Maronzio Vance spoke to me about the highs and lows of his burgeoning stand-up career, which reached new heights over the weekend with his first Half Hour special on Comedy Central. Vance gave his half-hour its own title, “Angry Smiler.”
Here is a clip in which Vance talks about Extreme Makeover, Home Edition:
Vance recently wrote for the two-episode trial reboot of sketch comedy series In Living Color for FOX, due to air this summer.
How did you like writing for TV? “Look, I didnt even know Rules of Engagement was still on the air. so when they said seven seasons….
“Here’s the ting. As someone who’s unemployed, it sounded like a great idea. Someone wants to hire me for a job? Let’s step on this! It’s a job…but I’m not going to say sketch comedy is dead, it has just evolved into something else, and people have to be willing to take that step. Chappelle has raised the bar.”
“The only thing about Key and Peele, a lot of their sketches dont have a button on it. SNL is hit or miss. I prayed real and hard and MADtv went away…The 1990s were so racially charged and things were being talked about that nobody was talking about.”
“If you’re going to attack somebody, because that’s what sketch is all about, you have to pick (your targets). The sad thing is it’s hard to poke fun because people make fun of themselves before you have a chance to. Every TV show and blog has done that already.”
So why did you call your half-hour “Angry Smiler”? “I don’t smile onstage. Actually you know what? I smirk. You know what it is? It’s not a conscious thing. They don’t make the audience laugh with their joke, they make them laugh after the joke. If something really makes me laugh, especially if I’ve told the joke a thousand times…insanity has hit. Because if I’ve done the joke a thousand times and I’m expecting a different result. That’s insanity.”
How did you get started? You came from North Carolina straight to Los Angeles, right? “I’m just a kid who grew up watching Bill Cosby, Ellen DeGeneres, Steven Wright, Jake Johannsen.”
“For some reason, Charlotte, N.C., is not the hotbed, so I didn’t have people taking me under their wings, and making that hump…Now that I live in Los Angeles, now when I meet people on the road, I politely say this. I say this: ‘L.A. is a party, and it’s important that you’re invited to that party, so if you come uninvited, you’re going to be in the corner and people are going to say, Who are you? Best you keep waiting until you get that invite in the mail. At least have someone who tells who you have that chance.’ That’s what I tell young comics on the road.”
Was that how it happened for you? “I was a theater major. I wrote plays. When I was in North Carolina, when I was in Charlotte and going to college, my dreams were larger than I lived. I’m not going to say my dreams were too big…”
But he said all he heard was that it’d take 10 years to make it in show business. “When you hear that over and over, you start to believe it. I wrote plays. I wrote screenplays. I came to L.A. I wasn’t going to say I got crushed, but I was…Putting wood on the fire but it wasn’t getting any hotter than a flicker.”
When he was younger, he thought he could hit success early like a Nick Cannon. “And then when i was older, I was like, I’m glad it didn’t happen when I came to L.A. Can’t say it hasn’t been a journey. I’ve been homeless twice. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than being without a home.”
How’d you wind up homeless twice? “First time I was homeless was in 2002. I had moved to L.A. and was making my rounds. I didn’t know anything about L.A. Registration. Smog about cars. Shit like that. What the fuck is smog car? Why do you have to get that shit registered? They said you need money so I bought an ’85 Honda Accord. But I should have known something was wrong. But it was ineligible to be smog registered and I had two months left on the registration. If I get rid of (the car) I won’t be able to get out of town. I was in an apartment…fell upon hard times, and that person screwed me.”
So then what did you do? “Literally I think I was couch-surfing for a couple of days, and then some chick said, ‘You wan to stay with me?’ I ended up living with her for a little while.”
How’d you get back on your feet? “I used to feature for Paul Mooney for a couple of years. It was the best and worst time of my life. I was featuring for everyone. I featured for Godfrey. I featured for Tony Rock. I featured for Titus for a couple of years.”
What were the best and worst things about working with Mooney? “He would watch my set. And then the bad side is, I’m touring with a crazy old man who thinks he’s 27 years old and the world is kissing his ass, and he’s not.”
“He convinced me to move to New York. so I moved to New York and I worked for a couple of years and I became a regular at the Comedy Cellar and Carolines and The Laugh Factory when it was there.”
How would you compare NYC with LA? “In New York City, you can become angry and aggressive, but I’m not aggressive like New York aggressive. It helped me develop where I wanted to go. Whereas in L.A., they’re conservative, but they’re like I want to like it, whereas New York is you want to be funny, be funny. In L.A., the dark funny is called alternative. I wish people would stop saying this is alternative.”
Where did the brick wall come from? You started a series of YouTube videos talking to brick walls a couple of years ago. “I talked to the brick wall out of frustration. I don’t like social media. I’m totally against social media. People will say, ‘You’re not Tweeting anything funny!’ I’ll say come see me live on Thursday and you can see me live, funny. I can’t entertain people all day. That’s not how comedy works. See me live. For 45 minutes, I’ll be saying funny things. So I talk to the brick wall out of frustration. I vent problems to the brick wall.”
Here’s one of Vance’s recent “brick wall” talks, describing the day his taping in Boston:
You also were a finalist on the last season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing two summers ago. What was that experience like? What did you learn from it? “At first, I’d submitted for two years in a row. It’s funny how when I stopped caring, that’s when things started happening.”
Vance recalls auditioning for Montreal’s Just For Laughs four years in a row.
“Patrice (O’Neal) taught me to cut the fat of a joke. Just tell a story how it happened. It became more fun to me. That was a process. We were working the Ft. Lauderdale Improv. And he sat down with me and said ‘Blah blah blah blah. I wouldn’t be working with you if I didn’t think you were funny.’ When Patrice told me I was a good comic, it meant something to me. I’ve been trying to get Chris Rock’s approval for decades, and he’d give me a head nod. Eddie Murphy did the same thing.”
Vance also has worked with Katt Williams and Kevin Hart, and pull off solid impersonations of each.
“I teetered between becoming what I wanted to do and talk about those things and then I’d have personal things that I’d want to talk about. I’m learning how to fuse that together for the most part, and I’m having more fun and I’m growing.”
Will you watch your half-hour? “I probably won’t watch it because I don’t like to watch me. If people thought the way I felt about me, they wouldn’t watch me either. I’ll probably DVR it and watch it a month later. If I get bad reviews, I’ll probably watch it immediately. If I get good reviews, I probably won’t watch it for a month afterward. I hope the half-hour allows me to get an hour and that will allow me to have a career.”
Here is another clip in which Vance reveals how he’d be like Indiana Jones. If the terms were right. Roll it! Also, who still has a beeper?