If John Heffron’s plans come together, and if the Earth doesn’t swallow us whole in the next couple of years because it’s sick of how we’re mistreating it, comedy fans in the Raleigh area might get to see more of him.
Heffron, a Detroit native who has been a working stand-up comedian for 26 years, is headlining Raleigh’s Goodnights Comedy Club this week, but doing shows is not the only reason he visits the Triangle. Heffron has family in the area and during a Wednesday afternoon interview he said he and his wife have been contemplating a move out of California with Raleigh being a possible landing spot.
In addition to discussing the benefits of Raleigh living, Heffron and I talked about hosts and feature acts leaving tough crowds for headliners, how he was ready to fight his way out of a pseudo kidnapping at a corporate gig, a wild night of partying after his “Last Comic Standing” victory and more.
Enjoy the interview, follow Heffron on Twitter, and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes at the end.
Tony Castleberry: Have you noticed a difference in crowds since Trump was elected?
John Heffron: Not in crowds, but in, like, what people talk about. I’ve had talks with other headliners about, “Do you let the emcee or feature before you go out there and start talking about that stuff?” They get to leave the stage. They can muddy up the show before you get up. It’s a weird, philosophical thing where you don’t wanna tell another comic what to do, but on the same token…I don’t do political stuff. I don’t do racial stuff.
I had a guy get on stage and he’s just like, “Who voted for Hillary?” (Mimics audience response) “Boo!” “Where are my Trump people?” “Woo-hoo!” “What? Why are you guys racist?” He did that for 10 minutes and he gets to leave. Do you know what I mean?
TC: Yeah, that’s brutal.
JH: So then I got mad and I’m like, “You’re not allowed to throw a smoke bomb like that and then just take off.”
Right now, it’s weird. I wanted to do a test where I think of a nondescript joke that has a pronoun that could be replaced. A joke that has nothing to do with anything. Throw the word Trump in that joke, like a placebo. So I say, “That would be like a giraffe saying bib-a-dib-e.” Everyone laughs at the giraffe joke. Then, the next show, go, “That’s like Trump saying bib-a-dib-e.” Just replacing it and seeing all the different reactions.
Trump is kind of a dumb person just in general, not even politically. There have been jokes about Trump way before he ran for anything, but people don’t listen to anything you say after that. They just go, “Wait a minute. We have to defend our side,” which is weird because it makes it that now the audience gets to pick the material.
TC: That’s no good.
TC: A lot of comics have horror stories about bombing or shitty shows they were a part of when they were first getting started, but do you remember any specific good times from your early days in comedy?
JH: I remember the very first time I went on stage. That, for a lot of people, is a horrific experience. Now, listen, if I went back and saw that, do I think I did as well as I think I have in my head? I don’t know, but I remember that experience being so awesome and so good that obviously, it was the thing that made me go, “I want to come back again.” There were shitty shows after that.
You know, sometimes you have just random, awesome shows in the middle of nowhere that nobody sees or hears except for the people that were in the room.
TC: But those mean a lot to you, right?
JH: Yeah. I remember one show — I think I was in Atlanta — and I don’t know if there was a storm or something, but there was a really small crowd. Maybe one of the smallest shows I’ve done in a while. … All the comics were kind of eating it because they’re trying to do material and I ended up doing, like, crowd work, but there was this weird connection and I had one of the funnest times I’ve had on stage in a long time.
I do a lot of shows and there’s no guarantee. You could have 2,000 people. You could be lowered on stage and lasers go off behind you or you could walk up and stand on a milk crate in front of 10 people. There’s no guarantee the laser show is going to go better than (the one with) 10 people and a milk crate. I’ve had it happen both ways, where the best set-up has gone the worst or vice versa.
TC: Do you alter your set for a corporate gig and if so, is that a difficult thing to do?
