Central Valley Native
interview and photo by: Frankie Leal
Traffic Magazine sat down with Darren Carter and was able to talk to him about his experiences growing up in Fresno, his set on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and his advice to anyone wanting to pursue a career in Comedy.
Six years ago I ran into you at the World Famous Comedy Store in Hollywood. We were there to see you but you were on your way out to host a comedy show at the Ha Ha Cafe. I told you we came to see you and you happily placed myself and my party on your guest-list. We were not expecting free tickets, thank you Darren.
That's cool, I'm glad it went good. I don't go to the Ha Ha like I used to but there was a time when it was really fun to host there because it gives me a chance to do bits and jokes in-between comics. I also like to work on my material and see how the crowd reacts to my jokes. What they were doing at that time is they were saving the best, more experienced comics for last so by the time the more popular comics hit the stage the crowd would be burnt out causing the MC to burst out cussing at the crowd for not laughing enough. After a while the crowd gets fed up and they just leave. I enjoyed hosting there because it gave me more control over the show.
You bring flavor to your comedy sets, where does it come from?
My act is always changing. I always want to evolve and grow because I want people to come and see me. I don't want them to say, "ah man, you always do the same thing." First, it was a little bit weird when I changed it up because I wondered if I should still do the bits that people loved. I remember when I was in Modesto, this old-school retired cholo with a big mustache liked me because I did a joke about the T.V. show Gang Land. The joke is on my new album because people love it. He told me, "I wish you did more gang material." I remember thinking like for half a second, "Maybe, I should do more." Then I was like, nah.
You bring a lot of flavor during your sets, where does it come from?
The hip pop flavor comes from growing up in Fresno in the 80's. It was the most exciting thing! We had Run DMC, Houdini, The Fat Boys, Beastie boys and LL Cool J. I couldn't just pick up a guitar and start playing it, but rap? Anybody could rap.
What was it like being the red-headed, freckled face kid in a Latino environment?
It wasn't really bad or anything like that. Some kids called me "Rooster" and "Blondie." They would say, "hey Blondie!" but it really didn't sound funny so they eventually dropped it. They knew it was lame so they were like let's go back to the drawing board and find something funnier to call him. It got harder when I went to a new school in seventh grade. The eighth-graders had no idea who I was. I remember that was the first time I really felt like, whoa! I remember we were lined up in alphabetical order for P.E. I thought I heard these bigger kids looking over me at this kid next to me. They were laughing at him, pointing at him, talking about how shiny and bright his hair was. I remember looking at them and telling them, "his hair is not that bright and shiny." Then I realized, "oh shoot!" they’re talking about me. To be honest, it kind of made me stand out, in a good way.
So it fueled your comedy?
Yeah, I took it well because I had a creative outlet like comedy and rapping. I made raps about having red hair, it was fun. I remember when Valley Ice came out, I used to have this thing where I would rap, "I am strawberry fudge."
Did you perform stand-up locally?
We performed at Fresno State, bowling alleys, drug rehabs centers, juvenile hall, bars and The Infineion Restaurant. The Infineion was located in downtown Fresno, today it's called Club One Casino. That was my first taste of show business. Famous comedians would come to town and perform there. I remember the pre-show music was Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York. To me it was really funny because I'm sure in New York, nobody was playing Fresno, Fresno.
What comics inspired you?
The very first stand up comedy that I liked was on A.M radio. It was on 640 KMJ news talk 58 on Saturdays. It was one hour of stand-up comedy. I loved it! I don't remember the names back then. I just remember it was funny. The first comic I was really on the nose with was Eddie Murphy. He was my favorite comic back then. I got his album before he made Delirious. It was in audio form and it was great. I would go to school then do my own stuff and then I remember trying to be like him.
At what point did you take your comedy seriously?
When I knew I had something going was when I competed in a local comedy contest and I won it. I got to open up for the New Kids on the Block in Fresno. I was 20 years old.
How do you feel about social media and people recording your jokes during sets?
Of course, as a comic you like it better when you can control what's out there. It's not cool when comedy clubs don't police the room. Some people probably don't know that they are being rude, they probably think, "I'm just filming this show like when I do at a music concert," so that's always a tough spot when you stop what you're doing and you tell them, "Can you please not videotape me?" Because, sometimes they think you're kidding and you’re like, "No, seriously, stop filming." It's just weird. I remember one time I did this show and these two ladies were sitting right in the front and they were filming. I was like, "Can you please stop filming me?" and they were like, "Get over yourself, we're taking selfies."
