When a comedian films a special, there’s a few different types of approaches that they may be going for. The first is to be in their natural environment and capture something that you’d find if you were to see them out on the road somewhere. So it’s almost like a mirror image to what they’re doing with their act at that time. The other side of things is a comedian who may want to do something to make the special just that: special. And they will sort of take a show you “had to be there for” and turn it into an event.
Jeremiah Watkins certainly went for the latter. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even know this was going to be what his first special was. As he went back home to Kansas City to do a stand-up show, he had intentions of making a crowd work documentary. But once he got onstage and discovered all of his family and friends right there up front, it became an impromptu family reunion, where he even opted to bring his mom onstage at one point after she was heckling him. And it was only after the fact that Jeremiah realized “No, this is the special.” And so that became his debut stand-up hour, Family Reunion.
For those who are fans of Jeremiah’s crowd work, thanks to what he’s posted on his YouTube channel over the years, you definitely won’t be disappointed here. But you’ll also get to see his more traditional stand-up, which is something that he’s gone out of his way to not release very much of over the years. And so no matter which one you are looking for, he’s got you covered.
We recently spoke with Jeremiah about going back home to film the special, having his family in the front row, whether or not he avoided certain jokes (he didn’t), what his family thinks of his act, what he is working on for his newest hour, how the time off has helped him, and still managing to continue being in the band on Kill Tony despite everything that’s been going on.
The first thing I want to ask is, as you’re approaching going home for this show, was there any indication that it would turn out this way?
Well, any show where you invite to it where you know they’re going to attend adds a different stress level to the show. And when I walked out onstage, I truly had no idea that the house was going to be sat where I had family in the front rows surrounding me on both sides. It was literally my mom and her new husband on one side and my dad and his new wife on the other side of the stage. They faced each other the entire show, and I’m just in the middle. (Laughs).
So it adds kind of a weird and a dangerous environment to do comedy in because the expectations are so weird and different when it’s people from your past and people who you know well. Because they have an image of you a certain way and they remember you a different way. And as you grow older and stuff, you change and evolve into kind of a different person. So it’s somewhat of a shock sometimes when you go back to your hometown and do shows because they’re like “Oh, this isn’t the guy that I remember from 10 or 15 years ago.”
And did you actually ask the club not to seat them in the front, as you mentioned onstage?
(Laughs). I don’t remember… I think that I said it to one person and I didn’t tell it to the right person who was actually seating. I think I told like a waiter or something and they’re like “Yeah, yeah. Sure.” And then it’s like meanwhile, they’re not even seating the people. So it’s like “Yeah, sure comedian. Let me just do my job.”
I’ve talked to comics who do that as well, as they’ve told me the last thing they want is family or friends in the front row. So I’m sure that even intensifies when you’re shouting something.
Oh yeah. If you notice multiple times in the special, I start to go do crowd work with tables. And then I realize instantly that I know them, so I have to move on. I’m like “Oh, okay. More people I know. Moving on.” I’m not gonna stage crowd work with people or anything like that. So I’m like “Well, this is a dead zone for me now. I’ve got to move to a different area.” (Laughs).
And that’s funny, because a lot of people know you from your clips online of you doing crowd work.
Yeah. And that’s what I’m really excited about for this special, actually, is that I in the past have only really posted crowd work moments and riffing moments. So there’s a lot of that in the special, but there’s also a lot of great material that I’m excited for people to see that they’ve never seen because I hold my material very dearly and very precious. So I’m not the kind of comedian who posts a lot of my material online. So I’m excited for people to see my material as much as I am my crowd work in the special.
So you can get a different side to what you do that you normally couldn’t do unless they’re seeing you live on the road somewhere.
Yeah, exactly. I’ve literally had people online like asking me for material after a while. Because after you post a certain thing, people want to see the other thing. Like if I only posted material, then people would be like “Oh, this is a treat for me to see crowd work from this guy.” But on the other hand, I only post riffing and crowd work moments. So now that I’m posting material in the special, that’s kind of a treat for people to see.
Was it always your intention to go back home to film your first special?
Uh no. Honestly, I don’t think I would have necessarily planned it quite like this. But there was enough special things that happened during the recording that I was like “I want people to see this.” How it worked out with my family being there and them being sat, realistically moments like that -where I bring my mom onstage, she was heckling me during the show, and I’m referencing the family members that I’m doing material about- so people get to see them while I’m explaining them, that’s never going to happen like it did that night again. So that’s what makes it a special, to me, is these moments won’t be shown at any other show ever again. They won’t be captured at any other show. So I want people to experience what I experienced that night.
So you went into it just thinking you were filming a set?
So I went into it thinking that I was going to basically doc/crowd work special that weekend. That was like the goal that I had. And then I realized that, when the pandemic hit and everything, I wanted that material out before I had to wait another year or two because I’m already working on new stuff that I’ve been working on for a little bit. Just like I have a baby on the way with my wife and there’s a lot of new material that’s obviously coming out of that. So I was basically like “I want to get this material out and it’s strong because I’ve been working on it for the last 10-11 years around the country. And let’s just put this with the crowd work stuff that I was already planning on shooting.” So it just kind of worked out organically and perfectly.
