On a trip from Wilmington to Greenville a few years ago, Matt White showed me a side of comedy I had not seen before, and one I have only witnessed in bits and pieces since.
White, a stand-up comedian who essentially started Greenville’s comedy scene before moving to Wilmington and then Raleigh, needed a ride back to Pitt County’s capital after performing at the Cape Fear Comedy Festival, an annual destination for White and I for several years. White does stand-up and networks at the festival; I watch hours of live stand-up and try to get interviews with comedians.
As soon as I picked White up, my comedy curiosity was running at full speed, which led to me asking him approximately 75 questions during the two-hour ride, and this was after I had already done an Internet-official interview with White. Talking about stand-up comedy ranks high on my list of favorite things about the art form, right up there with seeing it, either in person or on TV or a computer, and writing about it.
Probably three or four questions into the trip, I asked White about his writing process, which I admit is a pretty common question and similar to asking a comedian how they handle a heckler or who their favorite comics are. Those are tired questions and now seems like a good time to remind you that this happened three years ago, and that I’m a much better interviewer and writer now.
White, a North Carolina native who attended East Carolina and has been doing stand-up for 11 years, responded to my writing process question by unzipping a book bag and taking out a notebook. For years I had heard and read stories about comedians jotting down ideas on sheets of notebook paper or cocktail napkins, and here I was less than a foot away from one such document.
I was thrilled. White might have found my enthusiasm for learning about the details of joke-writing a little over the top, but he obliged me anyway and I gleaned some knowledge about comedy that afternoon that sticks with me to this day.
I also geek out a little bit every time I see a comic take the stage with a notebook in hand, whether it’s a young comedian at their first open mic or Marc Maron.
White has continued filling up notebooks and he will soon be recording an hour special titled “Growing Up White” in Raleigh where he hosts, features and teaches comedy and improv classes for teens and adults at Goodnights Comedy Club and Moonlight Stage Company. During a Monday morning interview. We discussed the evolution of the “Growing Up White” material, why Goodnights was his first choice for the taping and what moving to Raleigh after a couple of years in Wilmington has meant for his career.
Tony Castleberry: Do you have your setlist ready for the album taping?
Matt White: Right now, I would say the skeleton of it is set, but I’m working on fine-tuning some things. I’ve got a couple of shows planned for the next couple of weeks where I’m testing it out. I’m going to (open) mics, testing it out. I’m rewriting stuff. The general concept of it is already planned out. I’m just looking to add some things here and there.
TC: How long have you been working on that material?
MW: Probably around two and a half, maybe three years.
TC: Was getting an hourlong set together for an album your goal or did it kind of happen organically?
MW: Before I left Greenville, when I turned 31, I did an hour show at Tipsy (Teapot, now Crave Restaurant and Bar). I got through that hour, so I’m like, cool. I had some stuff before that was all jumbled around. It wasn’t in place. … Since then, I’ve been trying to work on it and I’ve been trying to find a title for it. I wanted to play off the “50 Shades of Grey” type thing so I did “31 Shades of White.” [interviewer laughs]
When I went to Wilmington, I did (another hour), but I still didn’t have a chance to really work on that material because I was doing other material for shows. I didn’t stop doing one set from doing the other, but I wanted to keep adding to (the original hour). Instead of writing new material on totally different topics, I just kept adding to the ones that I had and I realized I had a really strong skeleton or base of material that’s pretty much about me. I think I need to go ahead and get it recorded, get that hour out of the way so I can actually focus on other stuff. I’m not going to do that unless I get this first one out of the way.
TC: Was Goodnights where you wanted to tape it?
MW: It was. I moved to Raleigh in January from Wilmington and the goal in mind was, all right, starting over again. I’m gonna have to work my way up. By the end of the year, my goal was to become a feature (act for headlining comedians) at Goodnights. I ended up doing that in like March so I was like, well, I’ve gotta do something different. As I was doing the Wednesday shows and stuff like that, every show I started doing more and more material and I started to see that the Wednesday shows were pretty popular. As I was planning the calendar out, I thought, I’ve got this material. I’ve been doing it for a while and I’m in the place I’ve wanted to be. I always wanted to perform at Goodnights. Before I even started doing stand-up, I knew what Goodnights was.
In Wilmington, I did a headlining show, like a local showcase, in July and that’s what set it in motion. I did an hour there, was able to sell out the room, and I wasn’t even (living in Wilmington) at the time. … I did an hour, and I had 10 more minutes of material I didn’t even put out. Now, the next place to do it is at Goodnights. I teach classes there now. I host there. I feature there. I’m always there at the mic and I’m getting more and more into the system. That’s the perfect place to (record) because it benefits me and it also benefits the club.
TC: It seems to me that doing an hour is a major stepping stone. Did it feel like that for you or did it feel natural to get up there and do an hour’s worth of jokes?
MW: It is a stepping stone. For me, I like being up there and I don’t wanna say it feels natural, but it comes out natural because I don’t stress myself out when I’m on stage. I have an outline, and I try to follow it. Then again, I get lost in the moment sometimes too and once I get going, it’s all about having fun then. That’s how I forget certain (bits) because I’m just having fun. I’m in the moment and some stuff may fall by the wayside because I tend to put stuff in my sets that I didn’t plan on putting in it.
TC: I know getting to Raleigh was a goal of yours. Has it helped you professionally, but also from a mental standpoint, having a club you can go to almost every night if you want to?
MW: I think it has. (Raleigh is) a bigger beat. Nothing against any of the places I’ve performed at and lived at and worked at, but how I look at it, (Goodnights) is the biggest club in North Carolina right now. I know Charlotte is a big city, but the (comedy) scene is small. The club is pretty decent, but Goodnights is a legendary club. You get to work with people that are A-listers. Sometimes at other clubs, you work with people who are up and coming, and they’re still good as well, but it has a whole different feel to it. … If my home club is Goodnights and I go somewhere else and people know what Goodnights is, then people look at me differently.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes:
Watching the episode where Bart gets expelled. Part of me feels bad for the little guy, but he also had it coming, given his behavior
— Brendan O'Hare (@brendohare) November 8, 2016