By David Gavri
An all-around performer, Theodore M.E. Taylor is more than just a comedian. He’s also a singer, an actor, a storyteller, and a writer. Theo is part of the comedy troupe known as The Deadbeat Club, whose members include: Steven Katz, Keith Manning, John Gard, Frank Garcia, and Mark Hurtado. In 2011, Theo was crowned as Houston’s Funniest Person, and continues to kill it. You can catch him at The Improv–Houston’s biggest stage. We were lucky to hang with Theo and learn a few things about himself as well as the art of comedy.
So your name is Theodore M.E. Taylor. What does the M.E. stand for?
My full name is Theodore McKnevil Ebenezer Taylor.
Sounds like the name of an opera singer. [laughs]
Well I actually I am a singer, too.
[Now embarrassed, but tries to play it off] Interesting! Tell us about that.
I’ve always had a performance background. Back in school I would sing and perform. I would LOVE the attention I would get from the audience, because nobody really knew that I could sing, so it was nice to show ‘em that I could do something like that. But at the same time it was like, “I don’t wanna be a fuckin singer!”
I also got into theater, which I really love. It’s helped me with acting and doing sketches with The Deadbeat Club. From there I got into forensics—which is the art of speaking. Whatcha do, you basically get up there in a suit and with a black book, and you perform a piece that you wrote. There’s a judge that you’re trying to impress. And you go through rounds, trying to make it to a certain round. You basically go up in there in front of a buncha people and you tell your story. And all of it has helped me out a lot when it comes to doing comedy.
You’re very well rounded in the performing arts. How did you end up choosing stand up comedy?
Well, the first time I ever went on stage as a comedian was when I was in the second grade. My elementary school was doing a talent show and I just wanted to be in it—yet, I didn’t know what I was gunna do. I saw a stand up comedian on TV the night before, so I was like, “That’s it, I’m gunna do comedy!”
Do you remember your very first joke?
Keep in mind, this was second grade, but the first joke I did, I went there and said, “Whew! I almost got ran over by a turtle!” It’s not that funny, but for a second grader to come up with that shit, it was great!
When did you start doing comedy and taking it seriously?
I truly started doing stand up back in 2000 when I turned eighteen. It was at the ol’ (Laff) Stop. I did my first five minutes—BOMBED. Bombed pretty damn good. The person hosting at the time was Cate Puckett, and she told me, “Hey, come back next week!” And that’s all I needed. [laughs] I was like, “Shit! I’m comin back!”
You’ve been doing stand up for twelve years now. Tell us about the most bizarre show you’ve ever played.
One of the craziest experiences I had was during a show that I did with Keith Manning and Jennifer Jermany. We got booked for a Nigerian concert—cuz you’ll do anything. [laughs] And first of all, being a Nigerian concert, it’s all black people—so the show was supposed to start at eight o’clock, but it didn’t start till like ten. Keith goes up first cuz he was the host. He was being raunchy—and NOBODY was laughing. So he starts talkin to ‘em like, “What are ya’ll, fuckin retarded? The fuck’s wrong witchyall?!” [laughs]
And right before Jennifer went up, they had these boys on stage dancin ‘n gyratin ‘n shit. So Jennifer goes up after them all raunchy like, “I’ll fuck the kids! I’ll fuck em!” The crowd wasn’t havin it. By the time it was my turn to go up, the crowd was shouting, “REFUND! WE WANT A REFUND!” Now, I’ve gone up on stage to boos or dead silence—but never gone up to “REFUND”. [laughs] But luckily, the band that everybody came to see finally showed up, and so they put ‘em on without me goin up—which I was real happy about.
And as the band starts, we hear nothing but organs playing. We all look at each other like, “Is this a Gospel concert?!” [laughs] IT WAS A NIGERIAN GOSPEL CONCERT! [laughs] With Keith all, “What are ya’ll, fuckin retarded!” And Jennifer all, “I’ll fuck the kids! I’ll fuck em!”
[moment of laughter]
Talkin to the booker we were like, “Why didn’t you tell us this was a gospel concert?!” He’s all, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” And we’re lookin at him like, “No! It’s NOT okay!” [laughs] We laughed SO hard afterwards. Nobody wanted to look at us, it was fuckin fantastic. [laughs]
[laughs] That’s great. Tell us about what the Houston comedy scene was like back when you started in 2000.
