Martin Morrow
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Martin Morrow

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Chicago, Illinois, United States
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During our coverage of Portland’s annual Bridgetown Comedy Festival in early May, we befriended aspiring young comic, Martin Morrow, at the White Owl Social Club where he was performing. Morrow, in town for a few shows, had just finished his set for the second New Negroes show hosted by Baron Vaughn. The intent of the showcase was to feature young black comedians and display the great range of style, perspectives and backgrounds of these performers.

Martin Morrow was one of these featured performers and was one of the standouts –as he comforted the crowd with his hysterical set. We sought him out, made it a point to touch base with the comic at the lounge, and set up a conversation in the near future. We did just that about a month later. Over a couple of voice memos and scattered emails, an exchange unfolded about his hometown of Birmingham, his comedy connection to Chicago and New York, his friend and role model Baron Vaughn, Morrow’s love of improv, and he talked about dispelling preconceived ideas of what “black comedy” should be.

Check out the interview below and watch his hilarious videos.

–@teemunny

Follow Martin on Twitter



INTERVIEW

TONY TRINH: You’re originally from Birmingham, Alabama. Why did you relocate to Chicago, in particular? Besides the obvious stuff, like the bigger comedy scene. Is it a pit stop or do you see yourself being there for awhile? How long have you resided there?

MARTIN MORROW: Yeah, I’m originally from Birmingham, Alabama. I relocated to Chicago back in 2011, from Birmingham. I previously lived in New York for six months and had an offer to come to Chicago from a friend, once I went back to Birmingham for little bit and it was actually Baron Vaughn who recommended that I take the offer and move to Chicago because it has Second City there and just a rich history of comedy. So, that’s the main reason that I decided to go to Chicago. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be in Chicago but I’m pretty sure I might head to the West Coast, at some point, within the next couple of years. But I’ve been here since January 3rd, 2011.

TRINH: We talked to Baron right before the Bridgetown Comedy Festival kicked off in Portlandia. He briefly talked about the concept of ‘The New Negroes‘ show and how it was meant to not only put on younger black comics but also to showcase the variety and range of stand-up comedians within that perceived group. I certainly think the mission was accomplished. We attended both shows and they were both memorable; probably some of my favorites in the history of Bridgetown. I felt that you, along with Portlanders Curtis Cook and Nathan Brannon, Will Miles, Rob Haze, Karinda Dobbins and Brian Mitchell were standouts within those lineups of comedians. Awesome “curation” of comedy by Baron, in my humble opinion. First of all, how did you hook up with Baron Vaughn? What do have to say about dispelling this preconceived idea of what “black comedy” is or should be? How did your sets go at Bridgetown?

MORROW: I met Baron back in 2010, in New York. I was friends with Eric Andre from doing a show with him in Atlanta the previous year and asked Eric if he could put in a word for me with Hannibal (Buress) and Baron and I sort of clicked with Baron immediately. We talked a lot about the fact that we looked alike and other people caught on and I earned the nickname “Baby Baron” from it –also due to our similar mannerisms. I owe a lot to Baron because I wouldn’t be in Chicago or have linked up with Second City if it wasn’t for his recommendation.

I like that we have the opportunity to break down the barrier of what “black comedy” is supposed to be. Not all of us talk the same or dress the same or have the same views. It shows there are wildly different stories and voices within the black community and black voices. I grew up being told by both white and black people I wasn’t “black enough” as if there was a certain brand of black I was supposed to be and it really put me in an identity crisis throughout my adolescence so I was glad to find comedy and a place where I could just be me and that be good enough. Where I didn’t have to try and be a stereotypical preconceived concept of black or where I was labeled as white. I’m just a kid from Alabama who jumped the same hurdles as any other black person while trying to maintain a B-average in English.

I had two sets at Bridgetown because I had to leave early for a Second City show but both of my sets were great. I’m hoping to come back out to Portland in September to do some shows.


TRINH: Some of your funniest bits draw on popular culture; mainly hip hop and old school RnB. In delivering those bits, we’ve seen you drop some bars or even croon some RnB-esque licks in impressive fashion. Do you have a musical background? Any theatrical training there?

