Joking aside: These are the stand-up comedians to know in Charlotte

Photo by Mark Borja
The Burpie

Remember the jokes you told when you were a kid: “Why can’t you hear the pony talking in a crowded room? Because he’s just a little horse.”

What about the kids who skipped the one-liners and made friends laugh with their observations, stories and wisecracks? What happened to those kids? Some of them went on to be funny fathers telling Dad Jokes. Others decided to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.

“Comedy is very subjective,” said Joel Pace, the senior booking agent with The Comedy Zone Worldwide — which announced Tuesday they are merging with entertainment booking agency, EastCoast Entertainment. Pace has been with the company for 28 years. The company’s headquarters are in Charlotte, and they have more than 50 clubs throughout the U.S.

“Just because you don’t like a certain comic doesn’t mean they aren’t funny. It’s just not your cup of tea,” Pace said. The Comedy Zone’s shows feature comedians with southern, urban, clean or edgy vibes six days a week. On Mondays, they offer a comedy class taught by Pace and three other instructors. At the graduation, students perform to a live audience of family, friends and about 100 regulars who want to see the new comedians’ acts.

A good stand-up comedian has to take their art form seriously, Pace said. All they have is a microphone and their words to impress an audience. “It has to be someone who has confidence in themselves and in their material,” he said. “You have to sell your material to the audience.”

Looking for the right local comedian to tickle your funny bone? C5 talked with 11 stand-up comedians in the Charlotte market:

(1) Lauren Ansley

Courtesy of Lauren Ansley

“On family trips, all seven kids put on a show for the adults. Over the years, the show evolved to include funny skits and SNL-inspired “fake news reports.” I quickly took on the role of comic relief. Fast forward 20+ years to a first date telling me he’d taken a stand-up comedy class at The Comedy Zone. He played his video for me, and I thought to myself, ‘I can do better.’”

Dream gig: “A fellow comedian told me once: ‘Comedy will take you as far as it wants to,’ so we’ll see! So far, comedy has taken me to parking lots, a handful of comedy clubs in Charlotte, Greensboro and Nashville, several breweries, my mom’s church social hall, a movie theater in Virginia, countless bars, a friend’s backyard and four comedy festivals in the Carolinas.”
Style of comedy: Wordplay, self-deprecating
Show rating: PG to PG-13
Next performance in Charlotte: Feb. 12 at The Evening Muse and Feb. 20 at Legion Brewing Company

(2) J Bliss

Photo by Markus Perry
J Bliss

“I was always a funny kid. I used humor as a deflection to distract people from teasing my twin sister. I had a very good memory and could always tell a great story. While working in corporate America, I had to do a presentation in front of more than 400 people. I reverted to humor and was the highlight of the sessions. I had always wanted to try stand-up and knew I could be funny, so I took a class to learn what not to do the first time on stage. That started everything.”

Dream gig: “Every time I am on stage it’s exactly where I want to be. My dream status would be to never have to worry about being booked.”
Style of comedy: Observational and misdirection
Show rating: PG and R
Next Charlotte performance: Feb. 18 at The Comedy Zone

(3) Tara Brown

Photo by Chuck Eaton
Tara Brown

“I come from a long line of people (including my mom and my late grandfather) who were always told that they were naturally funny. People have said the same thing about me, which is humbling, so I’m glad to have had that gene passed down to me.  I decided to nurture that by taking an excellent comedy class at The Comedy Zone Charlotte, which was taught by Joel Pace and Len Kure, it was the best investment I ever made in myself. I will always be grateful to them and to the team at The Comedy Zone for the many opportunities that have come my way as a result of having taken that class. It’s a great foundation.”

Dream gig: “My dream comedy gig would be to go on a clean comedy tour with some of the great clean comedians who I admire, who include: Jerry Seinfeld, Sinbad, Jeanne Robertson, Michael Jr., Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, John Crist and Ryan Hamilton.”
Style of comedy: Observational
Show rating: G and PG
Next Charlotte performance: Host of the Clean Comedy Brunch series at The Comedy Zone on April 28 at 3:30 p.m.

(4) Burpie

Photo by Mark Borja

“I got started doing comedy while I was working in corporate America. A woman who had never spoken to me said she thought I was hilarious and that I should try stand-up.”

Dream gig: “Sellout an arena as the headliner.”
Style of comedy: An energetic and animated storyteller
Show rating: PG and R
Next Charlotte performance: Every weekday on Power 98’s radio program, Morning Maddhouse, 6-10 a.m.