The scene back then was very clicky. People just wouldn’t talk to you. After I started, I took about a year and a half off, and the only person who was still friendly with me when I came back was Al Bahmani—who I’m still good friends with today. When I started back at the (Laff) Stop, they had two rooms for comedy—the front room and the back room. And for the first two years, I never left the front room. There was something in me that felt like I shouldn’t perform in the back room until I’m a good comedian. So I would go back there and watch EVERY SINGLE comedian that performed in the back room. Everybody who did good, and everybody who did bad—you can learn a lot from watching comedians who do bad. You can learn A LOT from bad comedians.
You gotta be a student of the craft. Gotta become a student of comedy. Watching other comedians—you’ll start critiquing their jokes and it’ll help you find ways to tell your jokes better. It helps you learn how to write. And it helps you learn how to perform. You HAVE TO BE a student of comedy. Watch live shows, watch old specials, watch anything comedy related.
What are some of the things that you like to watch?
I grew up watching shows that were on Nick at Night—Get Smart, Dick van Dyke, Dobie Gillis ‘n shit like that. I’m real old school, I love the old shit. And I hear alotta new comics talkin about the older stuff like, “Ah man that stuff’s old!” But man, you can learn SO MUCH about timing just from watching an episode of I Love Lucy. Those were filmed in front of LIVE studio audiences! So there were times when their jokes didn’t work, but since they were live, they had to keep going. Or other times where the joke worked so well, they didn’t wanna keep going because they didn’t wanna kill that laughter. You can really learn a lot about timing just from watching those old shows with those live studio audiences.
What fears do you have in comedy?
I have a fear that the last joke I write is my last funny joke. Like, “Oh that’s GOOD! I dunno if I can write another one like that!” But honestly though, if you keep writing and you keep on your grind, you will keep coming up with good material. It’s a good fear, it keeps you on your toes—keeps you writing.
Tell us about your writing process.
I don’t write anything down. I remember everything that I do—that’s just how I am, and it works for me. Basically, I come up with a joke while I’m doing something else—walking, doing dishes, stuff like that. And then I repeat it over ‘n over. They always tell you, that to learn your lines, you wanna say them while doing something else. Why? Because it becomes second nature. It sticks in your brain that way. When I write, I answer three questions: 1) WHAT am I trying to say? What am I trying to convey to the audience? 2) WHY is it funny? 3) HOW do I make it funny? And if you’re able to answer the first two, the third one’s easy.
Do you have a central theme to your act? Every comic has that one “thing” that they’re known for. What would you say is your “thing”?
Pryor said it best, “There are no rules to comedy, just be funny.” I just try to make funny. I don’t wanna be known as the guy who only does jokes about this or that. I just try to find the funny in everything.
What comments do you have about the Houston comedy scene as a whole?
This is gunna come off a little bit harsh, but real talk, everybody’s trying to fight for the scene or whatever…and I say, fuck the scene. And the reason I say that is the goal in comedy is to get good in whatever town that you’re from, and then get the fuck out. Everybody in your town that you started comedy will always know you as a new comedian. Everybody knows when you sucked. So you gotta get out.
Everybody wants to know how to make the scene better—man worry about making yourself better! Worry about you gettin strong and then GET THE HELL OUT of your fucking town. Don’t be a big fish in a small pond, it sucks!
And the reality is, there’s no industry in Houston. There’s none. So there’s no reason to stay here. Comedy is WAY BIGGER than whatever town you started in. It’s an American art form that has expanded all over the globe. When people try to push you down, realize that. Don’t worry about all the drama and all that pointless shit. Just worry about you. Get better, and get out. And get on your grind. Whatever city you go to, whether it’s L.A., New York, Chicago—shit, even Austin—if you put your nose to the grindstone, you will make something of yourself. Get on your grizzly.
Advice for the young comics?
Eighty percent of what you do in this business depends on what you do off the stage. Face time, networking, shaking hands, smiling, not being a douchebag—cuz you never know where your work will come from. Being funny is a plus [laughs] I promise you, you will not go anywhere if you don’t know what to do off stage. You can have A+ likeability with C+ jokes, and you will go far in the business—because people like you. Now, you can have A+ jokes with C+ likeability, and you will go nowhere—because nobody likes you.
Also be consistenly funny. You’ve got to murder it every single time you hit the stage. You don’t know who’s watching. Consistency is the key. It will help you get lucky.
And it’s all about getting lucky. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Prepare yourself for the opportunity.
Interviewed & Written By: David Gavri