Taylor Clark is a very funny stand-up who’s taken the ultra-rare Everett, WA-New York City-Everett, WA path to comedy glory. He’s also a serious skateboarder, and if I knew anything about that activity, I’d make a pun about it here, but that’s not how I roll.
Now a family man safely ensconced in that northern Seattle suburb famous for being the birthplace of legendary Wrecking Crew bassist Carol Kaye and less-legendary singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins, Clark is poised to record his debut album, Addictive Tickle, at Laughs Comedy Club on August 23-24. The title comes from Clark's life-changing experience of using a bidet. I sent him a bunch of questions via electronic mail and he answered them right on deadline, like a champ. We talked about parenthood, bodily function humor (is it the shit?), white trashiness, “PC culture,” if “conservative comedian” is a contradiction in terms, and other topics.
The Stranger: For most comics, performing in New York and/or Los Angeles is the ultimate goal. You worked in the former city, but decided to move back to the Northwest. What made you return here and to what do you attribute your career resurgence in comedy?
Taylor Clark: Basically, parenthood changed everything overnight. I am sure that’s a hot take never mentioned before. For me, that meant going from performing several times a NIGHT to just a handful of times a MONTH. If not to chase dreams, then why live in a city famous for being epically hard to live in? The answer is Stockholm syndrome. We stayed for three more years.
We moved [to Everett] in early 2017 to finally have some family support. Thanks, mom and dad. What changed everything was getting into Seattle International Comedy Contest. Many of the comics were working pros, and although I felt a bit of a fraud, I also felt for the first time in a long time that I might have a future in comedy. So I took the contest seriously and it paid off. That year I was the only local comic to make it to the finals, and since then I have continued taking comedy super cereal [sic]. I quit drinking and even quit my day job. The weird thing is, I am chasing my comedy dream again for the same reason I stopped chasing it before. Parenthood. Being true to yourself is more responsible parenting than most people give it credit for.
Can you pinpoint the differences in Seattle and NYC’s comedy scenes?
With pleasure and without struggle. Seattle comics have no idea how grateful they should be for this scene. New York open mics famously have zero audience members. Just comics. Nothing is truer about that scene than this haunting fact. Working on new material at these torturous open mics, even for bigger comics, is a mandatory part of the daily life. This requires a form of psychosis that remains unstudied, undiagnosed, but very real and life-threatening. Soon there will be medical specialists that deal with the trauma caused by extended periods in the New York open mic scene.
In Seattle, however, there is at least one open mic every night with a huge audience. The clubs draw 100+ people, sometimes at open mics! Seattle has three awesome clubs, and an insane amount of rad indie shows, pretty much all of which are truly well-produced, diverse, and packed with as we call them in the comedy biz, REAL people!
The industry here will never compare to NYC or LA, but if you want to get better at comedy, or heaven forbid, you enjoy doing comedy for real-life human beings, Seattle is one of the top places in the country to do that. You've written about Bobby Higley. That's an example of someone I think is really taking advantage of this town in all the right ways. Talent like theirs helps. Emmett Montgomery and Brett Hamil at Joketellers Union are seasoned and brilliant comics that stay here for a myriad of reasons, but mainly they love comedy and are hyper-aware of how good it is here. They are getting better stage time and having more fun doing comedy than a lot of very established comics are in LA or New York.
What is the most important catalyst for your humor?
People describe me as clever and sneaky, but in the same breath will also say I'm raw and vulnerable. That is a lot of New York's influence. I have a high bar for my jokes, but if my performances are not present, the jokes won't matter. My jokes usually start with something that gets a laugh in conversation, so being around funny people who get me is the most common catalyst. Luckily, my family is funny and gets me most of my time.
Has becoming a father changed your approach/material?
I have to talk about what's going on in my life. It's the only way to ensure my material is original and the only way I can be myself. That's always been my approach and remains my approach. Material-wise, fatherhood has transformed my identity in a far greater way, but still similar to how comedy and skateboarding changed me. These traits are all infused into my DNA and radiate through my personality, but rarely are they the subject or focus.
What’s a richer source of humor—mundanity or profundity?
Hey, they are both just wells with different types of water, man. But they both give us glorious joy hydration. Did I mention my parents claim to be hippies?
You refer to yourself as “white trash skater boy turned somewhat less white trash skater dad.” Have any people in your audiences taken offense to the term “white trash”?
Not unless my family is in the audience. They argue that they are more hippie than white trash. I told them I refuse to switch labels until we have more solar-powered greenhouses than we do broken-down cars and nameless pets. No one else has ever said anything. Every now and then a rollerblader or scooter dude takes offense to me calling skateboarding a superior subculture. But since that's an inarguably true fact, they inevitably agree and leave the show happy, with a better understanding of life and themselves.
