Ever walked, for what felt like miles, in Costco and then left the grocery cart stranded in a parking space? Well, if you can’t walk 20 more feet to return the cart, then Kellen Erskine has a few shaming words for you on Amazon’s “Dry Bar” comedy series. Erskine uses observational humor of the everyday and seemingly mundane—to do bits on shopping carts, penguins and high-school mascots. He hopes to make audiences think (and laugh) about them in a new way.
“The best thing a comic can do is speak on topics that genuinely interest him or her,” Erskine tells encore. “If you’re passionate about a topic, a unique perspective will follow.”
While originally from San Francisco, and currently living in Los Angeles, Erskine doesn’t often center his material on his hometown or the City of Angels. He values showcasing the human experience overall, which is why he often engages his audiences with questions. Erskine finds ways to create commonalities, no matter where people come from or what it’s about.
“It’s beautiful to me, selecting a topic (like bike locks, or diets) that is universally relatable but talking about it from an angle that isn’t relatable,” he explains, “an angle that no one has thought of. It’s joining two ends of a spectrum. It’s also very difficult, but when it works, it can be extremely compelling.”
Erskine has made a name for himself in recent years with appearances on “Conan” and the seventh season of “America’s Got Talent.” Across the northern border, he was featured among 2018’s New Faces showcase at Just for Laughs in Montreal.
Wilmingtonians will be able to catch Erskine next on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” the night before he arrives in town for his four-show run at Dead Crow Comedy Room on January 25 and 26.
encore (e): Do you have any goals for 2019 per your career or otherwise?
Kellen Erskine (KE): Stop drinking soda (that’s a joke); appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” this year; and appearing on an hour special on some platform. There are a lot of options now between TV and streaming, but I’d like to get a special (on) any of them.
e: Tell me more about your appearances on Amazon and how it has helped boost your comedic influence and career? Do you think these new platforms are helping to boost the art form of stand-up to more appreciative ears?
KE: I just have the one comedy special on “Dry Bar” through Amazon. The other is an Amazon original documentary series that follows me and five other comics as we attempted to get into Just For Laughs. Just For Laughs is the biggest deal for young comedians; it’s like Sundance for stand-ups.
I don’t know that they are boosting stand-up to “more appreciative” ears, but it’s definitely taking stand-up to more ears in general—even globally. I get nice messages every day from people all over the world,—Australia and Bangladesh—where they’re watching something I’ve done in a Facebook clip or on Amazon. That sort of thing wasn’t possible until just recently. It’s amazing.
e: You’re making your rounds on late-night talk shows. What do you enjoy most about doing these shows? Is this form of promotion more nerve wracking for you than, say, doing a gig in Wilmington at Dead Crow?
KE: Doing a late-night spot is exhilarating. As a kid and even a young adult, this sort of thing was never supposed to happen to me. I never expected it, and even when I started comedy as a dumb 20-something, it was such a far-reaching dream.
Appearing on “Conan” last year was like being on another planet. I’d watched him since I was a kid, so to hear him say my name was unreal. I just shot my spot on “Kimmel” and I did something on there that’s never been done on late-night, so that was exciting—and risky. I won’t say what it is here. It’ll come out on January 24.
TV is more nerve-wracking because you’ve got one shot and it’ll exist forever. It’s insane anyone wants to do it. But I do.
e: What do you think is your biggest motivator when it comes to being a comedian?
KE: Coming up with an original idea and sharing it in a way that makes strangers laugh involuntarily. Other than holding my own babies for the first time, it’s the most incredible rush I’ve experienced. It happened the first time I got on a stage (the rush of making people laugh, not holding a baby), and I’ve been chasing it ever since.
e: To what extent does involving your audience make your style more unique?
KE: It’s just a lot of fun. It’s risky, but with all the prewritten material I have, it’s nice to have moments where I am 100-percent present in the show; engaging the crowd forces me to do that. It makes each show a unique experience for the audience.
e: You have a bit about a psychic and someone who cracks their neck in public: What makes observational comedy funny to you?
KE: These are the things that connect all of us: strangers. I don’t know you, I’ve never met you, but I know we could have a long conversation about the experience of sitting still at a green light when the driver in front of you hasn’t moved because he’s scrolling through Facebook. It’s the reason why “the weather” has been the go-to subject for small talk for the last 10,000 years—it’s something we all experience together.