Comedian Gary Owen arrived on the scene in 1997, scoring his first huge gig as the host BET’s “Comic View.” It’s no secret that it was Black America thy first embraced Owen with his all-out, innocent, culture-crossing comedy. Owen himself admits his ability to channel differences not just racially, but more importantly, culturally, while sharing personal stories and giving us laughs in the midst of it all.
In 2009, Tyler Perry took notice of Owen and gave him a role on TBS’ “House of Payne”. Now, on the heels of the release of his latest film role as “Bennett” in the film adaptation of Steve Harvey’s book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Owen doesn’t plan on slowing down. He also recently released his stand-up DVD, “True Story”, a project released as part of Shaq’s “All Star Comedy Jam” series.
AllHipHop.com got a chance to catch up with Owen, and he talks how he joined the Navy just to get into comedy, working on Think Like A Man with friend Kevin Hart and cast, and why he gives his all in his latest stand-up DVD, “True Story”.
AllHipHop.com: Before I get into what’s happening right now, I really want to know, before you did “Comic View”, did you really want to do comedy?
Gary Owen: That’s all I ever wanted to do, honestly. Even in high school, I wanted to be a comedian, but I didn’t how to become a comedian. I thought you had to start in L.A. For some reason, I didn’t know you could start locally at local comedy clubs. I thought in my mind, because I grew up in a small town, I thought you had to get to L.A, and that’s where everybody starts. I joined the Navy with the whole mindset of “I’ve gotta get to California!” They can get me to California and then when I get there, then I could start going to L.A. I went to bootcamp, and went to Washington D.C. for two years, and then the first chance I got to go to California, I got stationed in San Diego, and I was like “Sweet! That’s right by L.A.”
Soon as I got to San Diego, I start making phone calls up to L.A. I would get off work at like 4 or 5 o’clock and then drive up to L.A for 10:00 to 10:05 spot somewhere, and then I’d drive back – and I did that for about a year. Just open-micing in L.A, but people didn’t know I was from San Diego, making two hours up and two hours back. I just didn’t know you could do it in whatever town you’re in. You didn’t have to move to L.A.
AllHipHop.com: Where did you go for “Comic View”?
Gary Owen: We filmed in L.A. when I got the job. It’s funny. When I first went on “Comic View” as just a regular comic, I had only been doing stand up for probably six months, and then when they called me and said you’ve got the hosting job, I was like “Yo!” I had only been doing stand up for about a year at that point. It was like a big whirlwind honestly. I was doing it for a year, then all of a sudden I’m the host of “Comic View”.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think you’ve found your niche? When you first started out were you like “I don’t really know what my role is going to be…how will people perceive me in comedy?”
Gary Owen: What it was is, I was driving back and forth to L.A, then in the Navy, guys were telling me about spots in San Diego. You start talking to your buddies and telling them you’re going to L.A to do stand ups on the side and they tell you where you can go, little bars and hole-in-the-wall spots. I start doing all the black rooms, because I played basketball a lot, and most of the guys playing basketball was black guys, so they were telling me all the black spots to go to.
That’s when I start doing “Black comedy” so to speak. I just wanted to get on stage, I could care less where it was at. When I’d get to L.A, I was trying to do the mainstream rooms, but I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t get on stage. But, I could get on stage at the black group, real easy. Black groups, you just show up and have one comic vouch for you, and then they’ll give you five minutes. The reason I got into Black comedy before mainstream is because that’s the only place that I could get on stage on the regular.
AllHipHop.com: They showed you love before anyone else?
Gary Owen: Yeah, and until this day, it’s still like that. Mostly, look at the tours I’m on. I’m on the Shaquille O’neal tour, The Royal Comedy Tour. It is what it is.
AllHipHop.com: I think it’s perfect that you landed “House of Payne”. How did that happen?