Some people think PC culture and the attitudes of “social justice warriors” are stifling comedy. What’s your take on that?
Isn't it unfortunate a term that should be used to describe people fighting within the legal system for the equality of all people is now being used to describe people who get offended at jokes on the internet? I also don't think comedy can be stifled. Comedy Roast battles are hotter than they have ever been and so are safe rooms. If you push on the comedy spectrum, it doesn't go away; it just gets wider. Cancel culture is unnerving for a comic, sure, but if you're scared out of a joke because you're afraid of being canceled, either you're not brave enough, or the joke isn't important enough. Either way, we get better jokes and more bravery from our comics. Comedy wins. Society wins. I will probably get canceled for this.
What topics will you never address in your act, and why? Or are taboo subjects for the spineless?
Taboo subjects take a ton of spine. It's just that pulling them off takes a lot more skill than spine. I always strive to create timeless material, so taboo subjects often have a shelf life, as do political ones. People who can do these kinds of jokes and get consistent laughs from a variety of audiences have incredible talent. Having taboo bits that kill right now is the mark of a pretty damn good comic, if you ask me. I am a skateboarder before I am anything, and I always sought to be well-rounded. I wanted to do big staircases, little ledges, half pipes, street banks... you get it. Comedy is like that to me, too. I want to be able to do a rated G hour of comedy, but I also want to tell a filthy story laced with articulated cursing. I want to be flexible but maintain an unshakable awareness of my limitations.
What’s your view on bodily function jokes? Lowest form of humor or universal bonding agent? Both? Are there fresh angles to be explored with them or should we flush them down the toilet forever?
Having a kid definitely cemented the fact in my mind that we are, and should be, prone to loving toilet humor. A human's first laugh is almost always triggered by a butt, in some way. If you have a good sense of your inner child, you will always be able to laugh at a good ol' fashioned shiny brown poop joke. Plus, it's universal. Butt jokes will lead to world peace.
Who’s your favorite comedian of all time? Who’s your favorite comedian working now? I need reasons, too.
I have to name a ton of people here, but Dave Chapelle is my go-to answer. He checks every box of what I like in a stand-up comic twice. He's present, hyper-creative, unfiltered, has phenomenal writing, and he skates. I know skating shouldn't matter, but it's my list.
I have to mention Nick Vatterott. I got to see him a lot in New York and I can't think of anyone who made me laugh harder and more often than that guy. Mark Normand is another one; he'll go down as one of the greats if he doesn't blow it. Plus, he skates, or used to. He can still kickflip, I think. Oh, and Rory Scovel. He has always been extremely kind to me and his comedy is unlike that of any other comic in history. Truly one of the funniest people on earth. He should skate.
Seattle is nuts with talent. If one more person mentions Claire Webber in The Stranger she should get the damn cover. Bo Johnson, Alyssa Yeoman, and Clara Pluton are so much fun to watch and they are all Seattle must-see acts. I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't also mention Gabriel Rutledge. That dude has been putting on clinics forever now and he deserves a statue downtown. James Heneghen deserves one too but he is more likely to just be mummified and planted permanently outside of Jai Thai. Derek Sheen will never get a statue because he's a vampire that will no doubt outlive us all. Love you, dude.
What’s the one widespread cliché about comics that rings truest to you?
That we're desperate. That's especially true for me. The things I have done to get people out to shows is truly shameful. Backflips, bribes, blackmail, you name it. P.S.: If you're reading this, I have the photos. Bring five people to my album recording if you want to see them again.
Have you ever heard a great conservative comedian?
Honestly, on my list of favorite comedians, there are no conservatives. Even my conservative friends don't have that many. The hardest right-wing person doesn't find a lot of conservative humor that funny, and I think this is because at a core level comedy has to be the truth. Even if you subscribe to far-right thinking, your laughter is a well-tuned truth radar, and no matter what your head thinks is true, your laughter knows. If I had to name one, I think Tim Dillon is probably the closest thing my generation has to a great conservative comic, but I don't think he really considers himself a conservative anymore. They make it pretty hard for sane people to stick around. Tim is awesome, though.
Please hype all your current/near-future projects and gigs as humbly as possible.
My album recording is at Laughs on the 23rd and 24th of August. Lots of stories and the best jokes I have ever written. Shout out to Mike Longoria (who is doing a set Friday) and Tony at 35th for helping me promote. 35th North is the best skate shop on earth!
I am also getting a tour together for early 2020 called Comedians at Skateparks. It will pair with a web series of the same title. Lastly, I have a monthly show called XLR the last Saturday of every month at Solo Bar in Queen Anne. I am usually the host and my favorite local comics do long sets. It's pretty straightforward and normally sells out. I am extremely lucky to have an amazing producer and venue, so shout out to Avi Lasser and Solo Bar.