Turning everyday life into a stand-up routine isn’t the easiest of tasks, but it’s what local comedian Steve Ferris is all about. Influenced by greats like Andy Kaufman and Steve Martin, Ferris brings to the stage what he calls “stylized absurdity,” a combination of meandering stories and deadpan punch lines that make for a unique brand of comedy. Since 2004, he’s been performing up and down the West Coast and is currently slated to perform a host of shows here in Sacramento as well as in San Francisco.
How did you get into comedy?
I tried to be the funny guy in junior-high and high school, and doing it professionally was always in the back of my mind. There are comedians who influence me, but I never wanted to get into comedy because of them. I’ve just always liked making people laugh.
What is “stylized absurdity”?
My material is absurd, but absurd with a purpose. I want the jokes to sound crazy, but I want to deliver them a certain way. Honestly, I think a lot of what I do onstage is stupid, but people who see my performances don’t think of it that way. So “stylized absurdity” just evolved as a way to describe my material to other people.
Who are your influences?
Mostly people that I know. As far as comedians go, Jim Carrey is a big influence. Andy Kaufman is another name that comes to mind. There are a lot of entertainers who I will take bits from and use as inspiration to make my stuff better. But if you watch those people, it may not seem like they influence what I do. For example, Jim Carrey’s cameo as an Elvis impersonator in the movie Pink Cadillac is probably one of my favorite performances—though it bears little resemblance to my act.
Is your material based on things you see every day?
It’s a combination of being in certain mental states and seeing things that could make for good jokes. Some people smoke cigarettes or drink coffee, and that will slightly change their perspective on something. That’s what happens when I come up with jokes. For example, I was in Target the other day and it was crowded, and I was kind of dehydrated. Walking around in a crowd of people and wanting a drink sent my mind wandering and prompted me to come up with a few things that I thought were pretty funny. So it’s just being in a mindset where I can put a twist on things that happen every day.
How do you become a successful comedian? Do you just keep getting onstage?
Yeah, that’s what I do. But if I knew exactly what it takes to be successful, I’d already be there. Different performers take different paths. A lot of people say comedy’s really easy to get into because you can just go to open-mics and start performing. If you do well, you can make connections and get invited to better shows at better venues, and you just keep going from there.
Why do you begin every set by asking the audience, “What do you guys want to do?”
I used to start my show by pretending to read my jokes off note cards, the same way you would give a presentation in middle school or something. After a while that became boring, and I wanted to come up with something that was funnier and would involve the audience more. Asking “What do you guys want to do?” is what I came up with. It’s the same thing you ask when you’re hanging out with friends as a kid, so it’s like I’m just hanging out with the audience.
How do you deal with hecklers?
Hecklers don’t really bother me because I’ve learned to turn their interruptions into something positive. I look at it like the audience is ready to laugh, but the heckler’s not quite there yet, so everybody in the room has to come together to help the person get to that place where they can enjoy the show. In a way, it’s good that the heckler spoke up, so now we know we have to help him.
Is being funny onstage any different than being funny in another setting, like radio or TV?
I don’t think it’s fundamentally different. I’ve been on a local radio show called Werewolf Radio a few times, and when I’m on there I try to be the same guy I am onstage. In a way I feel like I’m performing for the other guys that I’m on the show with, but I’m really not. I just have to adapt to an environment where the audience is not directly in front of me. There are some subtle differences, but in any setting you’re still just trying to make people laugh.