Melvin Bender has been in the comedy game for 17 years. He’s opened for everybody from Kevin Hart to Kathleen Madigan. He’ll be in the new sitcom Detroiters, and he continues to perform all over the country. I asked him a few questions…
1. How do you describe your comedy?
I describe my comedy as high energy, from the hip, with no filter; smart with a crazy side.
2. Who were your comedic influences? What did you admire about them?
Richard Pryor for his ability to do different material almost every time on stage.
George Carlin for how smart his comedy was.
Eddie Murphy for his ability to do it all.
3. Tell us about the talent show performance that got you started in comedy.
First year in college, I walk over to the auditorium to go see the talent show and there were only 4 or 5 acts. They needed more. They knew I could dance, so they asked me if I would get in it and dance. I was like, “Uhh nope!”
Then a friend of mine was like, “Go tell jokes,” and I was like, “Uhh nope!” Then he told the young lady that was in charge to ask me. And because she was so pretty, I was like “Ok, I will do jokes.” She said, “Ok, great you can go first because we need to set the other acts up.”
My heart almost stopped, I was so nervous. I didn’t have a set so off the top I went. Joke 1 was about the cafeteria, joke 2 was about flying roaches, and when those two hit I was in. And I knew then that this is what I’m going to do forever.
4. You went into the corporate world, but then crossed into comedy. How did you make that transition? What advice would you give to other people who are trying to make that transition?
When I was working, I would do open mics at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle. Doing that, I got my comedy chops up. I never took classes or anything, so I had to teach myself right from wrong and funny from not funny. I always wanted to be better than the next; that was my goal.
So when I started to get paid to MC and then feature, I was in. Then someone said, “If you had more time you could make more money.” Nothing was going to get in my way from then on. I decided to leave my job and go full-time comic.
So for anyone that’s going for it, just understand that just like any job you’re not going to come out the gate making crazy money. The more work you put in, the more you will get out of it. In anything you do, you have to practice to become great. You want the big pay day? Then work hard.
Look at most pro athletes: Some make league minimum and some make millions. Look at the work ethic of the greats that make millions and then look at the others. ‘Nuff said. Put the work in, be professional, and stay humble. Never look for handouts, just get it!
5. Can you talk about how you developed the physicality that you bring to the stage?
My style was given to me by a comic from New York when we were working the Comedy Castle. I’m sorry, but I can’t remember his name. I was the MC that night. My first time doing it, actually. After the first show, we were in the green room talking and he asked, “Can I give you some advice?” And of course, I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Your jokes are silly and funny, but what will make them better if you paint a better picture of them.” He said, “Act them all the way out. Make people believe they were there with you. If you have to jump, then jump; if you have to fall, then fall. Etc. etc.”
So the second show, I did what he told me to do and it made a huge difference. Every joke went over great and I was hooked. So from that day forward I painted the best picture I could.
6. Tell us about your writing process.
My writing process is simple, I write down anything that makes me smile or laugh. Once I have 5 good ideas, I then start to work on them. I write down jokes until I actually laugh at them. Then I take it to the stage. If it works, then great; and if it doesn’t, I will go back to the drawing board. I try it two or three more times and if I worked it out to make it funny, great. If that doesn’t work, I scratch it.
7. You’ve opened for a number of big names, including Kevin Hart, Cedric the Entertainer, and Damon Wayans. Explain how a comedian lands those opportunities. What advice would you give to up-and-coming comedians hoping to open for larger acts?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of big names. And I got those opportunities by taking advantage of working in small rooms. Anytime I’m on stage, I go hard. One person or 10,000 people, I give the same energy on stage. So when promoters and other comics see that, they will always remember me.
So when the times come and they are looking for good acts, they think back to me giving a great show and call me. And the fact that I’m funny helps as well.
So new comics, please listen to this advice: When you’re doing open mics or small shows, don’t BS. Do your show and do it well. If the crowd is light and not listening to other comics, that doesn’t mean you go BS. Do your material. Remember: What you do in practice, you will do in the game!
8. What projects are you currently working on?
I’m still on the road, constantly doing shows. I recently shot for the new show Detroiters on Comedy Central. And I’m working on two pilot shows that I will be pitching in a couple of months. So all is definitely well. I’m just ready to hit that next level!
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