On a chilly Saturday night in Albuquerque, I head out to a comedy show. Being that Albuquerque’s only comedy club closed years ago, I’m not sure what to expect. Will there be nice tables and drink minimums or smoke filled rooms? I find when I get there a small bar in the front of Sandia Bowl. The room is dimly lit and should be smoke filled, but it isn’t. In the far corner from the bar, there is a single spotlight shining on a corner with a small PA system. Tonight, there will be a number of comedians preforming tonight. My interest is in the headliner, Stephen “Smitty” Smith.
An ex-air force man, Stephen began his career in comedy entertaining his friends and co-workers in Iraq. After a long difficult deployment to the middle-east, Stephen returned to New Mexico without giving comedy another thought. Luckily, his wife at the time had given it another thought and signed him up for a comedy competition here in Albuquerque. With no idea that he was headed to a competition, Stephen took his first baby steps into professional comedy.
Coming in third was a boost to the comedian fighting his way out. Stephen credits the close-knit comedy community in being so welcoming and helpful to him in the beginning. In his first performance, two of the seasoned comedians took him out for a late night dinner and gave him a laundry list of open mic nights and hints for making it in comedy. This turned out to be the second best advice that Stephen had received in his life so far.
Growing up in Riverdale, Georgia, Stephen raised his younger brother and sister while he was in high school. The responsibility kept the young man on the straight and narrow, until he moved out on his own. He adopted a partying lifestyle soon after getting out into the real world. Trouble followed him around, until a police officer told him, “Get the hell out of Georgia or you will spend the rest of your life in jail.” Stephen took the suggestion to heart. Being a broke teenage with no prospect for college at the time, he joined the Air Force, where he was sent off to New Mexico to start a new period of his life.
Like the lives of many stand-up comics before him, Stephen’s life was full of ups and downs. From PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), from going to war in Iraq, to his marriage dissolving due to issue resulting from his condition. During this time, he was going it alone, trying to control his symptoms. In the end, he ended up leaving the Air Force, being jobless and almost homeless. He got help for his PTSD and decided he would go full force into the world of stand-up comedy.
Stephen has been headlining all over town with his eye on The Stage, which has introduced a Thursday Comedy Night at Santa Ana Star Casino. He is also planning a Southwest comedy tour with a few of his close friends in the industry for the summer. When asked what he would say to young talent starting out, he has two pieces of advice.
“First own your jokes,” he says. “No matter how rude or crude or proper. Own, believe, and hang on to it, even if it bombs the first second or third time you deliver it. Keep it written down. You never know when it will work with your crowd. Second, hone your skill at open MIC nights. Here in Albuquerque, you can find one at Nexus Brewery on Tuesday nights at 7:30 or Broken Bottle Brewery on the Westside on Wednesday nights at 7:30. You will see new and seasoned comics alike working on their acts, get to know the community they are a great source of inspiration.”!
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