Ian Edwards is honestly funny and funny, honestly. He talks to The Good Men Project’s Josh Bowman about his life, comedy and a refusal to be pigeonholed.
A comedian and writer of over 20 years, Ian Edwards has toured the country with his stand-up regularly opening for Joe Rogan. Ian was a full time staff writer on season 1 of the new hit ABC show Black-ish and just wrote punch-up on Ice Cube’s Barbershop 3. Ian can next be seen in Sean Baker’s feature Tangerine, which just premiered at Sundance to rave reviews and was purchased by Magnolia for theatrical distribution this summer. Furthermore, Ian wrote punch-up and was a consultant on the hit CBS show Two Broke Girls, was a writer/Supervising Producer on season 3 of the Adult Swim show Black Dynamite and appeared in the Jeff Garlin feature, Dealing with Idiots, opposite JB Smoove. In previous years, Ian wrote on Saturday Night Live and The Cartoon Network’s The Boondocks, was a series regular on MTV’s Punk’d and had stand-up performances on the BBC’s The World Stands Up and HBO’s Bad Boys of Comedy.
Most recently, Ian released his debut album 100% Half Assed on Conan O’Brien’s new record label, Team Coco Records. Ian is the first comedian that they chose to sign to the label and launch this new venture with. Ian is performing at Denver Comedy Works on December 30th and January 2nd, and at the Comedy Club on State from January 28th – 30th, 2016. You can also follow him on Twitter: @ianedwardscomic
GMP: So I understand that you started doing comedy working at Burger King?
Ian Edwards: Yeah I’d been here from Jamaica, and I was just trying to fit in and one of the co-workers, he was a really funny guy. I noticed that when you hung out with Greg all the shifts went faster cause he was a lot of fun. I was in a daze from being in a foreign country – it was a new environment that I had to get used to, and I didn’t take the time to think about what I would normally do in Jamaica. ‘That’s how you communicate with people, be funny.’ That’s what I used to do in Jamaica. So Greg reminded me to tap into my funny side.
GMP: You moved to Long Island. Is there a large Jamaican community in Long Island?
Ian Edwards: Yeah there’s a decent size one, I didn’t have to go far to get Jamaican food. In my high school there was like twenty of us, and we had a lot in common like sports – we liked soccer. And we had similar accents.
GMP: I lived in New York – there was a huge West Indian community in Brooklyn.
Ian Edwards: Parts of Brooklyn are really, really Jamaican. Food, people, it’s contagious too – some people who weren’t Jamaican get into it too!
GMP: So did you start with open mics?
Ian Edwards: Yeah, I started with Open Mics. There was a comedy club called Governors, and it was down the street from the Burger King and I started to watch, and I started going up and having bad sets – but that’s the process of it, you know. You have to start doing it.
GMP: When was the point where you decided, “Hey – I can make a living doing this?”
Ian Edwards: The first time I thought I could make a living from it – I used to go to Governors on the weekend to watch comics come through, and there were a lot of famous ones, and a lot of un-famous ones. And there was this one guy, this one weekend. I don’t know why I came to see him but the place was packed, and I knew he was making a good living, and I thought if this is the least I can do – performing on the weekend, making money, headlining at a club – than I know I can do this. That gave me confidence to continue.
GMP: So what is going on for you right now? I know you have a show in January.
Ian Edwards: Yeah Denver Comedy Works, December 30th and January 2nd. So I was just in Denver and I was doing shows with Rogan, and the lady who runs Comedy Works came down and she saw my set and we talked a little bit, and then maybe a week later the lady hit me up and asked if I want to headline! Before that I hadn’t been to Denver in years, and now I’m going to be back twice in one month. It’s one of the clubs the comics love, they talk about playing the Comedy Works and they love it.
GMP: Why do people love Denver?
Ian Edwards: It’s cold, but not overcast – you can still do a lot of outdoorsy stuff that doesn’t depress you, and in the summertime there’s lots of open air – feels fresh. Plus, weed is free. Weed is like the cocaine cowboys of Denver, building up the city, but now legally: weed money is building fancy hotels. People are moving there to get jobs. There’s jobs and shit there.
GMP: The crowds are just high and having a great time?
Ian Edwards: Yeah maybe that too. The way they set the club up is perfect. I think that’s what people love about it.
GMP: Do you think in places like Denver as opposed to New York or L.A., that comedy crowds are a little less jaded?
Ian Edwards: Possibly – but I’ve been a lot of places and had good shows. Like I work out of the Comedy Store, and that’s good. Like it’s always good in your local town to have a tough room to work out of. If something works there, than it will work anywhere because those audiences aren’t really giving it up unless it’s funny.
GMP: I saw – I think it was Chris Rock – talking about comedy, and he was saying if your jokes aren’t working, don’t blame the crowd, you just need to work on your material. Regardless of where you’re playing. If you’re funny, you’re funny.
Ian Edwards: Sometimes I’m too extreme, like I’ll take responsibility if the show goes bad, but I won’t always take responsibility if the show goes good. I’ll be like “nah that crowd was just a good crowd, they laughed at that other guy too!” But sometimes we just torture ourselves as comics.
GMP: You almost don’t believe an audience member who tells you you’re good.
Ian Edwards: After most shows I can find at least four and a half solid reasons why I didn’t like the show or why it wasn’t great after somebody says it was good.
GMP: It feels like you have to be a Jack of all Trades – you write, you do stand up, you have this album. It seems like you have to have a few irons on the fire to succeed in comedy.
Ian Edwards: For me, I like entertainment, acting, being in front of the camera. I was in Tangerine, I got that because the director saw me do stand up a couple times and asked me to be on it. I was on Conan, @midnight too. And sometimes you have to go on the road where there are no cameras, just grinding it out.
