Comedian Jourdain Fisher ’12 made his late-night debut on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” last fall.
The set was flawless – five minutes of joke after joke that kept the audience and Fallon rolling.
To some, it felt like an overnight success. Who is this young guy? He’s from where? Man, he’s funny.
But like most comedians who find big-time success, the Greensboro native and UNC Greensboro alumnus has paid his dues. Fisher had over a decade of experience on stage before he landed on “The Tonight Show” – a performance that has quickly helped catapult his career.
Fallon and the team enjoyed his work so much that he’s now a full-time writer for the show. He also continues to do stand-up throughout New York City, and this fall he’s returning to North Carolina to record his first stand-up album.
Fisher recently caught up with his alma mater to talk about his time in Greensboro and all things comedy.
When did you become interested in comedy?
When I was very young. My dad showed me Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy when I was nine, and I just started watching comedy all the time. I started being funny at school and on the bus, and people told me I should try stand-up. So I tried it, and then I stuck with it.
Tell me about your first experience with stand-up.
I did stand-up for the first time on July 12, 2007, at the Greensboro Comedy Zone. We had to do a senior project in high school, and I chose stand-up as the topic for my project so that I had an excuse to do comedy. I got a 100 on the project, so it worked out.
What did you study at UNCG?
I studied kinesiology. I enjoyed my time at UNCG. My daily routine consisted of going to class, going to work, and then doing stand-up at night. And then I would come home and do my homework. I was busy a lot of the time. The school was good to me.
You graduated from UNCG in 2012 and then stayed in Greensboro until 2015. What was the comedy scene like in North Carolina? How did it prepare you for New York?
The place where I started – the Comedy Zone – started allowing me to host the shows on the weekends when I was still a student at UNCG. I was there every weekend hammering out jokes, getting comfortable in front of a crowd, learning how to do crowd work, and writing my own material – all the elements of performing. That’s why I stayed so long. But at a certain point, you can only do so much in terms of comedy in a market like North Carolina. When I started, the scene wasn’t as big. Now, there are so many comedians there, and a lot of comedians start at a young age like I did. When I started, it was just me and one other guy – we were the only 17-year-olds.
I won a couple competitions. I was hosting. I was getting on the road. I knew I wanted to leave and move to either Los Angeles or New York. I was leaning toward LA because of the nice weather honestly, but then I ended up going to see Dave Chapelle perform in Winston-Salem. I got to meet him after the show – he’s one of the people I look up to. I told him that I was a comedian and was thinking about moving to either LA or New York, and he told me to move to New York – he said you can get a lot of stage time there and that’s where he made his rounds. So I was like, “Alright, that settles it.”
You performed on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” last year. What was that experience like?
That was a process. A lot of people, when they see comedians get these opportunities, they think it happens overnight. This was the result of a lot of baby steps. They have a showcase for “The Tonight Show,” where they’ll have a lineup of people perform at a comedy club. The booker will be there, and he’ll get to see what the comedians have for their five minutes. I did it a few years ago for the first time, and it wasn’t great. We had a tiny crowd, and the set didn’t go well. I didn’t get on the show that time, but the booker had seen me before and he liked me.
Fast forward to this festival called Just For Laughs, which is like a big launching pad for comedians. I had a great set there, and the booker was there and invited me to go to the showcase again. I had a great set, and then he booked me. Once I got booked, it was just a matter of getting the jokes down. You work with the guy to make sure you have the right jokes for the show. You’re just running the set throughout the city over and over again, making sure it’s tight for TV.
That was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life, those few days leading up to it and the day of the taping. But once I got there and started telling jokes, I was fine.
Now you’re a writer for the show – did your stand-up lead to this opportunity?
Soon after I did the spot on the show, the manager told me they were looking for writers and suggested I put together a packet. I put together something over the weekend, and then a few days later they brought me in. I interviewed, and they hired me. My interview was two months to the date from when I did the show.
What does your day-to-day look like now?
We come in at 9 a.m. every day. We have two pitches that are due every morning – you can either write those the night before or earlier that morning. It’s kind of like a 9-to-5. I’m writing jokes all day long. I’m scrolling through news stories and just trying to find different angles.
At a certain point, Jimmy reads through the jokes and selects which ones he likes, and then they tape the show at 5 p.m., not at 11 p.m. like a lot of people think. Then you do it all over again. On Thursdays you do it twice – we have two tapes. It’s a busy process. You’re at a desk, with your computer, just cranking out jokes all day long. At night, I’m still doing stand-up.
What’s the next big goal for you as a comedian?
I’m actually coming back to North Carolina on Oct. 15 to record my first stand-up album at the Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh. It’s going to be available on iTunes, Spotify, Sirius XM, etc.
I’d like to do some more stand-up on television. I’d like to act on television. And I have a few show ideas that I’d like to sell.
What’s your advice for aspiring comedians at UNCG?
Go to the Idiot Box Comedy Club. They have a good open mic night. Go perform there, go watch the shows on the weekends, and get to know the comedians there.
Also, travel outside of Greensboro – go to Raleigh and Charlotte. Get out on stage as much as possible. Immerse yourself in the comedy scene. Write as much as possible.
Make sure being funny is your first goal. Everything else will come from that.
Interview by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications