Comedy has been always brought light to the lives of those that have needed it, but pursuing a career in the field is anything but funny. Parker Newman, a Theatre Arts major at Sacramento City College, has been working on his material for a while, and after a year of doing shows, the budding comedian has begun to see his reputation build, especially following a profile in a Sacramento publication.
Newman’s comedy dives into the absurd and the dark. In a recording of his set from Punch Line San Francisco, he recalls being with a friend of his who was smoking a cigarette when a mother asks the two of them to smoke elsewhere. As he leaves, Newman says, loudly enough for the mother to hear, that the two of them are now going to have to find another way to kill her child. She hears, and responds irately, “You have no idea how hard it is being a mother.” Newman retorts, “Yeah, I do, that’s why I’m trying to take them off your hands.”
Newman first performed stand-up when he was seventeen, and like so many other horrifying firsts that occur in your teen years, the experience was not an immediate success. “It was awful,” he says. “I tried going up and I just ate it so bad. Like literally not even one laugh. “
He adds, “I ran [off the stage when the light came on]. When the light goes on, it means that you have one minute, but I thought it meant that you have to get off now, so I just ran off.”
After that set, Newman stepped away from comedy before pursuing it again seriously. He returned at nineteen, and, now, after learning the ropes and performing more often, Newman feels more prepared than ever. “I just had my first anniversary of stand-up; I’ve been doing it seriously for one year. I definitely feel like it’s completely transformed, and I’ve been a lot more confident on stage, which used to be a huge problem.”
While Newman may have started off on the wrong foot in comedy, that didn’t dissuade him from finding more avenues to perform. “I’ve always wanted to stand-up; it’s [one of the few things] that I’m good at. I can’t play sports or talk to girls, so it’s the only option. I do love it. It’s something that I’ve always loved, making people laugh and whatnot, it’s a good feeling.”
The young comedian still has a long way to go as a performer, and feels that the areas in which he needs to improve aren’t so much related to his material as they are his delivery, but he has made massive strides in his stage presence and demeanor. “I feel like I’m more intuitive with what’s going around me now. At first, it’s just like you see the light and it feels like there’s a helicopter hovering right above you. I got a lot more comfortable. I’m starting to realize it’s okay to bomb.”
His improvement on stage comes as a result of getting on a lot more stages, as the Sacramento City College student has made it a priority to perform as often as he can. Where he formerly used to do stand-up exclusively at a local venue, the Sacramento Comedy Spot, for the last several months he has begun playing shows at The Punchline in San Francisco, a larger venue that has exposed him to other talented comics, which has helped him improve his own material. With a larger venue comes higher expectations though, and his experiences have been a mixed bag in terms of encouragement and derision.
“[Stand-up] can be fun, but a challenge. It’s weird, sometimes some people won’t listen, but [sometimes the venue is] also a bar and you can barely hear yourself talk. Some other comics are horrible and make you want to kill yourself, but that’s just people in general. You can’t let them get to you, though; some people don’t go to comedy shows because they don’t want to deal with those people, but then you’re letting them win.”
While performing at shows, Newman has more actively begun pushing his own boundaries and testing new material, and that’s where open mics really figure into the equation. When it comes to experimenting with untested jokes, there is no better environment than a room full of strangers and a spotlighted microphone. “I don’t really like doing my best material at an open mic, because I know it works already. I don’t mind doing a couple good jokes and squeezing in an old one, but I don’t like doing all old stuff. You don’t really go to open mics to do well; you do them to get new material.”
Fortunately for Newman (and all comedians everywhere), technology has afforded aspiring joke-tellers another great resource for testing material, one that requires much less time and produces much less anxiety. Newman has found that Twitter, which is basically a character-count-controlled open mic, to be the perfect place to shoot off test jokes into the world and see how they are received by the anonymous internet. On Twitter as @parker_tips, the college student gets to have a little more fun playing in the online sandbox, casting a broader net to a wider audience to see what works and what doesn’t.
“A lot of my tweets are really transferrable on stage, that’s why I like Twitter. It’s good and bad, though; when you’re good on stage, no one will hear it except other comics, but on Twitter you don’t really know who’s going to hear it.”
An Absurdity of Style
Through his year of stand-up, Newman says that he has evolved as a comedian. “At first, [my comedy] was very dark, more one-liners; now I really like writing absurd nonsense. I feel like it’s changing, but if I had to describe it…I don’t know, you’d just have to watch it.”
From his Twitter, the inspiration is apparent. From nonsensical quips like “I sure hope that my cats don’t know that I masturbate” to reinterpretations of truisms like “Absence DOES make the heart grow fonder. Proof that my dad loves me,” the love for the absurd shines through.
In comedy, flow and presence are the most important parts of performance, and in his comedic role models, it’s their poise that he most wants to emulate. “[My favorite comics are] so honest. Whenever they talked, it didn’t even sound like they were doing bits—it just sounded like they were talking to you one on one, especially with Chris Rock. I could never really, when I watched his specials, imagine him at an open mic saying the same joke. Every delivery was like the first time he ever said it.”