Last month in Atlanta, GA; Comedy Hype held it’s first ever roast competition, Rooftop Roast. Several comedians came out to compete for the $ 250 prize and a feature here on HipHopIllustrated.com. When the night was over and insults were given; one comedian remained, Joel Byars. The stand-up comedian who runs his own podcast entitled Hot Breath! which was inspired by the Atlanta comedy scene tells us more about his moves in comedy, doing urban rooms, and why he has been doing comedy every night for the past several years.
CH: First thing Joel, Where are you from?
JB: Joel Byars was born in Rome ,GA and then I moved to Atlanta probably in kindergarten. I went to college in East Tennessee at Maryville College. Played a little D3 football up there, no big deal. Then I moved back to Atlanta. Really I had to move back home because the degree is just a receipt. I moved back in with my mom and started doing jobs. I’ve done everything man, I worked at Enterprise, I washed dishes, I’ve done tree removal and I was a hotel mini bar attendant. That was the last straw there. Now I’m a comedian, podcast host, teacher, Ebayer—I have an Ebay store. Started from the bottom now we’re here.
CH: You said you started in Atlanta, where was the first place you went to to do stand up?
JB: The first place here in Atlanta was Relapse Theatre. They used to have something called an un-mic open mic where we had an open mic without a microphone. Then we eventually moved to the basement of a church. They didn’t even have a stage yet…it closed but then it just re-opened again. The owner lost it and he prayed to God and said if you want me to get it back, then you’ll have to give it to me. Then he said the person who bought it called him within an hour of doing that prayer and asked if he wanted that place back. I’ve had the most fun performing there, it’s so free and a really nurturing environment.
CH: You were the winner of our Rooftop Roast. How did you prepare for it and how did you feel that you would do?
JB: I prepared by…I wrote jokes for everybody. But it turns out it wasn’t a regular roast like Roast Battle like I wrote for up in Montreal, but this was more hand to hand combat. The preparation was sitting down and writing jokes. There’s no time for a long set up. It’s more of a speed bag as opposed to a heavy bag. I went into it thinking I was going to win. Like I won this competition in DC thinking I am going to win. I did that with this competition and I wrote it down.
CH: I feel like you seem like you know what you’re doing. What is the main drive for Joel Byars? Is there a bigger picture for what you see for yourself, or do you just really love comedy?
JB: I just have fun doing it. It’s hard work I enjoy doing. There is no easy way around anything. It’s finding the hard work you enjoy doing. I’m not where I want to be at all. I’ve only been doing comedy for 6 and a half years. I can confidently say I was on stage almost every night. As soon as I started comedy I was completely submerged then on out stage; there’s no other choice for me.
CH: How do you fit in in Atlanta? It seems like you’ve found your own groove. You’re the only white performer in some audiences, is that something you naturally gravitate towards?
JB: The strategy was where can I get on stage? All I’ve heard better comics say is get on stage. That’s been my focus since day one, wherever, whoever. The urban rooms set me up first. I was like I can go down the street and get 10 minutes where there’s an audience. There’s a stigma, people are like you only do urban rooms. I was like I go where I get paid but now I get paid from them all. What I’ve learned is that urban rooms are great for developing personality and the mainstream rooms are great for developing writing. I don’t mean personality like you have to go up there and do a moonwalk; it’s like personifying your performance. Like Chris Rock will say what he wants first then add the personality. I do the same jokes everywhere. I’ll go to Uptown and do the exact same jokes at Punchline.
CH: Is there a comedian where you say man I wanna see my career like this? Is there someone who you see your journey aligning up with?
JB: Kevin Hart. His hustle is heavily documented. Seinfeld is successful. I don’t really see my career lining up with everyone. My vision is coming into focus. I think I’m figuring out my own lane and it is inspired by other comedians but it’s driven by me.
CH: What inspired the Hot Breath podcast?
JB: Atlanta comedy. Period. Last year’s Last Comic Standing, we had 9 Atlanta comics in the top 100 and then Clayton English (from Atlanta) won. And then I looked at the year before and saw a couple of Atlanta comics and then we won (that year too with Rodman). My goal is to show Atlanta comedy is just as notable as any other art coming out of the city right now. It’s kind of a platform for Atlanta comedy to get on the map. I want it to be something when a headliner is in town who says Hey I gotta get on Hot Breath, kind of make it like a magnet to the city.
CH: What is the thing that separates Atlanta comedians from the rest of the world?
JB: I think it’s the comedy scene. It’s not over saturated, it’s not bitter; not only does Atlanta have great comedians, they have great comedy fans. I’ve performed in LA NY and Chicago on great shows but there’s something about the energy of the city. There’s a lot of positive momentum right now. We have had 2 comics film Comedy Central half hour specials this year. I think it comes to quality comedy and quality fans as well. You can get on stage once a night. That’s what its about that stage time.
CH: If someone was traveling to Atlanta, what comedians and places should we go see?
JB: Kat’s Café with Karlous Miller. It was good to watch him grow. Clayton English…He and Karlous started on the same day. Another room… I would say Star Bar. There are headliners who will stay an extra day just to perform there. Java Monkey, the show I started, has been Decatur’s longest running show. Ms. Pat, Noah Gardenschwartz, Dulce Sloan, Andy Sanford, Tone Bell—he’s a comic that started in Atlanta. Rob Haze is another one. Most of these guys have moved on from Atlanta but still represent the brand. Even the people who don’t live here anymore still represent the scene and understand the importance of the city.
CH: You won $ 250, what’s the game plan for the money?
JB: You gotta reinvest. I reinvest into my comedy. The hustler mentality is you gotta have more than one stream of income. So I haven’t bought anything with it yet, but I am sitting here working on my website, got a logo in the works. Just sitting down like what do I want to get out of this, why do you do things?
CH: What is that dream position for Joel Byars in 5 years?
JB: My goal for 2016 is to be on Conan. When I started this year, that has been my focus. One of my goals was to headline Punchline in 2016 but that happened in February so I was like I need to reach more goals. I want to have my own show, write a book but the thing is to have creative control over it. Like Kevin Hart and Louis C.K., it’s in your hands, you just have to do the work.
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