A comedian gets serious about his craft

November 11, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

THE STATE OF COMEDY today is not such a laughing matter to comedian Mario Joyner.

Oh sure, with the explosion of comedy clubs and stand-up showcases on cable television, there are lots of opportunities for comedians to work, and that's always good.

But Joyner, who is a comedy scientist of sorts, taken as much with the process and structure of joke-telling as with the actual performance, thinks there are too many comedians who aren't devoted to the field of comedy for the long haul.

Rather, they use stand-up as a springboard to launch themselves into television and the movies.

"Things are fragmented. This guy will take the young black market and this guy takes another market, and pretty soon, you have a bunch of little villages," said Joyner, now on his way to Michigan after a stop in Baltimore last week at Slapstix.

The comedy boom "is good in a way, but then you don't know who's legitimate. It forces the audience to take a closer look. Now, you can just look like a good comedian and get over. It hurts the industry a little bit."

"It's like the marathon. That takes 2-3 or more hours to run. You have to live running to do that. I ran track for 11 years and I can't imagine running for 26 miles. A lot of comics don't aspire to do live stand-up because they don't have to."

What is interesting about Joyner's reflections is that they seem to run counter to his very life.

For instance, Joyner hosts the daily "Half Hour Comedy Hour" on MTV, where aspiring comedians hone their craft before younger audiences, but he also starred in a recent low-budget movie, "Hangin' With The Homeboys," where he played one of four buddies out for a night on the town in Manhattan.

Yet, Joyner doesn't see a contradiction, because unlike a lot of comics who do stand-up material just long enough to get a movie gig or a sitcom deal, he always wants to tell jokes.

"I would hope to never stop doing stand-up," said Joyner. "I enjoy interacting with audiences and seeing the payoff."

Joyner, who is taking a break until January from taping new "Half Hour" shows, doesn't feel that hosting a show and introducing other acts is a drag on his own career.

"The regular exposure is definitely the trade-off," said Joyner. "They [MTV] give me a little bit more than I have to give them.

"After they've given me this, I can take that exposure. I've been on Carson, Letterman and Arsenio, and that's mostly because of this. It's a constant parlay."

Joyner, 30, grew up in Pittsburgh and got his start there, working smaller clubs and emceeing shows in the area and striving to earn a reputation.

His first big break came in 1985, when he won a local Pittsburgh competition, with a prize of an audition at New York's "Catch a Rising Star" club, one of the nation's most renowned comedy showcases.

"You start growing within yourself," said Joyner. "I wanted to be the middle act. Then it was a struggle to headline."

"It's easier to get from opening act to the middle than it is from the middle to headline. To headline, you've got to give people something they want to see."

Apparently, lots of people want to see Joyner.

"I think people like my looseness," said Joyner. "They don't know where the joke begins and where it ends. The thing that makes me a comedian is that I'm not hesitant to lay it out there and see where it goes."

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