Dallas comedian Jimmy Nelson, 26, runs a monthly show called Third Thirsty Thursday Comedy Night at Tutta’s, a West End pizza restaurant in downtown Dallas.
Nelson will compete in the Funniest Comic in Texas on Oct. 26, at the Cleveland Comedy Festival on Nov. 18-20, and at the LOL Comedy Club in Stillwater, Okla., on Dec. 9-10.
“Jimmy Nelson’s jokes die so often, they should have their own quilt,” comedian Dante Rusciolelli told Wanderer News.
Nelson, a professional comedian, said he wanted to express a little concern at being labeled a comic.
“I think I’m funny, my mother thinks I’m handsome, and I get paid to do comedy on a regular basis – primarily as an opener,” Nelson said. “But I’ve started getting work as a feature and travelling more, which I suppose makes me a professional comedian in a very literal sense; but, I’d be hard-pressed to say Louie C.K. and I have the same job.”
Nelson recently did a texted interview with Wanderer News. The responses have been edited for clarity and cohesion.
WN: What motivated you into pursuing the profession? Did you have any nerves about it?
JN: As a kid, I watched Saturday Night Live and every stand up special that aired on TV even when I was too young to get any of the jokes. I was probably the only middle schooler to read all of George Carlin’s and Dennis Miller’s books while on the toilet, which is a product of being the youngest kid in a family. I’m sure it all went over my head, but both men are brilliant comedians that aren’t too precious for a fart joke.
I always wanted to do stand up and perform in general, I just didn’t know that no one asks you to do it, you just show up one day and suck for a while until you suck less.
It wouldn’t be fun if you didn’t feel some kind of anxiety before going on stage, but the first open mic I did I was the worst. I have it recorded on my phone and it’s a painful listen. In the moment though, it felt amazing.
There was one guy in the bar that would make eye contact with me, so I did my entire set to him. He sheepishly smiled a couple of times. In retrospect, this was probably just a defense mechanism because I was yelling bad jokes at him and only him. I can’t really explain why, but at the time it felt like a huge victory.
WN: What were the steps you took to become a comic?
JN: You really just show up at an open mic one day and do it. No one will really talk to you, and no matter what any of your friends say, you will be terrible. Also, you shouldn’t bring your friends anyway. I don’t know why people do that for their first set. That’s a dumb idea.
Anyway, you do that for a long time and if you work hard and get lucky and you’re not a horrible person, shit just starts happening. Then your goals change and you have to work real hard and get real lucky and keep not being a horrible person to accomplish those goals.
WN: What were some of the successes and pitfalls you had along the way?
JN: The best part is being around comedians and comedy clubs all the time. Of all the headliners I’ve met, 99 percent are awesome. Then there’s all the local comedians in the same boat as you. It’s a group of people from all over and every possible background and you’re all trying to get to the same place which has a million different paths to it. It’s a lot of fun hanging out with funny people all the time. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of cool stuff.
The pitfalls haven’t been too frequent. You bomb and that sucks and bookers and club owners almost never respond until you’re a real person in their eyes with some clout or recommendations. So you just keep working hard, and hoping to get lucky, and trying not to be a horrible person.
WN: What is comedy culture like in Dallas? How do you fit into it?
JN: Dallas is really the only scene I know deeply and it’s more like DFWd – Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton. There’s driving to be done but there’s something going on every night and you can get in front of every conceivable type of audience. How I fit into it? I’m not sure. It’s interesting being at the level I’m at because there’s nothing society needs less than a comedian who’s “working on it.”
WN: How do comics support each other in Dallas? What opportunities are there for comics in Dallas?
JN: I’d say they support each other just like everyone has ever supported anyone else in any group ever. Most people are alright, some aren’t, and “cliques” are a natural and healthy part of life. There are many opportunities for a comic in Dallas since there are 7 clubs and 10 big-enough cities within driving distance. But, in my opinion, a newer comic in New York or Los Angeles is the same as a newer comic in Boise or Dallas.
WN: What advice would you give to people pursuing your profession?
JN: Check back with me in a few years and I’ll answer this question. For now, imagine I said some platitude about dreams and stuff.
WN: What is something you wish you could tell audience members but normally don’t have the guts?
JN: I tell stories onstage about things that affected me deeply, but keep it at arms-length. I don’t easily find funny in emotional places and it feels weird workshopping something important to you. It becomes a different thing. It’s probably something I’ll force myself to do later.
WN: How do you find inspiration as a comic? Do you have a specialty or performance style? Are there jokes you won’t touch?
JN: I find inspiration from livin’ and, if you didn’t read that in a Matthew McConaughey voice, you’re dead to me. That’s started out as a pretentious answer, but it’s true. I like to tell longer stories so things need to happen in order for a story to be told. Then there’s actual joke writing that goes on once the nuts and bolts of the story are worked out on stage.
There really isn’t anything that I won’t touch for an ideological reason. I think what is and isn’t or what should be comedy is something that’s talked about too much. The first 10 minutes of “Delirious” would be considered a hate crime now, and that’s a good thing, but if you’re afraid to take chances based on a pretend internet mob, then that’s a bad thing. There aren’t any rules to comedy. And that’s the great thing about it.
WN: What was support like from friends and family early in your career? And have you always felt like you were funny, and why?
JN: Everyone has been supportive that I know of, and if they aren’t, fuck ‘em. It’s not like I made the decision to start doing a ton of heroin, and you’d expect some push back from the people around you. I chose to try and do a thing. Parental hesitation makes sense because most parents want their kids to be successful, and when you stand up one day and shout, “I WANT TO DANCE!” you probably won’t be a rich man.
WN: Who inspires you the most?
JN: It’s fun to list the Mt. Rushmore of stand-up comedy, and all of the podcasts I listen to; but, it’s the people that I’m close to that inspire me the most. It’s more fun when you and your friends are all getting better and semi-competing while working together and writing with each other and moving up.