Gary Owen: I was doing the Tom Joyner Morning Show a few years ago, and Tyler Perry came in to do just an interview. We just started talking on commercial break, and he said “I think I want to work with you on some stuff. I got some ideas.” I said alright and it wasn’t even two weeks later, I was in Atlanta filming. It was that quick. That’s how Tyler works. He doesn’t have to go through any red tape. He’s like the lowest and the highest common denominator. He was like “Yo! I like you, I want to bring you in.” And then I came in, did a table read with the rest of the cast, and he liked me, and the next week I was filming. It was fast with “House of Payne”.
AllHipHop.com: Do you like the sitcom stuff more than stand-up?
Gary Owen: I think it’s all natural progression. I think one hand feeds the other. I just like to work. You’ve got stand up on one hand and then sitcoms and movies are on the other hand. It all feeds itself. I always say the more people see me in movies and TV then it naturally helps my stand up fanbase because more will come out to see me when I’m on the road.
AllHipHop.com: How did you end up doing the Shaq “All Star Comedy Jam”?
Gary Owen: I opened up for Mike Epps, a couple years ago in Houston. That was a Saturday. It’s funny how stuff for me happens real quick. I’ll go months with nothing and then it happens real fast. Monday, they called and told me Mike was doing a new special called Live From The Nokia. It was on Showtime and Comedy Central. They said they want me to come in and do the show. I came and I did it and Jeff Clanagan, who’s the head of Code Black was there, who did the Mike Epps show, and that’s the first time they had seen me. They liked me and they called and ever since then I’ve been working with them.
AllHipHop.com: Have you met Shaq?
Gary Owen: Yeah. I’ve known Shaq for years. My wife used to work with him at TwIsm. When I first went to L.A, I knew Shaq. When he got to the Lakers, I was doing open mikes.
AllHipHop.com: Since you did Think Like A Man, I thought maybe Gary is starting to tackle the Atlanta market, with a lot of the film stuff that’s happening out there in TV.
Gary Owen: Well, we filmed Think Like A Man in L.A., Will Packer, who’s the producer, I’ve known him for a few years, and he saw me doing stand up in Atlanta at the Uptown Comedy Club, little over a year ago. Right after that he called, and was like “Hey, I got this part in Think Like A Man, I think you’ll be good for it.” It was that fast. No audition or nothing. He really went to bat for me at Sony and Screen Gems. They said “Alright, Will. If you say he’s good, then we’ll go with it.”
AllHipHop.com: Were you prepared?
Gary Owen: I was overly-prepared. When I found I got the part, I read that script so much, I knew everybody’s lines, not just mine. I wasn’t going to mess that up. Will’s track record is great. I don’t think he’s had a bad movie yet that didn’t make money. It just seemed to me like he’s real selective on the projects he picks. And the movie came out so good.
AllHipHop.com: How was it working with Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, all these folks?
Gary Owen: I’ve known Kevin for years. Comedy goes with fraternities. Me and Kevin were the late ’90s fraternity comics that made the trek to L.A. I’ve known Kevin for years. I knew Taraji, I knew Gabrielle, but everyone else was the first time. Everybody was cool, laid back. Honestly, every movie I’ve worked on I don’t have any horror stories. Sometimes, I hear people saying they can’t believe they worked with this guy, or this director. I never had anything. My whole thing is, come in, do your lines, and go home. It’s not that complicated if you look at like that.
AllHipHop.com: Straight up, simple?
Gary Owen: Yeah, come in, know your lines, and go home.
AllHipHop.com:Are you looking to write stuff for other people?
Gary Owen:I don’t want to write jokes for other people. No. I’ll write for myself.
AllHipHop.com: Like Kanye, keep the hottest beats for yourself?
Gary Owen: Yeah, I write for myself. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever written a joke down, in my life. I’m always like “If it’s funny, I’ll remember it.”
AllHipHop.com: That’s deep. Are you excited about your new stand-up special, “True Story”?
