Get to Know a Comedian: James A.R. Anderson
“I want to be known as the greatest stand-up comedian of all time,” James A.R. Anderson told me confidently, but without arrogance. Adding, “If that’s not your goal, I mean, why are you doing this?”
Anderson, who has been performing comedy for four years, has an ambitious goal for the trajectory of his comedy career, but on the journey toward that goal he is his own toughest critic.
“There are two ways that I characterize my shows: I either killed or I bombed. There’s no in-between,” Anderson said. “Because when the goal every time is to kill, I can’t say, ‘I just want to do okay.’ I don’t want to have a C+ in there. It’s either A or F to me.”
Anderson sets the bar high to push him to continually improve his technique, and because he comes from a family where the bar already has been raised. While he has been putting in the work on the comedy stage for just four years, humor has been an integral part of his life since he was a child.
“Everybody in my family is funny,” he said. “Holidays come around and I just sit down and I just watch my family and I laugh the entire time. It’s always kind of been like that. I’ve never had to stand up and be the person making jokes in front of my family. There was always an uncle for that. There was always a cousin for that. It was always somebody else’s role. So now it’s crazy that now they know I’m a comedian.”
Still, even though humor was something that flowed all around him growing up, Anderson comes to his craft with the kind of approach that is necessary in any career; he works at it.
“There is no shortcut to success,” Anderson said. “You really have to grind it out. You have to get up and you have to hit these shows. You gotta write. You gotta do open-mics, you gotta promote yourself. People don’t look at it like a business.”
The comedy profession wasn’t always in Anderson’s future, though. After he graduated from Columbus Independence High School in 2005, Anderson began attending Miami University with a psychology major. However, after two years in Oxford and time spent in classes at OSU and Columbus State after moving back to Columbus, Anderson decided to change course.
“It was never something that I really wanted to do,” Anderson said, referring to his time in college. “I wound up quitting school my senior year. It was always something I did just because society tells you ‘you’re going to college after high school.’ It took me so many years to realize that this is not something that I want to do with the rest of my life.”
It was around that same time that Anderson went to Club Fusion to support some of his friends who were going to be singing at a weekly Laughing and Lounging event that featured local singers, poets, and comics.
“I saw the poets and the singers and they were all good… and then I saw the comics,” Anderson remembered. “The comics got on stage and they were stealing jokes. They were awful. I was like, ‘I’ve never done stand-up comedy but I can do better than this.’ So, the next week I requested off of work, and I went up there. I didn’t tell my family. I didn’t tell my friends. I didn’t want to tell anybody because if it went bad I didn’t want everybody to be like ‘remember that time you tried stand-up comedy?’ I went up there and I did about seven minutes and it was basically just stories of things that I went through. So afterwards, I did the show and I come offstage and I’m like, ‘I wonder how that went?’ I heard people clap but I didn’t know if they were just being nice because it was my first time. And then I looked at my phone. I didn’t realize that I had friends in the audience from Facebook and Twitter just blowing my stuff up saying how awesome of a job I did, and I thought, okay maybe I did do good.”
Anderson took the momentum of that first experience and has continued performing regularly ever since. He has performed all around Columbus, as well as having taken his act on the road to cities like New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and many others.
Anderson draws his inspiration from many different comedians that all have one thing in common: they’re funny. Though beyond that, Anderson is intrigued by the uniqueness of each comedian he comes across.
“I like Jerry Seinfeld because he has these strange observations on life, and we all notice it, but it’s like ‘I’ve never noticed it like that.’ I always liked how George Carlin was so clever, or how Eddie Murphy could tell a story, or how Chris Rock could command a stage, or how Martin Lawrence could be so raw and off the top of his head funny. I saw him destroy a heckler one time. Everybody who I’ve ever seen perform comedy, I ‘ve seen one little thing and I say, ‘you know what, I like that.’ And it might have been something as simple as I like their style, or I like the way that they hold the microphone, or I like their vocabulary selection.”
That desire to continually learn and improve is how Anderson approaches his own shows, even when he doesn’t meet his expectations for himself.
“It’s one of those things you can’t really focus on,” he said, referring to shows that don’t go as well as planned. “It’s like a quarterback throwing an interception. I’ve got another show tomorrow, so I gotta be back on my A-game. Every show that I do, I always learn something.”
One thing Anderson has learned is that he finds reward in helping others. In both his comedy and his life off the stage, Anderson aims to give service. On the stage, he provides people with laughter, and off the stage he spends time volunteering to offer support for those in need.
“I found a book on Positive Psychology,” Anderson explained. “And it’s basically trying to heal a lot of the problems that people have before it gets to the point of needing medication. So, focusing on the things that make you happy. And I kind of feel like my comedy really does that because laughter is a good way to take away pain. If you’re laughing a lot you’re not going to be depressed or experiencing anxiety or stress. I always felt like my comedy, even if I’m only on stage for five minutes, I always felt like it’s helping somebody. Somebody’s forgetting about what’s going on in their life because they’re watching me on stage and hearing me talk about my problems.”
Away from the stage, Anderson has created an open-list of volunteers called the Phoenix League, which provides community service across the city to help others in need. The Phoenix League’s next scheduled event is on June 28th at the Central Ohio Furniture Bank, where he and others will help restore furniture that will then be given away. They also do work with local food banks, and homeless shelters.
“I named it the Phoenix League because a Phoenix rises from the ashes,” Anderson explained. “And I wanted to give somebody a reminder that even if you’re feeling low or you’re feeling like you’re going to die right now, there’s another life outside of that and you can be reborn and you can live on.”
In addition to trying to help improve the quality of people’s lives through his community service in Columbus, Anderson spoke many times throughout the course of our conversation about the improving quality of the comedy scene in Columbus.
“Columbus is actually a really really great place for comedy,” he said. “But it took me going to other cities to realize how good it is. You go to other cities and it’s really closed. People aren’t so open. You can only perform so many days within the week. It’s always like a roller coaster: at times things are going to be better than they are worse. But right now, Columbus comedy, it just keeps getting better and better.”
Despite the positive outlook of the local comedy scene, Anderson would like to see more shows available on the weekends so that local venues can be accessible for comics coming in from surrounding towns. He is in the process of setting up a regular Saturday night show, although details are still being ironed out.
Anderson recently opened for a show at Veteran’s memorial where he had the opportunity to perform before 4,000 people. Yet, for him, any stage is an opportunity.
“It doesn’t matter who’s there,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 4,000 people or if it’s 5 people. You’re going to get to hear James A.R. Anderson. I want people to hear what I have to say.”
You can hear Anderson on Sunday nights at 8:00pm at O’Sheckys Live Bar and Restaurant where he hosts a weekly open-mic. Beginning June 19th, he will host the #JamesARpresents comedy showcase with booked comedians every other Thursday at 8:00pm at the Loose Goose Pub and Grille in Hilliard. You’ll also find him most Wednesdays at the open-mic at Verne’s on 161 Restaurant and Lounge, and most Tuesdays at the open-mic at Scarlet and Grey Café.
More information about James A.R. Anderson can be found at: www.facebook.com/ComedianJamesARAnderson.