Kevin Avery [Interview]

 

 

Kevin Avery is a comedian, actor, and two-time Emmy award-winning writer. His writing credits include HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Comedy Central’s The Jim Jefferies Show, VH1′s Best Week Ever, and the critically acclaimed FX original series, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, on which he served as head writer. He appears in and was co-writer of the Comedy Central digital series, White Flight, and was co-host of the popular Earwolf podcast, Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time, Period, praised by Buzzfeed as “smart” and “funny” and recommended by Entertainment Weekly as a “Must List(en).” Kevin also wrote and starred in the award winning short film, Thugs, The Musical!

You can see Kevin in early 2019 appearing on the new Comedy Central series The New Negroes on which he also served as head writer.

We are so excited to have Kevin grace our digital pages. And even more excited that he requested the above bio to be used to introduce this whole thing, as I am now only required to write these few short sentences, and get back to quality time with my cat, Gatsby. Seriously though folks, the work that this man has given to the world has already been incredible, and the future is looking so bright for this award winning gentleman. So please enjoy this awesome interview. Also, check out his podcast. I have not yet done so myself, but I definitely will now. Denzel is so great. Fun fact: Until 2018, Denzel had never starred in a sequel to one of his films? I wonder if they bring this up. We shall see! Enjoy!

 

When did you know that you wanted to join the world of comedy? What was it that compelled you to make people laugh for a living?

I mean, I’ve loved comedy for as long as I can remember. Always loved making people laugh, even when I was growing up. I just kind of marveled at people who had the ability to make an entire audience laugh. And I fell in love with stand up at a very young age. I think it’s fair to say I was straight-up addicted to it – whether I was listening to my parent’s old comedy albums, or just watching it on TV as much as I could. I basically studied stand up comedy throughout my entire childhood. And it was something I always dreamed of doing; I just never thought I would actually do it. The idea of writing material seemed so daunting and out of the realm of possibility for me. Meanwhile, at school I was writing funny essays or pieces and reading and performing them in front of my class, not really putting together that I was essentially doing what stand up comedians did. When I got older, I would hang out at comedy clubs and even try my hand at writing material, but then would chicken out and not actually ever go up. Eventually, it took a comedy club owner in the Bay Area, who actually passed away some years ago, Jessica Jenkins, and another comic – a guy from Portland, Troy Thirdgill to talk me into trying it for the first time, and I just never looked back.

Can you tell us about your very first time getting up on stage? What sort of emotional rollercoaster was that for you?

I basically had 2 weeks from the time I got talked into trying it until the actual date of my first set. At the time, I was working this corporate tech day job that I was woefully unqualified for and absolutely hated (I’d eventually be fired from, like, 6 of these jobs). But I’d work from 7am to 4pm, then leave and either take a nap or just watch a movie, and then I’d come back to the office at night, find a conference room and write until really late. I did this for 2 weeks just to put together what I thought was 5 minutes of material, but turned out to be more. This is probably the hardest I’d worked on anything in my life at that point. The night of the open mic, I put my name on the list in the #7 spot, thinking that all of the other spots would be filled in. They were not. I felt as confident as anyone could trying stand up for the first time, so I was nervous as shit. And I had all my material typed out and spread out on the bar in the back of the club, studying it while the show was going on. After the 3rd or 4th comic came off stage, I remember the host saying “Are you guys ready for your last comic?” And I don’t know if anyone else heard me do this, but an audible “No!” actually flew out of my mouth. I was totally terrified, but the next thing I knew I was just walking toward the stage as this guy is introducing me. And it was the weirdest thing: I’d watched so much stand up comedy that, even though I’d never done it before, it all just felt really familiar suddenly. And I became super calm and just walked up there and did it. It was one of the greatest feelings and moments in my life. I remember coming off stage and thinking I have to do this again, as soon as possible!

 

 

You had a perfect description of Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, calling it “criminally short”. It truly was too short, but groundbreaking the same. What was it like to work on a show like this? Did it feel groundbreaking when you were working on it?

