By Joe Carrel, Buffalo Exchange HQ
We spoke with Anwar Newton, a standup comic based in Phoenix, AZ, about finding your voice, the changing landscape of comedy and creating Literally the Worst Show Ever.
The Path to Becoming Funny
Was comedy something you always wanted to do?
Not at all, really. But people were always telling me I should do standup, so I went and hung out at an open mic – just sat in the back for several months. Eventually I saw one too many comedians that I thought I was funnier than. I thought, “If this guy can do it, anybody can.”
What was your first time on stage like?
A nightmare. It’s a wonder that I’m still doing it. I left feeling like, “This was the worst thing that has ever happened on this stage… at this bar… in this city!” There should have been some beacon of humanity to walk up to me and say, “Go give your day job your all. Get promoted. Invest in your 401k. Have a plan.”
What kept you coming back?
I learned that you don’t really understand how to be funny until you have enough failure under your belt. You think that you’d get better by constantly making people laugh, and the more laughs mean you’re getting funnier. But actually it’s the utter failures, the complete dejection of just crashing and burning – those feelings of despair you take off the stage really start to mold you into a great performer. And not just in comedy. It applies to a lot of performance art. Being at the very bottom helps you pull something genuinely magical out – something truly unique that people can really attach themselves to.
Was there a certain performance where it finally seemed to click?
I had agreed to appear at a friend’s out-of-town amateur standup showcase. I was broke, with rent due soon, and wound up having to turn down multiple good-paying shows so that I could be there. After a couple hours of driving to the venue, I was super frustrated, but there was no place for that frustration to go. I got onstage and grabbed the mic, not knowing which of my jokes – that I was already sick of telling – I was going to begin with. And I just stood there for about ten seconds.
Then I immediately started talking about something that was so controversial and on the top of everybody’s mind. I felt a certain way about it and just laid it out. That raw emotion made it genuinely relatable and funny. Afterwards people were like, “Dude, that is the funniest take on that issue I have ever heard.” It was this eureka moment. We always talk, me and other comedians I’m close to, that you get to the point where you stop telling jokes and you start just being funny.