We caught up with Philadelphia native Big Jay Oakerson before his show at Helium. Here, Big Jay explains how his crude, yet conversational, style was crafted by comedy heavyweights Patrice O’Neal and Dave Attell and how he became a fearless comedian.
Big Jay Oakerson
WitOut: What do you enjoy most about coming back to Philly?
Big Jay Oakerson: I come back once a year to do this club and maybe a few times a year to see family. My favorite thing every time is–I think I’m supposed to say the club–but it’s the goddamn food. I miss the food here. Even in New York, which has a wider array of cultural food, like, fuck that, I’ll eat cheesesteaks twice a day while I’m here.
WiOut: How long have you been doing stand up?
Big Jay Oakerson: 15 years. I started at the Laff House, that shut down recently, but me, Kevin Hart, and Kurt Metzger all started there together.
WitOut: What’s your favorite part about doing this job?
Big Jay Oakerson: The live performance. Going out there and interacting with the crowd. I like to talk to the crowd a lot. Mixing it up with them and trying not to do jokes for as long as possible.
WitOut: You talk to the crowd a lot.
Big Jay Oakerson: Yeah, as much as possible.
WitOut: When you’re writing, what’s your process?
Big Jay Oakerson: I don’t write. Sit and write on paper? I never do that. There’s a big chance that I’ll go out and have a bunch of things that I’ll just say just tonight, but there’s also a chance that, if I say something for the first time, off the cuff, that will take me on a tangent. That’s how I write. Kurt Metzger will call and bounce jokes off me and ask me for a punch, but I found that when I sat down when I was younger, I would sit and write simplistic jokes that a thousand other comics make. I think I’m very original in my genuine take on shit, so I’d rather just talk to them. I’m just not afraid of them not laughing.
Anyone who starts doing comedy who has any arrogance to them, the first time you say something to a crowd, that in your mind was guaranteed to be funny and they’re going to laugh, and they stare at you, there’s just no way to simulate that emotion. The thing I worked on the most in comedy was to be unafraid of that. I’m not afraid of the room being completely silent. Patrice O’Neal gave me the advice that you don’t go up there and say anything you can’t defend genuinely. You should defend your right to be funny and that comes with having no fear of the audience.
WitOut: You mentioned Patrice O’Neal, who else did you look up to when you started doing comedy?
Big Jay Oakerson: In Philadelphia, there was a guy name Turae, who ran the open mic at the Laff House. He was a big influence because of how smooth he was and his style and how comfortable he was. And Keith Robinson took me, and Kev [Kevin Hart], and Kurt [Metzger] out of Philly and to New York and got us acclimated up there. From there, Patrice took me under his wing and we became friends. I found my real mesh, in terms of opening for somebody for years, was Dave Atell. I went all over the country opening for him. I think those two guys are the two best at their type of comedy.
WitOut: I was actually warned that your act was kind of dirty.
Big Jay Oakerson: Kind of? That’s bad advertising. I’m trying to desensitize you and make you hear the message that I’m saying.
WitOut: What’s the biggest difference between the New York comedy scene and the Philadelphia comedy scene?
Big Jay Oakerson: Frequency. New York has between 8-12 pro clubs running 7 days a week. Dozens of rooms, comedy shows, open mics, one nighters, every night from 5pm to 3am. Philly, you can probably, if you hustle, get up twice a week. Because there are a decent amount of comics and we’re down to one club. If you’re going to get better at comedy, it’s repetition. Repetition will make you stronger at it. It’s part of not being afraid.
You can catch Big Jay Oakerson tonight at Helium Comedy Club (7:30p.m. and 10:00p.m.) with Mary Radzinski and Aaron Berg.