See comedian Jordan Carlos - for $5
Before attending the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York City one day this summer, Carlos ate marijuana-infused brownies with a friend.
"For a minute, I thought I was Serena [Williams]," Carlos told The Eagle during a recent telephone interview.
He started to feel the inner workings of his knees. "I'm not supposed to be this high," the Dallas, Texas, native recalled thinking.
Even though Carlos is a comedian, sharing this type of anecdote isn't second-nature for him. He was raised in a religious family.
"I have [a] certain guilt about everything," he said.
Yet, after working with preeminent funnymen such as Stephen Colbert and Larry Wilmore during the early part of his career, Carlos has realized that shedding this shame about, for instance, getting high is vital to a comedy career ascent.
"You start giving less of a crap [about] what you're saying," the comedian said of what it takes to advance in the industry.
This isn't precisely what he means; he's certainly not winging it when he takes the stage. Carlos' past experiences writing and appearing on "The Colbert Report" and "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore" reinforced the need for constant revisions to his on-screen and stand-up material. Yet, as he arrives in Pittsfield for a set at Berkshire Theatre Group's Comedy Garage on Thursday, Carlos won't refrain from touching on divisive or vulgar topics.
"[He's] not afraid to say what everybody's thinking," said Madelyn Gardner, Berkshire Theatre Group's press and communications manager.
At the Garage, Carlos' act may include a critique of an activity that isn't as serious but is still close to many Berkshire County residents' hearts: apple-picking. Carlos said that, among other qualms with the pastime, there's an unsavory racial component for him. On one of his first dates with his wife, she asked if he wanted to go to an orchard. He responded by saying black people (Carlos is black) had done enough picking throughout U.S. history.
"You've gotta make jokes like that if you're going to go next level," Carlos said.
Race played a more central role in Carlos' early sets and appearances on TV. In 2007, he wrote a piece for The Washington Post titled, "My Shtick? Being Black."
"To date, comedy writing is pretty whitewashed," he wrote at the time.
Carlos spoke with The Eagle before Lena Waithe, along with "Master of None" co-star Aziz Ansari, took home the outstanding writing for a comedy series Emmy on Sunday night. Waithe is the first African-American woman to win the award. Donald Glover (outstanding lead actor in a comedy series; outstanding directing for a comedy series) and Dave Chappelle (outstanding guest actor in a comedy series), both of whom are black, also took home Primetime Emmys in comedy this year.
Carlos was aware of Waithe's and Glover's nominations but said that, more than a systemic shift in the industry, minority comedy writers and actors are creating their own opportunities.
"You have to do it from the ground up," Carlos said, citing Issa Rae as an example of this phenomenon.
Carlos is currently working on two projects of his own. He is spearheading a series called "Headliners" for NowThis News in which top comedians of different political persuasions will speak about current events in six-minute videos.
"I got the idea basically from `Guy Code' [a reality MTV series Carlos appeared on], which just let other people speak their mind," he said.
He is also creating a sitcom for Comedy Central called "Homes," about a black man who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes.
Though many know him from television, Carlos feels more comfortable doing stand-up, often riffing on animals' behavior. He represents the kind of up-and-coming but highly visible comedian the Comedy Garage seeks, according to Gardner.
"I've been a fan of Jordan Carlos for a while," said Gardner, who hosts the events and often opens with a few jokes of her own.
Beginning last February and held in The Colonial Theatre's lobby, the Garage series continues Berkshire Theatre Group's long-standing commitment to comedy in a more intimate setting than shows on its main stages. The space fits about 100 spectators, with tables and chairs set up and staff serving drinks. The idea is to mimic the comedy club vibe at a minimal cost ($5).
"It's kind of like a cabaret," Gardner said.
In cozy quarters, spectators will have little buffer between them and Carlos, a regular Berkshires visitor who ultimately considers himself to be a truth-teller.
"Comics, it seems like," he said, "are the last people left that get to do that."
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