Comedian Jackson Fisher bringing back Big Apple comedy to Lincoln
Six years ago, Lincoln native and comedian Jackson Fisher decided to test his talents in the Big Apple. Fisher describes this mecca for comedy and how it compares to the Midwest, which he is returning for to headline the Holiday Show at Vega Dec. 27 along with a number of local comic and music acts.
SE: How does the comedic atmosphere in New York differ than the one in Nebraska? Are there jokes that you can tell in one place and not the other?
JF: One of the main differences between Nebraska and New York is the number of comics in each place. In New York, there are a thousand shows with a million comedians happening every night of the week. This means it might be harder to get crowds to show up, because they have so many other options. But, if they do show up, New York crowds tend to be pretty “comedy literate.”
Nebraska is the opposite. The scene has grown up a lot over the past few years, but it’s still very small compared to somewhere like New York. This often makes Nebraska audiences warmer because they really appreciate you coming to Lincoln or Omaha to do a show. But it also means that the people in the crowd may not have seen as much comedy and not have as much practice being a good audience member.
SE: What’s the weirdest response you’ve gotten after telling a joke onstage?
JF: There are an infinite number of ways that a crowd can surprise you after you tell a joke. I usually start off by asking the crowd “Who’s drinking tonight?” or “Who here likes to party?” or something along those lines, because almost 100 percent of the time at least one drunk person will let out a “Woo!” and get a little energy into the crowd. I say almost 100 percent, because I did a show in Houston last fall and that crowd did not like to party. I asked them the question, and was all set for a woo, but nothing came. They just stared at me. I think it was the first time I heard silence in a southern accent.
Hecklers always give the most surprising responses, because they’re just people screaming at you. Most heckler lines are just drunken nonsense, but sometimes it’s a little more pointed. One time I actually got some constructive feedback from a heckler. A joke didn’t really land, and then this super drunk old man at the bar yelled, “You gotta pause so they have time to laugh!” And the next time I told the joke, I paused, and it hit a lot better.
SE: Who are your comedy influences?
JF: The first people I really fell in love with were all really silly and absurd, people like Steve Martin, Zach Galifianakis, Steven Wright, Monty Python and later Tim and Eric and Adult Swim. A lot of comedy is built around accessibility, but I always admired people who have a totally unique version of the world that they want to express.
I still like all the weird stuff, but now my favorite comedians are all over the place. Hannibal Buress might be my favorite comic working today. I love Kyle Kinane, Rory Scovel, John Mulaney, Sean Patton and Beth Stelling. Michelle Wolf just released a fantastic special on HBO, and there have been some great Netflix specials this year by people like Hasan Minhaj and Ali Wong.
One of my favorite things about being a comedian is being inspired by the other comics I work with, people who might not be known much at all outside of the New York Scene but are absolutely hilarious. I run a monthly show in Brooklyn, and every show we have at least a few people that I think might become stars.
SE: What’s the worst joke you’ve told onstage? Did you feel bad after delivering it?
JF: There are many different definitions of “worst” joke. I’ve certainly told plenty of jokes to absolute silence. I can’t remember any specific jokes that have bombed particularly badly. If something consistently sucks the energy out of a room, I’ll cut it from my act, because it doesn’t feel good to bomb.
First of all, you have to have the crowd on your side first. You can’t bring a crown back into a good spot if they were never there to begin with. You also need to have strong, polished material. I’ve seen a lot of open mic sets where people knew they wanted to talk about sexual assault or race or something controversial, but they didn’t have any real thoughts prepared. This is the worst. Every comic has their own process, but I strongly advise against choosing rambling about generally unsettling topics for yours.
SE: Is stand-up comedy a performance art that can thrive in Nebraska or do comedians have to leave home to find success?
JF: I think comedy can thrive anywhere, especially today. In the six years since I left Nebraska as a resident, the comedy scene has grown so much. In high school, I only knew about the open mic at Duffy’s and occasional performances at the Bourbon. Now we’ve got Brad Stewart’s shows at the Zoo Bar, Jimmy Putnam’s show at the Cottonwood and the Backline in Omaha. These shows give stage time to local comics and bring in touring comics, which is really important. I know I didn’t really grasp the notion that you could actually be a comedian until I did this summer comedy camp as part of the Johnny Carson Comedy Festival in Norfolk. When you see it happening in the room, in front of you, that makes it real.
Of course, success means a lot of different things in comedy. Comics in Nebraska or outside of big cities usually end up touring more, opening up for other comics then eventually headlining their own shows. The New York scene is more self-contained, because it’s so massive. But I know plenty of comedians from the Nebraska area who moved to New York but still come through the Midwest to tour. It’s also possible to make money off podcasts and online content, especially thanks to new crowd-supported platforms like Patreon.
In many ways, I’m not a “professional comedian” yet, but I’ve started booking more paid work in more places, and that feels good. For now, I don’t have to work a 9-5 office job, and that feels good. I can talk a little more openly about the things I really care about in front of the people I care about, and in front of total strangers, and that feels good, too.