Working on Totally Biased was a lot of things for me. It was my first writing job. And then it became my first head writing job which changed my career and my life in ways I could have never seen coming. This show launched my TV writing career. And, especially in the beginning, it was just a lot of fun! I was working with my comedy homie, Kamau, and a lot of our friends that we’d come up with through stand up. And it was all of these things while also being this incredible learning experience in comedy and TV writing, production, collaborating with other writers, and just the business of making a show every week. And I’m getting to work on a regular basis with one of the most amazing teachers you could ask for, Chris Rock, who was one of our executive producers. And all this is happening while I’m living in New York for the first time. But it was also brutally rigorous, particularly when we became a nightly show. In that way, it prepared me for every job I’d have after that. I’ll always be super grateful for that experience.

And, you know, we were incredibly proud of what we were making every week on the show. We got to do and say things that other shows weren’t saying or doing at that time. We got to put talent on TV that you weren’t seeing on every other show out there. I feel like that was our goal with the show, and we did it very successfully. But ultimately, what Totally Biased was for me was this opportunity to make this thing – this show – with my friend, Kamau, who I’d come up with, both of us being each other’s ride-or-die and just trying to make it, to get our shot. And here we were, doing it. That was a very special and exciting time and something I’ll never forget being a part of.

Last Week Tonight is another extremely original in its own way type of series that deals with some pretty damned heavy content each week, yet thanks to brilliant writers like yourself, it still remains pretty damned funny. With that, what would you say was the most difficult subject matter you had to work with on LWT? What did you find to be extremely difficult to even attempt to make light of?

Well, I’ve always said that if Totally Biased was boot camp, Last Week Tonight was SEAL training. That show took everything I’d learned at T.B. and multiplied that knowledge, like tenfold. And one of those learning experiences was in how to take very boring, complex or even tragic topics and build comedy around them. Routinely we had to take clips that were going in the show – clips about people losing their homes or livelihood, or stories about people being sick or dying – really sad stuff – and write jokes that John had to say right after these clips. So every week there was really grim subject matter that we had to just figure out how to navigate through and know when and how to tell jokes about it. The one that stands out to me the most wasn’t even a tragic subject as much as it was just really boring subject matter-wise for a comedy show. It was the Net Neutrality piece in season 1. I worked on that with a couple other writers, and the whole thing about it was that it was this incredibly boring, complicated topic about legislation and mergers and how the internet works – basically shit that would clear the room at a party. But ultimately, we just realized we had to lean into how dull and complicated a topic it was, and that became the central joke of the piece – this idea that they’re sneaking this very important, critical issue past us all because it is, in fact, so boring and they’re counting on us not paying attention. And once we figured that out, it was a lot of fun to write. It’s also a piece that featured a joke I wrote that made John laugh particularly hard during rehearsal – a weird joke about Superman and Lex Luthor living in the same apartment complex that I’d written at, like, 3am when I was particularly loopy – so that was always a point of personal pride for me.

 

 

Currently you can be found working on The Jim Jefferies Show on Comedy Central. What has it been like to work on this program? What has set it apart from other work you have done as a writer?

It’s been great! Jim is obviously a completely different type of host then John or Kamau – his point of view and take on things is just very different than those guys, so it’s nice to go to a similar type of show that’s still got a completely different feel and comedic sensibility. It just keeps things interesting from a writing perspective. I never want to totally repeat something. 

And just in terms of the writer’s room, it’s a different set of writers, in a different city. I’m in L.A. and not New York, so it’s an all-around different vibe than it was on Last Week Tonight or Best Week Ever or Totally Biased. I like that, from job to job, the feel and inner workings of each writer’s room has been wildly different than the previous experience.

We always like to ask our statue holding friends this one question: Where do you keep your Emmys? And does their physical location hold any kind of significance?

In a glass IKEA case with a bunch of Lego Avengers figurines on top of it. You really have to snoop around my place to find them. At this point, the most noticeable object in my home is the Christmas tree that’s been up since last year.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

[In March], I’ll appear on a new Comedy Central show called The New Negroes, hosted by comedian Baron Vaughn and rapper Open Mike Eagle. It’s a really funny show that mixes stand up, social commentary from Baron and Mike, and hip-hop from Mike and some amazing guest rappers. I’m doing stand up, and I’ll appear in one of the music videos with Mike and – I don’t think I’m allowed to say who yet, so I’ll just say one of my favorite rappers of all time. I was also head writer on the show, so I’m really excited for people to see what we put together. Also, I’m excited to take down that damned Christmas tree.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

The thought of leaving that Christmas tree up one more year.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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