Arts » Performing Arts

Sid Davis climbs the comedy ladder

Age is but a number

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Sid Davis' voice is deep. He's aware of that and when speaking by phone he speaks softer, noting "If I don't yell, it sounds like I'm tired, but I'm not tired. It's like a chipped horn. If I'm not blaring, it sounds like I'm run down."

But Davis is anything but run down. In fact, at 58, he's more charged and ready to go than ever before. And he's hit the comedy circuit with the speed and diligence of a youthful zealous jester.

"I'm really a dark horse story," says Davis. "Nobody ever expected me to rise above a level of a emcee."

Davis, a local Charlotte comedian, performs a headlining gig at The Comedy Zone on June 15. This will be his first headlining gig in the Q.C. in around a year, though he often headlines while traveling cross-country.

Davis got his start in comedy following retirement. Prior to the life change, he worked in advertising and in the airline business. But he only credits Toastmasters, a public speaking skill-building club he participated in as an extracurricular activity, as helping him to prepare for his move into the comedy world.

When Davis was in college, standup comedy was a mere pipedream. But with age comes wisdom and, for Davis, the ability to strategize a way to turn those dreams into a reality. When he was 48 years old he enrolled in The Comedy Zone Comedy School — then taught buy Julie Scoggins — in Charlotte.

"I've never worked harder in my life," Davis says of taking on standup after retirement. "I didn't know what I was gettting myself into."

Yet, despite dubbing his career move as a form of "retirement," Davis had high goals to move up the comedy ladder. He'd been told that it takes seven to 10 years to become a reputable comic and he felt strongly enough about his writing and presentation skills to press on.

"The disadvantage at my age is that if you go on stage with a five- to six-year skill set, where you're pretty funny, and then a headliner comes out and kills it behind you, people look and just assume you've been in the business for 30 years already and that's as funny as you'll ever be," says Davis. "They don't view you as somebody who is on their way up like a 20- or 30-year-old that's polishing an act. That was my biggest obstacle, that I didn't even get that consideration on the way up."

While he sometimes exaggerates and embellishes the stories in his act, Davis maintains that most of his material is derived from his life.

"I'm a walking sitcom," he says. "There are so many varieties of comedy and I enjoy all of them. There are comics that have a point of view or message they are trying to get across and some get political. I don't try to save the world. I'm like a lot of Americans. I'm trying to dog paddle my way through life and have a good time."

When Davis first started taking his comedy more seriously, he looked to Los Angeles-based comic Mark Eddie for critiquing. "He said 'Your writing is really good but your stage presence needs more confidence.'"

Since then, Davis has tightened his delivery while opening for big name acts like Jon Reep, Craig Shoemaker, Joan Rivers and more along the way. Though great experiences, he admits that opening gigs often seem more glamorous than they actually are.

"You walk out on stage and you realize that there's 1,200 people that drove 50 miles, spent a hundred dollars, got a babysitter or whatever, and it wasn't to see you."

Davis, who now performs shows regularly as a headliner, is faced with a different kind of challenge now. "I'm the only one riding this horse and I have to take this audience by the rings," he says. "There's nobody following and failure is not an option. I turn into a different animal and there's a different adrenaline happening when I'm headlining."

While opening gigs usually run between 25 to 30 minutes, headlining gigs can run between 45 minutes to one hour. Davis keeps a vibrating timer in his pocket so that he stays on track with time. He emphasizes the importance that timing mechanisms play in live sets. "You want more time, but it's important to be on time," he says. "It's hard to put it down when you're up there killing it. But comedians kill it, go over time and then they're not invited back. There's time involved in this business and they have to respect that."

He urges anyone looking to get into the comedy business to watch A-listers, but also to venture into small comedy clubs with lesser-known comics who don't necessarily have the reassurance of an instant fan connection.

"It's good to see how they handle it. And, it's not always great, but most of the time it surprises you — how funny some people are that you've never even heard of," he says.

Davis recalls shows that he's done along the West Coast as being some the most memorable. He's specifically proud of being a part of SLO Comedy Festival in San Luis Obispo, California, for three years in a row. He admits that while he was selected partially because of his age, he's been invited back because of his talent. "[The organizers] looked and said 'We don't have anybody that's over 40 years old. We need somebody who is older,'" Davis says. He feels that if folks his age or older are not renowned comics, they are typically turned down. "Shows are mostly run by the industry people and they look and they say, 'This guy has no future.'"

But as far as comedy scenes go, Davis feels fortunate to have honed his craft right here in the Q.C. "I think it's probably one of the most nurturing comedy scenes with much more accessible places to hone your craft than a lot of other places."

He credits The Comedy Zone, and more specifically the classes held there, with opening a lot of doors. Comics who sign up also have access to comedy shows at sister venues across the country, which means they can observe others in their field. "If you go out and go to these shows you're so pleasantly surprised by how good they are," says Davis.

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