JH: No. I do probably more corporates now than clubs and I practice like I play. I talk about adult things. I’m not a kids’ show, but there’s no reason for me to drop the f-bomb all during my show. It doesn’t serve a purpose. It doesn’t make stuff funnier, so practice like you play and that way, when I do a corporate, I don’t have to worry. “Oh, I’ve got to edit this. I’ve got to do this a little different.” I do my show the same whether it’s a corporate show or a Friday second show (at a club).
One corporate gig, out of hundreds and hundreds, I said the word condom. Not what you do with it. Not what it’s used for. I just said the word. At the end of the show, they wanted me to sit down to have a debriefing about my act.
JH: That was the term that they used.
TC: Oh my god. What was your reaction? Were you shocked?
JH: I thought maybe I swore because a lot of those contracts say it has to be PG-13. They’re more uptight about language than anything. I swear in general so I thought maybe there was a moment where I threw out a (curse word). She said, “You said the word condom.” I go, “Yeah.” She goes, “We will be having a debriefing. Sit there. I have to go take pictures and we’ll be back.” I was like, “Fuck we’re having a debriefing, whatever that means. I can tell you right now that that’s not happening.” Her little minion who was with her goes, “No. She said to sit there.” Then the Detroit guy kind of kicked in and I was like, “Let me ask you a question. Are you going to keep me in this room? Because if so, that’s kidnapping, and I’m gonna react the same way as if I felt like I was being kidnapped. So how bad is this gonna get for everybody?” [interviewer laughs] I had zero problem with having to fight my way out of there.
I immediately called my manager and went, “Yeah, you maybe wanna make sure we get that check right away. That one might be a little difficult to snag.”
TC: Did you celebrate the night you won “Last Comic Standing”?
JH: I win Last Comic. I’m in the car with my manager and we went to the equivalent of a Denny’s in (Los Angeles). I’m a Michigan guy. My manager’s like, “Let’s go out to eat” and I’m like, “OK. I don’t need to go anywhere fancy. Let’s just go get pancakes or something.” Some diner.
Then we went to my apartment with my fiancee and we had friends over. Everybody was cheering. There were a lot of people in my apartment because they were watching it and I remember my neighbor knocked on the door. He’s like, “I’m pissed.” I never even met the guy. I go, “Why are you pissed?” He goes, “Well, I’ve been watching this show the whole time and I guess I know who wins.” He hadn’t watched it yet. That’s a pretty big spoiler, I guess.
TC: If your kids want to become stand-up comics, will you encourage them to go for it?
JH: I have a step-daughter who’s 22 in the Air Force so I don’t have to worry about that.
TC: Do you think she might try it at some point or is she wired differently altogether?
JH: I guess it would be the same thing if a kid tells their parents they want to be in a band, you know? I’ve seen both ends. I’ve seen people who’ve done (comedy) for 30 years and they make $6,000 the entire year, and I have friends that go up for the weekends who make millions. For every way I can say, “Here’s the right way to do it,” I can show you somebody who did it the other way and was still successful. Even after 26 years, I don’t know what the f’s going on. [interviewer laughs]
The key is putting butts in the seats. That’s what you wanna do.
TC: Sure. Are you looking forward to returning to Raleigh and playing Goodnights?
JH: I love going to Goodnights because my brother lives in Benson, so he lives in Raleigh. I’m actually in the Raleigh area way more than just when I perform. It does start to have that home-ish feel because I have family there. We’re even looking for property in that area. We wanna move out of California, but we don’t want to deal with real winter. Every time we’re there, I start driving around trying to look for property. A lot of friends live in that area too.
TC: For a long time I thought that if you wanted to be a successful stand-up, you had to live in New York or L.A. It’s not like Raleigh doesn’t have an airport, you know what I mean?
JH: In Raleigh, you’re eight hours away from a lot of places. Under eight hours, and you can live anywhere now, as long as you have an Internet connection.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes:
Kudos to sex bots for remaining unapologetically horny during this trying time.
— Aparna Nancherla (@aparnapkin) January 25, 2017