All comedians are interesting characters. Gary Owen, especially. He’s a white comedian with the title, ‘Funniest Black Comedian’. He’s also the only white comedian to ever host Comic View on BET, and the only white on-air personality the network has ever had. Growing up in a trailer park in Ohio, Gary found his way out and into the navy where he began his comedy career. “I was always smiling,” he recalls, “I got yelled at for smiling all the time.” Either way, his laughs and smiles earned him ‘Funniest Serviceman in America’.
More recently Owen headlined in Mike Epps Presents: Live from the Club Nokia which is currently airing on Showtime. He’s appeared in the films Little Man with the Wayans Brothers, Rebound with Martin Lawrence, and Daddy Day Care with Eddie Murphy. Owen also joined the cast of Tyler Perry’s widely successful, House of Payne, and he stars in tru TV’s funny video/sketch show series Upload which he co-hosts with Shaquille O’Neal. The show airs Thursday nights at 10:30PM. Gary is one of the stars of the hit film Think Like A Man and just finished filming the Universal comedy Ride Along with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. Gary will soon begin shooting for the upcoming, Think Like a Man Too.
Owen currently has two stand up DVDs: Breakin’ Out the Park and Urban Leegend, as well as a one-hour Netflix special, The True Story. Gary is performing at the Houston Improv tonight and all weekend long. You don’t wanna miss him!
You grew up in a trailer park, then you went to the navy, and then to comedy. How did you pull that off?
Well, I always wanted to be a comedian. And I just wanted to get outta the trailer park. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I didn’t wanna be stuck where I was livin’. My only way out was the military. But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to be a comedian. I just didn’t know how.
So I was in the navy—active duty. That was my job at the time. And I got out because I got the hostin’ job on BET. When they offered me the job, I was like, “I’m gettin’ outta the military! Why stay in when I got a TV show??” So I went to my officer and told him about the TV show, and was like, “Dude I got a TV show, I’m out!” [laughs]
You’re the only white guy to ever host Comic View on BET. How did you pull THAT off?
I watched Def Jam—in high school was when I first saw Def Jam, and I was like, “Yooo! THAT’S the reaction I want!” Def Jam was what lit my fire, really.
You also have the title ‘Funniest Black Comedian in San Diego’. WHAT??
[laughs] Ahh that was a radio call-in contest. It was a hip hop station and they said they were lookin’ for the funniest black comedan. I called in—now I didn’t say I WASN’T black…I just called in and entered the contest, and ended up winnin’ it. I mean, it wasn’t a HUGE event, but I do have that title.
Out in San Diego, you performed in more black rooms than white rooms. How come?
It’s where I got booked—I got booked in the black rooms. And as a comic in San Diego when I started, I could get up only once a week at the main stream rooms…or I could get up four or five times a week at the black rooms. And I wanted to get up! I didn’t care who was in the audience. So I was the only white guy showin’ up at all the black spots.
What differences do you find between black crowds VS white crowds?
I don’t think black people have any skeletons in their closet. Ya know? If somebody’s gay in their family, they’re GAY. There’s no skeletons. As long as black people know you’re going for an honest place to laugh. BUT—it’s a catch 22. Your chances of gettin’ booed are increased with black crowds.
White people, we don’t boo. We just watch ya. We will not boo. With white people, you’re just kinda there and things are goin’ smooth. With black crowds, it’s a roller coaster. You don’t know what’s comin’ up around that next bend.
Your comedy career took off immediately. What was your first year like?
I got on BET within my first six months. Then, I got on the Wayan’s Brothers, and I got that movie with Jamie Foxx, Held Up, ALL within three months of each other. But then I didn’t get ANOTHER TV appearance for three years. It was just like, “Whoa!” I had all this stuff immediately and then, it was nothin for three years! It’s a big roller coaster.
So what do you do in that time period?
I’m headlinin’. I’m on the road. I’m workin’…but I didn’t have any more TV appearances… That’s why it’s good to build good relationships with the comedy clubs, that way you can keep workin’.
Since comedians work at night, they’re believed to sleep all day. Having a military background, are you always up early in the morning?
Ya gotta get up early in the morning—whether it’s to do radio, TV, or catch a flight… And alotta people don’t see that side of the job. And when you first get on the road as a headliner especially—I mean, I would go out EVERY NIGHT, and then after one flight of being hung over, then two flights you’re just like, “I don’t wanna do this no more…it’s not worth it.”
So I go out, but I never go out when I have press in the morning, or if I gotta get an early flight the next day—because, ya know, in the end, this is a job. And you wanna keep your job. And keep professionalism.
Is there a milestone you haven’t reached yet?
Yeah, there’s always somethin’. You should always be aspiring for somethin’ else. You win an Oscar, you want another Oscar. You win a Grammy, you want another Grammy. You sell 10,000 seats, you wanna sell 11,000 seats. You always wanna be growin’ as a comic. You don’t wanna be restin’ on your material for FIVE YEARS. I see some comics, they’ve been doin’ the SAME jokes for ten years, I’m like, “Whoaaa!”
And there’s so many. I wanna be the lead in a movie, I wanna be the lead in a sitcom, I wanna sell more tickets than I did last time… As long as I’m workin’ and my fanbase is growin’, then I’m doin okay. Now there’s so many factors that are outta your control. You don’t just GET these things. The only thing you can control is bein’ funny. And hopefully that’ll getcha where ya need to go.
As a headliner, what are some pet peeves from working with comics that are under you?
I tell ya what, there’s nothin’ worse than havin’ a guy open for you who hangs out in the green room tryin’ to out-funny everything you do. It’s like, “Dude I’m JUST watchin’ the basketball game…” [moment of laughter] Yaknowhattamean??
And I always tell comics, the best way to get booked with a headliner is bein’ good, give him his space before he goes on stage, and stick to your time. If you’re supposed to do 20, do 20—don’t do 25, don’t do 30. You’d be amazed how JUST doin’ your time goes a long way. ‘Cause you’re not gettin’ paid anything extra to go over. But some comics think, “Ohh I’m gonna kill it!” Don’t get greedy with your time.
What do you do when someone says, “Hey you’re a comedian! Tell me a joke!”
Naa, I don’t tell a joke…no. If it’s funny, then they’re gonna want you to tell ‘em another joke. And then if it’s not funny, they’re not gonna think you’re funny. It’s lose-lose. I just tell ‘em, “I’m off work.” [laughs]
Best advice on how to “make it” in this industry?
Well, you can’t really tell other comics how to make it, ‘cause there’s 100 different stories. It’s not like bein’ a lawyer where you go to law school ‘n then pass the bar exam. Everybody’s got a different story—that’s their journey.
Don’t worry about other comics. The worst thing you can do is to compare yourself to other comics. Just find your own way. Work on your own craft and worry about your own self.
Try to stay as positive as you can in this business. I don’t let stuff bother me too much, I let it go. I always say, you’re not as bad as you’re worst experience and you’re not as good as you’re best. And ya know, bein’ in the military, I know what it’s like to WORK. This job is fun!
Click Here for the official website of Gary Owen!
Interviewed & Written by: David Gavri