the changes he has witnessed. "When I started in 2013 the only regular show was Fresh Ground and there was one weekly open mic at Stillwater Pub (RIP). Since then the number of venues has grown exponentially."
The bars and restaurants in town have taken notice of the massive numbers of people looking for live comedy along with a beer and food. They have opened the doors to artists looking to bring live comedy in. "We've gotten a ton of support from places like Syndicate Lounge, Rojo, Buck Mulligan's, Saturn, and Urban Standard, just to name a few."
Davenport's commitment to developing his own material is heard in his sets. "I love how different every show can be. Every venue has its own vibe and its own audience. It forces you to be present and react to whatever is happening in the room. Also sometimes you get free beers." May the ale flow!
Chris Davis is one of the top comedy headliners in Birmingham. Funny, fresh and fast on his feet. He has opened for national touring comics and hosted every event in town. Like most comics Davis had no ambition to get up on a mic and deliver the funny, but he has been a big fan of all forms of comedy. "I saw a flyer looking for players for an improv comedy troupe. Didn't think I'd get in, but was lucky enough to have been cast in Birmingham's first improv troupe, Torrential Downplay.' His hilarious improv skills grew like a champ and it didn't take long for Davis to be well recognized about town for being as I call him "The Comedy Mayor of Birmingham." Three years later he thought he would give stand-up a try. He killed it and has kept growing his skills and audience numbers. Davis is a man of many hats. He can be found performing improv with ETC and Ugly Baby. He is also the host of Birmingham's stand up show Fresh Ground Comics. He is also a working graphic designer, dog painter and model for black men's skinny jeans.
Davis finds focus and inspiration in working comics that deliver smart and original material. "Seeing my fellow comics do well, inspire me to try harder and stay focused. There's nothing like seeing the evolution of one of your comedy friends right before your eyes. Nationally, Paul F. Tompkins is a comic that always inspires me. I love what he does and his work ethic. Not to mention, he's the most well dressed hustler in the biz."
Looking at how has comedy boomed in Birmingham Davis reflects, "I feel fortunate to have been either on the ground floor or witness so many scenes and versions of comedy in Birmingham. From the first improv troupe in 2000, to the 1st regular independent stand-up show in 2003 till now." He attributes the growth of Birmingham's comedy scene to comics "being supportive of each other and having the support of the community is instrumental in keeping the comedy scene going." With the large numbers at shows and comics on the mic, it does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
Davis is no stranger to putting up a set or performing improv. He finds the comedy festival to offer "a great variety of stand up comics that are from out of town with the mix of us locals. It shows other festivals and comedians that we have a viable product to offer right here in our fare city. Variety of comics is great, variety of comedy is even better!"
Davis finds inspiration for his material in the daily shenanigans we all are exposed to in a day. "It's all around me. Observational comedy is fun for us lazy comics who don't want to research, but just be voyeurs taking in all the weird stuff around our lives."
When asked what is his favorite thing about comedy, he replies with a laugh "it's all been so much fun. I've been asked which I prefer, improv or stand up. My answer is always, BOTH!" He's looking forward to getting the word out about Birmingham's comedy talent. If you see him at the festival buy him a sandwich cuz he is so busy he probably has not eaten today.
You can enjoy the comedy stylings of these fine fellows and many others at THE BIRMINGHAM COMEDY FESTIVAL - Friday May 19th to Monday May 21st.
You can find a full festival lineup; venue information and get tickets at www.birminghamcomedyfestival.com
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Passes for the entire weekend are only $40. Day passes are $20 each day.