What were some jobs you did before pursuing comedy full time?
I worked at Great America. I was a "roaming entertainer." My job was to entertain guests while they waited in line for roller coasters and entertain people before the shows. Today everybody is entertained by their phones, but back then they were just standing there so I had to walk up to them and entertain them with my impressions. Many times they didn't even know what I was doing, they were like, "What the hell is going on with this kid?" So my manager was like, "You need to get a costume so they know that you work here."
I also taught traffic school. It was great. I would talk to people for hours, many times we would go off subject and talk about something in the news, then get back to the subject. Basically we had to sit there for four hours together, so I could either read the vehicle code book or have a little fun with it.
When did you decide to pursue comedy full-time?
In 1997, I booked some commercials. I was making regular money doing standup comedy and receiving residual checks through the commercials.
In the comedy world there is a saying, "you haven't made it until you perform on the Tonight Show." You did the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Was that a big accomplishment for you?
Everything is different now from when there only used to be three networks on television. Back then there was a carryover from doing Johnny Carson. Chances were good to jump right into show business. Today, we have so many more entertainment options. Every six months, 12% of people from the ages of 18 - 32 are disconnecting their cable and are subscribing to YouTube, Netflix and other social media platforms. They call it cutting the cord. So to answer your question, when I did the Tonight Show, it wasn't as big as doing Johnny Carson. What it did do is help me get more gigs. It helped me validate me as a real comedian.
You do many impressions, has anybody ever reached out to compliment you?
The impression that I do consistently is Snoop Dogg. What's great about Snoop Dogg is he knows I do the impression and I have performed at his family reunion a couple of times. Last time I saw Snoop, he was just so cool. He reached out and shook my hand and said, " Hey what's up, what's cracking, how you doing?" He said, "Keep the funny coming, keep the funny coming."
Do you have a set that stands out from the rest?
There really is not. Thank God, because there are so many great memories.
Do you have a worst set ever?
I try to forget those right away. To tell you the truth, the bad shows, I ask myself, what could I have done differently? Is there anything I could have done to make that show better? Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes, the air conditioner is not up to par and it's a little too warm in the room. Sometimes, maybe it's a long, long show and people just get burnt out.
You have starred alongside John Travolta. Do you prefer acting versus stand-up?
I have always felt that acting always fuels my stand up. You get on people's radar. I love both. I love standup but at the same time it's great to have something out there that people can go to the movies and watch you.
What is Darren Carter up to these days and where can we see you?
I would love for people to check out my albums on iTunes. I got three of them now. The first one is called Shadyside and that one talks all about my experiences growing up in Fresno. Second one is called That Ginger’s Crazy. The third and the most recent one is called Stay-At-Home Stripper. It’s awesome because L.A. radio stations are playing tracks of it.
I also have a track called, Fresno Beach. It's all about Fresno. Basically the idea is, you probably know this too, when you travel, you tell people you're from Fresno and they make a joke of it, "Oh I'm sorry! #yuck." It could be worse though. If I tell people I'm from Fresno, they could say, "I can see that." So to make it sound better, I tell people I am from Fresno Beach, the beach is Silent.
Five years from now what will Darren Carter be doing?
Hopefully it will be my fifth appearance at Reedley College and hopefully more specials and more movies.
What advice would you give to a young comic?
Write down and take notes of everything that you think is funny. Make a note of conversations that you said that were funny. Read as much as you can, learn as much as you can. Be true to yourself. A young comic might see another comedian that gets a lot of big laughs. The starting comic might think, "Oh maybe I should do more jokes about that." I would advise, don't think like that. A true artist will say what they want and people will find it. But the hack will go, "Oh no, this is what people are buying right now. I'm going to do this too." Then you’re playing to what you think people like. Try to do what is authentic and real to you.
If people are in LA, where can they see you?
I'm everywhere: The Laugh Factory, The Improv, The comedy Magic Club, The World Famous Comedy Store. It's very nice that I am able to work at all the clubs.
How can we keep in touch with you?
Twitter is great. I am on Twitter all the time @darrencarter