It should come as no surprise that Brian Granger is a performer. The first two-time winner of “Port City’s Top Comic” competition watched his father spin records as a radio station disc jockey in Wilmington, and Brian’s uncle played and toured for years with singer James Brown. With those early influences, Brian eventually found himself on stage. But his avenue is comedy.
“I grew up with family that would make me perform in front of them,” Brian says. “Technically the first time I started doing standup was the third grade, I was eight. My teacher at Forest Hills let me get up in front of the class and perform standup.”
Brian listened to some of his father’s comedy records growing up, with Bob Saget and Robin Williams being two of his favorites. After living in Wilmington for his early school years, Brian moved to the west coast to live with his biological mother. When his father moved to the Bay Area, Brian moved there to finish out high school. His first standup gig in a comedy club happened in San Diego, at a club called Mr. O’s, when Brian was 22 years old. He talks more about it at 6:45 of the podcast.
“I bombed, miserably,” Brian says. “Not one laugh. Didn’t get a laugh for a year. I kept going back there.” As he kept going back to the club to hone his act, Brian also learned by watching headliners. He studied their delivery, their cadence, their timing, and started to work on his own.
“Finally, I realized that people just wanted to see me smile first and introduce myself,” Brian remembers. “So, it’s not just to jump right in to my joke or say something crude. Start off more of getting them on your side.”
Brian decided to move to Los Angeles, concentrate on making comedy his livelihood. He did a lot of “open mic” shows, but still had to work other jobs to make ends meet. After a few years, Brian says he couldn’t afford to live in LA any longer. In 2010, he moved back to Wilmington to live with family, and had all but given up on comedy as a career. He began to focus on music, playing drums with bands and dabbling with guitar work. It was a trip to Nutt Street Comedy Club with a friend in April 2012 that changed Brian’s mind. You can hear that story at 12:30 of the podcast.
“He kind of pushed me to go and said, ‘hey man, you need to go out there and try and do it’, so I decided to do that, and he filmed it,” Brian recalls. “From then on, I just had the bug. Coming from LA, I thought this was going to be a generic version of a comedy scene, and I was wrong. You’ve got brilliant writers. And the atmosphere, people get a lot more than what you think they would.”
Brian entered the 2014 “Port City’s Top Comic” contest, where he competed against more than 60 comics from across the region. Unlike the most recent PCTC, he says the comedians had to go through several rounds of competition before making the final round. Brian talks about that event at 14:50 of the podcast.
“When you’ve got that many rounds, you worry about if the people that came from the semifinal round are going to see you in the finals,” he says about the audience reaction, which counted toward the comic’s score. “So, you want to try to do something different. But you don’t want to walk that tight line where you can tank that joke. You want to make sure everything is solid, the cadence is there, you don’t want to go over. Everybody looks at that.”
Brian Granger outlasted them all, winning that competition and being named the Port City’s Best Comic of 2014. “I cried,” Brian says about his response to being named the winner. “I didn’t expect that it was going to happen that way. I had a good set. But there was probably about 15 comics that were killing it.”
Winning brought new exposure, and the opportunity to travel around the southeast to meet other comedians. A tour across the Carolinas followed. It also brought a dose of reality.
“It was eye-opening,” Brian says. “I was like ‘I have more work to do’. You see other guys that we don’t get to see here and I’m like ‘Oh my God, these guys are incredible’. Had they been at Port City’s Top Comic, I might not have had a chance.”
Brian re-entered PCTC in 2017, he says, “to prove to myself I can win it twice” and take his game up to another level. He became the first two-time winner of the event, and now plans to attend more comedy festivals, including the Cape Fear Comedy Festival and the Asheville Comedy Festival. Look for Brian to be more active on social media, too. Brian admits he is still evolving as a comedian, always looking to improve his performances.
“Everything I’ve seen somebody do, I’ll try it at least once,” Brian says. “If I watch somebody that is incredible as a musician-comic, I’ll try that. I have to get it out of my system. If I see somebody that is great with impersonations, I try impersonations and try to throw that into my act. Anything to add to it, just to make it a complete show, I want to do it.”
Brian says he has about an hours’ worth of what he calls “solid material” that he can tailor to the crowd, depending on the demographic of the audience. He also has a new daughter about 18 months old, and she has added new perspective to his life and to his writing. He talks about that at 28:15 of the podcast.
“I get to be not so much of a recluse and now I get to people watch,” Granger says. “That has added to my material, times ten.”
Brian says his humor stems from everyday life experiences he has gone through, or his family has gone through. He carries cards in his pocket to save ideas for jokes, or to write down something he witnessed that can be the starting point for a funny story. He is busy planning appearances at comedy clubs across North Carolina, and is a regular at the Dead Crow Comedy Room in Wilmington.
“With Timmy and the whole staff down there, they’ve given all of us a plateau for creativity,” Brian says. “Those guys, they’ve made me the comic that I am for the most part.”
I learned a lot about comedy by talking with Brian Granger. Trying to make a living as a standup comic is tough. Brian talks about being beaten up after a show, spit at, heckled by audience members. He also talked about a loss the local comedy scene suffered during the 2014 PCTC event that is still felt even today. Yes, he does deliver some classic Brian Granger lines, too. I think you’ll enjoy the conversation.
You can listen to the entire interview with Brian Granger on the free “1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast:
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