(5) Will Jacobs

Photo by Simply Refine Photography + Design
Will Jacobs

“I grew up loving to laugh and making people laugh. I just had no idea you could make a career of it. I was always the funniest person in class or the funniest person in the office. So one day, I decided to give Keli Selsemberger’s impov class a shot. I became a Charlotte Comedy Theater member and eventually took a stand-up comedy class at The Charlotte Comedy Zone. Once I hit the stage for the first time performing stand-up, I was hooked and knew I wanted to make it my career. I still practice law, but it’s all comedy on nights and weekends at clubs across the country.”

Dream Gig: “My dream comedy gig is touring theaters across the country when I’m not filming my dream TV sitcom.”
Style of comedy: Observational humor
Show rating: PG and R
Next Charlotte performance: Host of the March Mania Comedy Tournament at The Comedy Zone on March 5.

(6) Jesse Jones

Photo by Kimberly Butler
Jesse Jones

“I started at The Perch, one of Charlotte’s original indie scene sketch comedy clubs. I had always been able to talk, but The Perch taught me how to write and stick to a continual schedule of improvement, which helped shape my work ethic as a comic.”

Dream gig: “To do ‘The Tonight Show.’”
Style of comedy: Family, storytelling
Show rating: PG and R
Next Charlotte performance: April 20 at 8 p.m. at The Factory Comedy Room

(7) Jason Allen King

Photo by Mike Hammer
Jason Allen

“I was fun as a kid, but I don’t think I was funny. I was definitely in the middle of everything. Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer, which led me to work in the film industry for the last 15+ years. I’ve created a number of projects that have garnered some success, like the web series “George & Monty.” I wanted to be a better joke writer in my scripts, so I took the comedy class at The Comedy Zone. I realized quickly how much fun it is to perform stand-up on stage. The instant feedback is very rewarding. So I ran with it.”

Dream gig: “Nothing big. Just a spot on Conan or The Tonight Show that leads to JFL and a Netflix Special, ultimately giving me the opportunity to write and star in my own TV Series. I’d like to be able to live comfortably on the merits of my stand-up comedy. Easy Peasy.”
Style of comedy: Observational jokes
Show rating: PG and R
Next Charlotte appearance: Hosting for Joel McHale on Feb. 1 and 2 at The Comedy Zone

(8) Blayr Nias

Photo by Nora Canfield
Blayr Nias

“Written in my eighth grade yearbook, under the ‘In the Year 2020 …’ section, ‘Blayr Nias will be a dancer, gymnast, comedian.’ Thank God I never combined all three — or maybe I am missing my true calling. I started using humor to defuse tense situations and just handle life in general at an early age, but I officially got my start because a guy told me I was funny and invited me to an open mic. The rest is history.”

Dream gig: “Anything that is dripping with VIP treatment. Really I just want to get big enough to have a solid fan base that will sell out the venues that book me.”
Style of comedy: Self-deprecating and unapologetic, but still relatable
Show rating: PG and R
Next Charlotte appearance: Emcee of the Condom Couture Fashion Show on Feb. 9 at the Filmore and Feb. 13 at The Comedy Zone with Ryan Van Genderen for the Love & War Comedy Tour.

*Blayr Nias provided the joke in the story introduction.

(9) Todd Riley

Courtesy of Todd Riley

“When I was a kid, I tried to be funny in high school video productions. When I got out of school, I became really funny socially. Coworkers and friends got me on stage for an open mic, and I loved it. I switched my day job and started doing stand up every week after that until I finally broke into working clubs and rooms across the East Coast.”
Dream gig: “Headlining clubs and theaters across the country and even into other countries. Also to have one to three comedy specials produced and out there for everyone to enjoy.”
Type of Comedy: Slightly inappropriate mixed with a dose of sarcasm
Show rating: R
Next Charlotte Performance: Feb. 10 at The Comedy Zone for the Funny on the Fly show

(10) Mike Speenberg

“I was moderately funny as a kid. Nothing special. My friends were the funny ones. I just learned how to write the stories down and present them to drunk strangers. I started comedy on June 17, 1998, at The Comedy Zone on Independence Boulevard, and I’m a graduate of the Comedy Zone comedy school.”

Dream gig: “I’d like to be the first comedian to perform on the moon.”
Style of comedy: “I am a storyteller. I’m southern and I talk about the things I have experienced in my 46 years on this rock.”
Show rating: G to R
Next Charlotte appearance: Feb. 6 at The Comedy Zone

(11) Tim Wright

Courtesy of Ted Wright

“I was funny as a child. I was always the class clown. I got started in comedy when a friend told me I should do stand-up and knew of someone that could teach me how to do it.  After going to my first open mic, I was hooked on the laughter and being able to make people laugh.

“I did take a comedy class when I first started and would advise anyone wanting to do comedy to take a class to learn how to write a joke.”

Dream gig: “My own 30-minute comedy special on Comedy Central.”
Style of comedy: Southern observational humor
Show rating: PG 13 to R
Next Charlotte appearance: March 20 at The Comedy Zone

Responses were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.



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