Gary Owen: Yeah. It came out really well. It’s funny when you do an hour special like that because you prepare and prepare, you get on the road, you hit comedy clubs, and the night of filming you’re like “Okay, I’m ready.” and then it’s so funny because the second stage, my opening joke, I don’t know what happened but it left my head. [laughter] It was fine, I had other jokes, but it was like, when I watched it back, I was like damn I forgot my first joke. It’s not like I walked on stage and said “Oh, I forgot it.” I just walked on stage and start going and doing another joke and was like “Damn, the joke that I’ve been opening with for six months, I just forgot to say it.”
Then, Floyd Mayweather walked into my show late halfway through, so I had to address it because he came in with like 40 people. Right there, that was another five or 10 minutes unexpected. You can prepare all you want, but the night of it’s never going to go like you think. As a comic, you’ve just gotta be prepared for that. I’m happy with it. It came out good, the crowd was into it, visually it’s attractive, I like the way it looks, it’s going to be on Showtime May 10th. For me to say it’s good, it’s one thing. It’s not up to me, the public has to say it’s good.
AllHipHop.com: Right. What was the original joke?
Gary Owen: It was something about Lean On Me and The Color Purple, and it just left my head. [laughter] I walked on stage and I think I saw some Mexicans in the front, and I didn’t talk about them, but I just started talking about Mexican people and I don’t know why it happend, but it just happened.
AllHipHop.com: I think that makes for the best comedy. On the spot.
Gary Owen: Yeah. I was telling my road manager, I was like “Dude. All this stuff I’m doing, hitting the road, and doing these jokes, and flip-flopping, you know, you try one joke early and you try it late, just to see if it works better at the beginning or end of your set.” I don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s why you almost got to be overly prepared. When they say you’ve got an hour special. You need to have like 90 minutes of material for the hour, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know the vibe of the crowd that night.
AllHipHop.com: I think sometimes we think everything is pre-produced. Like it’s very structured, and very organized, and when we watch the hour special so we don’t really know that what you guys are doing is real. This hour special is real, and you only got one time.
Gary Owen: Your agents and managers will always tell you: “Make sure your jokes play to the masses, not that area.” I filmed my special in Vegas. Don’t tailor your show to Vegas, but at the same time, as a comic we feed off the energy of the crowd. We gotta tailor somewhat to where we’re at. You want the crowd into it. When I’m on the road, every city I go to, I make sure I address that city first. I just give a little tid bit about the city. I could’ve read from the paper, name off a bad neighborhood or a nice restaurant, or something the whole crowd will know. They’re on your side at that point, that “Oh! He knows us a little bit.”
AllHipHop.com: Before we got off, I always thought that maybe you really didn’t have an African American wife. I always that maybe that was a gimmick. I was like “This guy cannot be serious!” But it’s true!
Gary Owen: [laughs] Naw, it’s not a gimmick. And people ask me that all the time “Is your wife really Black?”, and I’m like “I wouldn’t make that up.” And, the stories I tell are real stories. I’m not making these stories up. I’m to the point now when I do a true story, I was talking about introducing my wife to my family, what it was like, and my kids. Now, where I’m at, I’m actually talking about being married to her. My act now is in what I go through with her, and it’s not a racial thing, it’s more of a cultural thing.
You just have to see it now. Yeah, a lot of my stories are true, I’m adding a little bit on to make it funny, but I’m just talking about my life and how I see it because I really feel like I’m a fish out of water in my life, but I’m comfortable in the water if that makes sense. I’m really comfortable in my own skin, and I’m comfortable where I’m at in life. From everyone else’s perspective it’s like “GOD! I’m totally out of my element!” but I’m really not. Make sure everybody goes to see Think Like A Man on April 20, watch True Story” on May 10 on Showtime.
CONTEST: Gary Owen gave us three copies of his latest DVD special “True Story” and we’re giving them all away this weekend to three special winners! Tweet us a hilarious experience you’ve had in your life to @allhiphopcom, and use the hashtags #TrueStory and #AllHipHop, and we will choose the best three!