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“Last Comic Standing” winner Clayton English headlines Red Clay Comedy Festival this weekend

The Red Clay Comedy Festival is November 4-6 in East Atlanta Village.
The Red Clay Comedy Festival is November 4-6 in East Atlanta Village.
Credit Red Clay Comedy Festival

After nine seasons of the competitive comedy reality show “Last Comic Standing,” Atlanta comedian Clayton English emerged as the final season’s winner in 2015. He’s since appeared in comedy clubs and festivals nationwide, as well as TV shows like “Love” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” English headlines this weekend’s Red Clay Comedy Festival in Atlanta, and he joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom for a chat, along with the festival’s founder, and fellow comedian, Gilbert Lawand.

Interview highlights:

Clayton English’s origins, and learning to trust the power of laughter:

“My parents used to let me watch comedy specials way before they probably should have,” said English. “They would just say ‘Just don’t repeat these words,’ and I’d be like, ‘Of course not,’ and as soon as I’d get on the bus, I’d repeat verbatim what I’d heard George Carlin say, or Robin Harris, or any of these people who, it just amazed me that they were funny, like, for an hour. I’d look at my parents and I was like, ‘Y’all haven’t been funny all week. You haven’t even given me five minutes of funny, and this dude just did a solid forty-five.’

“I was never really quite ready to get in there until I came back to Atlanta, and I started going to places like the Punchline, where you’d have to sign up a week before you went up on the open mic, so I’d sign up and then I wouldn’t show back the next week,” said English. “It just started nagging on me. It just became this thing where, ‘I have to try this. Even if it doesn’t work, I just have to see what’s going to happen. I can’t check out of Earth knowing that I never tried this one thing that I might possibly could have been good at.’”

Approaching comedy as a person of color:

“Growing up in Warm Springs, Georgia, on a farm, and being brown, from Iraq, gets you like … A lot of comics have this sort of, I wouldn’t say it’s a chip on your shoulder, but it’s like this verbal ability to protect yourself,” said Lawand. “So I had this weird habit, I guess, for years, where if I was in a room and somebody new walked in, I’d spend the first three or four minutes going, ‘If I got in an argument with them, here’s what I would say to them.’ Because it’s kind of like a defense mechanism, but it definitely colors a lot of my life, and obviously in my comedy.”

“I might talk about the police and racial profiling, and what’s going on with that,” said English. “I remember I had one joke, and I said, ‘Yeah the police pulled me over the other day, and neither one of us got out of the car. We were both scared.’ And a police officer, after the show, came to me and he was like, ‘That’s true…’ Him being able to respond to that joke and find some common interest in it opened up a whole dialogue.”

The art of politically poignant comedy:

“I said, [rednecks] are not just in the South, they’re all over this country. They’re all over this world. They can neither be created nor destroyed. They just change form — like the first law of thermodynamics,” said Lawand. “The best jokes to me are the ones that are making a point without being preachy, or you can even let people think they’re making a point. Clayton is really good at that. It’s hard to do political stuff without turning people off, or even talking about cultural without people being like, ‘Ugh, I know where he’s going.’”

“My approach is always, I’m going to talk to people how I would want to be talked to,” said English. “I think it’s more impactful when they come to a realization like, ‘Dang, that is kind of true.’ Because when you just get up there and you tell somebody, ‘Oh, what you think is stupid, and the way that I think is correct…’ Nobody’s going to listen to you past you saying that, because you’ve put them in a category and thrown them away, basically.”

The Red Clay Comedy Festival takes place all over East Atlanta Village venues from Nov. 4-6. Tickets, schedule, and other information are available at www.redclaycomedy.com