It wasn’t long ago that Alabama-born comedian Darren Knight was living the simple life. “Just started doing videos, goofing off one day and posted them online,” the funny man recalls. “[Then] went hiking one day, and we was hungry so we stopped and we wandered into this local pub, and unbeknownst to me, it was like an open mike situation for poets and song-writers and comedians. That was my first time on stage, man! They gave me five minutes, and the crowd wanted me to keep on going – so I did a 20-minute set!”
“So within four to five months, the videos really started taking off and people started hearing me do open mikes and stuff. People really started lining up these small little [venues]. I came to work one day at Sears, and Sears wasn’t doing too well and they announced they were gonna close my property. They gave me three weeks severance pay and said bye-bye! I cleaned out my office, I was upset and didn’t know what to do. But it all just took off, I think I had only eight to nine shows under my belt before I did my first show professionally touring. I was actually living in a single-wide mobile home when all this happened. To go from 800 square feet to now 8,000 square feet - it’s a huge change!”
Knight owes much of his good fortune to his alter-ego, “Southern Momma,” a character he’s done online and onstage, including his upcoming weekend at Houston Improv. Reflecting on the origins of his character, Knight compares his persona to another blue collar comic. “I think a lot of comedians build themselves sort of a character rut. When people come to the show, they know what they want to see. They want to see Larry the Cable Guy if they come to see Larry the Cable Guy. I didn’t want to do that with this character, the show’s a lot different that the videos. If I stood up there for 45-50 minutes yelling at invisible kids, it’d get a little redundant. We touch base on things everyone can relate to: from growing up to experiences out on the road. I think a lot of other comics have some funny stories, but they don’t pinpoint any particular character. I just use the life experience I’ve had in my life.”
While the internet helped propel Knight to his lofty status, even he realizes that social media can be a double-edged sword. “The social media thing is cool, the only thing with that is they want more and more and more. I think it’s a slippery slope. Every person of platform is human, right? They all mess up. The beautiful thing about social media is that we didn’t have an aunt or uncle in Hollywood. We didn’t have the strings to pull to get where we are. But with social media, anybody that the public finds funny, they can pick these people. That’s great! Downfall to it: your whole life’s on there. You got baby pictures, all these politicians and celebrities on there with the blackface incidents and racial disputes and sexual orientations. It’s just that: people see a lot of you! Everything’s on there, everything’s in the open.”
While Knight describes his rise to prominence as “a Cinderella story, the redneck version,” he’s not been without his setbacks. In Summer 2018, Knight was chosen as one of Variety’s Top 10 Comics to Watch and was given a prime spot to perform at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. But what made the headlines was less than flattering – it was reported he was booed off stage, a video released of the comic getting chewed out by SNL’s Chris Redd and Knight made the argument that some issues should not be joked about on stage. Knight clarifies his thoughts on the debacle: “I believe if you’re going to say some of those things, you should do it in an equal way. A lot of people don’t know but HBO’s Vice News came out there and did a segment on it, and I said everything I wanted to say there…But we were kind of beat up on from the minute we got there. I didn’t know anyone there. I was the only white male there. People have asked me about my sexual orientation, but I don’t really know… what that has to do with anything. I think by not identifying that specifically, that kinda pissed them off.”
“We have so many celebrities that have an opinion on things, and I think that’s great. But when it comes down to show time, I don’t think that’s the platform to beat anybody up. I don’t think you should do a 20 minute segment beating up any particular race or for their sexual orientation or stuff like that. But people in the audience paid to come see a show. They worked their ass off all week, the last thing they want to hear you bitch and whine… and I’m just not gonna do that. And every comedian before me that night had done that. I just did my bit and had a great time. But it was weird to sit there and say you’re not going to discuss something, and get booed for that. Or shunned by a collection of comedians that think differently. “
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While he stands by his notion that the stage isn’t the right spot to discuss controversial topics, he views the web as a different game entirely. “When you get 3,000 people in the audience, there’s going to be people in the audience who don’t agree with you. You can joke maybe I guess about something, but the point where you get up there just to damn someone else? There is a way to bring a harsh delivery to a message. For example, Dave Chappelle just released a stand-up [special] and some of it was hilarious. He lost me on a few bits he said, but he didn’t really care. He was just kinda like: this is what I think about this and whatever. I think if you’re performing at a smaller venue and want to try some new jokes, that’s fine. But when you’re in a larger venue, I think you need to stick to a certain format, you gotta perform! I think you can say whatever you want to on social media [and] on podcasts. But when it comes to performing live, I don’t really think that’s the area you want to be on to really force your opinions on people in a hateful way.”
Though Knight never shirks from the spotlight, he does share his perspectives on serious issues more cautiously. “I have a lot of beliefs on the left and right, I see points on both sides of the spectrum. I guess if I had to choose, I would definitely say I’m more of the right wing, more conservative. I just believe strongly in our Second Amendment rights - and I’ve even stated that on social media. We have fans that say: I like you, I don’t agree with it, but your beliefs are your beliefs. But for the most part, I steer clear of anything political or sexual or racial, because gosh: being a cop and a comedian are the two hardest jobs these days!”
Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 24, 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. on Friday, October 25 and 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 26. 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, call 713-333-8800 or visit improvhouston.com. $27