Aaron David Ward hones stand-up skills in comedy competitions
Since 2002, local comedian Aaron David Ward has made a name for himself in clubs through the Northeast, and also with a weekly spot on local TV talk show “The Glenn Slingerland Situation.”
A major part of what the Ballston Spa native does is competitions, and this month he’ll participate in the first Cape May Comedy Festival in Cape May, N.J. The three-day event, from July 26-28, will feature 96 comedians from all over the country competing for a top prize of $5,000, along with performance slots at five Northeast comedy clubs and an opportunity to open for festival headliner Gilbert Gottfried on July 28. More information on the festival can be found at www.cmcfest.com; more on Ward can be found at www.aarondavidward.com.
Q: You’ve been involved with other comedy festivals before. How do you think your experiences in past festivals have helped you prepare for this?
A: Yeah, they’re all pretty much competitions. I was in the Boston Comedy Festival in 2006, and that certainly is a competitive festival; I was also in a newer festival in 2010, the Plymouth Rock Festival. They’re all essentially competitions, where you’re competing with other comics to move on into the semi-finals and then the finals. They also tend to have workshop events where — it might be marketing advice for stand-ups, ways to tear your act apart, analyze it and improve it; workshops on auditions for television and movies.
Q: The competition is set up so that the set time increases for each round, from five minutes in the eight preliminary rounds, to eight minutes for the top 10, to 15-20 minutes in the top three. How do you approach a stand-up set at each one of these lengths? Is the approach different?
A: When you’re doing a five-minute set, you try to pack in the A-material, all A-material. As you get into longer sets — 15, 20 minutes or more — there’s room to include jokes that may be considered B-material, but may flow better in the course of your set . . .
With a longer set, too, the audience ultimately gets to know who you are. You have more time, so it’s easier to — I prefer to do longer sets when performing in regular shows. You’re typically doing, depending on where you are in the lineup in the show — if you’re an MC you’re probably doing 15 to 20; if you’re the middle act, or the featured act, it’s usually about a half-hour; and if you’re headlining, you’re usually doing 45 minutes or more. Obviously I like to be able to do longer sets because you have more time to kind of share with the audience who you are, and they have more of a chance to get to know you.
Q: How did you get your start in stand-up comedy?
A: Well, I lost a job back in May of 2002, and I was living at home. I had no debt and I had extremely supportive parents, and so I was like, ‘Hey, what the hell do I have to lose by doing stand-up, other than my dignity and self-respect?’ That’s how I started.
Someone told me about an open mic at a comedy club that no longer exists, the Funny Farm Comedy Club in Broadalbin. I showed up to the club for open mic night and did about a half-hour set . . . and probably about two minutes of that set was really good.
For whatever reason, the owner saw me and liked what I did, and he invited me back to do more open mics; from there he invited me back to start hosting paid performances on the weekends. Within just a few months, probably by late July-early August, a month or a month and a half after I started, I found myself being the house MC of a comedy club, doing six shows a week every week. . . . It was great; I was getting all this stage time in front of real audiences, and getting a lot of advice from comics that were touring. . . . A year and a half after being the house MC, I left the club and started going on the road as featured act, the middle act, doing a half-hour, and around 2006, 2007, I actually got the chance to headline — the Funny Farm wound up moving a couple different times, and in its last location, I actually got the chance to start headlining.
Q: What attracted you to stand-up, and what drives you to continue with it today?
A: I had always loved making family and friends laugh, and then when I lost the job at 30 and I was living at home, suddenly — I had been in print and broadcast journalism, in broadcasting, and what do you do in those fields? You’re informing and you’re entertaining. So you take that combination of always enjoying making people laugh, and then coming out of a writing and performing background — certainly in broadcasting you are performing — and it all came together, like, hey, this is where I belong; this is what I should be doing.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given by another stand-up comic?
A: It’s a really simple piece of advice, and it was actually given to me by my comedy mentor who passed away in 2008, Mike Irwin — he had been a stand-up for, I want to say since the late ’70s, early ’80s. He had performed at more than 300 comedy clubs across the country, and appeared on the A&E show “An Evening at the Improv,” which was a huge show for comedians in the ’80s to be on. . . . And so he gave me a very common sense piece of advice that is true: that there are no shortcuts in comedy, and you have to write every day and get onstage every night, if possible.
And it sounds like a very simple piece of advice, but it can be hard to do. And I think what I’ve learned in my 11 years in the business is that you cannot get complacent — you have to keep pushing yourself to keep writing and performing and trying new stuff.
Q: Describe working on “The Glenn Slingerland Situation.” How has the show affected your performances and your audiences?
A: First of all, I love being on the show; it’s unlike any other late night TV talk show on air. It truly is unique, and I had always wanted to be known as a truly unique comedian, so a chance to be on a show that embraces uniqueness is very cool for me.
I think it broadened my audience. . . . I’ve had people come up to me — “Hey, aren’t you on ‘The Situation?’ ” Which is very cool; it’s not like we’re living in Hollywood, so in the Capital Region when that happens, it’s very cool. . . .
It keeps me writing all the time, and it keeps me writing very concisely — the segment I do is only between 30 and 60 seconds, and it’s a little bit different than just straight stand-up jokes because I’m not performing in front of audiences; I’m giving commentary about something that’s happened to me personally, or comedic commentary that’s just a little bit different from just stand-up in front of an audience. . . . Sometimes some of the stuff I do on ‘The Situation’ makes it into my act, but not all of it does.
Q: In the 11 years you’ve been in stand-up, how has the comedy scene in the Capital Region evolved?
A: The comedy scene in general — remove Capital Region from that question for a moment. First of all, it’s harder than ever to get bookings in comedy clubs without having TV or movie credits. There’s really no middle class in comedy; you’re either working the corporate, A-comedy club rooms, or you’re working a lot of one-nighters, maybe some clubs with maybe lower budgets for acts and things like that. . . .
What has happened to the comedy scene in general is that more and more comedians, including me, are producing shows more than ever in order to keep steadily working — you really have to adopt that punk rock attitude, that do-it-yourself attitude. And we now have a set of tools where show productions are easier. The Internet has been around since, what, ’95 or ’96, so it’s easier now to produce shows as comics, find venues, sell tickets online, promote online, generate a fan base online.
In the Capital Region, when I started in 2002 — geez, I don’t remember really more than a dozen or so, a dozen to maybe 15 people that I know that had started around the time I started, going to open mics and steadily working at the craft. There seems to be a greater number of comics in the region now, come about the last five years or so, and I’m not sure why that is — whether more people are just pursuing it, or it’s just the normal cycle of a performing art.