Don’t Limit Yourself: The Key To Navigating the Comedy Scene, by Calvin Evans

Introduce yourself

Hey, my name is Calvin Evans! I am thirty-three years old and I am an entertainer, but primarily a stand-up comedian.

What was the epiphany moment that made you commit to comedy?

In college, at the University of Illinois, a guy I knew asked me if I wanted to try stand up in a show he was doing. I agreed to it, just to try it out, but I wasn’t sure about it at the time. It was one of those things where he asked me to do it and I hoped he would forget that I said yes. When I went on stage and performed, the feeling was incredible. I have always been a fan of comedy and had been funny among my group of friends, but to actually get up there and do it was something I realized I could and wanted to do.

You were on a few shows (Shameless and Chicago P.D.), so when you got the invitation to do stand up, had you already been acting at that point?

No, stand up really led me to act. At that time I had no aspirations to be an entertainer. I actually got my degree in sports management.

I know you also took classes at Second City and graduated from their Conservatory program which focuses on writing, performing sketch comedy, and improvisation. How did you make the transition into stand up comedy from there?

Sketch comedy and improv are two separate worlds from stand up comedy. Especially in Chicago. They really don’t tend to intermingle. I think every comedian should take improv classes because I really believe it makes you a better performer; it definitely has made me one. With stand-up, it is a routine and it is rehearsed, whereas with improv you adhere to the rules but you cannot rehearse improv.

The Chicago Tribune did an article on you calling you the next hot comic. The article went on to say, “He knows how to put forth a potentially divisive proposition, wait for the response and then flip it around. Just when the audience thinks they’ve nailed down his point of view, he flips it again.” Would you say this description perfectly pinpoints your style when writing your jokes?

I like to call my comedy style, “observational philosophy.” I try to see the world around me and build a philosophy from there. As a comedian, I try to interpret what’s going on and make people laugh based off of my own interpretations. I speak on the world and try to make sense of it on the most basic level. Different angles allow me to take things that people are upset about or paying a lot of attention to and make them realize something from an angle they may have never seen. The comedy is that it is a personal take on the world that allows me to ease people into thinking about difficult subjects. We can talk about these things and it doesn’t have to be divisive. We can find the humor in it.

A month ago I saw you perform at the Laugh Factory. Your originality, confidence, and ability to be so conversational left a positive impression on me. Have you always been such a charismatic and confident stand-up or has that developed with time?

I have definitely developed it over time. I watched a lot of comedy live and on film and TV and the things that I find myself appreciating when watching others sets are the things I want to be. A conversational show is a lot more welcoming and when a set isn’t very conversational, it can come off as super rehearsed. Even though stand up is rehearsed, I never want it to come off that way. I want it to seem off the cuff and have the attitude that whatever happens, happens.

When you had the Calvin Evans Show at the Chicago Laugh Factory, you described it as, “Chappelle’s Show meets In Living Color and Saturday Night Live blended with Conan.” Would you say those four sources are your main inspirations behind your comedy?

The show was modeled off of TV shows that I like. I wanted it to be an experience. When people came to the show they got to experience audience participation, sketch, and stand up all in one show. The sketch aspect came from the Chappelle Show and In Living Color. The crowd participation is something you get from late night TV hosts like Conan and Jimmy Fallon and it gives audience members a direct chance to be a part of the show. Overall, I wanted the show to have a lot of takeaways. They left leaving having laughed at scripted comedy, on the spot comedy, and stand up.

You also got to be on Hart of the City with Kevin Hart when he made his way to Chicago. How did you get that gig and how do you think you benefited from that feature?

The show came about during the very first season. They reached out to a local comedy club in Chicago and they referred me to them. The foundation of the feature stems from getting out there, putting in work, and really working hard in the Chicago comedy scene. A lot of times opportunities within comedy come from the people around comedy. They don’t tend to come looking for you specifically, but if you have a good reputation around the scene then people will refer you to others.

That was my first TV experience on Comedy Central and I learned a lot about how television works. I learned how things get edited and it was truly a great opportunity. I really appreciate Kevin Hart, Joey Wells and what they are doing. Nowadays, you don’t have a lot of people taking chances on comics where they are willing to travel around the country to find local talent and put them on television. They are really helping to give a platform to comedians.

I know you are a die-hard Chicago Bulls fan and you recently did a promo for the Chicago Bulls on WGN. How did that opportunity present itself?

That opportunity was another referral by a fellow comedian who knew I was a big Bulls fan. I auditioned for the producers and they chose me. I love the Bulls, so it was truly a dream come true.

Outside of being a stand-up comedian, I go to auditions all the time for roles in commercials, television, movies, and streaming services. I find it important to work in each and round out my gauntlet in the entertainment industry.

We can all agree the comedy scene in Chicago is special. You have had the great opportunity to work in LA as well as for television productions such as the LaffMobb’s LaffTracks on TruTv. Through these experiences, what is one thing about the live stand up comedy scene in Chicago that makes it completely unique from all these outside experiences?

The Chicago comedy scene is special in that it is the birthplace of improv and we produce comedians that are in top positions in the industry. The list goes on and on, but I think what makes it amazing is that it is a city that doesn’t have a large industry presence and it allows comedians to grow at their own pace and grow into their own. There isn’t the force or pressure like there is in cities with larger industry presence such as LA and New York. It is a beautiful thing and I really think that is why there have been so many successful comedians to come out of Chicago.

As a successful comic on the rise, what would be your best advice to a young comedian trying to figure out and navigate the Chicago comedy scene?

Do everything you can. Get out there. Don’t limit yourself to niche comedy markets or anything for that matter. Your goal as a comedian is to make everyone laugh and not to limit yourself to making just one group of people laugh. The comedy scene in Chicago is diverse, small, but diverse, so don’t hold back because you ultimately want to be a well-rounded comedian.

Before we get to the final question I have to ask this. From your Home Depot set, the question everyone is dying to know if you were a plunger where would you be?

If I were a plunger I would be on the side of the toilet.

When you introduce yourself as a comedian do you ever find it hard to get people to take you seriously?

I don’t tell people I’m a comedian unless it comes up because the natural instinct is for people to ask you to say something funny or question if you even are funny. Offstage, in my everyday life I am honestly quite reserved, personable, but reserved. Being able to have a conversation about working as a comedian verse a conversation about being a comedian are two different things. There is a time and place for everything and who I am on stage isn’t exactly the same as who I am off stage.

Lastly, let the people know what you have going on.

I will be headlining the Comedy Bar at the end of December in Chicago.

Also, I had the pleasure of having a smaller role in a new Comedy Central show called Southside that I got to use my improvisational skills in while filming so I am looking forward to that. It will be airing at the top of the new year so stay tuned!

Written by: Colleen Kennedy