Ken Townsend is the illegitimate child of Molly Hatchet and the Ramones, baptized in corn liquor, lit on fire, and raised on a steady diet of pro wrestling and comic books. This son of a Carolina preacher woke up from a drunken blackout one day in 1997 to find himself in San Francisco, and has been trying to figure out his new surroundings ever since.
In the time that Ken has been performing, he has become a favorite at clubs all over California. He was a finalist in the San Jose Improv’s 2004 Battle of the Bay competition within 6 months of his comedy debut, and was also featured in the popular comedy showcase, Darwinista. Check Ken out if you have a chance, just don’t wear anything flammable
Recovery Comedy: What were you like as a kid?
Ken Townsend: I was a weird kid. I grew up in rural eastern North Carolina. Dirt roads, tobacco barns all over, one stop light, total Jerry Springer atmosphere. My dad was a minister and that's where he ended up. I felt like an alien there because I didn't hunt, I didn't farm, and I spent most of my time reading comic books and watching TV. I'd watch TV shows where kids lived in houses next to other houses on streets where there was stuff to do, and I'd look out the window, see a swamp, and figure I'd been dealt a bad hand. I wasn't really good at getting along with other kids because I didn't know what they were talking about half the time and vice versa. I used to get really bent out of shape well into adulthood about getting bullied, like every now and then I'd run the recording of some minor event through my head, like, "Hey, remember that time that kid pushed you down on the school bus and called you a book-smart faggot? Let's think about that for a while." I'd get drunk a lot just to shut that noise out. "Oh, those inbred illiterate rednecks ruined my childhood." But once I quit drinking and took a look at all that, I remembered that I had been calling them inbred illiterate rednecks, so I probably had a little something coming to me. So what was I like? An awkward smart kid with a big mouth.
Recovery Comedy: What made you decide to become a stand-up comedian and how long have you been performing?
Ken Townsend: I've been performing for about 8 years. I sobered up and found myself doing a lot of public speaking about it, and afterwards people would say, "Oh you're so funny, you should be a comedian," and enough people said it that I thought I'd give it a try. And nobody's told me I should quit yet, so I'm still doing it.
Recovery Comedy: Were you performing stand-up comedy before you got into recovery?
Ken Townsend: No. I dinked around with theater some in my late teens and early 20s, but I was too hammered to get my act together. No way could I have pulled off stand-up, nor did it even occur to me to try it.
Recovery Comedy: Does your comedy have a message and if so what is it?
Ken Townsend: It depends on the audience, really. For a clean and sober audience, the message is more like, "Here's my brand of crazy, here's what used to and currently goes through my head," and everybody relates. For a "normal" audience, it's a little more confrontational, like, "Here's my brand of crazy, and here's yours that you're trying to hide." We're all screwed up in some way, and I try to point out that in that regard, everybody's equal. A recovery audience knows this in advance, so we can peel the onion back more and go a little darker and more real, but a regular club audience doesn't. But it's all about relating to each other in the end.
Recovery Comedy: Who are your comedy idols?
Ken Townsend: The usual suspects: Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Andy Kaufman. I loved Bernie Mac and wish he was still around. George Wallace. Dana Gould. The Little Rascals is still the height of comedy to me. I could watch that all day. A little baby saying, "ReMAAAAAAARKable," as Spanky glues another child to the floor to keep him from running up the stairs makes me very, very happy.
Recovery Comedy: Where does your inspiration for material come from?
Ken Townsend: Mostly whatever's irritating me on a given day, or if something's going on in my life or just in my head that needs to get out.
Recovery Comedy: What is your joke writing process?
