Martin Morrow Stand-Up Comedian / Interview
by TeemunnyPublished on Wednesday, June 18, 2014
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.
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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.
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!