Stand-up has often paved the way to mainstream success for some of the funniest, most captivating people in pop culture: Amy Schumer, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Louis C.K. and Richard Pryor, to name a few. Once the success of a stand-up comic builds, they ultimately venture into careers in television, film or both.
But at the heart of all the success is a comic’s humanistic drive to entertain people through the art of creative, observational storytelling. Jak Knight and Langston Kerman are two hilarious, up-and-coming stand-up comedians right on the cusp of success in their relatively new careers, both balancing on a tightrope between obscurity and popularity.
Since mid-September, Knight and Kerman have been touring together on a 14-stop joint stand-up expedition across the Midwest and along the East Coast, titled “The Hennessy x Tickles Tour.” On Sept. 25, they stopped in Ferndale.
“The goal for stand-up is to figure out a way to meld the person you are in real life and the person you are on stage,” said Kerman. “We’re all trying to figure out a way to just start talking and then come out funny.”
Both comedians have been performing as early as 2011, and continue to do so even with their multitude of television appearances. Knight is a notable presence on Comedy Central, starring in shows like Adam Devine’s “House Party” and Chris Hardwick’s “@midnight.” Kerman has also appeared on Comedy Central, as well as HBO, IFC and the Oxygen Network. He also happens to be a University of Michigan alum, and graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in English. While Knight and Kerman continue to climb the ladder of newfound fame, their journeys toward becoming comedians had rather unexpected starts.
A native of the Chicago suburb Oak Park, Kerman grew up watching comedy as a kid, but never thought it was something he wanted to do professionally. At a certain point, Kerman said, he developed an interest in performance poetry, which ultimately evolved into a teaching job. He spent a year as a poetry instructor at his old high school and then spent the following two years in Boston, where he worked as an English teacher for 11th and 12th grades. But even then, Kerman realized that he “could be on stage not necessarily to read poems, but to basically talk shit in between other people’s talks.”
Thus, he began doing stand-up while still teaching classes and eventually quit his job to pursue comedy full-time. Since then, his stand-up has led to a variety of opportunities, including his own video on Above Average’s “Storytime” and a guest spot in Issa Rae’s forthcoming HBO comedy “Insecure.” Though Kerman noted that he’s not a “classically trained actor,” he works hard to take it as seriously as possible and enjoys working in new spaces. Doing stand-up, however, seems to be the most fulfilling for Kerman.
“I think that there’s no greater thrill of making people laugh on a stage with a microphone,” Kerman remarked. “Nothing else I’ve done up to this point has ever matched what that feeling is.”
Similarly, Knight has found stand-up to be his calling, though his origin was much more low-stakes. Born and raised in Seattle, Knight’s interest in comedy began at the age of 14 when he and a friend watched the Dave Chappelle episode of HBO’s “Comedy Half-Hour” special. He recalled seeing Chappelle do stand-up and thinking it was “the craziest thing I’d ever seen in my life.” It wasn’t until Knight’s senior year of high school that he thought of doing comedy as a career. As Knight casually put it, he had “nothing else going on.”
Once he moved to Los Angeles and found his way onto Comedy Central, Knight established his comedic voice among other newcomers like Brandon Wardell, Andrew Santino, Vladimir Caamano and Meaghan Rath. At the moment, he’s writing and voicing a character on Netflix’s upcoming animated sitcom “Big Mouth,” which stars a slew of famous comics including Nick Kroll, Maya Rudolph, John Mulaney and Jordan Peele, and is set to premiere sometime next year. Like Kerman, Knight enjoys writing and acting, but doesn’t find it as gratifying as stand-up.
“It’s less satisfying, but it pays the bills,” Knight says. “I didn’t really grow wanting to be a movie or TV star, but I just like making funny things just so I can make better stand-up. We all just want to grow up to be Bill Burr.”
As for the relationship between the two comedians, Kerman and Knight could not be more of an inseparable duo. Their banter is exceptional and witty, with the two making clever quips while bashing one another. When Knight described his upbringing into comedy, Kerman brushed it off, saying that Jak “just wasn’t busy and so he started doing comedy.” Knight quickly retorted, joking that Langston leaving his teaching job was the reason why the American educational system is at such a low point. After trading a few more sarcastic insults, Knight told Kerman to “eat a dick,” to which Kerman replie, “That should go on the record because it only proves that I was right when I said [Jak] is an awful person.” On paper, this conversation sounds mean-spirited, but they just seemed like two regular friends poking fun at one another and chuckling about it afterwards in the way that any good pair of friends would.
Though Kerman and Knight believe people like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Richard Pryor influenced their comedy, the two find their real comedic inspirations from stand-up comedians today. Knight recognizes Jerrod Carmichael, Jamar Neighbors and Jake Weisman as his influences; Kerman lists Dan Soder, Jeffrey Joseph and Ali Wong as some of his own. Seeing these comedians fail and succeed, as Knight said, helps him understand how to accept failure and continue to shape his own craft in order to succeed.
Despite their shared love for stand-up comedy, the comedians have very different ideas for how they want to continue their slowly gestating stardom. Referencing an analogy made by his friend and fellow comedian Brent Morin, Knight describes stand-up as “the trunk of a tree” and writing and acting for television as “the branches of that tree.”
“I’m only doing this for the trunk, because I want to be a great stand-up and that’s the only thing I really want to be,” Knight says with unabashed honesty. “But to be a great stand-up, you need to do branches.”
Kerman hopes to continue to work in TV and film, saying that “stand-up is where my heart is, but I love the idea in being able to explore these other spaces because I like them and they enable the stand-up.”
Attaining a strong, singular voice is hard enough against such a crowded environment of talent. And in the competitive landscape of stand-up comedy, being successful can be based both on a lot on skill and luck. Fortunately for Knight and Kerman, they have definitely proven they have the skill and they’re certainly on the right track for luck.