Stand Up & Deliver: Funny Is Funny
Photo: Dennis Rogers
The world of stand-up comedy is a male dominated world. When you ask comics to list their favorites, even then, it’s usually male names that you hear. When FPH asked Houston comics who they admired, Nia De-Bose was a name that came up more often than not. A transplant to Houston, De-Bose has been doing stand-up close to a decade, and her relatable jokes on weight gain and everyday life make her a killer on the mic. Recently, FPH had a chance to catch up with Nia, and discuss being a female comic and more.
FPH: You’re from St.Louis, right? What made you move to Houston and how long have you been down here?
ND:I moved to Houston in 2005. Few people are aware how crazy St. Louis is. I was between jobs working for my Dad when I witnessed a kidnapping attempt in broad daylight and I thought to myself “Man, I really need to get out of here.” My best friend was living in Houston at the time and invited me to ‘try it out for a few weeks’ and I never left.
FPH: What’s the craziest job you’ve ever had?
ND:The craziest job I’ve ever had was working in the marketing department of a casino. You see it ALL. Senior citizens getting into fist fights over slot machines, people winning a jackpot then gambling it all away in one night, or even worse people bringing their disabled adult children in to sign over their disability checks. There’s nothing more hilariously sad than a fist fight between elderly people.
FPH: What about stand-up made you choose to get into it?
ND:I chose stand-up because it’s raw. It was something that kind of gnawed at me and drove me to try it. I like the fact that you get all the glory if you kill and you take the loss if you bomb but either way it’s all you.
FPH: How long have you been doing stand-up?
ND:I did stand-up for the first time Feb 15, 2006 at the Houston Improv. I told myself if I could audibly hear ONE person laugh, I would keep doing it, if not; I would never tell a soul and take it to my grave. Thankfully, more than one person laughed. I think it was three.
FPH: Being a female in a male dominated profession, do you feel as if female comics are treated fairly in the world of stand-up comedy? Or do you feel like you have to work twice as hard as a male comic to earn respect as a performer?
ND:No I don’t feel women are treated fairly in comedy, and yeah, you have to work a little harder. I once had a club owner tell me he couldn’t book me because he already had a black chick. Like, he actually said that. Verbatim. You’ll be told they can’t put you on a show because they already have their girl. No matter the age difference or ethnicity they’ll have their one “girl” for the show. I think it’s pretty silly and outdated. But you have to roll with the punches and play the cards you’re dealt.
FPH: Recently, Joan Rivers was quoted as saying, “when I started, you didn’t want to stand on stage and make a fool of yourself; women had to be very strong and unattractive to be funny. Now, Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman have changed all of that, and the crowd will accept a gorgeous funny woman.” Do you hold any stock in that sentiment, or do you feel like funny is funny, and it doesn’t matter how you look?
ND:I think funny is funny. But it doesn’t matter what I think; What matters is what the booker/club owner thinks. A few years ago I would go on stage in a t-shirt jeans & sneakers. I mean, I still do that, but one time I decided to get dolled up and put on heels and makeup and a member of the staff at the comedy club pulled me aside and said “See? You look so nice. Keep it up, because the owner likes his girls to look nice.” He likes his girls to look nice? Like he was some kind of pimp!I did the same jokes I would do in casual clothes, but because I dressed up to the nines I got booked.
FPH: Who are your favorite comedians of the past? Of the present?
ND:My favorite comedians of the past are Paul Mooney and Joan Rivers and my favorite comedians of the present are Louis CK, Patton Oswalt and Dave Chappelle. Chappelle was the first black comedian I ever saw that made me think I stood a chance at comedy. And Bill Burr, he’s so intense and angry. I love it.
FPH: Do you think that people who’ve never seen you before, are shocked when you perform and you have a very everyday type of “voice” to your act; that you possibly change their perception of what jokes a female comic can do?
ND:There are more men that do stand-up than women, so while there may be more awful, hacky male comics there are less women comics so it seems like most female comics aren’t funny. Or at least, that’s MY theory. As an audience member you have a preconceived notion that women aren’t funny and black comics are going to talk about….I don’t know, fried chicken and watermelon? So I guess when you see a black woman with locs you’d think you have nothing in common with me. That I would say nothing you can relate to, so yes, I think people are shocked when they realize we share the same struggle with trying not to order extra large milkshakes at fast food restaurants. All comics can do whatever jokes they want as long as they can make it relatable (and funny).
FPH: Almost every comic in Houston speaks massive amounts of respect for you as a comic, as a performer, and as someone integral to the Houston Comedy Scene. Does it feel like with this recent birth of places to do stand up, that’s it’s easier now to get on shows? Or is it harder because there’s so many new people doing stand-up?
ND:I think it’s great that there are so many places to go up now. There are only two comedy clubs in town, so it’s great that so many comics are taking the reigns and starting their own rooms. Steven Padilla has multiple rooms around town and there are now a few places that let you do feature sets (20-30min) that was unheard of a few years ago. It seems easier to get on because there are so many new places for every level, from open micer to headliner.
FPH: What’s your idea of a successful comedy career?
ND:My idea of a successful career is nationwide touring, hosting a late night talk show, and voice acting in cartoons then retire with my money from my international chain of Apocalypse themed specialty stores called “Nia’s Dystopian Pickle Shoppe™”
De-Bose might have one of the sharpest comedy minds I’ve ever witnessed. Just watching her calmly and hilariously destroy a heckler once, was enough to sell me on her strengths on stage. While she chases her dream of owning that pickle shop; you can catch her on stage at most the rooms around town.