MORROW: Music is a big part of my life. I wasn’t necessarily a singer but I was in church choir before finding band and I played trombone for ten years. I’m a big rap fan and would engage in freestyle rap battles or beatbox while in high school. As far as theater goes, I did some plays while in college at Auburn University and took theater classes and began doing improv with a couple of groups. Which I think really helped mold a lot of who I am as a person now and my onstage voice.



TRINH: War Eagle. As an Oregon Ducks fan, your Auburn Tigers broke my heart in the Natty. I’m still waiting for some Cam Newton NCAA sanctions. Still so bitter.

Anyway, can you talk a little bit about your involvement with improv? It’s interesting to me. I always loved that concept of “Yes, and…” as a philosophy for life, in general. You know, you should always be supportive of “the other” OR strive to keep the conversation going. Be social, collaborate, work together. No “I” in team, right? In fact, it’s become an ongoing joke with me. If I’m hanging out with some friends and they’re being conversationally bullish or contrarian for the sake of it, I’ll go, “YES AND!” I will pull that card.

Seems like improv companies are somewhat ubiquitous now; it’s not just Second City or Groundlings out there anymore. Does the training actually help or is being able to improvise a gift that you’re born with? What do you excel at, short-form or long-form?

MORROW: War Eagle! Yeah, I started doing improv while in college at Auburn University. I took a short improv seminar with UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) and then auditioned for this group in my hometown Extemporaneous Theatre Company. Every Sunday, I would drive two hours from my school to Birmingham to attend rehearsal. No matter how tired I was from games or partying or studying I’d always try to go because I loved improv so much. In that group I did more short form, I later joined this group Ugly Baby and then moved to Chicago and studied at Second City where I did a lot more long form. I can do both but I enjoy long form a bit more because it utilizes a lot of the games of short form and also helps develop some sketch ideas. I also think it has helped me stand-up wise because I sometimes go off the cuff and just like the idea of natural interaction or creating a moment.



TRINH: What is your creative process like? You don’t have the standard 9-to-5 job. Take me through an average day of production. What kind of projects are you working on now that you can talk about? Are you a planner or a go-with-the-flow type of dude? If there’s a plan, where do you envision yourself a couple years down the road?

MORROW: A lot of writing, promoting, and e-mailing if I don’t have an audition or rehearsal that day. I teach an acting and improv class on weekends during the day and usually have a show at night. I probably have a comparitevly weird writing process –I usually observe things throughout the day after waking up, like from the news, my neighborhood, public transit, roommates, stuff on the internet, or remembering something from my life. Then I will create act-outs or punch ups in the shower. I’ll try it out at a show where I have more time or at an open mic and typically give it a three-strikes policy on if it works or not.

I’m currently working on a mini-tour of my home state for the end of June through early July. So, I’ll be hitting Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, Mobile, a stop in New Orleans, L.A. and a big show in my hometown of Birmingham at Iron City for July 3rd. I’m also developing material for an album recording sometime within the next six months and being on the road a lot more. Everything else is in the air of hope and progress, so I’m pretty go-with-the-flow. I’ve learned the value of patience and letting things come as they’re supposed to. A couple of years down the road, I’ll probably be living in L.A. still doing comedy and whatever else happens to fall into my lap.



TRINH: Sweet! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Martin. We’ll see you here in Portland…

MORROW: Thanks for having me! - Tony Trinh


This weekend NBC and Chicago’s Second City held the first ever “Break Out Comedy Festival” to give a showcase to diverse emerging comedic talents, or as host Ron Funches put it- not white people. The event included some panels and talks but the highlight was a two night comedy showcase held at Second City’s Up Comedy Club. Two nights of outstanding performances included stand up, sketch work, solo work, characters, and improv hosted by The Daily Show’s Al Madrigal on Friday night, and Ron Funches who you know from the hit NBC series Undateable on Saturday night.

The level of talent was incredible, a credit to the curators, the city of Chicago and Second City for nurturing and recognizing and showcasing such a talented group. Nobody would guess that they were seeing ’emerging’ talent if they hadn’t been told. The theater was packed, sold out for most of the shows and there truly wasn’t a bad performance among the 20 plus individual performances and groups. Racial issues were a theme throughout many of the performances, and there were truly some sparks of brilliance in the way race was addressed, particularly by soloist Chucho Perez who performed a thought provoking and bold solo performance reminiscent of a John Legiuzamo performance in tone and style and yet completely original, and sketch group 3Peat whose thoughtful sketches addressed issues of identity and race in the black community.



The stand out performance of the weekend undoubtably belonged to two woman Latina performance group Dominizuelan who brought the house down with their character performance of two women on the phone handling a Facebook crisis which was so well crafted, and dynamic, that they killed the room, starting quietly and building to a roar, bringing the audience along with them. We talked with Dominizuelan memebers Wendy Mateo and Lorena Diaz before the festival, and they talked about the importance of diversity festivals and representing their community. “It’s become more important to us as we have over the years discovered how underrepresented our voice is in mainstream entertainment,” Lorena told us. When they first came to Chicago, they said they had planned to try to assimilate into the local culture, but “we quickly learned that being yourself is the best way to create work and art. Being ourselves we’ve really cemented ourselves into the Latino community here and found a fantastic audience there as well and felt like they needed to have a voice represented them artistically.” Wendy and Lorena said they often face obstacles from critics who will come to their show expecting it to only be addressing Latino issues, but that’s not what they’re about. “We like to do mainstream topics with a wink to our culture.”

The stand up performances were also outstanding with stand out sets from Cleveland’s Ramon Rivas, the radiant Aisha Alfa, Dave Helem, Chris Bader who had a unique and hilarious take on a date that went badly, and Rebecca O’Neal who could easily do a one woman show with her original and personal material. Martin Morrow absolutely crushed the room on the first night of the festival with a performance was so polished and seasoned that he felt more like a headliner than an emerging talent, and on Saturday night, Calvin Evans kicked the night off with a flawless set and a confidence and swagger like he was born on stage.


We had a chance to talk with Martin Morrow, who told us his inspirations are Baron Vaughn, Roy Wood Jr, and Patrice O’Neal. Morrow said he started off writing music and poetry, but transitioned into stand up and has been performing stand up since 2006. Morrow told us he’s very happy to be a representative for the black community through outreach and diversity programs. “I think I have a different and very unique voice from a lot of people who look like me who also do comedy,” he said, and believes that one of the best ways to represent is to show the world “that black individuals and all minorities all surface as different people through the artwork that we can produce and put out there.”

Other outstanding performances by Azhar Usman, Ali Barthwell, Kevin Vidal, Jasbir Vazquez, Nigel Downer, Azhar Usman, the Bob Curry Fellows, Bleep that Bleep and Danielle Pinnock.

The idea for the Break Out festival has been one that Second City’s director of Outreach and Diversity, Dionna Griffin-Irons says, has been in the works for some time. She told us that Second City approached NBC with the idea to “do this festival, curate the talent and feature some emerging diverse talent and stand up and solo and sketch comedy,” she said, “And they ‘yes and-ed’ our idea, which we totally loved.”

NBC’s Vice President of Programming, Talent Development and Inclusion, Karen Horne said NBC was thrilled to partner with Second City on the project. “Second City has historically been a great breeding ground for comedians that have gone on to work for NBC shows, like Saturday Night Live for instance, and we recognize them as being a great breeding ground for comical voices,” she said. “So to partner with them is an honor and I’m really happy that we were able to foster this relationship.” NBC representatives from casting and late night and alternative programming attended the festival to watch the talent.

Talent was selected primarily from Chicago, but there were some terrific performers who came in from Second City’s Toronto program as well. Griffin-Irons played a big role in selecting the performers for the festival. “JB who is he manager of our UP Comedy Club has a great handle on the stand ups around the city and beyond,” Griffin-Irons said adding, “Beth Kligerman, our Director of Talent also shared information on talent as well so we’re kind of like a mighty three.” UCB in New York also helped make some recommendations.

They plan to reach beyond Chicago for future festivals. - Debra Kessler


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