Ken Townsend: I'm terrible at writing things down. Here's what I usually do: I'll have something I want to talk about or a story I think is funny. I'll try it out unprepared in front of an audience of other comics, in a workshop type format. If it works, and I can remember it, I'll try it again at an open mic or some other low-profile show. If I can't remember it, I figure it wasn't that important in the first place and don't worry bout it. If I can't recreate the emotion or immediacy from when I first told the story, I'll abandon it. If it works multiple times at open mics and I can remember it and it's not awkward coming out of my mouth, I'll put it in the regular rotation. The whole time I'm tweaking it, trying different wording here and there as I tell it. A lot of my stories or bits or whatever I only tell once, because that's all they're good for, that one occasion and that audience. But that verbal storytelling method works for me, because a lot of times I'll be at a show and another comic will say something or something about the location will remind me of one of the old stories I haven't told in forever, and I can go up and do it and it's fully-formed and the emotion is there. I have to trick myself into thinking I'm telling stories to friends, not performing written material.
Recovery Comedy: What is your kryptonite?
Ken Townsend: My kryptonite is kryptonite. I am secretly Superman. Thanks for bringing that up, now Bizarro knows where to find me.
Recovery Comedy: Is comedy part of your healing process?
Ken Townsend: Performing comedy is not part of any healing process for me. Being able to perform and having the self-awareness to pinpoint relatable things to talk about is a result of healing. I used to not be able to look anybody in the eye or hold my head up or have a proper conversation or even finish a sentence. It wasn't until I got sober and took care of internal business that I found out I was even capable of it. And when I do nothing but comedy to the exclusion of personal activities and activities to maintain my sobriety, I get crazy. So no, performing is not therapy for me, and I wouldn't recommend it as any kind of fix. I do hear that Greek tragedy can heal the gout.
Recovery Comedy: What was your worst experience performing comedy?
Ken Townsend: My worst experience was probably the Redneck Olympics in Red Bluff, CA. This was a charity event (that turned out to be bogus) at the fairgrounds up in Red Bluff. The idea was events like the toilet bowl ring toss and the mud pit belly flop contest and they had arm wrestling and bands and stuff. They booked me for my accent, and my good friends Daymon Ferguson and Scotty Fell because they're both loud drunks. We were all still very new to comedy. And we're booked in a 2000-seat rodeo arena. This thing is hyped to the moon to us, it's going to be the greatest thing that part of California has ever seen, and since we're all fans of ridiculousness, we get excited. For days leading up to the trip, we're excited. The whole drive up, we're excited. They ask us for autographed headshots to put up in the hotel, we're excited. We decide to strut around town and meet and greet the locals, for surely they have never met stars of our caliber before, and wouldn't it be a treat for them to rub elbows with a real celebrity or three? We walk around Greater Metropolitan Red Bluff, and not a single soul has heard of the Redneck Olympics, nor do they intend to go. We shrug it off and go to bed with dreams of performing for 2000 people dancing in our heads. The next day we show up at the event and the giant fairgrounds parking lot is nearly empty. We figure, it's a late-arriving crowd, perhaps they must finish milking the cows and shucking the corn before stepping out on the town. At the entrance is their Olympic torch, a flaming toilet bowl. We meet the organizer, a guy in a wheelchair who tells us he can't pay us because the checks are in a trailer and there's no ramp. Daymon offers to pick the guy up and carry him up the steps into the trailer, and the guy says, "Oh fine," gets out of his chair, and gets our money. We get to the 2000-seat rodeo arena, and there are 13 attendees in various states of fringe attire. We didn't even attempt to perform from the giant stage in the middle of the arena, we just gathered everyone up into one area of bleachers and started. Our opening act is the World's Strongest Redneck, who tears phonebooks in half and bends frying pans between Larry the Cable Guy jokes. They love him. They HATE us. It's the longest set of my life. We finish, utterly defeated, and to avoid the gaze of our audience and to keep Guy Caballero from asking for his money back, we scurry through the carny game peoples' backstage area, get in the car and drive straight home.
Recovery Comedy: What was your best experience performing comedy?
Ken Townsend: Best experience was probably my first big audience. A convention in Monterey, CA, roughly 600 or so people, did a long set, and the wave of energy I got from those people was amazing. Not as good a story as the Redneck Olympics, but good times rarely are.
Recovery Comedy: What is your comedy dream?
Ken Townsend: I'm living it now! I would have never guessed I'd be doing what I do, and if Current Me had the chance to go back in time and tell Younger Me what I was up to, he'd be totally jealous.
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