When I asked Shawn Mayer for his favorite movie, he said he doesn’t want to sound like a “hoity toity person.” But he’s the opposite of pretentious. He’s genuine and interesting and it shows in his sets. In this interview, we chat about character work, Norm Macdonald and Shawn’s old friend, Phil, who is allegedly “kind of an asshole.” And you can watch Shawn perform in this week’s Friday Night Stand Up (a special One-Year Anniversary event) show at 10PM!
Danielle: So where’re you from?
Shawn: I was originally from Kansas City, Missouri. I went to college and then I went home. And then I came here for college. I stayed.
Danielle: When did you first start thinking about doing stand-up? Like when did you want to?
Shawn: I didn’t.
Danielle: And how long have you been doing stand-up?
Shawn: A year-and-a-half.
Danielle: Why did you start doing stand-up?
Shawn: My friend who will go unnamed-- his name’s Phil-- was like, “I wanna do stand-up because I wanna be like the greats, like George Carlin and blah blah blah-blah.” And I said, “Wow, that’s great,” and he said, “I’ve got a notebook!” And I said, “Wow that’s great. I want to support him as a friend, so I said, “Oooh! They have this open mic downtown at the [Dallas] Comedy House. We should go.” ...So we went for a couple of months and I wrote my set and I’m pretty sure he didn’t write his. So I signed up and I got to perform at the new space. I was the last person to go and I bombed and it was embarrassing and horrible. And I said [to Phil,] “What about you? You got your set?” And he said, “Nah I’m not gonna do it.” So I got mad and then I signed up for improv. Then I did improv for a year and I didn’t jump into stand-up until a year after that. ...I had to intern on Tuesday nights for like year and I had to watch all these stand-ups’ sets about how they had sex… I couldn’t relate to that. I was like, where is my relatable material?
Danielle: Well, I really hope you get laid from this blog article.
Shawn: Oh yeah, it’s gonna happen.
Danielle: How would you describe your type of humor?
Shawn: Oh, that’s a good question because it keeps changing.
Danielle: What do you want it to be, I guess?
Shawn: I want it to be intentionally offensive. Like the character is saying mean and offensive things but everybody’s like, he doesn’t mean it that way.
Danielle: Who’s your favorite comedian?
Shawn: Norm Macdonald. That seems like an easy answer but dude is a genius. But I also really love character actors. Like character comedian actors like Madeline Kahn [and] Gene Wilder, like those are my heroes. That’s why I think I have a very strong character act in my show or in my act. I think Norm Macdonald is playing a character, too. I know he’s playing a character. He’s so good at it.
Danielle: Which comedian do you think is most not playing a character?
Shawn: Most not?
Danielle: Uh huh.
Shawn: I feel like everybody is playing a character. Because the moment you’re performing in front of a bunch of people, your behavior changes. It’s just like when you’re on camera. You change. Whether you’re intending it or not, you’re different. That’s a hard question to ask. Because I don’t know a lot of comedians. I don’t know what they’re like normally.
Danielle: True, that’s true.
Shawn: Probably the people who are most vulnerable on stage are less character-based.
Danielle: So when do you write?
Shawn: When I’m in the car. I don’t write anything down. I rehearse by heart. So I go by bullet points… But I rehearse constantly in the car. If I have a bit, I’ll run it over and over and over… Then I have a Google Doc where I just put a bullet and it’ll just say, “Rapture,” and that’s all I’ll put. I tried writing out one of my sets and it felt weird. It felt weird to write it out. I like to try to feel casual or feel like it’s all improvised, and I feel like the moment I write it down, it’s all set in stone.
Danielle: What if you forget Rapture?
Shawn: Sometimes I do. I mean if I look at the bullet points then I know what it’s supposed to be.
Danielle: So you said you do improv: Do you think it helps with your stand-up and in what ways?
Shawn: I’m so glad I did improv first. So glad. So very very very glad. Because I think everybody plays a character on stage in stand-up... In improv, we’re trying to create the illusion that the show’s rehearsed and practiced and perfect; that we know it front-to-back. I feel like in stand-up we’re trying to create the opposite illusion where this is just like, coming off the cuff, like this is casual. If you don’t have a strong character, it comes off feeling like you wrote it and read it off a piece of paper. And the magic isn’t as strong.
Danielle: What can the crowd look forward to for your show on Friday?
Shawn: I’m a wild card.
Shawn performs in Wiki Tikki Tabby, Sunglow, Don't Broken Not Fixing, and Ye Olde Comedy Guilde. You can also hear him play polka music on the second Saturday of every month at The Bavarian Grill in Plano, Texas.
Danielle Seright is a graduate of The Dallas Comedy House training program, including improv, stand-up and sketch. You can catch her hosting the DCH Improv Jam, running tech for DCH shows, performing with improv troupe All In and doing stand-up around DFW.