GMP: You’ve done Conan a few times, and in 2014 you released your debut album 100% Half-Assed. Is there a live special?
Ian Edwards: I’m gonna work on that for this year. I definitely want to do that for this year. It’s gonna be different than the album, new material. I don’t want to take a long time to work it out. We have to definitely figure that out. It’s on my mind – it’s like the next thing to do. To be honest, I wanted to do this in 2015, but it didn’t get done. I definitely want to get that done 2016.
GMP: That’s on your vision board.
Ian Edwards: It’s on the vision board – on the procrastination line.
GMP: In past interviews you’ve talked about Patrice O’Neal and honesty – he was a really vulnerable, honest comic. How have you built that honesty into your routines and jokes?
Ian Edwards: It’s funny – my first favourite comic was Richard Pryor. So…he was honest. So, sometimes you forget about being honest…cause you listen to Richard Pryor albums in the beginning when you start out, but 10 years later you’re not listening to Richard Pryor, you’re just doing you. So then it’s good to run into comics who remind you to be honest. When you’re honest, you’re also being yourself, but you’re also being original, cause you’re the only one going through the experiences you’re going through. Talking about the things that I see in the specific way that I see them. It also helps me to stay away from some of the topics that other people are touching, and it helps me to talk about standard topics from another angle, that’s original. Honesty makes a hacky topic original again. Patrice is one of those reminders along the way to stay on the path and stick to the blueprint.
GMP: I feel like you do have a pretty unique story – born in England, raised in Jamaica, coming to the States, living in NY, and now living in LA. You’re not like other comics, you have a very different perspective.
Ian Edwards: Jamaican people have their sense of humour, which is straight-forward, then English comedy is straight-forward and kind of warped, and now I’m in America. I don’t take those things for granted, they’re mixed in me and they come out the way they come out.
GMP: It seems like there’s a world of ‘urban’ comedy that doesn’t intersect with ‘mainstream’ comedy. You seem to float in both worlds.
Ian Edwards: I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I went to this seminar one time and they had a panel of writers, and this one woman, I forgot her name, but she started on In Living Colour, and she was representing the one-hour drama side. She was talking about how she didn’t want to be pigeonholed so pretty much right after In Living Colour she started working on One Hour Dramas. Like in the early 2000’s they had UPN and WB and they had a lot of black shows, and once that dried up like where did all those writers go? Hopefully some of them survived. But I want to be able to work anywhere. I’m from everywhere, so why shouldn’t I? We’re all human beings, we’re all the same. I just want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, instead of somebody telling me I can’t do it because I’m black and I don’t have any experience.
GMP: Does that happen?
Ian Edwards: That happens without anybody even telling me, like when you don’t get a call for a job. Like I said in another interview…there’s this writer, he’s a staff writer on Undateable, and they were looking for a diversity hire. So he calls me about it. Now the guys a white guy who is a staff writer. Now staff writing is the first level of writing. He was trying to get me a job, he was trying to help. But the only time he thought to reach out to me was when they were looking for a diversity hire, not when they were hiring writers period. And he felt like he was doing me a favour, which he was…but I would have felt better if somebody would just reach out to a black writer because he’s a writer and they need writers period and not just – oh, it’s a diversity spot.
GMP: It’s crazy. There’s so many good comics and writers, who seem to get pigeonholed, as you say, and maybe just because they don’t run in the right circles, or because of race…
Ian Edwards: You have to run in the right circles man. I was a Long Island comic, and you could also make money doing shows in the Tri-State area, so you have all these rooms in Jersey, Connecticut, even down to Philadelphia. So you could make a living. But when I watched comics on TV, I would see all the comics – no matter what race they were – were all from Manhattan. So I thought ‘I have to go where those comics who are getting booked on those T.V. shows, and that’s the city.’ Like Chappelle was on them shows…so I thought fuck it, I’m gonna go to Manhattan. And once I started performing in a Manhattan club, I never really went back. And I got a manager there.
GMP: Is that what triggered the move to L.A.? To write on T.V.?
Ian Edwards: So Keenan’s show comes up, and they’re looking for writers, and my name is getting around as a good writer because people are looking at my stand up and the way it’s written – which I have no idea of, like I’m just following a blueprint. So then I get approached by one of the managers by one of the clubs called Gotham where they have an audition, so they say come on down, they want to find new writers, but they want to look at stand-ups. So I go and perform, they like me, and ask if I have any writing samples. I write some ideas down that night, I submit them, and then they hire me. So now I’m in L.A., and then that show gets cancelled. And I just always liked the idea of L.A. Like living in Jamaica, I was used to the sun. And I think I can get more writing jobs here if I stay, even if the only people I know were on the show that just got cancelled. So I just stay, and start getting some work.
GMP: So do you ever workshop stuff on the road?
Ian Edwards: I’m gonna have to. The more dates I get the more I’m gonna have to. I like the comfort of trying stuff out at the Comedy Store, but it will get easier and easier to do on the road. Assuming you’re building up to another special – it’s a balance, because you don’t want to go on the road and do garbage…I have an hour for the special already that wasn’t on the album. So all I’m gonna do is slip in newer bits, and you know hopefully I’ll get to an hour and a half, or maybe more – and then when I shoot the special, I’ll have some left-over, so that when I continue on the road, I’m not starting from scratch and people are not getting a completely shitty show. When you see me this year, it’s all good. I’m gonna plan ahead so I’ll never torture an audience with all new material. Come out let’s have some fun, tell some truths.
GMP: Just do 5 hours of whatever, until everyone leaves. Just eat chips on stage.
Ian Edwards: If I could make that a bit – a funny bit – I’d do it.