And you mentioned wanting to do a doc sort of thing. Did you already have the testimonials we see before you decided to incorporate it into the special?
Yeah. Some of the interviews were actually filmed before even they went to that first show. So it was interesting to get kind of their raw and honest opinions before they went into that odd setting of the special. So I wanted to capture that going into it, because I thought it would be a little bit more natural than recording them after they’ve seen the show.
So some of the stuff that my brother says, where he’s like “It’s sometimes awkward when Jeremiah really goes back and forth with the person in the audience”, he has just seen shows that I’ve done in the past and he has seen the clips that I post. So he just had context for that already from just being my brother and watching my stuff. So I always wanted to include that, yes. That’s a long answer to your questions.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing those sort of things in a special, as it gives us a little bit more of a glimpse into both who you are as a comic but also a person.
I think it just gives a sense of my upbringing and kind of who I grew up as a person around. Because my brother, he will skip watching some of my clips. And my dad is a missionary’s son. So I grew up with a very religious family. And it’s kind of funny to see where everybody is at now. Because my dad used to be extremely religious. He kind of goes back and forth. And now my brother is training to be a minister. So by doing the interviews in the homes, it gives you a really intimate look into me and my family and how I was brought up.
Was there a moment when you started doing comedy where your family was ever uncomfortable with it?
They’ve always been very supportive, but they’ve also been very honest the entire time throughout my career. They’ll straight up tell me when they don’t like stuff. And that’s come up over the years. I think you sometimes don’t realize where the line is until you cross it. And I’ve said some stuff about family onstage where they’re like “Oh really. That’s how you feel about that.” And it brings up an awkward conversation, but an honest one. And usually, when they realize that there’s only love behind what I’m saying, then the air is clear. But there’s definitely been times over the years where they’ve really not liked either stand-up that I’ve put out or sketches or music videos of something like that. And they’ll tell me. They’re unabashed to tell me the truth.
And were there any jokes that night that you opted not to tell because your family was all there?
Uh… You know? I kind of leaned into it after a little bit. Like there’s a moment in the special where I wind up telling a couple incest jokes. And it’s so weird to tell those kinds of jokes when family is present. Because usually when I do it on the road, that’s the joke. It’s a clear joke. But when family is in the room, it adds this really weird layer to it where people are like “Is he joking? Is this real?” And I decided to double down and commit to this strange environment that I was in and really take it to that next level and make it not only awkward for the audience, but make it awkward for me. It’s weird for me to be telling those kind of jokes with my family in the room, too.
And I’m sure at that moment, everyone immediately turned to your mom to see how she was reacting.
Of course! (Laughs).
And so the special was done last year I’m assuming, and this year has been all sorts of crazy. Have you still been able to write and stay creative and work on new material this year?
I’ve been fortunate to go on the road still. I’m one of the handful of comedians who’s been able to safely tour here or there. And that’s where I really get a lot of inspiration to start working out stuff consistently. But I’ve been on the road a decent amount. At least once to twice a month on the road. And I’ve been developing this stuff and I’ve been writing and I’m really excited about this next chapter in my life that I’m entering with me becoming a dad in the spring and all the changes that are going on with my wife and I in this pregnancy. And learning more about women and evolving as a person. So it’s going to be a fun next chapter of what’s to come with my stand-up and material I feel like.
And I’m sure it helps to enter this chapter when you’re not out on the road as much as before.
Yeah. For sure. Some of the best advice that I’ve gotten from the comedians that I look up to is they’ve told me to also remember to live life so you can actually write about life. You get too caught up sometimes in just doing comedy, comedy, comedy all the time, and you have no context and you can’t relate to people as much because you are not living life as much yourself. With this pandemic time and this quarantine time, it’s literally the most amount of time I’ve ever spent with my life. And a lot of great material is coming out of that. (Laugh).
And a lot of people know you as part of Kill Tony. So it’s great that you guys found a way to start back up again a few months ago.
I will say, just to correct you a little bit, because we actually never stopped doing the show. We have not missed a week during COVID, which is kind of crazy. But we banked episodes and shot on location at different studios and stuff. So it’s one of the feathers in our hats that I have to correct you on, because it was really, really difficult for us to do and make episodes still happen. Because we did it without audiences sometimes and people would Zoom in and send in their sets. It became different formats of the show that we had to adapt to over time.
I’m not sure why I thought you guys took a little time off due to COVID. Thanks for the correction.
Oh no. It’s all good. You know why? You probably thought that because we were out from The Comedy Store for a couple months. So we’re not on their socials and stuff as much during that time. So it appears that we went dark, but we actually powered through and we made it happen.
What was that experience like, making it during the pandemic?
You know, it was really challenging, man. It’s one of those things where the goal becomes that we try to stay as positive as possible and not talk about negative stuff that’s going on with the world and the news as much. And we try to be a little bit of a light for people who are seeking something nice that they want to connect to live. So we had tons of people who thanked us for keeping going with the episodes. Some of them are easily our toughest episodes because the format’s changed. We’re not in front of a live audience anymore. But we adapted and we got better at that. And it’s one of those things that I’m happy and grateful to everybody involved with the show that we kept on and kept our heads up as best as we could.
Jeremiah Watkins: Family Reunion is available now on Comedy Dynamics.